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Letters criticizing Student Societies Summit draw backlash

U of T students express concern with letters from Ontario students' unions
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Some U of T students are criticizing letters sent from several students’ unions across Ontario to provost Cheryl Regehr  encouraging Governing Council to reject the recommendations of the Student Societies Summit.

Over the past three days, emails containing the letters were also sent to members of the executive committee of Governing Council, and the presidents of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU).

The letters allege that the Student Societies Summit was a flawed process, and that the recommendations of its final report threaten student union autonomy and “[open] up the Governing Council and University of Toronto Administration to liability.”

“Collectively, the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario Executive Committee is deeply concerned about the Summit process and encourages the Governing Council to reject the report’s final recommendations,” the letter from the Trent Central Student Association said.

Jesse Root, vice-president, education at the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) said it was important to send the letter because of the threat to student union autonomy through the Student Societies Summit report.

“In the same way as universities share best practices and support one another, so too do students’ unions, and this letter is a letter of solidarity reaffirming our commitment to supporting the UTSU, UTMSU, SCSU, APUS [Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students], GSU [Graduate Students’ Union], and organizing to ensure their autonomy and control of their organization, which is central to being able to successfully represent students,” said Root.

Rowan DeBues, president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), expressed concern with the letters. “It is hypocritical for external groups to be complaining about autonomy when they themselves are acting at the request of the CFS, and have happily involved themselves in UTSU elections,” said DeBues.

Aidan Fishman, a student governor, agreed. “The hypocrisy demonstrated by this letter-sending is astounding. The UTSU, UTMSU, SCSU have taken the consistent line that the report should not be implemented because the university administration supposedly has no right to intervene in the internal affairs of U of T students. But now, student unions at a number of other universities, backed by a multi-million dollar lobby group, are interfering in the internal affairs of U of T students,” he said.

Root noted that student unions have a history of organizing provincially and nationally on issues that affect students. “As students unions we have a very rich and effective history in collaborating with, supporting, and engaging with one another. In the recent past we have collaborated on transit lobbying, letter writing, rallies, pride festivities, and other forms of social action around university administrations’, and government practices, with much success.”

Root also said that challenges to student unions autonomy was not an isolated incident, referring to battles between university administration and student unions at the University of Windsor and Carleton University.

In April, the University of Windsor stopped funding the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance. In 2010, Carleton University administration has also withheld fees from the Carleton University Students’ Association and the Carleton University Graduate Students’ Association.

Fishman expressed concern over the timing of the letters, which occurred after the end of most university classes. He also argued that students at other universities in Ontario likely don’t follow U of T politics closely.

“[T]hese student union executives are falsely appropriating their constituents’ voices in order to suppress the democratic aspirations of students at another university — U of T,” Fishman said.

Some U of T students are protesting the letters on Twitter and Facebook using #nocfs.