With Wednesday’s joint board proposal meeting, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors structure saga continues to captivate students at the university’s St. George campus.
Ryan Gomes, Engineering director and the Engineering Society’s (EngSoc) vice president, academic, and Natalie Petra, a University College (UC) student, co-chaired an open meeting on January 21 in order to begin work on a new proposal. Students from UTM, colleges, professional faculties, and student societies, were invited to attend.
Last semester, the UTSU proposed a board structure that member voted down at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in late October 2014. In the wake of the structure’s defeat, the UTSU is racing against the clock to hammer out a new proposal that will represent all members while being legally compliant.
Such structural reform is necessary since the UTSU is in the midst of transferring from the Canada Corporations Act (CCA), which is being dissolved, to the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act (CNCA). This transition requires the UTSU to submit new bylaws which govern the structure of the Board of Directors. If the membership does not pass these bylaws, the UTSU would fail to comply with the CNCA and could be dissolved following an injunction.
NOTICE OF DEFICIENCY
The UTSU requested its transition from the CCA to the CNCA on October 14, 2014, three days before the deadline. This request was denied and a Notice of Deficiency dated December 1, 2014 was issued.
A Notice of Deficiency states the issues that caused the request to be refused, as well as the deadline to file a new request — six months from when the notice is issued. Once the union has made the transition, it has until October 14, 2015, to hold an AGM at which at least two-thirds of the membership must approve new bylaws. If the UTSU fails to transition, Corporations Canada confirmed that the union would likely be pending dissolution.
In a phone call with Corporations Canada on January 20, The Varsity confirmed that the UTSU’s transition request was declined for two reasons. Corporations Canada said that the number of directors listed in the Articles of Continuance — documents necessary to make the transition — did not correspond with the Corporations Canada’s records.
Corporations Canada also said that the description of membership classes was improperly filed.
Yolen Bollo-Kamara, UTSU president, echoed the information from Corporations Canada. She said that the union needs to clarify what the current minimum number of directors on the board is, including when there are vacancies, and whether or not the UTSU has classes of membership, which it does not.
Some students alleged that Bollo-Kamara only informed them of the Notice of Deficiency at the January 21 meeting, despite the notice being dated December 1.
“[The] UTSU should have disclosed this immediately,” says Rowan DeBues, president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council. “I do not know why they would want to hide such an important development that is imperative to the survival and running of the Union.”
Tina Saban and Connor Anear, co-heads of Trinity College, stated that they have been working diligently to develop a plan for transitioning. “We believe that the membership deserves to know this crucial piece of information about the status of our union. This is yet another example of UTSU not operating in an open manner,” reads a joint statement.
“We’ve been providing regular updates to the Board of Directors as we receive information, and this will be included on the agenda at next week’s Board meeting. I am confident that the membership will be able to pass such a structure before the deadline to do so,” says Bollo-Kamara.
A NEW PROPOSAL
Among the criticisms of the previous proposal was that constituency directors would have addressed specific equity-based issues, with college and faculty representation granted through a committee.
The challenge of how the Board of Directors should address equity issues whilst maintaining representation for divisions such as colleges, faculties, UTM, and clubs, as well as the size of the board itself, were all discussed at the meeting.
The result was a tentative framework which Gomes and Petra have dubbed a “Hybrid Proposal.” According to the co-chairs, this model would define the Arts & Science Colleges, Professional Faculties, and UTM as three unique classes of membership of the faculty.
Since the CNCA mandates that all members of each class have the right to vote for the representatives of other classes, the meeting attendees tried to think of ways to restrict voting to individual colleges and faculties while remaining legally compliant.
At the meeting, those present agreed that internally organized elections run by the UTSU’s Chief Returning Officer should take place at individual divisions, with the winners of those elections to be acclaimed and voted in at an AGM as per the CNCA.
“Thus, while all members within a class can vote for all directorships available, they would effectively only be voting to acclaim candidates from all colleges or professional faculties. We felt that this was a fair way to reflect individual constituencies while also recognizing that directors within a class do not solely answer to their direct constituents, and do share collective class and community interests,” said Gomes and Petra in a joint statement.
The “Hybrid Proposal” also includes provisions for equity issues. Candidates for these positions are set to run in university-wide elections similar to how the UTSU Executive Committee is currently elected.
Under this proposal, there would be a combination of individually titled directorships and at-large positions, designed to reflect entrenched issues while allowing for alternative ways for students to connect with their representatives. This model also serves to limit the size of the board.
MEETING IN THE MIDDLE
Teresa Nguyen, EngSoc president, did not attend the meeting in person. In a statement circulated before the meeting, Nguyen “commended the efforts in which students put in to [sic] improving their student environment and campus life.” The statement also clarified that EngSoc’s position is to support representational structures that increase engineers’ representation and transparency.
“It was beneficial for us to meet and to discuss the board. It wasn’t necessarily productive in that we didn’t come up with a board structure that was finalized, but it was a necessary process,” says Angelo Mateo, a student attending on Trinity College’s behalf.
Mateo advocated for college representation to remain on the board at all costs. “Trinity’s stance has always been that college representation must remain on the board and that representation of college communities remain exclusive within their own constituency. If other communities influence each the vote, it doesn’t remain representative democracy,” Mateo stated.
He added that Trinity College believes equity positions on the board are important. “Trinity’s position is that equity needs to be coupled with democratic representation of the colleges.”
Dalia Hashim, vice president, external, of the Muslim Students’ Association attended the majority of the meeting and felt that it was productive. Hashim voiced her support for representation of clubs and minority groups on the board.
“A lot of college members do not identify with their college or even know the council that runs their college,” Hashim says.
“[Students] do however identify with different groups or clubs on campus. I think it is important for people to realize that clubs do provide services to members in a manner that colleges do not (and perhaps can’t),” she adds.
Gomes and Petra said that they were pleased with the meeting. “To have pretty much everyone in the room (including the UTSU) agree on a model worth pursuing was hugely positive,” they say. “It really showed the power of compromise, and the ability of University of Toronto students to come together and work towards a collective goal.”
Bollo-Kamara said that she is glad to see students engaged with the board structure issue, and she is looking forward to continuing these discussions at next week’s “What’s Missing?” townhall, organized by the UTSU.
The meeting is intended to serve as an opportunity for students to tell the union directly about what they want to see from their students’ union, and how they want to be represented.