Cameron Wathey is running for president of the UTSU with the Change UofT slate. He was an international student who attended University College (UC) for film, english and history. Prior to his involvement in the UTSU he was involved in the Caribbean Studies Student Union, the Cinema Studies Student Union, and UC orientation.
Wathey sat down with The Varsity on Saturday to discuss his position on some of the issues most important to students at the University of Toronto.
The Varsity: The price of a university education keeps increasing. How can the UTSU work towards keeping this price affordable for students?
Cameron Wathey: Over the past…little more than a year, I’ve worked with the team to get rid of flat fees. We had to take a new approach to that because…we had been lobbying the administration to get rid of [flat fees] for the past couple of years since [they] was implemented in 2008. We lobbied the Minister of Training Colleges and Universities, Brad Duguid at the time. We brought [together] over 6000 petitions [including] UTM which was very much involved with the project, and we were able to get the government to listen.
One of the things that I’m primarily concerned with is international students. [International student] tuition keeps going up, right now we pay five times more tuition than everyone else… Incoming students [will] pay approximately 10 per cent [increase] and continuing students around 5 per cent [increase]. I think there’s a 3 per cent cap for domestic students.
There are [also] ancillary fees that we have to look into. Ancillary fees are basically another part of or tuition fees…Professional faculties also pay more. …[F]or instance engineers have to pay an additional fee…for an elective in the faculty of Arts & Science, which doesn’t make any sense. So making sure that we’re…working with [the professional faculties] so their tuition doesn’t keep going up.
Also [we will] work closely with UTMSU to ensure that we’re working on regulated fees at UTM being implemented, in the same manner that we worked on tackling flat fees.
TV: How do you plan to continue the consultation process on the restructuring of the board of directors?
CW: I don’t think there’s one answer to this. There’s not one perfect structure. Throughout our 114 year history you can see that the UTSU has changed significantly, almost from year to year. We have to consider the fact that the needs of the membership change and also the strategies change…[W]e’ve changed in the past to reflect the membership and I think we need to change again to reflect our membership.
We are a vehicle for change here at this university, and if people want representation we [all] have to meaningfully participate in our students union. I think everyone needs to come together and we need to participate and compromise. I think we also have to consider that the [board of directors] structure has to support diversity but also unite us. U of T is a very diverse community, we see that all across the campus. We have to make sure that we’re representing all U of T students.
When people start talking about fragmenting the union, that’s not the way to go. When we come together, when we work together we are able to accomplish much more…We need something that works for the immediate future that also reflects this political moment in time.
TV: Given the time constraints on being compliant with the Canada Not for Profit Corporations Act, how will consultation work?
CW: …[W]e need to meaningfully reach out to our members. We’ve finally gotten access to our listserv this year, which means we can finally reach out to all of our members at once. [We] also need to reach…out on the ground, talk..to them, possibly even conduct…a survey.
TV: Should the UTSU take a stand on political matters outside the purview of students or the university?
CW: When it comes down to it, we are a political organization. We have been a political organization in our broader history, and we’ve been able to pressure the university administration. [The union has] done an outstanding number of things in the past such as making sure that women have access to hart house, undergraduates have access to Robarts, starting the first pride in Toronto by walking through Kings College circle.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the membership [as to] whether we do take a [political] stance because many of our motions are presented at the AGM and we decide from there.
TV: Back in October 2014, the provostial advisory committee on student mental health published recommendations to improve mental health. They are now working on the implementing the recommendations. What role should the UTSU play in this process?
CW: Yolen has done a lot of excellent work on this…I think we need to acknowledge…the types of stressors that students undergo. We have to acknowledge that CAPS has worked for people but the waiting time is getting longer and longer.
Talking to racialized communities, we’ve also noticed that CAPS is predominantly white so making sure that students feel represented [and] making sure that we know what kind of choice is available to them [are priorities]… Making sure that U of T is prioritizing mental health both in terms of funding and in terms of [increasing] awareness of the services that they already… have and building community. I think that the union can work on building community, hosting events, hosting exam destressers and destressers in general.
[We should make] sure that we are working on all of these challenges. It’s a difficult task but I think [the] union can definitely implement… services… while also ensuring that we are working on the bigger picture.
TV: Why do you want to be UTSU president?
CW: I want to be the president of the UTSU because I came to U of T not knowing what direction I wanted to go, and being lost in the biggest city in Canada. I came here from an island of 30 odd thousand people to a population of 2.5 million and wanted to just fit in and feel at home and the University of Toronto has provided that to me.
I think that there’s good reason why [the University of Toronto] is the best institution in Canada. It does have a community and I want to build on that community. I want to make sure that all voices are being heard at the table from colleges, because my college provided me with that sense of home and I am so grateful for that.
I also know that now more than ever we need a leader. Spitting out statistics, anyone can do. But I think that we need someone that can bring the people together. I think we need someone who’s coming from all sides of the table and understands each perspective. I’ve worked closely with the colleges in the past and I’ve worked closely with the community all over. And we need to make sure that we are coming together because right now is a very key political time for the student union.
We’ve been able to accomplish a lot but we need to accomplish a lot more. We need to make sure that students are being prioritized, at this university because it is a university, not a corporation. I can take anything that’s thrown my way, and any amount of scrutiny. I’m not going to back down and I’m not going to shy away from anything. I’m the type of person that’s relatable, personable, and ready to listen to you and what your concerns are. I think we need that in a leader. Finally, I just really love U of T and I want to represent it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.