The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is one step closer to completing its transition from the Canada Corporations Act to the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA).
At last year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in October, the only Board proposal put to the membership for a vote was controversial; 10 constituency directors would have represented specific marginalized groups and granted college and professional faculty representation via a committee.
Students present at the AGM voted down the proposal, leaving the UTSU until October 14, 2015 to hold an AGM at which to approve a by-law structure that complies with the CNCA. Since the proposal’s defeat, various groups have been working on proposals for consideration.
The deadline for motions to be discussed at this year’s AGM, including those related to the restructuring of the Board of Directors, was August 7 at 11:59 PM. The open season of proposals that were floating around — with some of those working on them jumping from one to another — culminated in the submission of three proposals for consideration. Those who submitted proposals were Natalie Petra, Grayce Slobodian, and Khrystyna Zhuk.
All three proposals identified the removal of college and professional faculty directorships in favour of identity-based representation as one of the main reasons for the failure of the UTSU’s initial proposal. All three groups aim to rectify this by keeping college and professional faculty representation while incorporating positions to address the equity-based concerns raised by last year’s proposal.
Natalie Petra, a public policy student and mover of the “hybrid proposal,” has been working on a reformed structure since January 2015. Petra and Ryan Gomes, then a UTSU Engineering director, initially spearheaded the “hybrid proposal” before Gomes stepped down from the project when he became the UTSU’s vice-president internal & services. The proposal has its roots in an open forum that Petra and Gomes held for students to discuss their issues with the UTSU and to facilitate the creation of a proposal that increases “involvement and engagement” with the union by all students.
“We have undertaken, by far, more consulation than any other board proposal group. We sought feedback on absolutely every aspect of this proposal,” Petra told The Varsity. “We adjusted based on what we were hearing students wanted every step of the way.”
Petra’s proposal adds four equity-at-large seats that are not demarcated by identity, as well as four issue-based seats for international students, first years, mature students, and commuter students.
Under this proposed framework, the vice-president, campus life, currently an appointed position, would switch to being an elected position, and the vice-president, equity, would become an appointed one, to be selected by a committee of equity-seeking groups on campus. “Equity-seeking groups often face significant barriers to involvement in our union, and at times are shut out of the political process on campus,” said Petra. In addition, the proposal would create two new positions, a vice-president, professional faculties, and a mental wellness commissioner.
The hybrid proposal creates three classes of membership, one for colleges and students in the Transitional Year Program, one for professional faculties, and one for UTM. Due to the CNCA’s requirement that all positions be elected at an AGM, the proposal suggests that the UTSU hold a ratification meeting after preliminary divisional elections, conducted with local Chief Returning Officers (CRO)s and according to the UTSU’s bylaws. The winners of those elections would be the only candidates for election at the ratification meeting and would be confirmed there.
Campus-wide elections for the equity-at-large and issues board directorships, as well as for the executive committee, would occur simultaneously, with the first-year students’ director being elected in the Fall.
Khrystyna Zhuk, one of the current Board’s Arts & Science at-large directors, submitted a proposal keeps the direct college, professional faculty, and UTM representation intact. It offers a restructuring of how representatives will be elected; instead of the traditional campus-wide elections for representatives, college, and professional faculty student societies will have the ability to run internal elections to decide who represents them within the UTSU. The proposal also calls for a number of General Equity Directors to represent equity-seeking groups.
Zhuk’s proposal is a collaboration between various concerned students. “It was important to our group that all opinions and perspectives were valued and taken into account,” Zhuk said. The primary group constructing the proposal includes, UTMSU members and UTSU members.
All were adamant about the large number of people involved in its construction. “The group itself was quite amorphous,” said Benjamin Atkins, co-president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council when asked who was involved. Zhuk emphasized that “[the] proposal took a lot of time and effort to put together from a variety of individuals.”
Grayce Slobodian, former vice-president, external of the UTSU, emphasized the objectives of her proposal. “The primary goals of my proposal are to give students the tools necessary to create a safer campus, fight to lower tuitions fees, challenge ‘isms’ and ‘phobias’ on campus, and create better services for all students.”
“My proposal avoids classes of membership which would be disastrous if introduced; it has strong representation for marginalized groups, colleges, professional faculties, and UTM; it proposes a smaller board size, and it’s compliant with the law — this proposal has it all,” said Slobodian when asked for specific details of her submission.
Slobodian also said that she had done significant outreach and consultation when constructing her proposal. “I worked for a year to consult Board members, student societies, clubs and general students who at last year’s AGM, voiced strong support for issues-based seats, and at the same time support for preserving college and faculty-based seats,” she said.
The St. George Round Table, (SGRT) a group comprised of college and professional faculty student society leaders, reached out to the movers of all three proposals. The SGRT heard Petra and Zhuk present their submissions on Wednesday, August 5; the roundtable has yet to endorse a specific one.
Although the UTSU’s Board of Directors will look at all the proposals submitted, the entries will be subject to legal analysis to ensure that they meet the CNCA’s requirements before being brought to the AGM.