After years of poor relations, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Engineering Society (EngSoc) have come to an agreement on the diversion of fees.
Following the announcement that the UTSU and EngSoc were in negotiations regarding a fee agreement in July 2015, the proposed UTSU-EngSoc Associate Membership Agreement was approved for signing by the UTSU Board of Directors on September 20.
The agreement will see the UTSU remit 50 per cent of the membership fees collected from students in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering to EngSoc. At the same time, the EngSoc will provide all services and programs currently offered by the UTSU to its members, with the exception of the various insurances and funding for clubs provided by the UTSU.
The contract recognizes the autonomy of both groups, including the UTSU’s representation of their joint membership at university-wide bodies such as the University of Toronto Governing Council and the Hart House Board of Stewards. The UTSU is also able to send an elected member of its Executive Committee to represent the union at meetings of the EngSoc Board of Directors. This representative will have the same voting and speaking rights as an EngSoc director.
From diversion to remittance
Only two months since the UTSU’s Revised Response to “A Framework for a New Relationship between the Engineering Society and the University of Toronto Students’ Union,” the agreement marks a radical change from previous management of issues with the UTSU raised by EngSoc and other divisional societies.
Ryan Gomes, UTSU vice-president internal & services, believes that the agreement acknowledges the concerns that have been raised. “EngSoc voted 95 per cent in favour of ceding in 2013, and it’s important to acknowledge that there were legitimate concerns brought forward in their 2010 letter to the UTSU,” he said. EngSoc has been a vocal proponent of fee diversion for a number of years, citing issues of duplicate services, lack of transparency in the UTSU’s governance, and the inaccessibility of opportunities to get involved with the union, as chief concerns. These were outlined in a report entitled A Framework for a New Relationship between the Engineering Society and the University of Toronto Students’ Union, sent to the UTSU in 2010.
Gomes said that the fee diversion was an important part of addressing these concerns. “In order to have some sort of reconciliation, some sort of fee agreement had to be on the table, not only because of the referendum but also because of the high number of duplicated services and representation provided by the Engineering Society,” he explained.
The vote to which Gomes referred was a referendum held by the EngSoc in 2013 to divert UTSU membership fees. Trinity College and Victoria College held similar referenda concurrently. The results, which were overwhelmingly favour of fee diversion, were sent to the University Affairs Board of the Governing Council. The UTSU at the time did not recognize the referenda results. As such, university administrative staff organized the Student Societies Summit to discuss the referenda with different divisions.
There was no lasting conclusion from the Student Societies Summit in order to resolve the issue of fee diversion. The UTSU only changed its stance with the election of the Brighter UofT slate, which held fee diversion and the concerns raised by dissatisfied divisions as one of its platform points.
Hoping that the fee agreement will “prove its value” in the coming years, EngSoc president Ernesto Patiño said that the contract was a matter of “optimization” of the services provided to its members.
“Because EngSoc is very well-connected to engineering community, our offices are right at the heart of the engineering buildings and our students know us very well and use our services very well. So by the UTSU giving us extra financial support from our own UTSU membership fees, we can enhance those services and in other words serve those students also on behalf of the UTSU,” he explained after the meeting.
Despite near unanimous support at the September 20 meeting, there are provisions in place to review or end the agreement. The contract is up for renewal each year, and a two-thirds vote at both UTSU and EngSoc boards is enough to call for a re-negotiation. Both parties have the power to terminate the agreement; a two-thirds majority vote at either board, followed by two-thirds at an Annual General Meeting of the UTSU, could end it.
Ryan Gomes acknowledged the high numbers needed to alter or call off the agreement: “[These] are very high thresholds, and I think that it would be very difficult for a future UTSU administration to terminate what I believe is a valuable reconciliation agreement,” Gomes said. “I think that once the UTSU sees the benefit of this agreement, it will become another solid piece of the UTSU’s fabric.”
While there were critiques made at the board meeting that the agreement was akin to throwing money at the problem, Patiño and Gomes both believe that the agreement will bring EngSoc and UTSU closer together.
“I think those criticisms are failing to acknowledge the unique characteristics of the Faculty of Engineering,” Gomes said of the disagreements. “The Engineering Society has a long history of documented and fair grievances with the UTSU, and this agreement is a step towards making amends.”
Patiño said that the agreement allows the UTSU “to be much more present in what’s going on in engineering.” He also believes that the meetings to be held between the UTSU and EngSoc as stipulated by the agreement will allow both organizations to collaborate on complex issues, such as clubs funding. “So I say this agreement will bring us together closer and this agreement is not at all the UTSU just throwing money at us. It’s actually UTSU investing in and UTSU getting more involved in the engineering community,” Patiño said.
“If I learned one thing from the negotiations is how much potential there is for EngSoc and the UTSU to collaborate as partners in addressing common challenges. This agreement will provide a framework for a new relationship between both organizations, which will be based on mutual support and collaboration.”