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UTSU board structure confirmed at Special General Meeting

Long journey to legal compliance comes to a close

UTSU board structure confirmed at Special General Meeting

After more than two years and three general meetings, the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) journey to ratify a new Board of Directors structure has finally concluded. With 2,076 votes in favour, 44 opposed, and one abstention, a modified version of the board structure proposal submitted by Arts & Science director Khrystyna Zhuk and University College director Daman Singh was ratified at the UTSU’s Special General Meeting (SGM), otherwise called AGM Part 2, on Wednesday November 18.

The final board structure preserves proportional representation for colleges and professional faculties. However, these directors will now be elected internally by their respective divisions. Additionally, the Arts & Science at-large directorships have been replaced by six program directors. The position of vice-president professional faculties has been created and the vice-president campus life is now an elected position.

A long road to CNCA-compliance

As a federally incorporated not-for-profit organization, the UTSU had to change its board structure in order to comply with the new regulations outlined under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA). The CNCA replaced the Canada Corporations Act, which previously governed the UTSU.

The UTSU’s first attempt to approve a CNCA-compliant board structure proposal was at the October 2014 AGM. There was only one proposal on the agenda, and details of the proposal included the elimination of college-based directors, instead granting representation to colleges via a committee, and the introduction of directors tasked to represent issues facing various marginalized groups. The controversial proposal ultimately failed to meet the two-thirds requirement during the vote to ratify.

This year’s AGM, held on October 7, saw two competing board proposals: one moved by Zhuk and seconded by Singh; the other moved by former UTSU vice-president external Grayce Slobodian. The Zhuk/Singh proposal included the preservation of all directors representing colleges and faculties. Various student societies as well as the UTSU Board of Directors also endorsed the proposal.

Slobodian’s proposal would have reduced the number of directors for each college and professional faculty to one, while increasing the number of UTM directors to eight and implementing ‘constituency directors’ to represent marginalized groups.

During the meeting, the Zhuk/Singh proposal beat Slobodian’s proposal in the board structure election, but did not meet the two-thirds majority at the time of ratification.  A modified version of the Zhuk/Singh proposal was brought back for consideration at the November 18 SGM. The modifications included amendments that were moved from the floor at the October 7 AGM. There are now seven ‘general equity’ directors, after Jades Swadron, organizer with the Trans Inclusivity Project, amended the proposal on the floor of the AGM to include a poverty sub-commission and an additional director to chair it.

One last amendment

Former Computer Science Student Union president Jonathan Webb moved an amendment during the November 18 SGM. Webb’s amendment replaced the two Arts & Science at-large directors with directors representing each of the six programs under the Faculty of Arts & Science (humanities, social science, life science, computer science, physical and mathematical science, and Rotman commerce).

“So, when you’re in first year, it’s based on your enrollment category. Whenever you apply, they ask you what you want to study and each of those come to one of six enrollment pools,” explained Webb. “And then, past that, every single degree is dumped into one of these buckets. If you’re taking a major or specialist in one of these degrees, the plan is that you’ll be able to vote for them.” Webb clarified that the specific details on how these directors will operate still needed addressed by the UTSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee.

Some students, however, opposed Webb’s amendment. Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) executive Natalie Petra said that the program directors would duplicate the representation that the ASSU already offers. “Right now, this amendment is creating double representation,” said Petra during the SGM. Petra also explained that the ASSU liaises with the UTSU vice-president university affairs and talked about the work that the course unions do.

“I don’t think that the spirit of the motion is bad. I do think that we need to consider that some people have different types of representation and want different things out of their union. But there already is a union for this. We don’t have to duplicate that representation and we don’t have to create that power imbalance towards Arts & Science students on the UTSU board of directors.”

However, Webb disagreed. He told The Varsity, “I think that these seats do nothing but to compliment the [ASSU]. The same argument being made against the academic seats could be said against the Arts & Science at-large seats. They effectively serve the same purpose. We’re just dividing them up differently right now.” Ultimately, Webb’s amendment passed with 1,088 votes in favour, 182 opposed, and 942 abstentions.

Petra was disappointed by the outcome. “Personally myself as an ASSU executive, I’m disappointed that that amendment passed and it shows me that ASSU has a lot more work to do in terms of informing students what we’re doing, in terms of advocacy.”

Reactions

Many students left the SGM feeling relieved that the seemingly endless debate over board structures was finally over.

“I think happy is the best way to phrase it that we finally, finally got this through,” Zhuk said upon being asked how she felt after the meeting. “There’s been so much work put into this, it’s been eight months now I think that we’ve been working on this proposal, consulting with groups, doing all of this work, to finally have it pass — absolute relief.”

Webb echoed Zhuk’s sentiments. “I think the most important thing above all — ignoring my amendment — was that the over board of directors [structure] being passed,” he said. “Had my motion failed, I would have still voted for the overall motion. It was important that we got that passed. It’s important that we got compliant by-laws.”

UTSU president Ben Coleman told The Varsity that the union would be able to focus more on advocacy with the board structure debate now out of the way. 

“There is a bunch of stuff on my wish list, like having more events that are targeted towards commuters, expanding our social justice and equity work, having more accountability cafes, so more informal spaces so students can talk to us. A lot of that kind of got pushed to the back burner because we had to get this done so now we can think about that.”

This article has been updated from a previous version.

UTSU AGM 2015 Part 2 Live Blog

Follow along at #UTSUAGM15

UTSU AGM Part 2 Live 2015

Coming at you live from the UTSU AGM. Join in via Twitter with #utsuagm15 or contribute below.

U of T students safe in Paris following recent attacks

Over 100 people killed in explosions, shooting, across the city

U of T students safe in Paris following recent attacks

This past Friday, a series of coordinated explosions and shootings in Paris suspected to be the work of terrorists working in conjunction with the Islamic State shocked the world and claimed the lives of over 100 people. Seven sites in France’s capital were targeted in the November 13 attacks. Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto, issued a statement two days after the attacks, confirming the safety of students and faculty registered in France with the university’s Safety Abroad Office.

Madeleine Taylor, a recent University of Toronto graduate, was in the outskirts of Paris at the time of the attacks. “I had planned to go out with a friend, but both of us were feeling lazy and tired that night and bailed a few hours earlier,” Taylor said, adding that she and her friend had gone out the week prior to a place close to one of the target areas.

“I’m very thankful to be safe but very aware that this could have happened anywhere in the world. Unfortunately this is not a problem unique to Paris, and cannot be solved by leaving, or refusing to live our lives,” Taylor said.

Rose Tornabene, a third-year U of T student on exchange in Paris, was in her apartment in the fifteenth arrondissement when she received a text from a friend asking if she was okay.

“She informed me that there had just been explosions and shootings in the city,” said Tornabene, adding that her mind quickly turned to questions. “How close was I to the attacks? How close was she? Were they still on-going? I texted her back telling her I was safe at home.”

“I turned my attention to the news. A wave of terror swept over me as I realized the severity of what was unfolding so close to me,” Tornabene explained. “I spent the night listening to the ringing of sirens, assuring my loved ones I was safe, and checking on the status of friends.”

Tornabene said that the days in Paris following the attacks have been marked with silence. “The streets, regardless of the heavy traffic, are silent. You can feel the change in the city; people are weary and tense,” she said.

Gertler expressed “shock and sadness” at the events in his statement, which also committed the institution in solidarity with the people of France. “The University of Toronto flag will be flown at half-mast on Monday, November 16, Tuesday, November 17, and Wednesday, November 18 in solidarity with the three days of official mourning declared by French president François Hollande – and in sympathy with all those mourning the lives taken in these terrible incidents.”

While details of the attacks are still emerging, Gertler stated that the university is keeping track of the situation as it changes. “We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as new information is received,” read a portion of the statement.

Theatre review: Hamlet

Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

Theatre review: Hamlet

Surely, in the minds of young actors, no prospect is more eagerly anticipated, or more acutely distressing than a chance to play the Danish prince. Shakespeare’s longest and perhaps most ubiquitous work, Hamlet has been a staple of curricula in English classes for centuries. In more recent memory, the titular role has been filled by such marquee giants as Lawrence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, and Benedict Cumberbatch — whose performance on the stage of London’s Barbican Theatre runs concurrently with the Hart House production that opened on November 4. What could be a greater thrill, or stress, depending? How noble in endeavour, how infinite in interpretation.

Director Paulo Santalucia’s modern staging is an interpretation punching above most, one that offers a pleasantly contemporary taste of wartime Denmark and her conflicted nobility. In his debut at the helm of a Hart House production, Santalucia achieves the difficult feat of making a classic feel new, while still preserving its delicate familiarity.

Immediate commendation is owed to set and costume designer Nancy Perrin. Perrin’s small space is at once a surprisingly versatile setting — shifting easily from throne room to outdoors — as well as a poignant reflection of the inner claustrophobia of its characters. A large collection of wooden chairs thrown haphazardly into a pile dominates the right side of the stage. A cumbersome addition perhaps, yet time and again the production manages to incorporate the chairs in believable and creative ways: a place for Hamlet to consult with his father’s ghost, Ophelia’s precarious tree branch, the peak of a mound of graveyard dirt.

However, what is Hamlet without Hamlet? Dan Mousseau’s portrayal of the famous prince is satisfactorily a case study in bipolar contradiction and conflict. In the lighter scenes — and there are some — the hilarious indifference with which Mousseau delivers Shakespeare’s words provides a comically entertaining reading of the text (it can’t all be suicidal depression). Still, these moments only seem to act as manic anticipation of the downs. The cumulative effect, from one moment to the next, is an unfortunate sense that Hamlet isn’t really speaking to anyone but himself throughout.

The more quotable soliloquies are delivered with appropriate gravitas but are at times constrained by the stage, such as in the infinitely recognizable “To be, or not to be… ” When one might expect the heretofore-energetic Hamlet to pace and gesticulate wildly in a fit of contemplation, the cramped space forces Mousseau flatly to his knees.

Despite these grievances, Mousseau is clearly in his element and inspires the audience to constantly rethink the character they thought they knew, while simultaneously having a little bit of fun at everyone’s expense.

The production also features an excellent performance by veteran Thomas Gough as Polonius, who makes for a great foil for Mousseau in some scenes. Sheelagh Daly shines as Ophelia, who, following Polonius’ tragic death, turns on one of the most convincing and distressing performances of despondency I have ever seen. Fierce friend to the cursed prince, Horatio played by Eric Finlayson also turned in a noteworthy performance.

Hart House’s production of Hamlet runs until Nov. 21