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 Additionally, the Arts & Science at-large directorships have been replaced by six program directors.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.”
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.