Attendance for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors has risen by 12 per cent since approximately this time last year. Last February, director attendance was approximately 64 per cent, while this year attendance is around 76 per cent.

Including UTSU executive members, Board of Directors meeting attendance rose to approximately 79 per cent compared to last year’s attendance.

The Board of Directors acts as the governing body for the UTSU and is made up of 57 elected students who represent a variety of college and faculty groups on campus.

The board is organized into three divisions: Division I, which includes UTSG Arts & Science colleges and the Transitional Year Programme; Division II, which represents Professional Faculties; and Division III, which includes the sevem directors from UTM.   

Also sitting on the board are the eight UTSU executive members and seven General Equity Directors; the latter are tasked with representing various identity groups. Two of these positions are currently vacant.

According to UTSU bylaws, Division I and Division II Directors “shall be deemed to have delivered their resignation” if they have missed two meetings without sending regrets, missed three consecutive meetings, or missed any four meetings regardless of them sending regrets.

By The Varsity’s count, at least 10 sitting directors have violated one or more of these criteria.

The Varsity has reached out to all UTSU executive members and directors for this article, 15 of whom responded as of press time.

Explaining absences

The majority of board members who responded to The Varsity cited academia, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and commuting as some of the reasons why directors may have missed meetings.

Many directors commented that scheduling conflicts are unavoidable, especially given the increase in number of directors on the board this year.

Andrew Sweeny, who is a Director for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said that he has had to miss class in order to attend some meetings, which “is a sacrifice not all directors can [or] want to make.”

Faculty of Law Director Aidan Fishman discussed the unique struggles of directors representing second-entry programs — such as Medicine, Law, and Dentistry — who often have additional academic responsibilities: “second-entry directors will find it nearly impossible to meet the attendance expectations laid out for them in the UTSU bylaws.”

As a result, Fishman says that he prioritizes the meetings that includes issues he sees as important to his constituents.

Social Sciences Director Timothy Law also mentioned that attendance can be especially difficult during the summer when many students have full-time jobs.

University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) President Nour Alideeb noted that attendance can be especially difficult for UTM directors given the commute to downtown Toronto. Most board meetings occur at UTSG, while at least one per session must be held at UTM according to the UTSU bylaws.

Alideeb also said that, when meetings are held at UTM quorum is barely met “simply because of the location.”

A few directors expressed that some individuals are unaware of the roles and responsibilities of the position when they are running. UTSU Vice-President Professional Faculties Ryan Gomes said, “It’s a worrying sign that people are running for the UTSU and then not following through with their commitments.”

When referring to directors who have missed a majority of the meetings, Sweeny said “at that point we’re looking at people who were never really serious [or] cared about being a director and shouldn’t have been elected in the first place.” 

Other directors discussed the culture in meetings as a disincentive for attending. “Unfortunately, there have been cases where folks don’t feel comfortable enough to attend meetings as well, and I frankly have no idea how to address that other than saying I hope next year’s board learns how to respect one another and create an environment where everyone can contribute without feeling judged,” said New College Director Sila Elgin.

In addition, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences director Addy Bhatia said that some directors contribute less because many issues do not impact their constituents. He said often discussion items can also be “boring.”

General Equity Director Jayme Nadolny noted that their “position on the board does not require regular attendance at meetings.”

Potential solutions

A variety of solutions were put forward by the directors and executives. Gomes explained that directors can “send regrets” if they miss a meeting due to academic conflicts and this absence will not be counted against them.

A few directors suggested that UTSU executive members should account for availability through polls; many said that, given the size of the board, this may not be effective.

Woodsworth College Director Christina Badiola noted that directors who commute do have the option to use Google Hangouts to participate in meetings.

General Equity Director Ramz Aziz suggested that directors should receive a short list of upcoming important decisions being made by the board and emails should be sent out to directors two months in advance of a meeting.

Importance of meetings

Almost every director and executive that responded to The Varsity emphasized the importance of attending meetings. The consensus was that meeting attendance was crucial for two reasons: representation for constituents and quorum.

St. Michael’s College Director Georgina Merhom expressed that politics sometimes overshadows constituency representation: “I have seen it happen too many times, where directors become overly invested in UTSU ‘politics’ and eventually lose touch with the communities they are pledged to represent,” she said.

Victoria College Director Garnet Lollar said that despite many motions being uncontroversial, “it’s still unfortunate to be missing input.”

Additionally, General Equity Director Nish Chankar said, “In a perfect world, the UTSU directors on the board are in touch and engaged with their constituents.”

Chankar adde, “It’s hard to find the balance between directors that represent their constituents, and directors that are able to prioritize work with the UTSU in a way that’s necessary and currently underserved.”

Numerous directors mentioned that struggling to maintain quorum has been a problem in meetings, and thus attendance can be crucial for meetings to even occur. The quorum for Board of Directors meetings is 20 people.

“It’s a Director’s job to attend board meetings, and if they can’t it’s important that they give us notice,” said UTSU Prsident Jasmine Wong Denike. “If they haven’t been attending board meetings, or attempting to get caught up to speed by fellow board members or executives, they aren’t fulfilling their roles.”

Disclosure: Sila Elgin contributes to The Varsity’s Photo, Comment, and Features sections.

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