During the elections for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), students voted in two levy referenda: one for establishing levies for an accessibility resources fund, and the other to establish the Innovation Fund for the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT). Both referenda passed.
There were 2,280 votes in favour of the accessibility resources fund and 1,094 votes against. The UTAT’s levy received 1,881 in favour and 1,553 against.
UTSU members at UTSG will pay $0.50 per session, including the summer session, for five years to establish an accessibility fund, as well as $2.77 in the Fall and Winter sessions for two years to establish an Innovation Fund.
Students will have the option to opt out of the UTAT fee, as they do with other levy groups associated with the UTSU.
According to the referendum question for the accessibility levy, the money collected will be spent “exclusively on caption for UTSU events, American Sign Language for UTSU events, personal support workers for UTSU events, and any other accommodations that a member with a disability would need within the UTSU event.”
Farah Noori, the current Vice-President Equity for the UTSU, commented, “As a students union we organize multiple events/initiatives for our members, this fund will help our events/initiatives be more accessible… Personally, I’m just happy that it passed. A lot of students will benefit from this fund.”
The levy will be collected for five years, from fall 2017 to spring 2022, after which another referendum will need to be conducted in order to continue the collection of fees.
The Innovation Fund will be established to support the UTAT’s plan to develop and launch a microbiology research satellite into space. A large portion of the levy will go towards the actual cost to launch, according to Stephen Dodge, the UTAT’s Director of Business Development.
“The point of the satellite is to do research and publish papers on how fungus will act in space, [because] that’s a big question that we don’t know the answer to,” he said.
In regards to why the UTAT elected to go through the UTSU for funding, Dodge said, “We decided, you know what, this [is] a project made by students, it’s going to deliver a lot of value back to students at the university… so why not go to students and ask them, ‘Hey, is this something that you want to support?’”
“Just the amount of effort that was put in… it would have been terrible to have lost, and I don’t know that I can describe how awesome it is that it passed,” he added.
The UTAT attempted to get a referendum on the ballot last year but was unable to get enough signatures in their petition. The group needed to present a petition with signatures from five per cent of UTSG students.
The group will also be relying on corporate sponsors and the University of Toronto for support, as the fee collected for the Innovation Fund will not be enough to cover the cost of the entire project, particularly if students choose to opt out.
“We don’t want you to be uncomfortable with where your fees go. We just want the people who are excited about UTAT, or at the very least don’t care either way, to be the ones to support us. So we’re very happy if the student exercises the right to opt out, that’s totally fine with us,” said Dodge.
Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article stated that the Innovation Fund would go toward UTAT rockets. In fact, the new levy will go only towards the satellite project, and will last two years, not three. This article has also been updated to clarify that the Innovation Fund levy was established through the referendum, not increased; the new fund is distinct from UTAT’s existing operating levy.