The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) voted on amending its bylaws during the 2017 Annual General Meeting (AGM), including a failed amendment to consolidate the Vice-President University Affairs and Vice-President External executive positions into one Vice-President Advocacy position.
Other amendments at the October 30 meeting included replacing the General Equity Director (GED) positions with Equity Collectives, adding a section on consequences for absentee members of the UTSU Board of Directors, allowing online voting, and capping executive terms at two years.
Proposed replacement of VP University Affairs and VP External positions
UTSU President Mathias Memmel and Vice-President Internal Daman Singh argued in favour of eliminating the positions of VP University Affairs and VP External and replacing them with a VP Advocacy postion that would serve as the union’s liaison to outside organizations and chair the Student Advocacy Commission.
According to Memmel and Singh, the proposal’s purpose was mainly to reduce organization expenditures. Salaries, wages, and benefits amount to $716,096 in the UTSU’s 2017 audited financial statements, close to 40 per cent of the organization’s budget.
The amendment also removed specific mentions of the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, and replaced the two with “external student organizations.”
VP External Anne Boucher opposed the motion, contending that given the significant work that goes into her position, advocacy work would be severely hurt should the VP Advocacy effectively be responsible for two positions.
“I am working quite long hours as it is, and I could not imagine someone next year holding my position on top of a lot of the VP UA portfolio,” Boucher told The Varsity. “I just would see myself personally burning out or cutting corners, and I don’t think the UTSU should be doing that.”
Adrian Huntelar, General Equity Director of the Poverty & Financial Insecurity Commission, said the salary of the executives was not the problem, but that it was the “frivolous” expenses in the budget, including miscellaneous spending, transportation, and executive phone plans.
Huntelar also criticized the lack of debate in the board, an issue also taken up by Academic Director for Humanities Kassandra Neranjan, who admonished the officers for being “elitist,” saying that their “tone of voice is inconsiderate of those who ran with you.”
The motion for the consolidation of the two positions failed in a vote of 196 against, 148 in favour.
“We’ll have to go back and crunch some numbers. I think what the membership did today was to challenge us to find an alternate solution, and that’s something that we’re going to do moving forward,” Memmel told The Varsity, following the vote.
Consequences for absentee board members
Another amendment proposed adding a section with consequences for board members who regularly miss meetings. The motion states that any director “shall be deemed to have delivered their resignation” if they have failed to send regrets to two missed meetings, failed to attend three consecutive or four overall meetings, or failed to attend three committee meetings.
According to Speaker Billy Graydon, the motion to deem the resignation of a member must be brought forth by a board member, and that has only happened once in the past three years.
Victoria College Director Jayde Jones motioned to amend the third part of the proposed bylaw, to where board members that fail to attend two committee meetings without regrets would be deemed to have delivered their resignation. Jones argued that the original proposal was too harsh for students who wish to continue serving the community while having other commitments.
Other students supported Jones’ amendment, including Huntelar. Another member claimed that the amended language would benefit working students, including the directors; they have to work a certain number of shifts every week, so the new revision would allow participation in the organization without being removed for no cause. Jones’ alteration passed.
Andrew Sweeny, a former board member who resigned earlier this term, motioned to strike Jones’ clause, arguing that directors should be much more accountable. The current language is harsh, but necessary, said Sweeny. His motion later failed, and the amendment as a whole was kept and voted in by the assembly.
Equity Directors out, Equity Collectives in
Members also approved the replacement of the seven GEDs from the board with Coordinators of Equity Collectives. The coordinators will not have voting rights on the board, but they will be paid.
Vice-President Equity Chimwemwe Alao explained that Equity Collectives are the first steps toward a council system. Representation of different identity groups will no longer be imposed by the board, but they will be determined from the groups themselves in a bottom-up and collaborative fashion. Topics discussed will be brought to the attention of the board by a coordinator and a liaison.
The proposed restructuring was supported by Jones, who said it was “a direct response to what students say they need” and that the paid positions in the collectives were a better alternative to the seven GEDs who were powerless in front of a board of 50 members.
Vice-President Professional Faculties Shivani Nathoo also agreed with the proposal, affirming that collectives are better alternatives to the subcommissions currently headed by the GEDs. She argued that collectives allow for multiple points of view to be considered.
The elimination of the Equity Director positions was met with resistance from Eastern Africa Students Association Vice-President Emmanuela Alimlim, who said that the proposal would take away voting rights from marginalized students.
UTMSU Representative Jose Wilson echoed Alimlim’s sentiments. “You’re giving them the say, but you’re not giving them the power to actually vote on anything,” he said.
Other amendments carried included the right to vote electronically and limiting student executives to run for a maximum of two terms as a means to “prevent career student politicians,” Memmel said.