The 2018 elections of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) were marred in controversy. With the unofficial results now in, we reached out to UTSC students who wanted to share their opinions on everything that’s happened.
Confusion surrounding SCSU-related controversies leaves students at a loss
Coming to university, one of the things that fascinated me was the concept of a student council that had the ability to make a real difference. To the untrained freshman eye, the SCSU was ‘by students, for students’ and had the platform to influence decision-makers and advocate for my rights.
While these thoughts are valid in theory, recent events demonstrate this platform is not realistic in practice. Watching the controversy with this year’s SCSU elections unfold, the first thing that struck me was how unprofessional the whole situation is.
Allegations of misconduct in this year’s elections were first brought to attention on social media; they contained some very serious claims but no real detail as to what truly happened. To this day, most of us who don’t have the privilege of working in the SCSU office are still left in the dark with a frustrating pile of ambiguous statements.
After observing the protest at the all-candidates’ meeting and viewing the response from the official SCSU page, I have been forced to question how much of the battle is really for justice and how much is for personal gain. Do these people really care about me, or is the goal just to obtain another nice mark on an already impressive resumé?
While I do respect the amount of work and passion our current executive board displays daily, I can’t help but lose some respect for the union as a whole. As a campus that is not taken as seriously as it should be, we cannot present this kind of divided front. It is very easy for the powers that be to disregard student unions as childish, and I am afraid that this behaviour affirms those patronizing thoughts.
Deborah Ocholi is a third-year student at UTSC studying Neuroscience.
SCSU elections still primarily a popularity contest
Videos. Hashtags. Petitions. What began as two candidate disqualifications has mushroomed into a fierce backlash against the SCSU. However, this commotion is obscuring the fundamental causes of the student union’s downfall.
The foundation of this scandal is the student body’s woeful ignorance of the SCSU’s management. Unless you are a motivated individual with political aspirations or a desire to pad your resumé, you are probably unaware of the SCSU’s principles. What are the election rules? How is the budget determined? What values guide decision-making? This obliviousness stems from apathy on the union’s part in making its values widely accessible. To the layperson, the SCSU is a shadowy organization that can only be understood by those already inducted into its hierarchy. Lack of transparency facilitates the perception of corruption.
Furthermore, trust in the electoral process is eroded by focus on candidate popularity at the cost of policy. Walking through campus during election season guarantees being bombarded by brightly coloured posters or students canvassing votes. Slates are banking on the familiarity of their candidates’ faces as the path to triumph. And unfortunately, their methods seem to be working. While most students can identify candidates by face, they might find it harder to discuss any of their policies, and candidates rely heavily on this.
It falls on the SCSU to organize debates or town halls, where students can determine the feasibility of a candidate’s policies and decide who represents their interests. Yes, a candidate forum was held, but it was poorly advertised and even more poorly attended. Right now, friends vote for friends.
Meanwhile, a glance at the candidates’ proposals reveal wildly unrealistic suggestions, most of which are unlikely to be implemented. One wonders from what bottomless pockets would funding for bubble tea and a permanent ice rink be procured.
To the SCSU: don’t underestimate your student body’s intelligence. Give them the opportunity to engage in democracy. Until the electoral process is reformed, the SCSU will continue to be perceived as a nepotistic organization that does not embody the voices of the students it represents.
Maria Raveendran is a third-year student at UTSC studying Human Biology and Psychology.
Being a candidate means following the rules
I was an executive of the SCSU for two years, and during that time I saw the advantages and resources an incumbent has at their disposal.
Using office space to plan for the election and recruit other candidates, using the station of their power to sway the election by wearing SCSU paraphernalia during campaigning, and intentionally misleading the student population regarding the Elections Procedures Code (EPC) are just a few examples of how the EPC was violated this year by incumbent executive Deena Hassan.
Hassan was disqualified from the election twice this year. The demerit point system exists to ensure no candidate is able to win the election through unfair advantages like the ones I outlined above.
Inherently, incumbents have an immense advantage in rerunning — let’s not hand them the election by letting them violate the rules unpunished. Ignorance of bylaws and policies is no excuse. As a part of the board of directors, it is the duty of executives to not only understand but to also execute all bylaws and policies of the union.
In turn, it is the duty of the board, its committee, and the general student body to ensure that we hold the executives accountable. Do your due diligence and fact-check the campaign statements made by the candidates who were elected. Don’t just listen to the people who had a stake in the result.
Yasmin Rajabi is a fourth-year student at UTSC studying Public Policy & City Studies. She served as the SCSU’s Vice-President Operations in 2016–2017 and the SCSU’s Vice-President External in 2015–2016.
Limiting election-related conversation is a limit on free speech
The controversial events leading up to the SCSU elections this year have slowly come to light and have left many, including me, horrified at how deep the SCSU’s dishonesty runs. This year, one slate in particular, Rise Up UTSC, came under fire in the SCSU’s unjustified war for maintaining control over the council’s elected representatives.
I feel the members of Rise Up UTSC have a lot to offer in terms of concrete change, especially compared to the other slate. While Rise Up UTSC recommended the expansion of the existing Food Centre and academic workshops to equip students with employable skills, president-elect Nicole Brayiannis of the UTSC Voice slate spent too much of her time promoting opening a bubble tea place, even though a food place on campus already sells it. However, over the course of the week after the protest, Rise Up UTSC members warned supporters to keep their language neutral while voicing their opinions for fear of receiving demerit points. They were required to draft a cookie-cutter promotional message and have it pre-approved by the CRO before disseminating it to their supporters.
Even more troubling is that a recent ruling by the CRO resulted in students who were not connected to any of the candidates being limited in how they could express their opinions about the slate. Anyone who was outspoken about their support for Rise Up UTSC was a potential target for this restriction. I was personally asked by a member of Rise Up UTSC to amend my own opinions, which were posted as a Facebook status update, for fear of having the slate receive demerit points, even though they didn’t explicitly target any other group. And even with disclaimers that the opinions being expressed were not in any way encouraged by the candidates of Rise Up UTSC, the candidates on the slate were still penalized with demerit points for these posts.
We’re just beginning to find out the ways in which students’ free speech can be stifled at Scarborough, and it’s all the more ironic coming from a union allegedly committed to social justice and equity. Can the SCSU reconcile with this injustice? I’m not certain. What I do know is that I don’t pay the SCSU roughly $40 per semester for bubble tea.
Shiza Shaikh is a third-year student at UTSC studying Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.
Transparency and accessibility were in low supply this election period
From controversial allegations to poorly constructed statements, conflicts and miscommunication are not atypical of the SCSU elections process. While student politics are often manipulated to some degree, the lack of oversight, transparency, and the complete disregard for process this year is ridiculous.
It’s hardly inconceivable that slates are planned by outgoing teams. Why is it that we so often have repeat executives while other candidates are quickly voted down, have spoiled ballots, or are disqualified?
Aside from that, let’s talk about the fact that the Elections Candidate Forum was designated with a “TBA” for the date and time on all posters, and then the Facebook event was created the evening before the event was actually scheduled — and cross-promoted on the same day as another large-scale event. If more time to advertise had been needed, there was ample opportunity to shift the dates, especially given the current controversy and the hiring of the new CRO.
You would think that a student union would take pride in being able to share democracy with its members. Instead, it is common to find UTSC generally unaware of the details of the elections — or apathetic, as some would have us believe. Events such as the Elections Candidate Forum, whose purpose is to promote accountability and transparency in the elections process, often wind up doing the opposite. I have yet to see an adequately advertised SCSU election period or Annual General Meeting (AGM) in over four years of being a student at UTSC. A motion about adequate elections advertising was passed at this year’s AGM, but it was not enough to prompt the SCSU to reconsider how it carries out its promotions.
While it is nice to see the campus on the alert during the aftermath of the SCSU elections controversies this year, it’s more about timing than anything. It’s a shame that more students aren’t aware of what has been going on, but it’s more of a shame that the SCSU doesn’t seem to care either.
Katie Konstantopoulos is a sixth-year student at UTSC studying Sociology.
Scandals at other student unions reveal the importance of solving SCSU problems now
The controversies surrounding the SCSU are concerning, and given the even more serious scandals at other student unions in Canada, we should take care that they don’t escalate further. Before coming to UTSC, I studied for two years at the University of Ottawa. The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), on a yearly basis, manages to make headlines for its clownery and corruption. The SFUO mismanaged its way to bankruptcy, all before increasing executive pay by 18 per cent.
Allegations of unfair disqualifications may be new to the SCSU, but they are commonplace at uOttawa. Reform-minded candidates are routinely pushed out, especially when the power of incumbent slates is threatened. In 2011, a winning Board of Administration member was disqualified after the election, and the SFUO appointed the second place finisher to take his place. In 2015, the President of the SFUO, who won on a reform platform, resigned. To the surprise of no one, the candidate was replaced by the VP Communications, who belonged to the previous year’s incumbent slate.
Another student union where mismanagement has been prevalent is the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU). Recent allegations made by executives describing a “boys club” environment and unpleasant working conditions have led one executive to resign outright. The VP Operations has also criticized the working environment, saying he and other executives were not consulted on important campaigns and initiatives.
While the SCSU does not compare to the SFUO or the RSU, the recent occurrences do represent a troubling trend. When student politics becomes an industry, and when there is little to no turnover in executive elections, the quality of representation decreases, while scandal and incompetence increase. Examples from uOttawa and Ryerson should present a warning to UTSC students and student leaders. Low levels of turnover and incompetence in both executive and staff members have serious consequences that must be mitigated before they reach the levels of other schools.
Andre Roy is a third-year student at UTSC studying City Studies.