The Breakdown: Student union transparency

A look into how unions remain accountable to their constituents
Each student union has a set of bylaws, some of which concern transparency and accountability.  PHOTOS BY STEVEN LEE, SHANNA HUNTER, NATHAN CHAN, AND MARGAUX PARKER
Each student union has a set of bylaws, some of which concern transparency and accountability. PHOTOS BY STEVEN LEE, SHANNA HUNTER, NATHAN CHAN, AND MARGAUX PARKER

All students at U of T are represented by student unions, which organize resources for those students, advocate for their interests, and provide services such as health care plans. The Varsity analyzed the accessibility and transparency of information at student unions at U of T.

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU)

“The UTSU is firmly committed to transparency in its actions and function. By virtue of the fees and political assent delivered by members to the UTSU, a reciprocal duty of responsible stewardship and according disclosure is incumbent on those who steer the organization,” said UTSU Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm in an email to The Varsity.

The union implements measures such as open board meetings, published minutes, agendas, reports, and are made available on its website.

However, the UTSU does not send out notices of board meetings through its social media, website, or Listserv.

Financial documentation, such as its annual operating budget, its audited financial statements, and the audited financial statements of affiliated levy groups, are made available on the UTSU website.

However, audits for the 2017–2018 fiscal year have not been uploaded.

As of the recent Annual General Meeting (AGM), members are allowed to vote directly to change operational and procedural policies at AGMs.

According to Biswurm, a major operations portfolio project is under works and aims to increase transparency and accountability in regards to financial disclosure and the union’s overall governance. However, details have not yet been revealed.

“A specific solution being pursued at present is a complete revamp of all aspects of the UTSU website’s governance-related pages to radically reinvent how members, the press, and the wider public can observe and get involved in the Union’s governance,” said Biswurm.

University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU)

In an email to The Varsity, UTMSU President Felipe Nagata said that “The UTMSU is committed to always communicating with our membership and being open about the practices and work the Executives, Board and Staff do everyday.”

Board meetings and AGMs are open for any student to attend, though the UTMSU does not send out notices of board meetings through its social media, website, or Listserv.

Audited financial statements are posted on their website for each academic year until 2016–2017.

The agenda and minutes for each board meeting are also easily found on their website. These are up to date, with the most recent upload from November 2, 2018.

The UTMSU’s office has an open-door policy for members, and allows students to visit from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm every weekday.

“Many students are passionate about the work that we do as a union. What we promote and harness is a space of student activism… We ensure students are always guiding and leading the work ahead and can always come to the student centre and get involved,” Nagata concluded.

Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU)

SCSU posts financial statements on its website, as well as audited financial reports. It also posts a package for monthly Board of Directors meetings outlining its Campaigns and Advocacy as well as Services and Operations executive reports.

Earlier this week, the SCSU almost removed a Varsity contributor from one of its meetings for not giving 72 hours notice that they were attending, even though the SCSU only gave 48 hours notice for the meeting. This was in violation of its bylaws, as emergency meetings must be announced 72 hours in advance.

In terms of policy, the SCSU’s website has an in-depth list of numerous constitutional policies, such as an anti-racism policy, multiple funding policies, and hiring policies.

Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS)

In accordance with the organization’s bylaws, APUS publishes its audited financial statements under the “What We Do” section of its website.

However, APUS did not have any assembly meeting minutes or agenda packages posted to its website for 2018–2019 until last Friday.

While the organization’s bylaws do not explicitly state a timeline for making minutes of proceedings publicly available, they do require that the information be published unless “such information would be deemed confidential or protected under legislation of Ontario or Canada or which would otherwise be protected by common law.”

APUS has offices located in Sidney Smith Hall, room 1089, and North Borden Building, suite 236, with office hours posted on its website as well as a general email and phone number to reach the union at.

University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU)

The UTGSU last posted a council meeting agenda and executive reports on June 6, despite having had subsequent meetings in September and October.

While its bylaws do not specifically require minutes, agendas, and other union-related documents to be posted on its website, members are entitled to view these items by appointment. The UTGSU has not posted meeting minutes for any council meetings this term.

Posted on its website, in line with its bylaws, are the audited financial statements from two years ago as well as a breakdown of its membership fees.

Various committee highlights are also posted on the website. No highlights have been posted since June 28.

According to the union’s bylaws, only members are allowed to attend meetings unless otherwise invited and members are to be notified seven days prior to a council meeting.

The UTGSU has an office at 16 Bancroft Avenue with office hours as well as an email and phone number for inquiries.

APUS, the SCSU, and the UTGSU did not respond to requests for comment.

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