Last month, the motion to increase the salaries of the executive members of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) from $28,500 to $31,600 was passed. This is in accordance with the UTMSU’s Operation Policy, which states that the salaries should rise with inflation.
In 2016, Western University’s student newspaper The Gazette, the University of British Columbia’s The Ubyssey, and The Varsity compared student executive salaries across Canada. The University of Waterloo Federation of Students came first on the list, with an executive salary of $46,532. Despite having the largest undergraduate student population of all six Canadian universities compared, the University of Toronto Students’ Union was fourth to last on the list, with an executive salary of $30,060.92 at the time.
Some people have expressed discontent at the UTMSU salary increase, saying that it is unjustified due to the campus’ smaller size. UTM has a comparatively smaller student population than most, at 14,190 undergraduate students for the current academic year. However, the University of Saskatchewan has a student population of around 17,000, and their student union executives have salaries of over $40,000.
Student unions at U of T lag behind when it comes to remuneration. Regardless of student body size, there should not be significant differences between student union wages. Student union executives work full-time, with similar fundamental responsibilities as other student unions. As such, they should be paid the same for their time.
A common complaint among UTM students is that the union does not do enough for them. While this is a valid concern, it is important for students to realize that the result of student union advocacy is not always immediately seen. Policy changes can take years, and the student union will go back and forth with the university to implement such changes.
A recent example is the course retake policy that was passed at UTM. Under this policy, students can retake a course and have the second attempt included in CGPA calculations. This is clearly a big win for the student body, providing numerous advantages for current and future students. The retake policy had been in the works for years, and reflects the zealous attempts of not just the current executives, but past executive teams as well.
Additionally, benefits that students already possess, such as the U-Pass and the Credit/No Credit policy, have also been the result of what must have been gruelling efforts on the part of the student union. Personally, I cannot imagine university life without the aid of the U-Pass, which allows me to travel anywhere in Mississauga.
Student unions also have the responsibility of ensuring that they are actually representing the needs of the student body. The UTMSU has been criticized for not considering student opinions or not having the right priorities. It should therefore ensure that it can effectively communicate with the student body in order to fully represent it. Students should be given platforms for expressing their opinions on what issues are important to them. Similarly, students need to be more proactive if they have opinions.
Complaining about the student union does not mean anything unless students are willing to become involved themselves, and bring important issues to light. I have seen plenty of students who are not even aware of issues happening on campus, let alone involved in them. But student involvement is essential for any kind of change. While the student union could put change into action, it is the students themselves who need to recognize their role in facilitating it.
Student unions play an important role in the university: they organize, represent, and advocate for a diverse student population. While there is plenty of debate to be had around improving their role, there is no question that their work matters — and they should be paid fairly for it.
Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.