Another delay to the opening of the Student Commons building, a report on the National General (NGM) meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS), and a motion to protect independent press coverage were highlights of the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) January Board of Directors meeting.
UTSU President Anne Boucher wrote in her executive report that “unforeseen architectural challenges” reported by the UTSU’s contractor have pushed back the most likely opening date of the Student Commons building to June, rather than April — itself a delay from January, which was a delay from September of last year.
The Student Commons is a planned student-run hub to be located at 230 College Street.
Social Sciences Director Joshua Bowman moved to externalize Boucher’s note on the delay in her executive report, in order to discuss it in greater depth. “I’m not going to blame the current executive for that,” said Bowman. “I do believe that the majority of this is out of their hands.”
He did, however, request further information on the causes behind the delay, and whether the projected June opening is a rough estimate or guarantee.
Boucher clarified that reports that she has made on the projected opening date of the Student Commons have “always been a projection,” rather than a promise. She said that June is a “reasonable opening date,” but noted that the projection may change again closer to June.
She reported that the UTSU’s contractor said that the delay is because of unanticipated “structural changes” due to the building’s age, such as piping in the basement.
UTSU scathingly criticizes CFS
Boucher, Bowman, and Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm also summarized a report on the UTSU’s attendance at the NGM of the CFS, a national student union that represents post-secondary student unions across the country.
Reporting a positive outcome of the meeting, Bowman said that the UTSU’s delegation submitted a resolution for the CFS to reaffirm its stance against antisemitism, in light of the October shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. The resolution, noted Bowman, called for a revamping of the campaign against antisemitism and reprinting materials. The motion passed unanimously.
However, the UTSU delegation gave a scathing overall review of the CFS. In its report, the UTSU wrote that the CFS “has a limited tolerance of alternative viewpoints” and that it “exhibits partisanship in the rules and conduct of its meetings.”
The UTSU delegation took specific issue with the perceived support the CFS has given to the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), the embattled student union of the University of Ottawa, which has been faced with allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement.
The SFUO is facing a referendum in February by University of Ottawa students, to decide whether a new student union should replace it as a representative body.
“Despite what is happening at the University of Ottawa,” said Bowman, “members of the SFUO still felt the need to come to the CFS and essentially propose a thinly-veiled attempt to get bailed out by the Canadian Federation of Students.”
The UTSU delegation interpreted the SFUO’s request for support as a bid for the CFS to gain the ability to “step in when a member local is in danger of losing funding from is administration,” said Bowman, which is the case for the SFUO. The delegation asked “if this would allow the CFS to interfere with the upcoming student referendum at UOttawa,” despite their belief that the fate of the SFUO should be left in the hands of University of Ottawa students.
Bowman reported that there was a lack of response from “a lot of people who had authority in that room,” which the delegation perceived as a “silent affirmation of the CFS’s support of the SFUO.”
In response to the UTSU’s criticism, the CFS told The Varsity that they do not “comment on particular matters relating to debate during National General Meetings.”
“However, we would like to note that delegates are encouraged throughout the meeting to maintain decorum and express their support or lack thereof for a motion through debate and their vote.”
In regards to the SFUO, the CFS wrote that “Due to its debate exceeding the time allotted for our meeting, the motion was referred for recommendation by the National Executive. The CFS therefore does not have a current stance on it.” They will be discussing it at their April meeting.
Another criticism by the delegation addressed perceived favouritism at the CFS.
“One person following the party line would receive a sort of raucous applause immediately after their statements because they fall within an allowed scope of opinions,” said Biswurm. “The the next person, ostensibly classified as voicing critique, would receive dead silence.”
“We saw the CFS as enforcing a political agenda established by its national executives,” he said. “And certain other student leaders who seem to have a close relationship with those in power in the CFS structure, generally.”
In direct response to this criticism, the CFS wrote, “The direction of the [CFS] is determined democratically by its member locals. General meetings are chaired by a third party who is mandated to conduct the meeting in accordance with CFS Bylaws, Standing Resolutions, and Robert’s Rules of Order.”
Director proposes motion to protect journalistic rights to cover UTSU meetings
Innis College Director Lucas Granger also moved to protect the rights of student journalists to cover UTSU board meetings.
“I want to replicate what we already do,” said Granger. He specifically moved to amend the UTSU’s policy manual to guarantee privileges granted by the UTSU to members of the student press, in writing.
Granger noted that, in the UTSU’s policy on board meetings, the only reference to the press is a guarantee that the board “may be filmed, recorded, and/or livestreamed only by members of the media.”
He further noted that, in the UTSU’s policy on its Annual General Meeting, guarantees for campus journalists are limited to permission to attend regardless of UTSU membership, and a requirement for the press to register for the minutes.
Granger moved to pass a resolution that would guarantee in writing that “members of the campus press” are allowed to attend both board and annual general meetings “regardless of their membership status,” that they are “permitted to report meeting proceedings in whatever medium they deem fit,” that they receive notice of meetings and access to meeting materials in a reasonable timeframe, and that they are required to allow meeting attendees to opt out of photography.
These proposals come after moves by both the Graduate Students’ Union and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union to limit open media access to meetings.
In response to Granger’s proposal, Boucher moved to send the resolution to the UTSU’s Governance Committee, which discusses UTSU policies and presents recommendations to the Board of Directors.
While noting that she does “appreciate the motivation behind it,” Boucher said that further inquiry was necessary to probe the consequences of the resolution in its current form. She cited concerns of “allowing any kind of recording media” by student journalists as an example.
Granger agreed, continuing that his motivation for presenting the resolution at the board level was to recommend interim guidelines for allowing journalistic coverage to the board, as the proposal is reviewed by the Governance Committee. The Board then passed a motion to send the proposal to the committee for further review.