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U of T proposes joining Faculty of Forestry with John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

Forestry facing lack of resources, declining number of students

U of T proposes joining Faculty of Forestry with John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

The Faculty of Forestry could join the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design as of July 1, according to a new proposal that will go through the governance process in early May.

If passed, the change will endeavour to retain the forestry faculty as is, keeping all of the current staff and possibly expanding the faculty’s offerings in conjunction with Daniels. The proposal would not affect undergraduate course offerings.

Robert Wright, dean of the Faculty of Forestry, told U of T News that “combining the Daniels and forestry faculties will pave the way for more collaboration and interdisciplinary research.”

One of the main reasons behind the proposed change is the faculty’s lack of resources. It does not have its own undergraduate program and is unable to offer all classes every year.

The Forestry Graduate Students’ Association (FGSA) noted that it has been involved in the consultation process with the dean, and that it is organizing a town hall for graduate students to express their opinions.

“One of the main concerns to the students… is that the programs stay intact and we have been reassured that the programs will remain the same if this particular proposal were to come to fruition,” wrote the FGSA in an email to The Varsity.

There will be another round of consultations before the proposal enters the governance process, according to Cheryl Regehr, U of T Vice-President and Provost.

“Over the years, the number of students in the Faculty of Forestry has declined and so this is a way of being able to create new synergy and create new programs,” said Regehr.

She noted that an important area of collaboration between forestry and Daniels is urban forests, as well as “the way in which forest products might be used in architectural design.”

Two slates face off in Scarborough Campus Students’ Union elections

SCU Reform President Anup Atwal running against current VP Equity Chemi Lhamo

Two slates face off in Scarborough Campus Students’ Union elections

A year after a controversial campaign that saw a presidential candidate disqualified twice and protests that injured a chief returning officer, the 2019 election period for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) has begun.

Two major slates are facing each other. Shine Bright UTSC, led by Chemi Lhamo, is campaigning on a platform of making the student experience “bright,” according to its Facebook page, while SCSYou, led by Anup Atwal, is running on implementing reforms within the student union.

Shine Bright UTSC

Lhamo, the current SCSU Vice-President Equity, centres her platform for president on hosting a career fair, lobbying the government to prioritize free postsecondary education, and creating a central calendar for all campus events. Lhamo cruised to victory last year as a part of Rise Up UTSC in an election that resulted in a split-ticket executive.

Raymond Dang, currently the Director of Political Science on the SCSU board, is running for Vice-President Academics and University Affairs under the Shine Bright UTSC slate, along with Leon Tsai, current Director of Historical and Cultural Studies, who is contending for Vice-President Equity.

Dang and Tsai made headlines in December last year when the SCSU Board of Directors voted to allocate $7,000 in additional funds to a Women’s and Trans Centre (WTC) conference, despite students rejecting the proposal and reducing the amount to $2,500 at the November SCSU Annual General Meeting.

At a following December board meeting, Dang motioned to give the WTC an additional $4,500 to complete the $7,000 that it requested, with Tsai, also WTC External Coordinator, supporting Dang.

In December, Dang also proposed a controversial motion to control media access to SCSU meetings.

Also on the Shine Bright UTSC slate is Kali Tadesse, the current Director of the Centre for French and Linguistics, who is running for Vice-President External. Tadesse is officially listed on the SCSU’s website as Kalkidan Alemayehu. UTSC students Kevin Turingan and Sarah Mohamed are running for Vice-President Operations and Vice-President Campus Life respectively.


Leading the SCSYou slate is Atwal, the President of the Scarborough Campus Union (SCU) Reform club. Atwal is campaigning on a platform of reforming the SCSU, implementing online voting for future elections, banning the slate system, and imposing a one-term limit on elected executive and director positions.

Also on SCSYou is Ray Alibux, who is running for Vice-President Operations. Alibux was a presidential candidate in last year’s elections, in which he placed second behind UTSC Voice’s Nicole Brayiannis.

Along with Rise Up UTSC’s Deena Hassan, Alibux was initially disqualified from the race, but was later reinstated. Hassan was also reinstated, but eventually disqualified for a second and last time.

Carly Sahagian, the President of the Armenian Students’ Association, is campaigning to become the next Vice-President Academics and University Affairs. UTSC students Tebat Kadhem, who ran and lost in the Toronto city council Ward 42 by-election in 2017, and Chaman Bukhari, are running for Vice-President Equity and Vice-President External respectively.

SCSYou did not put up a candidate for Vice-President Campus Life, Atwal confirmed to The Varsity.

UTMSU Board of Directors votes to increase student levies

Union fee to increase by 2.3 per cent, U-Pass fees to increase by 7.5 per cent

UTMSU Board of Directors votes to increase student levies

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) Board of Directors voted on January 23 to increase student levies.

The meeting began with reports from the executives on what they had done in the past month. Vice-President University Affairs Andres Posada announced the approval of the UTMSU’s proposed Course Retake Policy, which passed last week at a Governing Council meeting. The Course Retake Policy would allow students to use one repeated course in their GPA.

Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji reported on the UTMSU’s newly opened Food Centre, which provides access to food for food-insecure students.

Student levy increases

The board then turned its attention toward proposals about increasing student levies for services provided by the UTMSU, such as the UTMSU’s Food Bank, Erindale College Speciality Emergency Response Team (ECSpeRT), the UTMSU’s Student Refugee Program, the Mississauga Transit U-Pass, Student Societies, and Academic Societies.

All the increases passed, meaning that in total UTMSU members will be paying at least $9.14 more per session, pending UTM Campus Council approval.

According to Munib Sajjad, Executive Director of the UTMSU, these fees are “like a membership fee that everyone pays into for obviously overall operations. Everything is covered from the membership fee.”

The UTMSU board approved a student society fee increase from $14.86 per student per semester to $15.20. It also approved an academic society fee increase from $1.08 to $1.10 — which marks an increase of 2.3 per cent each.

The board approved increases of the same rate for the UTMSU’s food bank fee, student refugee program fee, and ECSpeRT fee.

The food bank fee has therefore increased from $0.59 to $0.60, while the student refugee program increased from $1.16 to $1.19, and the ECSpeRT fee increased from $0.56 to $0.57 per student per semester.

The next item consisted of a levy increase to the UTMSU’s Mississauga Transit U-Pass, which allows all UTM students universal access to the MiWay transit. The U-Pass is based on a contract between the UTMSU and the City of Mississauga.

The board approved a 7.5 per cent increase for the fall-winter U-Pass fee, from $116.40 to $125.13 per student per semester, and a 6.5 per cent increase in the summer U-Pass fee, from $154.50 to $164.54.

“This [raise] also includes some of the administrative fees we have to take on by hiring about 16 students and helping pay for a U-Pass coordinator,” explained Sajjad.

The motion passed, marking the end of all student levy increases.

Health & Dental plan, coalition against Premier Ford’s postsecondary changes

Following the levy increases, the board voted to form a Health and Dental Ad-Hoc Committee to develop a health and dental plan for UTM students.

This comes as the UTMSU voted to separate from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) last year. UTM students previously paid a fee to the UTSU to administer its Health & Dental Plan.

Division I Director Sheri Hijazi, Division II Director Valentino Gomes, and Division III Director Zeina Jamaleddine were elected to the committee.

The room then discussed a motion proposed by Vice-President External Atif Abdullah’s motion to establish a coalition to combat the changes to postsecondary education funding announced by the provincial government on January 17.

The coalition would involve student unions, labour unions, student organizations, faculty associations, and community groups.

Abdullah’s proposal maintained that the announcement was a “direct assault on student unions [and] their autonomy” and jeopardized many student union services “such as Clubs funding, Universal Transit Pass Programs, [and] Health and Dental Insurance.”

“With [the provincial government’s] decision, every student will be impeached,” said Abdullah. “If it’s not OSAP, then it’s a club or society. If it’s not that, then you’re an international student and your tuition could shoot up because the university has to make up its lost funding from somewhere.”

“We don’t want you folks to be scared,” said Nagata. “We want you folks to be angry and excited [for] what is to come.”

With the passing of Abdullah’s motion, the meeting adjourned.

The UTMSU will present the approved levy changes to the UTM Campus Council at its meeting next Wednesday, January 30.

Reddit post sparks conversation on “microtransactions,” digital learning service fees

Students speak out against use of for-profit third-party

Reddit post sparks conversation on “microtransactions,” digital learning service fees

After multiple posts on Reddit lodged complaints against the use of mandatory third-party academic tools, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) announced efforts to work with the university to address fees associated with digital learning services such as TopHat, WileyPlus, and McGraw-Hill Connect.

University guidelines

The university does have pre-existing guidelines on digital learning services, including a threshold for charging students $65 per half-credit. Services tied to publishing companies such as MindTap and WileyPlus charge $59.95 and $60 respectively, just below the mandated threshold. MindTap is owned by Cengage, an online textbook publishing company, and WileyPlus is a digital service provided by Wiley, a textbook publishing company.

The guidelines also stipulate that, if fees exceed the $65 threshold, alternative options must be provided for assessments made through these digital learning services.

Students must also be allowed to purchase the digital components separately, meaning that purchasing e-textbooks bundled with learning service codes must not be mandatory.

U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church told The Varsity that the university does not receive any incentives for using digital learning services.

“Professors determine which resources are best for their course and may choose to use digital resources to meet their teaching and learning goals.”

Professors on why they use digital learning services

In various statements to The Varsity, professors justified their use of these digital learning services by saying that it enriched students’ learning experiences — although some lamented the fact that they were necessary.

All the professors who provided comment denied ever receiving any form of incentive to use these services and affirmed that they accommodate students who cannot afford or have difficulty affording the class’ digital learning service.

Professor Kripa Freitas, whose ECO206: Microeconomic Theory course used TopHat last year, emphasized that paid learning services were not her first choice when finding a system that integrated multiple-choice and short answer responses.

TopHat is an educational software from a Toronto-based company.

Freitas however noted that TopHat is useful for larger, second-year courses and helps to actively engage “every student in class.”

“I know I re-evaluate my use of any paid extras every time I teach. I explain my reasons for using them to students clearly and solicit student feedback continuously.”

For PSY201: Statistics I and PSY202: Statistics II, Professor Molly Metz uses MindTap, an application that she has not been offered incentives to use, although she has “heard of this happening, at many institutions.”

“I also know of many colleagues who have refused to use the products offered by these companies because of their distaste with what they (and I) see as unethical behaviour,” wrote Metz.

Metz, like Freitas, believes that using applications like MindTap serves to help engage students and create a better learning environment by using a system that allows for fast and regular response times on problem sets. She also added that MindTap is included in the textbook, and thus is not an additional cost to the course, but integrated in the core cost.

However, the cost of digital learning services cannot be transferred in the same way used textbooks can be sold to another student.

ESS205: Confronting Global Change Professor Miriam Diamond, PHY205: The Physics of Everyday Life Professor Brian Wilson, and AST251: Life on Other Worlds Professor Michael Reid all echoed their colleagues’ sentiments, underscoring that no free alternatives of equal quality to these digital learning services are available.

Reid also emphasized that TopHat has had a real, positive effect on student engagement.

On the possibility of a singular, university-wide system, Reid wrote, “At a university as big as U of T, it’s very difficult to obtain the necessary consensus across diverse departments and faculties. Still, it’s something to which I think we can aspire.”

Professor Avi Cohen uses MyEconLab for ECO105: Principles of Economics for Non-Specialists, and also denied ever receiving incentives to use the application. However, he also disclosed at the top of his email that “I am an author for Pearson Canada. My textbooks and associated MyEconLab software are assigned for ECO105Y.”

MyEconLab is the economics learning software for Pearson, an education publishing company.

Justifying his use of MyEconLab, Cohen wrote, “I view these expenditures as smart financial choices. The benefits… far exceed the costs.” Benefits cited include Canvas integration and 24/7 technical support.

“The motivation for using these paid applications is that they provide a much better learning experience for students, and better administrative efficiency for instructors than ‘free alternatives.’ You get what you pay for.”

Crowd-sourced information on fees

Following Reddit posts made by u/rhymenasourus, u/NoOutsideFeesUofT, and u/Kluey on the U of T subreddit, Christopher Dryden, a computer engineering student and former UTSU director, compiled a list of classes and professors that use paid digital learning services.

According to Dryden’s crowdsourced list, TopHat gains more than $200,000 from some 7,000 students who use its digital learning services across 27 classes.

Cohen’s class is also listed in Dryden’s list, and with a maximum potential class size of 897, Pearson’s MyEconPlus generates upward of $100,000 from ECO105 students in a given year. This year, there are roughly 730 students enrolled in ECO105, according to U of T’s timetable.

The Varsity was unable to independently verify the information as it was anonymously crowdsourced.

The UTSU responds

UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Grondin wrote in a statement to The Varsity that he is working with Dryden and Spencer Robertson, President of the University of Toronto Tabletop Gaming Club and another active user on the U of T subreddit, to prepare a report for the Business Board of Governing Council.

The report will include student feedback, clarification on the incentive structures for professors, and data on classes that use digital learning services.

Grondin stated that their ultimate goal is for the university to purchase an institution-wide subscription for digital learning services, and if that fails, for the university to institute stronger regulations on these services and disallow any ties between student use and evaluation.

At the very least, Grondin hopes to ensure that prices for digital learning services are included in course descriptions.

“It is my belief that when it comes to gaining full marks in a course, students should not have to pay anything above what they have already paid in tuition fees. If a professor wants to use these materials for graded exercises/quizzes, the cost needs to be covered by the university through tuition and ancillary fees, not a separate transaction.”

Dryden did not respond to The Varsitys request for comment.

Former BC Premier Christy Clark speaks at U of T on women in leadership

Clark: “‘Nice’ is not a necessary attribute for male leaders.”

Former BC Premier Christy Clark speaks at U of T on women in leadership

Former Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark spoke at Innis Town Hall on January 22 about issues facing women looking to rise to positions of leadership.

The event was hosted by the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and ran as a part of the Women in Leadership series of the David Peterson Public Leadership Program.

Clark held the office of premier for six and a half years — the longest-serving female premier in Canadian history.

She began her talk by highlighting one of her inspirations, Queen Elizabeth I. Clark praised the queen as a powerful example of women in leadership, calling her “massively successful.” When talking about the queen’s success, Clark refers specifically to the economic success during her tenure — even after inheriting a bankrupt state from her father, King Henry VIII.

Using this as a segue, Clark moved into one of the issues that plague women who wish to rise to leadership status, which she called the “‘nice and compliant’ versus ‘tough and confident’ paradox.”

According to Clark, this describes current societal pressures and expectations of women. Women who don’t conform are seen as “out of step with society’s expectations for what females should look like and how we should behave.”

“Navigating that very thin line between being tough enough to hold your own in male-dominated environments while at the same time remaining feminine enough to stay there,” is a unique experience for women, said Clark.

“‘Nice’ is not a necessary attribute for male leaders.”

Clark then began to describe her own experiences in office. She discussed the difficult transition after entering office following her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, who had resigned from office. Clark said that critics at the time were incredibly cynical of her potential.

The issue, Clark said, stemmed from the fact that she “had not had time to accumulate a strong record.”

Prior to becoming premier, Clark had served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly from 1996–2005, and throughout her tenure was appointed as the Minister of Children and Family Development and the Minister of Education.

As Minister of Education, Clark instituted various controversial changes to the education system, which were then overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Speaking on the lack of confidence that people had in her, Clark said, “I am not sure if I could have survived those first two years as an unelected premier without a few influential men to give me credibility in the eyes of my critics.”

Clark acknowledged that women requiring male allies to rise to power might be less than ideal. She said that women “have to deal with the reality we live in, not the reality we wish existed.” That reality being the “male-privileged” society we live in, according to Clark.

However, she is optimistic about the future. Once enough women rise to power, Clark believes that there will be more equality in terms of influencers. As a result, there will be a growth in women supporting women.

Clark believes that one highly progressive aspect of her government — an aspect that Clark admitted she did not highlight at the time — was that about half the caucus during her tenure were women, she said.

“We were well on our way to creating a world filled with female influencers.”

Clark then went on to outline some of the decisions she made in office that led to the exponential growth of the province’s economy during her tenure.

Clark said that one of her biggest achievements was her re-election with a plurality of votes — a monumental step for the longest-serving female premier.

During the question period, Clark was asked about her experiences as a new mother in office. Clark replied that she had had certain privileges, such as being able to have her child in the legislature with her, which allowed her to succeed. However, it was a difficult situation to handle one’s political career and parental obligations.

At the end of her speech, Clark addressed the women in the audience who had an interest in holding public office and leadership positions. She offered the following words of encouragement: “The world is not going to change for the better, unless we get into it. The world will only become a better place when there are more of us.”

From Ten Editions to none: “it’s a loss to the city”

Sussex and Spadina bookstore shuts down after 35 years to pave way for U of T residence

From Ten Editions to none: “it’s a loss to the city”

Susan Duff is still in disbelief. For more than three decades, her family had operated Ten Editions, a secondhand bookstore well known for its vast collection on urban Toronto. Located on the western edge of UTSG, it was a popular spot for students, Annex residents, and curious tourists who were looking for a rare find.

Late last year, however, she received bad news. In August, the University of Toronto reached an agreement with the City of Toronto and local neighbourhood groups to finally allow construction of a new student residence at the corner of Sussex Avenue and Spadina Avenue, on land currently occupied by the bookstore and neighbouring businesses.

The report hit Duff hard. “How can the university say that a coffee shop is more important to a student housing building than a bookstore?” she said, referencing a report in the Annex Post that said U of T Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury was considering a restaurant or café as a possibility to replace the bookstore at retail level in the new building.

“I cannot believe that supposedly they’re in the business of helping students and somehow they think that [a] coffee shop helps students more than a bookstore.”

Despite Duff’s claim that U of T is replacing the bookstore with a café, Mabury told The Varsity that they “have made no plans going forward about what will be in” the new student residence.

“We have not formally even had a discussion about what we’re going to have in the retail portion of the building,” Mabury said. “We’ve barely just completed the architectural design that has required and necessitated significant incorporation of the existing building into the overall project for heritage purposes.”

History of development plans

This announcement was years in the making. The residence at 698–706 Spadina Avenue and 54 Sussex Avenue was first proposed in 2013 as a way to alleviate the growing need for student housing. Almost immediately, stakeholders raised concerns about its proposed height, the mix of students, and heritage considerations.

In February 2017, the Toronto and East York Community Council voted to designate the building in which Ten Editions operated as a heritage site. Built in 1885, 698 Spadina “has design value as an example of a late 19th century corner-store building type designed with a high degree of craftsmanship in the late Victorian style,” according to a city report.

Later in the year, the city rejected the building proposal, with a report from municipal staff concluding that the residence was inconsistent with provincial plans and was not an appropriate location given its planned 23-storey height. In an attempt to keep the project alive, U of T entered into provincial mediation with the Ontario Municipal Board.

Last summer, the issue was finally resolved, with the university agreeing to limit the height of the building, reduce number of beds, and cap the proportion of first-year students in the residence to 60 per cent. U of T also agreed to renovate the long-closed and rundown Robert Street Playing Field, just west of the building, and open it to the public.

Effects on Ten Editions

The resolution, however, meant that Duff had to close down her family’s long-held business. When I visited Ten Editions on January 11, the bookstore had been closed for almost two weeks and was almost bare, save for a small collection left for any wandering passerby to pick up, and random signs reading “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Halloween.”

With the faint sounds of classical music playing on the radio in the background, Duff had told me that for years, the local community had asked the university to keep Ten Editions and incorporate the bookstore within the new residence. Duff claimed U of T was not listening.

“They never really said no,” she said of the university. “They said ‘Oh, we’ll write your suggestions down.’ And you’d go to the next meeting and it would be the same thing. You know, ‘What does the neighbourhood want?’ The neighbourhood would like to keep the bookstore.”

Mabury, however, believes the meetings went well. He said that the mediation process through the OMB was a “productive exercise… I suppose we should have just tried that route sooner.” He also said that the number of students living in the residence “will inform what kind of a retail presence we hope for the building.”

Duff added, “Someone just five minutes ago told me books enrich the spirit of the city. How does the university not understand that?”

Sue Dexter, the U of T Liaison for the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, decried the decreasing number of bookstores in the city in general and called the university “opportunistic.”

“I go past [Ten Editions] once a week,” Dexter said, “and each time in the last two weeks I’ve passed, there have been people looking in the windows and they turn to me and say, ‘Is it still open?’ and I say, ‘No, it isn’t.’”

According to Dexter, the bookstore was particularly remarkable because “it had everything” to offer.

“It’s a loss to the community,” she said. “It’s surprising that a university would participate in annihilating a secondhand bookstore because there were a lot of academics that went through there and you see them picking up a dozen books.”

The Harbord Village Residents’ Association tried to help Ten Editions survive, but the bookstore eventually had to close down on New Year’s Eve. As for Duffy, she laid out her plans for a future that still involves books.

“I’m going to do nothing for six months,” she said, chuckling. “That’s my first plan. I’m going to open all the boxes I took home and read the books I never had time to read.”

Graduate Students’ Union elects new Internal Commissioner, grants temporary unconditional media access

Approval of draft financial statements proves contentious, quorum for special meeting lowered

Graduate Students’ Union elects new Internal Commissioner, grants temporary unconditional media access

Media access and the organization’s financial transparency were major topics of discussion at the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union’s (UTGSU) General Council meeting on January 22.

Political Science student appointed new Internal Commissioner

The General Council voted to elect Justin Patrick, a first-year master’s candidate in the Department of Political Science, as the UTGSU’s new Internal Commissioner (IC). The move comes after the previous IC, Lynne Alexandrova, was pushed out of office at a November 26 council meeting. The Executive Committee alleged that she had not been fulfilling her duties.

According to UTGSU executives, Alexandrova did not circulate a report on her ongoing activities before an executive meeting on October 16, in contradiction of the organization’s bylaws. Alexandrova told The Varsitylast year that she had released her report before the November 15 meeting.

Following Alexandrova’s removal, UTGSU Executive-at-Large Maryssa Barras was appointed interim IC until the January by-election. Barras also served as the chair of the January 22 meeting, following the resignation of previous chair Evan Rosevear due to academic commitments.

Patrick ran against Nicholas Lindsay, a first-year master’s student in the Faculty of Information. Following short speeches, in which Lindsay promised to support the incumbent executives, and Patrick campaigned on making “sure the students see us as legitimate,” the initial vote resulted in a tie. After a re-vote was conducted, Patrick was announced the winner.

Earlier in the meeting, UTGSU executives read a statement on recent events involving Alexandrova. The executives alleged that Alexandrova continued to use office keys to access resources and engage in “confrontation” with student union staff members, despite having been removed from office. Furthermore, they alleged that Alexandrova had contacted a law firm asking to procure its services, and that they felt it was their “fiduciary duty” to inform the General Council of this, although no charges were incurred as the law firm contacted the UTGSU for verification.

In response, Alexandrova said she had returned the keys “very, very gently” after the November 26 council meeting and had emailed people to inform them of the change in office. Alexandrova asked executives for more details on the alleged “confrontation,” but staff members declined to comment in public because it was a human resources issue. Alexandrova said that the only person she recalled encountering in the office was UTGSU Executive Director David Eaton, but she was cut off by the speaker and executives after this statement.

General Council votes to grant media temporary unconditional access to meetings

Media policy was another major point of discussion at the council meeting. Although it was a separate agenda item, it became a topic of debate at the start of the meeting because members of The Varsity had to be seated by the meeting’s chair, then granted speaking rights by the council.

Separate motions were also passed to allow The Varsity to photograph and live tweet the events of the meeting, both of which were subject to debate.

This comes after Varsity reporters were kicked out of the UTGSU’s December General Council meeting for live tweeting the events of the meeting at the direction of their editors, contradicting a ruling from the chair against live tweeting.

The Varsity was granted permission to photograph the events of the evening, as long as members present were able to opt out of having their image published. Debate on photography touched on whether or not members of the Executive Committee are considered public officials. Although members of the Executive Committee are elected by the membership of the UTGSU, which comprises around 18,000 students, the union is a private corporation.

The General Council was presented with eight options for a media policy, each proposing varying degrees of access to UTGSU meetings.

There was also the potential of including punitive measures in the media policy, which would ban individual representatives of a media organization, or the media organization itself, for a period of one year, should they violate the terms of the media policy.

The Varsity’s Editor-in-Chief, Jack Denton, along with other General Council members, spoke in favour of the unconditional access option, noting that The Varsity has systems in place for adjudicating complaints about its coverage should they arise.

After debate, a motion was passed to recommend the unconditional access policy for further development by the union, and for this recommendation to temporarily govern media access at the next General Council meeting on February 26.

After failed AGM, council changes quorum for special meeting

Another item on the agenda was a bylaw amendment that would reduce the quorum for a special meeting of the union.

The UTGSU is required to hold a special meeting to present its draft financial statements for the 2017–2018 fiscal year to its membership, following a failure to do so at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on December 3. Statements were also not made available to the membership with the proper notice of 13 days prior to the meeting.

In a “letter of accountability” published on December 6, the Executive Committee stated, “Due to the reallocation of duties among the UTGSU’s Executive and Staff in the weeks leading up to the AGM, gaps in oversight created failures in upholding our responsibilities to the General Membership, and we hold ourselves directly accountable.”

During the General Council meeting immediately following the December 3 AGM, Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto had said that the failure put the student union at risk of defaulting to the university. The executives have since confirmed that the Office of the Vice-Provost Students has accepted the 2017–2018 financial audit. Rizzuto said at the January 22 meeting that although there will be no financial impact if the union does not present its financial statements to the membership, it will be doing so at the special meeting in order to avoid contravening its own bylaws.

The proposed amendment would have reduced the number of members necessary to hold a special meeting from 300 members to 100, the same as the quorum for AGMs. The motion was amended to change the number from 100 members to 150, and was then passed.

Disclosure: Justin Patrick has previously written for The Varsity.

UTSU in consultation with Ontario government on designing opt-out option for fees

Union intends to leverage rare lobbying position, some directors argue at cost of showing stronger support for students

UTSU in consultation with Ontario government on designing opt-out option for fees

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) presented a lobbying-based strategy for responding to the provincial government’s changes to postsecondary education in an emergency meeting held by its Board of Directors on January 24.

This is in response to Premier Doug Ford’s government announcement last week that it would give students the option of opting out of “non-essential” fees, cut free tuition for low-income students, and cut tuition by 10 per cent.

At the emergency board meeting, UTSU President Anne Boucher said that the union was one of the few across the province to be meeting with the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU), and was thus in a rare position to lobby the provincial government.

The UTSU’s strategy emphasizes making the most out of its unique position to be consulted by the MTCU, the ministry responsible for designing and announcing specifics for these policy changes. The UTSU itself is largely funded by incidental fees and is therefore in a risky position if its currently mandatory fees are deemed opt-out.

Boucher specified that representatives from the University of Waterloo, Western University, and perhaps only a few more universities have been in consultation with the MTCU, during a Varsity interview after the meeting.

These student union consultations come after The Varsity asked TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton at her January 17 press conference whether her office had met with student groups in developing these policy changes, to which she was unable to give a clear answer.

Who the UTSU is speaking to and what it is negotiating in favour of

In a question period, University College (UC) Director Lina Maragha asked Boucher about the direction that she is taking in lobbying and what the UTSU is trying to advocate for.

Boucher responded by saying that the UTSU was taking a “two-prong approach.”

The first priority is for the UTSU to concentrate on talks with the MTCU. The second priority is to speak with local MPPs. While they have limited influence on the legislative process, noted Boucher, the UTSU does wish to “see if there’s any way that they can help.”

Boucher said that the UTSU’s goal regarding the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) is to have students “see the same support that they had before the announcement, as much as possible.”

Addressing the opt-out option for non-tuition fees, Boucher said that the UTSU is aiming to “make recommendations to the [legislative] framework directly that would essentially safeguard our groups,” which include clubs on campus that directly affect student life.

Boucher noted that this seemed to be the UTSU’s best option to negotiate and compromise, as it would be unrealistic to ask the MTCU to reverse its position on OSAP and non-tuition fees entirely.

The UTSU had met once with the MTCU before the emergency board meeting, “and it’s one of many meetings to come,” said Boucher.

Aims to reach students with social media campaign

Boucher noted that, in focusing efforts on lobbying, the UTSU’s efforts have not been as visible to students, as there are obstacles to transparency regarding negotiations.

To combat this, Boucher said that the UTSU is initiating a social media campaign named “UTSU With You,” aimed at giving its membership updates on the negotiation process and a platform to share thoughts.

Boucher mentioned that the UTSU has been using stories it received in conversations with the government, and that “case studies are something that really speaks to them.”

Boucher also noted that Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin will be in consultation with U of T, as the university will “have some discretion over what this will look like.

She reiterated that the goal of Grondin’s talks will be to “make sure that the student fees and the student levies are protected through all of this.”

Opposition among directors

Boucher’s top-down approach was faced with opposition by directors favouring a greater focus on student engagement.

Directors took specific concern with the perceived weakness of the UTSU’s January 17 statement against the government’s announcements.

Maragha said that UC students visiting her during her office hours have felt a “disparity between their vocalized concerns with the OSAP’s cut and the UTSU’s response.” She specifically remembered a student calling the statement “robotic.”

In response, Boucher acknowledged that the wording of the statement had been “very diplomatic,” but said that this was a conscious choice “with reason, and not because we don’t care about the issue.”

Maragha followed up by saying that a more “aggressive approach” was important, because “the Ford administration did decide to… throw us under the bus.”

“I think it’s really important to consider their voices, and they’re not happy with the strength of our approach right now.”

Boucher responded by agreeing that the UTSU has to take students’ perceptions into consideration since, if the fees do become opt-out, the UTSU’s actions in the present may influence students’ choices to remain opted-in.

However, she said that the key question for the UTSU was, “Do we want to have the opportunity to make change, or do we want to seem supported?”

“It’s one thing to take more direct action, but if the effects of that is that we lose that seat, then sure, we’re placating people who are upset with us for not being as visible, but we lose that opportunity to make that change.”

Woodsworth College Director Octavia Andrade-Dixon also noted that “from being on the ground, the UTSU isn’t necessarily fully understood by students or even very popular,” and advocated for increased “direct engagement” to address that.

She recommended an active approach of reaching out to club executives to communicate progress on the UTSU’s advocacy, which Boucher supported.

UC Director Tyler Riches also noted from his interactions with UC students that the UTSU is “being perceived as passive,” and requested that the executives share progress on MTCU negotiations as soon as possible for wider dissemination.

Likely outcomes for the UTSU

A likely outcome of the MTCU consultations will be of the UTSU splitting its fees into several categories to become more “transparent” for students, which Boucher described as “one of the few common-ground points that we actually have with the government right now.”

Boucher told The Varsity that, in the best-case scenario resulting from consultations with the MTCU, the UTSU and campus groups may not have their fees and levies affected by the government’s opt-out options for students.

In this case, campus groups that “directly serve” students, such as those that are a part of Hart House, Student Life, and student societies, would also not be affected. However, external groups and other groups that “don’t directly serve” students would see their fees become optional for students to support.

In another scenario, Boucher said that only part of the UTSU’s fees and levies may become optional to students, while others would continue to be mandatory.

Grondin noted in the meeting that he thinks “it’s safe to assume that the part of our fee that could be most at-risk is the lobbying, advocacy type of campaigning work that we do.”

He advocated for directors to help with the UTSU’s archive project, which aims to document a “concrete list” of initiatives that the UTSU had previously lobbied for, in order to better communicate to students what advocacy work the UTSU does.

Finally, in the least-favourable scenario to the UTSU, students would be able to opt out of all fees broken down by the UTSU.

Parliamentary Assistant to the TCU minster David Piccini told The Varsity that the government plans to continue consultations with students.