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.