In recent months, the Computer Science Student Union (CSSU) has been affected by multiple executive resignations, the dissolution of its General Council due to an alleged lack of involvement and communication, and the creation of an unregulated, loosely-organized system of “committees” operating parallel to the course union.
The CSSU is a course union that represents over 1,200 students who are taking a Computer Science (CS) course or are enrolled in the CS programs of study. Its executives are elected each spring for the next academic year.
The first resignation to hit the union came on November 16, when CS student Ignas Panero Armoska left his role as the Director of Social Events.
“I worked really hard on frosh over the summer and then a bunch of social events, but it actually turned out that I was also doing a lot of infrastructure-related tasks that were not under my purview at all,” he said in an interview with The Varsity.
Panero Armoska noted that these tasks included onboarding people to manage office-related assignments and helping run academic events.
Panero Armoska’s departure was followed by that of President David Ansermino, who left his position effective December 21.
Explaining his resignation, Ansermino said that he had to leave since he is working full-time at a startup. “We’ve certainly got a lot on our plates right now, and I’m kind of an integral part of that… Trying to manage my responsibilities became difficult.”
Ansermino was replaced by Vice-President Calvin Luo, who in turn hired Panero Armoska as the Acting Vice-President in order “to provide a more stable leadership team,” given the departures. The Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), which oversees course unions such as the CSSU, suggested that the CSSU hold a by-election to replace Ansermino or have Luo take over in an interim capacity.
Treasurer Taylor Stinson also departed in December, according to a statement from Luo.
“[Stinson] and I agreed that at this moment, the Executive Council of the CSSU should be filled with people involved with the community and dedicated to improving it,” Luo wrote.
Stinson was replaced by Borna Salman, the former CSSU community store manager. Stinson could not be reached for comment.
Dissolution of the CSSU General Council
In the same statement announcing Ansermino’s resignation, Luo said that the course union was dissolving its General Council and seeking applications for new members to serve. According to Panero Armoska, members of the council were generally inactive.
Members of the council are appointed by the CSSU executive in the fall and are comprised of people “who want to take an active role in helping make decisions for the CSSU and organizing CSSU initiatives,” according to Panero Armoska.
The reasoning behind the dissolution was to have a smaller team that facilitated better communication.
Following the dissolution of the old council, the current executive interviewed new applicants and hired six people, including some who were re-hired from the previous council.
According to ASSU President Haseeb Hassaan, ASSU did not know about the dissolution of the council until reached by The Varsity in early February.
Since then, ASSU has spoken with the CSSU and was “informed that the Council was not active,” wrote Hassaan. He added, “This council is appointed/hired by the Executive as per their Constitution so it is up to them to make that decision.”
A system of “committees”
Aside from the wave of resignations and the dissolution of General Council, the CSSU has also been affected by the appearance of a system of loosely-organized “committees.” Unaffiliated with the union, they were started independently by CS student Aniket Kali early last semester and “formally launched” in January.
The committees are meant to be “a very simple way of getting involved” with the community because there hasn’t historically been a way to do that, said Kali.
“It’s kind of a loose organization,” he said. “We’re not trying to formalize too too much because we’re still trying to work things out with the CSSU, because most of the people involved do want this to be officialized as part of the union.”
He added, “It’s just that it has to be on terms that everyone finds reasonable and that will facilitate more involvement in the future.”
The committees are organized through Slack, a professional messaging platform, and cover topics such as coding events, mental health, and socials.
Despite not formally being part of the CSSU and operating in parallel to it, Panero Armoska said the committees organized by Kali were trying to advertise at U of T Hacks, an annual hackathon where Panero Armoska was serving as an executive.
He also said that the committees “were communicating with the department” on behalf of the CSSU, despite not being an official representative of the CSSU.
“We’re not opposed to them — like 100 per cent student involvement is great and in fact we’re going to be working on making more opportunities available within the CSSU,” Panero Armoska remarked. “But… we literally are trying to get the CSSU more organized and have a better structure and stability right now and we can’t endorse events that we literally did not organize or are at or anything like that because it can really poorly reflect on us.”
According to him, the CSSU has met with representatives of the committees, including Kali.
However, Kali denied claims that the committees were passing themselves off as representatives of the CSSU.
“Constantly, we’ve been trying to assert that no, we’re not trying to be a rival CSSU or usurp the CSSU,” he said, “but we do want to see CSSU change a bit in terms of how it accepts community involvement and how can get involved.”
Despite these leadership shuffles, Panero Armoska noted that the CSSU is continuing to operate and hold events.
Editor’s Note (June 2021): This article has been amended to correct an interviewees name.