Presidential candidate Atif Abdullah from the Students United slate. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE STUDENTS UNITED SLATE

Atif Abdullah is a third-year Computer Science student running uncontested for President under the slate Students United.

The current UTMSU Vice-President External, Abdullah is seeking presidency to lead the union through the “challenging period” of likely funding cuts due to the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

His top priority as president would be to ensure that student clubs, societies, and groups are “supported as heavily as possible” by minimizing any negative impacts from the SCI.

He also values the UTMSU’s academic policy work, citing the UTMSU’s successful lobbying for a course retake policy at UTM, whereby students can repeat one credit and have the second grade used for their cumulative GPA.

Abdullah said that he is working with the UTMSU to implement “Self-Assigned Sick Notes” as a pilot project within six months, as an alternative to the current sick notes system.

Speaking on the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), an organization that represents student unions across the country, Abdullah said that the CFS–Ontario has done “amazing work,” which he saw as a representative on its Ontario Executive Committee this year.

He particularly lauded it for providing support and resources to northern and rural universities, which might not have been able to access them otherwise.

Discussing a media policy, Abdullah said that he believes student media “should have every sort of access to any public meetings, any public settings, [and] any executives that are elected by students.”

Speaking on this year’s conflict between the UTMSU and The Medium, UTM’s student newspaper, he recalled that both parties have acknowledged mistakes made in their interactions. He spoke in support of a cooperative relationship with the press, saying that the organizations “don’t have to love each other… but there needs to be a level of respect and trust between the two organizations to actually be able to work together.”

On how he would respond to postsecondary changes by the provincial government as president, Abdullah said he would work with the CFS and other student unions to push back and ensure that the UTMSU has a “unified voice” across Ontario.

He also said that the UTMSU is currently trying to meet with Training, Colleges, and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton and parliamentary assistants for direct advocacy against the changes. He also noted that the UTMSU has met and will continue to meet with elected MPPs such as Progressive Conservative MPP Sheref Sabawy.

Abdullah added that it is too early to tell what funding cuts the union could face as he was not sure whether the list of essential services was finalized based on consultations with Sabawy.

Citing a lack of information, he said that it is “a little hard to gauge what our plan is going to be next year.” However, should cuts occur, he plans to avoid discriminating an student group funding based on whether students opt out of individual fees, saying that the union represents all UTM students, regardless of their choice to pay fees.

On separation from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), he said that UTM students should expect a similar medical and dental plan under a different insurance provider. He also said that he plans for a continued positive working relationship with the UTSG-based UTSU, which includes collaborative advocacy for policy changes.

— With files from Kathryn Mannie

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