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One Year On: Checking campaign pledges by UTSU executives, part two

Reviewing work of President, Vice-Presidents Operations, University Affairs
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VP University Affairs Josh Grondin, President Anne Boucher, VP Operations Tyler Biswurm. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY
VP University Affairs Josh Grondin, President Anne Boucher, VP Operations Tyler Biswurm. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

At the end of April, the 20182019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) term came to an end. In this second article of a two-part series, The Varsity reviews the work that the outgoing executives have done to fulfil their pledges.

President Anne Boucher

The role of President is to act as the chief executive of the UTSU and set the overall tone and direction of the union.

In her profile with The Varsity, Boucher pledged to ensure that the transition to the Student Commons is smooth and successful, lobby “to reintroduce the federal transit tax credit and to increase transit subsidies for students,” and change the Associate Membership Agreement (AMA) between the UTSU and University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).

The Student Commons is a planned student-run hub previously expected to open last September, but it has been repeatedly delayed due to issues with construction.

From Boucher’s executive reports this year, she has consulted with U of T’s University Advancement division and conducted planning to manage the opening of the Student Commons. However, construction issues have prevented the opening of the building during her term.

She wrote that she was “glad… to contribute to the project, in ways that should help smooth the opening of the building for the incoming executives.”

On lobbying in favour of reintroducing a federal transit tax credit and increasing transit subsidies for students, Boucher wrote that her “lobby work happens through [the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU)].” However, the UCRU has not made either objective a priority to lobby for this year.

Since assuming office, the AMA between the UTSU and the UTMSU has dissolved, resulting in the UTMSU’s independence from the UTSU.

“I’m happy that UTM students now benefit from a student union that can serve them fully, and that UTSG students benefit from a UTSU that will have the ability to work fully for St George students,” wrote Boucher.

In addition to her pledges, highlights of Boucher’s work include starting a Peers with Ears program which “connects peers who have struggled with mental illness with those currently experiencing similar hardships.” She also developed the union’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, which will support the “long term health” of the organization, she wrote.

Boucher has further led consultations with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities with respect to the Student Choice Initiative, which may result in a loss of funding for clubs and the union. To date, the results of the consultations are unclear.

Boucher did not respond to requests for comment on consultations between the UTSU and the ministry.

Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm

The Vice-President Operations manages the union’s finances, coordinates its full-time staff, and oversees the services that the UTSU provides to students.

In his profile with The Varsity, Biswurm pledged to improve the union’s financial transparency by publishing a “human readable” budget, prevent the disengagement of directors by altering the bylaws and internal structure of the union’s Board of Directors, and allocate 50 per cent of the human resources costs of the Student Commons project to student jobs.

Biswurm oversaw the publication of a newly formatted budget that was aimed to be more accessible than in previous years.

Addressing his pledge to prevent director disengagement, Biswurm wrote to The Varsity that he successfully “passed several amendments revamping the bylaws of the UTSU that govern director attendance,” to clarify expectations and enforcement, while also being “more forgiving of absences arising from exceptional circumstances.”

With regards to changes to the board’s internal structure, Biswurm wrote that he “will admit that the project of restructuring the board will not come to fruition in the 201819 term.”

He did note, however, that “a significant deal of thought and planning has gone into the project to date,” citing the union’s recent “all-encompassing governance review,” as well as a formulation of initial “recommendations and models” for restructuring.

Addressing his pledge to allocate human resource costs to student jobs in the Student Commons, he noted that the delay of the building’s opening has prevented him from fully implementing his pledge.

Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin

The role of the Vice-President University Affairs is to advocate on behalf of students to the university administration, as well as represent the union on several university bodies.

In his profile with The Varsity, Grondin pledged to lobby against the university-mandated leave of absence policy. He further pledged to lobby to introduce a grade forgiveness program, as well as improve accommodations for students affected by mental health problems.

Grondin fulfilled all his pledges to lobby for these policy changes but noted that these efforts were met with varying degrees of success.

He has spoken against the leave of absence policy at key governance meetings, including the University Affairs Board, Business Board, and Governing Council. Drawing on his own experiences with mental health challenges, he appealed personally to members of the boards to vote against the policy. Despite his lobbying, the policy passed and came into effect in July.

Since then, Grondin has written a guide to the policy in language easier for students to understand, highlighting rights, resources, and frequently asked questions. He has distributed the list to every college and faculty society.

His advocacy for the grade forgiveness program “never got as far as [he] originally intended.” He and his assistant began “a thorough review of similar policies and procedures in other universities” at the start of his term, which resulted in “a 12-page summary of [their] findings and recommendations.” They also worked with administrative officials from the Faculty of Arts & Science to collect data specific to U of T.

However, he found that Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) representatives were already pushing a similar proposal. To respect the autonomy of ASSU, which already had strong ties with administrative officials in the faculty, he decided to defer advocacy to ASSU.

Referring to his advocacy to improve accommodations for students affected by mental health problems, he wrote that he has worked extensively to improve supports. A significant achievement includes how he and his assistant “pushed for the expansion of hours in the Health and Wellness Centre,” which led to its current hours lasting “until 7pm three days of the week.”

He also worked with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students to lobby for 24-hour counseling services to be available at Robarts Library and in the Bahen Centre.

In addition to his pledges, Grondin has noted that the “bulk of [his] work throughout the year came from beyond [his] initial pledges.”

Highlights of his work include his help with coordinating much of the UTSU’s Pride programming for LGBTQ2S+ students, lobbying “for the provision of free menstrual products with students from various college societies,” creating a task force on sexual violence in the UTSU, and working on a report on microtransactions and Digital Learning Services, which has been presented to the Vice-Provost, Innovation in Undergraduate Education.