The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its September Board of Directors Meeting last Sunday. It discussed the upcoming second semester opt-out period for incidental fees that were deemed non-essential by the Student Choice Initiative, new endeavours to support financially-insecure students, remuneration policy, and changes to Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) media policies.
Opt-out period for the winter semester
The university set an opt-out period for the second semester which is a little less than three-months long, from November 1, 2019, to January 20, 2020. This opt-out period is 14 days longer than the fall period, which gives students more time to choose their opt-out selections.
UTSU President Joshua Bowman criticized the university’s decision. “I am extremely disappointed with the university administration for this decision,” said Bowman.
“This decision displays to me that they do not care about student societies, and quite frankly, the groups that are most affected by these opt outs.”
He noted that the UTSU had been in contact with the administration while preparing for the fall opt-out period, and said he will be holding an emergency meeting with the Office of the Vice-Provost and representatives from student groups.
Avani Singh, Vice-President, University Affairs, spoke briefly about her microtransactions initiative, which aims to support students whose classes require the use of third-party academic tools, such as Top Hat, WileyPLUS, and McGraw-Hill Connect. She has negotiated a number of free access codes from Top Hat to give to students in need, and is continuing dialogue with the university about the issue.
A study conducted by the previous Vice-President, University Affairs found that the biggest problem with these mandatory online programs was their financial inaccessibility. Singh’s initiative was launched on September 13, and received around 30 applications. “We received a lot of positive feedback on it,” said Singh.
The Board of Directors discussed the remuneration policy, which would have allowed executive members to receive pay at their hourly rate if they work over 40 hours a week, rather than having their paid hours capped.
Lina Maragha, University College Director, said, “A lot of the concerns [with the policy] stemmed from false statements being published by The Varsity. The Varsity did put out that it was overtime, which is literally the wrong word.”
The UTSU has criticized The Varsity’s decision to use the term “overtime“ since under Ontario law overtime pay must be allocated at time and a half, and that was not the policy’s intention.
However, according to the Government of Ontario, “overtime pay” is a general term that encompasses multiple forms of compensation. The Varsity’s initial article defined overtime pay according to the UTSU’s meeting minutes as “any additional hours worked shall be compensated at the same hourly honorarium.”
Earlier in the meeting, Maragha questioned multiple UTSU executives on their reported hours, saying that she was concerned about the optics.
The consensus was that criticism of the policy arose because of concerns from U of T community members that the policy was being passed secretively, as well as in an untimely manner. “A lot of people were just disappointed with the fact that it happened during the Student Choice Initiative,” said Bowman.
“Moving it through the executive committee may have been perceived negatively,” said Bowman, but he maintained that every policy is created “with the intention that it does go to the Board of Directors.”
Bowman and a handful of others voted in favour of repealing the remuneration policy. A majority abstained, and none voted in favour of keeping the remuneration policy.
The remuneration policy was then struck down.
CFS–O media policies
Vice-President External Affairs Lucas Granger reported on the CFS–O Annual General Meeting. He proposed five motions at the meeting on behalf of the UTSU. Two media proposals passed, one requiring that the CFS–O begin to publish minutes.
Recognized student media groups are also now able to attend plenary sessions and tweet about them. Another proposal by the UTSU was a low-income constituency group, which failed.
The UTSU’s Annual General Meeting will be held on October 30.
Editor’s note (September 9, 11:36 pm): The article has been updated to clarify The Varsity‘s position on the term “overtime pay.”