The Social Justice Education (SJE) Student Caucus has decided to break away from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association (OISE GSA), following findings of constitutional violations. The SJE Student Caucus is now a course union under the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), which recognized the caucus on October 29.

The SJE course union represents students at the Department of SJE, which is part of OISE.

Dissociation of the association

The UTGSU Executive Committee confirmed to The Varsity that “The SJE Student Caucus reached out to inquire about all possibilities for their fellow members in early October.”

Nolan Fontaine, the SJE Student Caucus’ Internal Coordinator, explained in an interview that the dissociation followed an online referendum among SJE students. The referendum, which occurred that month, showed that a majority of voters wanted to form their own course union with the UTGSU, according to Fontaine.

When asked about the motivation behind the dissociation, Fontaine said that the conclusions of the UTGSU’s investigatory committee that examined the matter were “pretty glaring in terms of constitutional violations.”

The committee found 20 constitutional violations in the OISE GSA’s April elections. As a result, the UTGSU General Council voted to de-affiliate the OISE GSA from the UTGSU in a meeting on September 27.

According to the UTGSU’s documentation, “the OISE GSA executives individually submitted [their] resignations as of October 1st, 2019.”

What does this mean for Social Justice Education students?

In an email to The Varsity, the UTGSU Executive Committee wrote that the “SJE Caucus, like all other course unions, is eligible to receive funding [from the UTGSU] in the form of a head grant.” Head grants are funds distributed by the UTGSU to its recognized course unions and are paid by the annual fees collected from graduate students.

It continued, “[The SJE course union] will also be represented on the UTGSU General Council/Board-of-Directors; the SJE course union will have three seats (votes) on the board of directors as per UTGSU Bylaw.” Fontaine noted that an additional advantage for the SJE Caucus following this move was increased autonomy for its group. However, he said that he is not personally opposed to the OISE GSA.

“Course unions and departmental student associations are more of a community for a lot of students,” he remarked. “For us to just turn our backs, just on the actions of… a few [executives], doesn’t help the greater [student body] from a utilitarianist sense.”

“We really just want to move forward [with a] clean slate, and really see [to the needs of our] students and constituents.”

The Varsity has reached out to the OISE GSA for comment.