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UTSU Special General Meeting: external and university affairs executive positions merged

New full-time vice-president public and university affairs position to focus on advocacy
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UTSU executives fielded questions and concerns at their Special General Meeting on February 12.HANNAH CARTY/THE VARSITY
UTSU executives fielded questions and concerns at their Special General Meeting on February 12.HANNAH CARTY/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its Special General Meeting on February 12, addressing the merger of the vice-president external affairs and vice-president university affairs positions to form a new vice-president public and university affairs executive position.

The main item on the agenda was bylaw amendments, featuring the executive positions merger and the removal of committees from the bylaws.

The meeting was called to order at 6:16 pm, after waiting over an hour for the meeting to meet the required quorum of 50 members.

Vice-president public and university affairs position

The main change in the bylaws was the merger of the vice-president external affairs and vice-president university affairs roles, which are currently part-time positions at 25 hours per week. The new role will be called vice-president public and university affairs, and will be a full-time position, at 40 hours per week. Joshua Bowman, President of the UTSU, noted that the current system can result in an “armchair advocacy apparatus,” whereby people who hold a position can advocate “whenever it’s convenient” for them. By having one role dedicated to advocacy, the UTSU hopes to bring more focus to its advocacy work.

Alexa Ballis, President of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, spoke against the change, expressing that she was “worried that combining these portfolios would overload the new position,” and that certain aspects of advocacy work could end up overlooked.

Vice-President External Affairs Lucas Granger and Vice-President, University Affairs Avani Singh both spoke in favour of the change.

“I’m so strongly in favor of this,” said Granger. He added that there is “a lot of redundancy within the work that can be done between what are considered the two major advocacy portfolios,” and that he often has to work with the university’s government relations department, crossing the lines between the two current positions.

Singh echoed Granger’s points about redundancy, and said that she felt that the change would actually make the position more accessible. In her experience, her role often requires more than 25 hours per week to complete adequately, and that therefore people might have incorrect expectations going into it. If the weekly hours of the new position are increased to 40, the role will have a more accurate expectation and be compensated more accurately, according to Singh. The bylaw change to merge the two roles passed, and will be in effect for the upcoming 2020 election.

Committee bylaws, advocacy initiatives addressed

The UTSU hoped that the removal of specific committee mentions in the bylaws could provide more flexibility for committee purposes and for the creation of permanent committees in the future. “If we want to create a new committee to match the needs of students, we can,” said Bowman.

The change would allow for ad hoc committees, such as the mental health ad hoc committee, to become permanent more easily. Currently, ad hoc committees cease to exist after the term in which created.

In response to a question about combining the work of the mental health committee with an existing committee, both Bowman and Vice-President Operations Arjun Kaul defended the idea of a separate mental health committee. The bylaw change to remove committee mentions from the bylaws passed.

Following the debate over the bylaw changes, the meeting took a recess, but lost quorum during it. Bowman motioned to suspend the rules so that the meeting could continue discussions minuted.

After the vote to suspend the rules passed, Bowman gave his address, highlighting recent and upcoming initiatives of the UTSU. 

To address the particularly low voter turnout in the 2019 executive elections, the UTSU plans to launch a get out the vote campaign for the first time in several years. This will include setting up tables around campus on the last day of the voting period, where students will be able to vote using a UTSU laptop.

The nomination period for the 2020 UTSU elections will open on March 2 and will run until March 13.

Bowman also announced a health and dental referendum that will be on the ballot for the spring UTSU elections “largely with the purpose of restoring mental health coverage to the previous rate it was at last year,” before changes to the OHIP prompted a decrease in coverage.

Lastly, Bowman touched on the recent reforms made to the UTSU’s student aid program which doubled the amount given by the UTSU in awards from $10,000 two years prior, to over $20,000 in the past four months. The increase in funding will go to new bursaries such as an accessibility bursary and a health and wellness bursary, among others.