The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) met for its first council meeting of the 2020–2021 academic year on September 15. The meeting addressed the installment of the Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary Award and the appointment of a chief returning officer (CRO).
The council also voted to impeach Internal Commissioner Lynne Alexandrova over concerns that she failed to fulfill her duties and mistreated staff, and allegations of anti-Blackness.
Black student scholarship
At a previous council meeting on July 28, the UTGSU passed a motion to create a Black Graduate Student Scholarship Fund that would offer five $2,000 scholarships to Black graduate students each semester. The motion detailed that the UTGSU would allocate $10,000 from the Unrestricted Surplus Fund to this endeavour, an amount that would be matched by the School of Graduate Studies.
According to the minutes of the July 28 meeting, External Commissioner Jacqui Spencer expressed that the scholarship would help Black students affected by COVID-19 and racism, among other injustices. The UTGSU also launched a Black Students Matter campaign earlier this year.
At the September Council Meeting, the UTGSU passed a motion proposed by the Standing Committee to change the name of the Black Graduate Student Scholarship Fund to the Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary and to allocate an additional $5,000 from the Unrestricted Surplus Fund, for a total of $15,000.
The Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary will offer up to 15 $2,000 needs-based bursaries annually to self-identified Black students enrolled in their first year of a master or doctoral program at U of T. The bursaries can be applied on top of any other graduate funding, external awards, or Ontario Student Assistance Program money that the student receives.
The purpose of the award, as outlined by the Standing Committee, is “to provide financial support to help improve fair and equitable access to educational opportunities for Black students commencing graduate studies at the University of Toronto.”
Another motion was passed at the meeting proposing that the council appoint Adrian Aziz as the CRO for the fall 2020 elections. However, this choice was disputed by Adam Hill, who was the 2019–2020 UTGSU internal commissioner.
Hill alleged that Aziz “has a rather controversial history,” referring to the fact that Aziz was removed as CRO during the 2019 Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association elections, which came under investigation for violating the UTGSU’s constitution.
While it is true that Aziz was removed as CRO during the 2019 elections, it occurred at what turned out to be an illegitimate emergency meeting. Indeed, the investigation into the elections violations found that Aziz was unconstitutionally dismissed from the position and that there was no evidence that he had failed to uphold his duties as CRO.
At the September meeting, University Governance Commissioner Lwanga Musisi disputed Hill’s allegation, calling it “propaganda.” Executive Director Andre Fast further defended Aziz’s selection as CRO, noting that his application and background was reviewed thoroughly and that he has ample experience with elections.
The discussion over the CRO appointment was cut short by the UTGSU chairperson, Hamish Russell, due to time constraints, and the motion ultimately passed with oppositions and abstentions.
Editor’s note (September 29): A previous version of this article linked Hill’s allegation of controversy toward Aziz’s 2020 CRO appointment with the 2019 OISE GSA elections that came under investigation where Aziz was also CRO, without further clarifying that the investigation ultimately concluded that Aziz was unconstitutionally removed as CRO of the 2019 elections and that there was no evidence of his wrongdoing in that position. This article has been updated to fully clarify that context, alongside a comment from Fast. The Varsity regrets the error.