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UTGSU October council meeting discusses COVID-19 updates, elections committee findings

Selection committee for Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary formed
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The UTGSU office. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY
The UTGSU office. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) gave several reports at its General Council meeting on October 27, including a COVID-19 campus update and a report from the Executive Elections Investigation Committee (EEIC). 

At the meeting, the General Council elected members to the Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary selection committee and appointed an executive member-at-large and the chair of the Board of Appeal. 

COVID-19 campus update

June Li, UTGSU Academics and Funding Commissioner for Divisions 3 and 4, gave a report on campus COVID-19 updates. Li noted that many graduate students may not know that they are eligible for a tuition waiver, and specified that any graduate student in the unfunded cohort and whose research was disrupted by COVID-19 is eligible for a waiver. 

The UTGSU executives wrote in an email to The Varsity, “Graduate students have been overwhelmingly expressing sentiments of concern regarding communication from the university and the impacts of COVID-19.” The executives cited evidence from the COVID-19 Student Impact Survey it launched in August 2020 that showed that a majority of the 1,500 students surveyed were dissatisfied with the university’s method of providing updates on COVID-19.

Li added that executive members have been meeting with administration team members. “We’re going to be giving them advice and… giving them feedback on their current ways of communication,” Li said.

Elections

The UTGSU presented the recent report from the EEIC, which formed after the UTGSU’s 2020 executive elections to “investigate the impact UTGSU bodies may have had on the fairness and legitimacy of the Election” as well as “report on the impartiality of the 2020 Elections” and “submit suggested improvements.” The EEIC was commissioned to write this report following allegations of defamation during the election cycle from two unsuccessful candidates. 

The report states that the EEIC “perceives the 2020 UTGSU election to be legitimate” and outlines recommendations to correct any “issues of fairness and impartiality.”

The UTGSU discussed which recommendations might be appropriate to adopt into its bylaws. During the discussion of the report’s findings, a council member digressed and questioned why no candidates were made to collect signatures as part of their nomination for the current fall by-elections. Earlier elections during the pandemic asked candidates to collect electronic signatures from students to legitimize their nomination; however, this election cycle waived the requirement. 

The UTGSU executives wrote to The Varsity in an email that the election code was recently changed at the advice of the chief returning officer to waive nomination requirements to accommodate COVID-19 campus closures, which may make it difficult for some students to obtain 15 signatures.

“The changes to the Election Code were presented and discussed at the September 30, 2020 General Council meeting and [the] General Council voted to approve the Elections Code as presented,” the UTGSU executives wrote. 

Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary 

The UTGSU appointed a selection committee for the Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary, which was formed in September 2020. Jacqui Spencer, External Commissioner, was elected as the executive member to serve on the selection committee. 

The UTGSU wrote in an email to The Varsity that this bursary is intended “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.” 

“[The bursary] recognizes that talent and excellence thrive in Black communities and that providing fair and equitable access to educational opportunities acknowledges the creativity, leadership capacity and gifted nature of Black students,” the UTGSU wrote.

Appointments

The General Council also elected Ben Hjorth as the UTGSU’s executive member-at-large, who assists the UTGSU executive members with running general standing committees and caucasus for a six-month term. 

The council elected Batool Barodi as the chair of the Board of Appeal. A vice-chair of the Board of Appeal was not appointed at this meeting, as no eligible nominations were made.