On December 1, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) met for its first virtual annual general meeting (AGM). The UTGSU passed executive motions regarding the 2019–2020 audited financial statement, bylaw amendments, and motions put forward by general members.
At the AGM, executives gave oral reports on what they have worked on this year so far. Members voted to receive the executive reports along with reports from standing committees, ad-hoc committees, caucuses, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Unit 3902.
Dhanela Sivaparan, Academics and Funding Commissioner Divisions 1 and 2, reported that she designed, consulted on, and launched the UTSGU’s COVID-19 Student Impact Survey, which examined the impacts of the pandemic on graduate students. Like Sivaparan, June Li, Academics and Funding Commissioner Divisions 3 and 4, also worked on the survey, and continued to give individual advice to graduate students in her divisions.
Danielle Karakas, Civics and Environment Commissioner, worked on executive initiatives regarding food insecurity and housing affordability.
Jacqui Spencer, External Commissioner, worked on the Black Graduate Students Matter campaign, including the creation of the Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary.
University Governance Commissioner Lwanga Musisi is leading the UTGSU’s mental health campaign and served as interim finance commissioner. He is continuing to meet with the administration.
Ben Hjorth, Executive Member-at-Large, worked on mental health advocacy and liaised with CUPE 3902. Two executives recently began their roles on November 15 — Sarah Alam, Internal Commissioner, and An-Noûra Compaoré, Finance Commissioner — and have engaged in orientation and regular meetings thus far.
The membership passed the motion to receive the UTGSU audited financial statement for the 2019–2020 fiscal year.
Sophie McGibbon-Gardner, member and the 2019–2020 finance commissioner, asked for clarification on the breakdown of the unrestricted end-of-year net assets, which totalled $1,581,570. Specifically, she wondered how much of the unrestricted funds is associated with the health and dental plan and how much was from UTGSU membership fees.
Nusrat Huq, Finance Administrator, answered that the surplus funds are pooled, and therefore the UTGSU does not have information about how much money is from HDI or UTGSU fees.
The Varsity reached out to McGibbon-Gardner about her question. “If our Union has 1.5 million dollars available in unrestricted surplus, transparency regarding how much of this is available to be allocated to non-HDI related expenses is essential,” McGibbon-Gardner wrote in an email to The Varsity. “For Members to understand how and why financial decisions are being made with their money, there must be greater clarity regarding the income of the UTGSU.”
Members also passed a motion to approve all four bylaw amendments that have been passed by the UTGSU General Council over the past 12 months.
Karakas moved that the UTGSU increase food security advocacy and support the U of T student-led emergency food bank. Her motion passed.
She noted that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many postsecondary students, especially international and racialized students, have become food insecure due to loss of work and access to on-campus food services. “At the start of COVID, U of T shut down their student mandated food bank,” she said, adding that a group of students “saw the need, and they started their own food bank.”
Hjorth moved a motion related to graduate student safety and support during COVID-19. This motion had already been passed at the July 28 General Council meeting but was being presented again to the general membership.
The motion outlines a series of demands for the School of Graduate Studies and U of T administration in light of financial, personal, and academic precarity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. These demands include extensions to timelines and funding packages, tuition relief, needs-based funds and grants, rent relief, and academic employment. The motion carried unanimously.
Lynne Alexandrova, member and the former internal commissioner, put forward a motion recommending that the UTGSU increase engagement with accessibility and inclusivity projects. Several members expressed concern that the motion was unclear. The motion failed, but several members voiced their hope that the motion could be revised and resubmitted at a later meeting.
Musisi moved that the UTGSU membership “strongly oppose any infringement on the UTGSU’s autonomy from the University and or government(s).” The motion included that the UTGSU continue to oppose the Student Choice Initiative — an initiative from the provincial government that was struck down last year — and the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies for infringing on the union’s autonomy.
The meeting adjourned due to a loss of quorum before the motion could be voted on. Two other motions remained to be addressed, one recommending that the UTGSU adopt an open media policy and one endorsing Divestment and Beyond’s declaration of a climate emergency.
Disclosure: The motion on an open media policy was submitted by The Varsity.