The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors meeting took place on February 27 over Zoom, with a discussion ranging from the upcoming elections to concerns regarding clubs.
The meeting began with each of the six members of the Executive Committee presenting a summary of their respective executive report, in which they highlighted the work they have completed this past month and went over information on upcoming ventures.
UTSU Vice-President Professional Faculties Paul Kaita reported on a new UTSU scholarship program that was recently passed by the Finance Committee, creating four new scholarships for students at U of T.
The scholarships will recognize student leadership, campus involvement, and equity. Kaita also detailed the completion of a report on the experiences and representation of first-entry professional faculty students in residences.
UTSU Vice-President Public & University Affairs Tyler Riches reported that the UTSU has received most of the information it had requested from the university, which mostly consisted of budget information relating to the Same Degree, Same Fee campaign and Campus Police, under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The UTSU has been working on its Same Degree, Same Fee campaign, which aims to ensure that students in higher tuition programs at U of T, such as computer science, bioinformatics, and data science, do not continue to pay a higher tuition fee.
Other highlights of the executive reports included new reforms to the election system, such as a reduction in the number of nominations required, and updates regarding the review of the university-mandated leave of absence policy and the proposed implementation of a credit system for student health and dental benefits.
To address some of issues with low election engagement, Computer Science Director Evan Kanter proposed that UTSU announce which positions are still vacant a few days prior to the end of the ongoing nominations period. Kanter suggested that this may encourage students who are less experienced in student government to come forward and may reduce vacancies.
While there was some support for the proposal from Social Sciences Director Alex Erickson, who believed that this may be an idea worth considering for future elections, Erickson and others claimed that the proposal would not be suitable for this year’s elections for various reasons.
UTSU Vice-President Operations Dermot O’Halloran, for example, conceded that the “nomination system that we have now is broken,” but argued that because nominations are supposed to be secret in the current system, it follows that the lack of nominations should also be secret.
University College Director Pranay Prem asked about apparent funding delays for the reimbursement of club expenses from the fall term and whether similar delays are anticipated for the winter term. Prem noted that he had heard concerns from some clubs that they may not receive funding until the summer or the next academic year.
UTSU Vice-President Student Life Neeharika Hemrajani responded that there will be an extension of some deadlines for clubs funding since the reimbursement process has been somewhat slowed, as clubs have seen changes in the type of expenses incurred due to the pandemic. According to Hemrajani, delays later than April for clubs funding for the current winter term are not anticipated.
UTSU President Muntaka Ahmed added, “Our priority right now is definitely to get all of the 2021 financial obligations done by the end of our financial term, which is in April.”
University College Director Basmah Ramadan expressed frustration that the Clubs Committee has only met twice since August and asked Hemrajani whether there were any plans to get members of the committee more involved. According to the UTSU Governance Affairs calendar, which is publicly available on the UTSU’s website, the Clubs Committee did not meet for nearly six months until last week on March 3.
UTSU General Manager Suzanne Belleau attributed the lack of meetings to understaffing and the elimination of the clubs coordinator position a few years ago, which has “overwhelmed” the vice-president student life position.
Hemrajani said that they “do meet with clubs on a regular weekly basis” but later clarified that she was referring to the weekly clubs digests rather than meetings. Life Sciences Director Katherine Jung noted that, based on the clubs she is familiar with, the “overall feeling this year has been that there hasn’t really been much communication from the UTSU.”