The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) recently voted to create the UTGSU Reserve Fund (URF) in case it loses funding after rejecting the recommendations of a university body to change its policies regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Caucus.
The fund is intended to ensure that the union’s office can stay open should their funding be revoked by the university due to non-compliance with the panel’s recommendations.
Following four complaints, the Complaint and Resolution Council on Student Societies (CRCSS) panel made a number of recommendations earlier this year on the BDS Caucus, which focuses on economically sanctioning Israel due to its policies on Palestine. Critics of the BDS movement characterize it as antisemitic, though its supporters dispute that characterization.
The panel determined that the BDS Caucus goes against the UTGSU’s Anti-Discrimination Policy and principles under the university’s Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations due to exclusion based on nationality. To rectify this, it recommended that the caucus’ fee should be made optional, as it is currently mandatory for all UTGSU members. The UTGSU is the only student union in Canada that requires all students to pay membership fees to a BDS caucus.
The CRCSS gave the UTGSU one year to adopt the recommendations or risk losing their funding, which comes from levy fees paid by graduate students and collected through the university. However, during a General Council meeting in February, members of the UTGSU voted to ignore the CRCSS’ suggestions, citing the fact that the BDS Caucus was created democratically. Some members also felt that the panel’s recommendations were an attempt to interfere in the autonomy of the union. Their decision to not comply with the recommendations means that their funding may be withheld.
In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson explained the conclusion of the CRCSS panel’s ruling. “[The CRCSS panel] noted that, at a minimum, members should have had the opportunity to opt-out of the fee,” wrote the spokesperson. U of T did not respond to questions about what the consequences of the UTGSU ignoring the recommendations of the CRCSS might be.
In response to this risk of losing funding, the UTSGU created the reserve fund. At the General Council meeting on April 27, members stated that if student fees are to be withheld from the union, the union will use this fund to support the operational expenses of their office, such as payroll and service expenses.
While the union’s Finance Committee has approved the use of the URF, there are policies that the UTGSU must abide by to access the fund. These policies include allocating $500,000 from the union’s unrestricted fund to the URF and having the Finance Committee annually assess the amount of money allocated to ensure that the funds the union’s office requires to function will be available.
Additionally, if any legal matters regarding the issue of U of T’s withholding of fees occur, an ad hoc committee will handle the payment of legal expenses from the URF.
The UTGSU declined The Varsity’s request for comment.