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UTSU Board of Directors signs open letter calling for COVID-19 accommodations, additional safety measures

Directors also approved FYC honorariums, planned for October 8 AGM
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The UTSU building. CAROLYN LEVETT/THE VARSITY
The UTSU building. CAROLYN LEVETT/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its fourth Board of Directors meeting of the current academic year on August 29. 

During the meeting, the board of directors voted to sign the UTSU’s open letter on reopening campus and fall semester plans, which calls for additional accommodations for students who can’t attend in-person courses, such as more virtual options and additional safety measures.

The board approved the First Year Council (FYC) Summer Commission Transition Report, awarding a $150 honorarium to all eligible council members. The board also appointed the FYC Hiring Committee for the next term, and the upcoming council is expected to be formed by the end of September.

Directors also agreed to hold the union’s 2021 annual general meeting (AGM) on October 8 and voted in favour of preliminary meeting documents.

UTSU has yet to confirm whether the general meeting will be held virtually or in person, citing the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation in the fall. However, according to Vice-President Operations Fiona Reuter, online access is guaranteed regardless of the eventual meeting format.

UTSU open letter 

The board approved an open letter on the university’s plan for the fall semester and campus reopening as Ontario faces a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The open letter endorses the university’s decision to impose a vaccine mandate but criticizes the administration for not doing enough to protect students’ health and safety. 

“We, the undersigned, strongly feel that the University of Toronto (U of T) administration is failing to sufficiently protect students as we return to campus,” reads the letter.

It cites a survey conducted by the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) which found that almost 30 per cent of survey respondents reported strong discomfort about returning to campus. An additional 16 per cent of respondents said they are somewhat comfortable being back in person, and 30 per cent of survey respondents “strongly agree” that they feel comfortable returning to campus if the province stays in line with its vaccination plan. 

The open letter also criticizes the university administration for “[its] lack of detailed, frequent, and transparent communication,” since many students and faculties are still unclear about the health measures the university is taking on campus this fall. The letter also claims that the student body is given “ambiguous and infrequent” information.

The open letter also demands U of T guarantee virtual accommodations for students who are unable to return, tighten vaccine and mask rules, ramp up mental health and accessibility services capacity, and be more transparent about COVID-19 policies, vaccination rates, and alternative course plans.

U of T has continued to assert that it is following public health guidance while planning for an in-person semester. Following the announcement of a vaccine passport system in Ontario that will be implemented in late September, a spokesperson for the university wrote that the university is reviewing the province’s plans, to determine how to structure the relationship between the provincial vaccine passports and UCheck. 

First-Year Council honoraria

The board passed the FYC Summer Commission’s report and approved a $150 honorarium grant to all eligible council members. The FYC is a UTSU group that organizes activities and advocates specifically for first-year students at UTSG. 

The FYC for the 2021–2022 academic year will be formed by the end of September and it will start its work in October, according to Reuter. Members will be recruited by the Hiring Committee, which will be made up of the UTSU president, vice-president professional faculties, and outgoing FYC executives.

The board elected two directors to fill the vacant positions on the committee: Jessie Wu from the Art and Science Division and Catherine Tan from the Professional Faculties Division. The committee will start reviewing council member applications in September. 

2021 AGM

This year’s AGM is proposed to be earlier in October than typically scheduled. Reuter, who moved the AGM meeting package at the meeting, explained that the change was made after considering accessibility challenges that might come from heavy workloads during the midterm period.

“Typically it happened in the mid [or] end of the month. But we did note that that was when a lot of students had midterms and other assignments… so in an effort to make it more accessible to all students, we have moved it up,” said Reuter to the board.

She added that moving the AGM earlier to avoid the midterm period can also give union staff more time to prepare for the meeting and less stress about course work.

Reuter could not confirm if the AGM would be in person, due to the developing COVID-19 situation. However, she did promise that students would be able to attend the meeting online regardless of the format, since some faculties continue to be away from campus for another year.

The board approved the AGM package, which includes a draft version of the meeting agenda and other related documents. Reuter expects to release the finalized meeting documents in late September.