The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) met virtually on January 25 for its first monthly meeting of the year. The council discussed the vacant executive-at-large position and monthly reports on what executives have been working on, including advancing a grant and bursary fund. A motion to impeach Internal Commissioner Sarah Alam was also discussed in a closed session but ultimately tabled.
Vacant position and tabled impeachment motion
The council discussed Executive-at-Large Kirthika Shanmugham’s decision to step down due to a personal emergency. The seat currently remains vacant, and there was a discussion on whether or not to fill it so late in the year. The council discussed suspending the union’s bylaws to leave it vacant due to the challenges of onboarding a new executive, although it noted that the bylaws should only be suspended in exceptional circumstances. However, the motion to suspend the union’s bylaws did not receive enough support, and the council decided to revisit the executive-at-large election at its next meeting,
Additionally, there was some discussion about a motion to impeach Alam that was brought forward by Adam Hill, an Ontario Institute for Studies in Education council representative and a former candidate for internal commissioner. The discussion about the impeachment motion was held in-camera, meaning guests and media were not present. According to External Commissioner Justin Patrick, the matter was eventually tabled for the next meeting. After the meeting returned from the in camera portion, Hill was reprimanded for a breach of confidentiality.
The motion to impeach Alam alleged that she “deliberately excluded” motions from the UTGSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) and September board meeting agendas, and did not address questions about why these materials were excluded. It also included allegations that she failed to complete tasks such as distributing the audited financial statements with two weeks’ notice, scheduling meetings of the Policy and Operations Committee, and updating the UTGSU’s bylaws following amendments, among other claims.
In a response distributed to the board, Alam disputed Hill’s allegations. “Unfortunately, the reasons presented in the motion for impeachment misrepresent the facts and do not provide complete information,” wrote Alam. She characterized Hill’s allegations as a form of harassment which has been ongoing since she entered the office.
Hill alleged that the motions he submitted to the September board meeting and the AGM were excluded. However, Alam provided documentation that the motions for the September board meeting were distributed to board members, and explained that the board voted them down. She also wrote that the motions Hill submitted to the AGM were discussed among the executive team, who decided not to include them in the meeting package.
In response to Hill’s allegation that the Policy and Operations Committee has not met frequently enough this year, Alam wrote that she believes the committee has failed to maintain membership and reach quorum for meetings because of harassment from Hill. She included a complaint from another member who felt uncomfortable due to Hill’s behaviour.
She also disputed the legitimacy of other allegations, pointing to the 15 days between the public upload of the financial audit statements and the AGM when they were approved. Although the UTGSU has not updated the public bylaw document on its website, Alam pointed out that she has worked to update them, and that the union officially amended its bylaws at the 2021 AGM.
Hill responded to the allegations of harassment in an email to The Varsity, writing, “The only way my actions could be construed as harassment would be my repeated communication of my concerns to the Internal Commissioner as an elected Director and Member of the Union.”
Executives discussed a variety of finance-based initiatives that the UTGSU has been working on, including donations, grants, and bursaries.
In the wake of a motion at the AGM that called on the UTGSU to donate $25,000 to the UofT Emergency Food Bank, Danielle Karakas, academics and funding commissioner: divisions 3 and 4, updated members on the work she has done to build the union’s relationship with the food bank.
The union has also advanced its initiative to create a $250,000 pool for new emergency grants and bursaries, with Finance Commissioner June Li looking to have a draft of grant and bursary ideas by late February to early March.
Moreover, University Governance Commissioner Lwanga Musisi said that a number of students applied to the Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary this year, and mentioned that he is looking to consult with Indigenous students and groups on campus for the creation of an Indigenous students bursary.
Dhanela Sivaparan, academics and funding commissioner: divisions 1 and 2, gave updates on the advocacy work she has been doing with individual students regarding problems they may be facing in their departments. Additionally, she noted that she’s working toward creating virtual programming for February that focuses on equity-deserving groups, and programming for International Women’s Day in March.
External Commissioner Justin Patrick has been working on signing a partnership agreement with the U of T chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy to collaborate on the union’s Cops Off Campus campaign. Furthermore, Internal Commissioner Alam talked about the continued work she’s doing to organize the weekly executive meetings and other matters.
Disclosure: Kirthika Shanmugham was previously the chair of The Varsity’s Board of Directors in fall 2021.
Editor’s Note (January 31): This article has been updated to include comment from Hill.
Editor’s note (February 7): This article has been updated to clarify wording around Alam’s claims, and correct the claim that the UTGSU was not going to attempt to fill the vacant executive-at-large position. In addition, it has been updated to include that Hill was reprimanded for a breach of confidentiality.