At its fifth Board of Directors (BOD) meeting on August 28 and 29, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) approved extensive revisions to its bylaws. As part of the revisions, the UTSU reduced its number of board seats and introduced the Senate, a new governing body responsible for informing the board on UTSU’s constituency and division related issues.
Other revisions pertain to the requirements for executive and board nominations, quorum rules, and the proxy system of voting.
At the meeting, Vice-President Operations Dermot O’Halloran gave a presentation on the union’s financial statements from the first quarter and approved a motion to hold the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on September 29.
Board structure and the Senate
The UTSU currently has a board structure composed of 44 seats, which include members of the union’s executive committee and representatives from various undergraduate divisions and constituencies. The executive committee is composed of the president and five vice-presidents.
As per the approved revisions to the union’s bylaws, the board will be composed of 12 directors, two of which shall be the president and the vice-president operations.
Candidates for board elections will no longer need to represent a particular constituency or division within the union’s membership in order to run. Instead, all members of the union — students at UTSG who pay the UTSU membership fees as part of their tuition — will be eligible to run in general elections.
“The essential push here is to [separate] the fiduciary assembly and the representative assembly,” explained President Omar Gharbiyeh. According to him, the fiduciary assembly must represent the interests of the UTSU, while the representative assembly represents the interests of individual divisions or constituencies that fall within UTSU membership.
Gharbiyeh asserted that electing board members on the basis of the division or constituency to which they belong contributes to a “tension” between the interests of the union and a board member’s other representative obligations.
“The constituency system for the board right now often has [board members] splitting their fiduciary responsibility, especially if they’re being appointed from a student society, for example, between the interests of a separate organization and the UTSU,” explained O’Halloran.
“Ultimately, the people in the BOD need to be accountable solely to the fiduciary responsibility, [of the UTSU],” continued Gharbiyeh.
The revised board structure means that board members will no longer be elected to ensure the representation of constituencies within the union’s membership. Instead, the revised bylaws will establish the Senate to fulfill the union’s responsibility to ensure the representation of constituencies.
O’Halloran said, “[The Senate will be] a representative body of the university campus that provides resolutions and advice to the [board] on campus and constituency issues, [while] the board itself is appointed at large from the broader membership.”
The senate will be composed of three representatives from each of the seven colleges and representatives from various other divisions and constituencies within UTSU membership.
Under the current bylaws, the UTSU’s officers are designated the members of the executive committee.
Under the revisions approved at the BOD meeting, there will only be two elected officers — the president and vice-president operations — and one officer appointed by the executive committee.
The appointed officer will serve as the chief administrative officer of the UTSU. Through their position, the appointed officer will also act as a liaison between the union’s staff and the executive committee, and will be responsible for managing the union’s day-to-day funds.
Quorum and election nominations
In order to begin regular board meetings — meetings that the union must hold on a monthly basis — a meeting must achieve quorum. The UTSU’s current bylaws require a quorum of 15 board members for meetings in the summer and 20 board members for meetings during the fall and winter semesters.
Throughout the summer, the union has encountered difficulties in achieving quorum for its regular meetings. Its fifth BOD meeting, originally scheduled for August 28, had to be adjourned and reconvened the following day due to lost quorum. The reconvened meeting on August 29 also suffered minor delays because the meeting did not achieve quorum immediately.
To alleviate problems of establishing quorum, the board’s approved revisions stipulate that a majority of board members shall constitute a quorum. The revisions do not specify a minimum number of board members required to achieve quorum.
The board also approved revisions to the requirements for board and executive election nominations. Currently, to be nominated for an executive position, a prospective candidate must acquire at least 50 signatures from members of the union, and prospective candidates for board membership must acquire at least 20 signatures.
As per the revised bylaws, all prospective candidates will have to collect at least 25 signatures from members of the union.
In response to concerns from a board member on the reduction of signatures required for executive nomination, Gharbiyeh explained that requiring fewer signatures for executive nominations enables the nomination of more individuals, thereby increasing the total number of available candidates for UTSU members to choose from.
Additionally, the revised bylaws remove the system of proxy voting from membership meetings. Under the current bylaws, members of the union are allowed to proxy their vote, wherein another member can vote in their place at membership meetings. A member of the union is allowed to carry no more than 10 proxy votes.
O’Halloran said that the removal of the proxy system is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, O’Halloran said that the proxy system is very difficult to organize and there have been many concerns regarding accurately counting proxy votes in the past.
Moreover, O’Halloran pointed to the worry that the proxy system was not being used appropriately: “Someone proxying their vote to someone would indicate how that person should vote, but that [would not always be] honoured.”
O’Halloran also cautioned that the proxy system may engender anti-democratic effects in the union’s governance. He suggested that, hypothetically, it would have been possible for the union’s executive committee to collude and manipulate each of their own 10 proxy votes to achieve a particular result. “The most organized and most informed people typically in the organization just by virtue of their position… could collect the maximum number of proxies,” said O’Halloran.
Following the approval of the revisions, Gharbiyeh was content with the changes. He noted that, while the union undertook a revision of the bylaws due to issues with quorum, the revision process sought to correct broader inefficiencies within the bylaws as well: “We did decide to do a sweeping change because frankly, the bylaws that we were working with were incoherent, redundant, and self contradictory.”
Although the board has approved the bylaws, they will not come into effect until the UTSU membership at the AGM has adopted them.
At the meeting, O’Halloran also presented the union’s first quarter financial statements to the board. The first quarter covers the union’s spending and revenue from the months of May to July.
According to the presentation, the union spent $422,000 during the first quarter.
O’Halloran explained, “We typically receive our fees and installments from [U of T] in the fall and the winter. So predictably, we haven’t really gotten a lot of money [in the summer].”
The board also approved changes to clubs’ fall funding. O’Halloran and Elizabeth Shechtman, vice-president student life, said that the union severely underutilized clubs funding last year and is currently working on establishing a better system for clubs’ fund allocation.
The union plans on establishing a system wherein it is able to supervise clubs’ finances and monitor the funding clubs receive from the UTSU. This system, however, will not be in effect until the winter semester.
In the meantime, the board approved a system for the fall semester that requires clubs to present proof of expense in order to receive reimbursement from the UTSU. The system will operate on a rolling, per-activity basis.