Although the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) has been holding its monthly board meetings, it has not been posting its board meeting packages on its website. As of October 14, the last time the SCSU published a board meeting package online was in June.
The Varsity was only able to acquire the July, August, and September board meeting packages after repeated requests to the SCSU in September and October. These meeting packages reveal that on July 27, August 24, and September 26, the SCSU met with board members to discuss the election of some SCSU executives to executive positions at the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O), as well as funding for grants, orientation events, and advocacy plans for the year, among other subjects.
Former SCSU directors wrote that, in light of the union’s failure to regularly publish these reports to the public, students should be concerned about the SCSU’s transparency. In an email to The Varsity, SCSU President Michael Sobowale wrote that the SCSU recognizes the absence of these reports online and is now working to improve students’ access to board meeting packages.
The Varsity has not been able to cover any SCSU board meetings this academic year because the information had not been made public. The Varsity has now obtained SCSU’s board packages from the last few months, within which we have found several updates pertaining to the UTSC student body.
In the August board meeting, SCSU executives reported that they had attended the CFS–O’s Ontario General Meeting (OGM) virtually from August 15–18. Vice-President External Thai Dillon Higashihara and Vice-President Academics Amrith David wrote that the OGM “was a space to bring forth local issues of our campus to [an] Ontario wide space in order to learn from other student unions.”
Higashihara reported that, at the OGM, he put forward a transit motion that the CFS–O ultimately adopted into the federation’s lobby campaigns for 2022–2023. Meanwhile, David passed a motion to create an “academic integrity case resource hub” that would allow CFS–O representatives to refer back to previous cases of academic misconduct.
At the OGM, Higashihara was also elected as the CFS–O’s constituency commissioner, while David was elected as the CFS–O’s treasurer.
In terms of grants, Sobowale reported that UTSC’s Department and Alumni Relations Office committed $10,000 to the SCSU’s Food Centre. Additionally, UTSC’s Office of Student Experience and Wellbeing said it would commit to continue its support for the SCSU’s emergency grant as well as supporting the creation of survivor and transit grants.
In terms of events, the SCSU hosted Frosh 2022: Revival from August 30 to September 1. In the September board meeting package, Sobowale wrote that the event saw “a massive turn out.” The SCSU — along with the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and RadioFWD — also hosted an “East Meets West” concert at Rebel Nightclub on September 8 that drew over 1,500 attendees, according to Vice-President Campus Life Alyssia Fernandes’ report at the September board meeting. The “East Meets West” concert served to connect students from the eastern and western campuses of U of T.
In terms of advocacy, Higashihara reported that he — along with some full-time SCSU staff — met with Scarborough North’s Councillor Cynthia Lai’s team and Scarborough—Rouge Park’s Councillor Jennifer McKelvie to hear their campaign points for the October 24 municipal elections and to lobby for student issues. Higashihara also participated in a tri-campus roundtable to discuss mobilizing U of T students to vote in the upcoming municipal elections.
Additionally, the SCSU is in the midst of lobbying UTSC deans for the implementation of the course retake policy and the credit/no credit policy, both of which are at different draft stages. In September, Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean William Gough said that the UTSC administration is reviewing its course retake policy in order to “align [it] with changes that had taken place” at the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) and UTM. According to David, the SCSU will continue to lobby for both policies until they are implemented.
Lastly, Vice-President Operations Mathooshan Manoharan reported that the SCSU — alongside JAB Management, a Toronto-based management and consulting company that specializes in hospitality operations — finally opened 1265 Bistro in September. 1265 Bistro replaces Rex’s Den as the SCSU’s own restaurant, and has a survey open to solicit feedback.
Former SCSU directors question the union’s transparency
The SCSU’s board is tasked with overseeing the services and advocacy activities of the SCSU, ensuring that the SCSU is operating in line with its policies and mandates. Board members formally discuss the union’s activities with SCSU executives during monthly board meetings.
In the 2021–2022 academic year, the SCSU’s board meetings saw the executives raise their society and student centre fees by 5.2 per cent, their CFS fees by 4.8 per cent, their health fees by four per cent and dental fees by 10 per cent, and appoint new executives and directors.
Board meeting packages, meanwhile, contain the agenda of the board meeting, executive reports, and committee meetings, among other documents, all of which will be discussed in each board meeting. According to the SCSU’s operational policy for board meetings, the union is required to distribute these packages to board members no less than 96 hours before each board meeting.
The same policy does not require the SCSU to give general students access to these board meeting packages or board meetings. However, some former SCSU directors point out that publicizing these meetings is meant to be a part of a larger system of checks and balances on the SCSU.
“General students at UTSC only have the board packages to go off of for understanding what the SCSU is doing with our fees,” Maxwell Fine — 2021–2022 SCSU director of physical and Environmental Sciences — wrote in an email to The Varsity. He added that one of the main ways that students can gain access to the SCSU’s board meetings is through the SCSU’s website.
Publicizing these meetings is also what the SCSU has done in the past. Both Fine and Anastasiya Gordiychuk — an SCSU arts, culture, and media director from 2021 — pointed out that the SCSU livestreamed their board meetings on Facebook last year. However, they have stopped livestreaming their board meetings since May.
In an email to The Varsity, Sobowale wrote that board meetings will now take place in person at the Student Centre (SL-232). “The SCSU previously live-streamed board meetings to accommodate virtual needs in the pandemic. Unfortunately, live-streaming sometimes caused an inhibition of participation due to discomfort of being recorded.”
Sobowale also explained the absence of the SCSU’s board meeting packages online: “We recognize the recent inconsistency with our promotion of Board packages and meeting dates. We are working to rectify the situation and will ensure improved notice to our membership through our instagram platform and Board of Directors tab on our website.”
Still, Gordiychuk emphasizes the importance of the SCSU making their reports public and accessible to students. “When the union stops publicizing board packages with all reports and financial statements, it creates a lack of transparency, which, in turn, increases the chances for undemocratic practices and misuse of funds,” she wrote in an email to The Varsity.
Gordiychuk advises students to hold the SCSU accountable, especially since each full-time student at UTSC, as of this year, pays a mandatory fee of up to $499.93 per term to the SCSU.
While the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the UTMSU also do not have their latest board meeting packages on their respective websites, both unions regularly communicate with The Varsity. In turn, The Varsity is able to inform the UTSU’s and UTMSU’s constituents of the unions’ activities.
Anastasiya Gordiychuk was an Associate Business & Labour Editor for Volume 141 of The Varsity.