On September 17, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors (BOD) held its first meeting of the fall semester. 

Topics of discussion included the launch of a student advocacy roundtable to replace the union’s student Senate, a cap on penalties for late assignments, the number of emergency call stations on campus, and federal budget submissions. 

Abolishing the Senate

Samir Mechel, vice president, finance and operations, discussed preliminary plans to replace the UTSU Senate with a newly-formed monthly student advisory roundtable.

He said he would like to eliminate Article Nine of the UTSU Bylaws, which states that the current Senate is “the sole governance organ of the UTSU responsible for advising the Board of Directors about issues of student life.” Established in 2022, the Senate is an advisory body of 51 to 75 individual student representatives, while the new roundtable will primarily be made up of student advocacy organizations. 

The UTSU formed the Senate in October of last year after downsizing the number of seats on the BOD and was met with student criticism over the senate system’s alleged lack of representation.

By contrast, this roundtable — which does not yet have a specific name — would consist of a chair and representatives from campus advocacy groups, who would have voting rights and would communicate concerns to the UTSU.

Mechel explained that the union’s main reasons for replacing the Senate are to encourage more engagement from members and direct input from advocacy groups instead of unaffiliated students.

“We expect that a lot of the people who come to the first Senate meeting… will be elected [and] will be first-years who are just interested in all the opportunities that there are, but won’t necessarily have a sustained interest,” said Mechel.

The chair of the meetings said that at the UTSU’s coming annual general meeting, the only part of this process members will rule on will be the elimination of Article Nine — an action that would abolish the Senate — and the decision of whether to adopt the roundtable proposal will happen at a later date.

Late penalty caps 

Elizabeth Shechtman, the president of the UTSU, said she is working on research and a report about implementing a new cap on the penalties that instructors can place on assignments students hand in late. 

Her objective is to implement a maximum penalty of three or four per cent grade deduction for the first 48 hours after a deadline in order to relieve academic stress. Currently, U of T’s Academic Handbook for Instructors does not list a cap on penalties for late assignments but says “late penalties normally range from 2 per cent to 10 per cent per day” and that instructors must list their policies on their syllabi.

Campus safety stations

Shechtman also said the UTSU is looking to expand the number of emergency call stations on campus and will produce a report comparing the number of stations at U of T to other universities.

Currently, U of T’s St. George campus has 22 emergency call stations, which means there is roughly one call station for every 24,000 square metres of university property. 

In comparison, McGill has 24 emergency call stations and roughly one station per 13,300 square metres on their downtown campus, and the two Queen’s University campuses have at least 149 emergency call stations, which is roughly one station per 4,300 square metres. 

International students off-campus work

In August, the UTSU submitted its feedback on the federal budget to the Canadian government through two lobbying organizations: Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU) and the Canadian Association of Research Administrators.  

Last year, the Canadian government released a temporary policy that allowed international students to be able to work more than 20 hours a week off-campus until the end of 2023. In its submission through the UCRU, the UTSU included a recommendation to permanently eliminate the 20-hour work limit for international students.

The UTSU also made submissions asking the federal government to maintain the increased $4,200 per year maximum scholarship amount for full-time undergraduate students that qualify for the Canada Student Grants Program; to establish a four-year Post-Secondary Mental Health Infrastructure Fund; and to create an $800 million fund for student housing.

Disclosure: Elizabeth Shechtman was an associate news editor at The Varsity in the 2021–2022 academic year.