On September 28, during its first meeting of the fall semester, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) Board of Directors (BOD) voted to suspend President Lynne Alexandrova from her role without pay, effective immediately. Seven directors voted for the motion, with one voting against.

UTGSU members originally elected Alexandrova to the role of UTGSU president in April, with 5.7 per cent of eligible voters casting a ballot. The UTGSU general council impeached Alexandrova from positions on the union’s executive committee both in 2018 and 2020.

UTGSU Vice-President Internal Aanshi Gandhi also mentioned at the meeting that she was already planning to step down from her role on October 4. Gandhi’s resignation and Alexandrova’s removal will leave half of the UTGSU executive committee positions vacant.

Motion to remove

Mohammadamir (Amir) Ghasemian Moghaddam, the UTGSU vice president of academics and funding divisions 3 & 4, brought the motion to remove Alexandrova from the presidency. The members discussed the motion during a private, or “in camera,” meeting that took place in the hour before the scheduled BOD meeting, then moved the motion to a vote during the scheduled meeting.

The BOD members voted to remove the president from office in an anonymous ballot, which is allowed under UTGSU bylaw 4.7.6. Under the bylaw, any director can request that a vote be held anonymously.

Alexandrova previously held the position of the UTGSU’s internal commissioner in 2018 and 2020. Both times, the UTGSU general council impeached Alexandrova from her position. In 2018, the council argued that she failed to fulfill the duties of internal commissioner; Alexandrova alleged that the council decided to impeach her as part of an attempt to break down the internal commissioner position.

In 2020, the council impeached her for not fulfilling her duties and mistreating staff members in ways that, according to council members, targeted Black colleagues. Alexandrova claimed these allegations arose as a result of policy disputes with other union members.

Alexandrova wrote in an email to The Varsity that she believes that her case showcases the need to create committees that would mediate before the board takes punative steps. She also wrote that she offered her resignation during the proceedings, before the board had voted to suspend her.

Allegations of anti-Indigenous statements

The same evening as the meeting, The Varsity received a letter from Autry James Johnson, a graduate student at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and a citizen of the Forest County Potawatomi. Johnson’s letter described statements made by Alexandrova in a September 22 call between the two where she refused to acknowledge herself as a colonizer. She argued that all people should be recognized as Indigenous because “‘Everybody is Indigenous from somewhere,’” according to quotes from the letter.

Johnson wrote in the letter that this view plays into efforts to erase Indigenous peoples’ identities and fails to acknowledge their specific claims to the land. “These colonial legacies to eradicate our peoples’ legitimacy are done so in various tiny ways,” he wrote. He added that Alexandrova’s statements “diminish Indigenous and First Nations legitimacy.”

Alexandrova wrote that she had attempted to achieve “common ground” with Johnson by saying that Indigenous peoples from a given land remain Indigenous to their home even when they move countries. She also noted that she had “been making attempts for years” to create a UTGSU body or commissioner focused on Indigenous issues.

In an email to The Varsity, Moghaddam wrote that “concerns surrounding Alexandrova began over a month ago with multiple allegations.” Moghaddam confirmed that Johnson’s letter was among those allegations and was presented to the board during its in camera session.

Moghaddam also wrote that the views expressed by the now-former president did not reflect those of the UTGSU.

“It’s crucial to emphasize that the UTGSU deeply respects and upholds the importance of our land acknowledgment statement and the unique identities and histories of Indigenous peoples. We fully support and actively participate in the ongoing efforts of reconciliation and decolonization, and we acknowledge our role as settlers on this land,” reads Moghaddam’s email.

Next steps

Under UTGSU bylaw, the BOD can call a meeting of the union’s membership to vote on whether to remove a Director or Executive Officer from their position. As a result of the board’s decision today, Alexandrova will be suspended effective immediately until the board can call a meeting of the members to discuss the motion.

According to Velay-Vitow, the board plans to hold the vote at the union’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) unless Alexandrova resigns before the AGM or the board decides to hold a Special General Meeting. The UTGSU has not yet announced a date for its 2023 AGM, but its 2022 AGM took place in December.

Vice-president resignation

During the meeting, Gandhi mentioned to board members that she had given the UTGSU notice of her resignation approximately a week ago and would be stepping down from her role as vice-president internal as of October 4.

With the role of vice-president academics & funding for divisions 1 & 2 currently vacant, only three of the six Executive Committee roles will be filled after Gandhi steps down.

Gandhi has not yet responded to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Editor’s note (September 29): This article was updated to mention Johnson’s letter and to include comments from Moghaddam and Alexandrova.

Editor’s note (October 1): This article was updated to clarify some wording from Alexandrova.