Since the school year began, members of U of T’s Engineering Society (EngSoc) — including the society’s newly elected president, Parker Johnston — have publicly criticized the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) for violating a 2015 agreement between the EngSoc and the UTSU.
Signed to address a long history of tension between the two groups, the 2015 agreement requires the UTSU to deliver 50 per cent of the fees it collects from engineering students to the EngSoc. The agreement also guaranteed EngSoc would have at least three elected representatives on the UTSU Board of Directors (BOD).
The downsizing of the UTSU BOD in 2022 eliminated all constituency-based BOD seats, including the three EngSoc seats. Johnston has argued that the UTSU has been consistently late to deliver the proportion of fees owed to them, although the UTSU disputes these claims.
In response, Johnston is seeking a new deal with the UTSU.
A long saga of anger, shouting, and general unpleasantness
In 2012, the U of T community’s criticism against the UTSU — for alleged interference and corruption in elections, opaque finances, and its “siege mentality” around making its processes more open — reached a critical mass. With backing from the university administration, student heads from all seven UTSG colleges and three professional faculties led a campaign to impose reforms onto the UTSU. When the group proposed a package of amendments to the UTSU bylaws, executives left the motion out of the agenda at the fall 2012 Annual General Meeting, alleging that the group had submitted its proposal past the deadline.
Four months later, the UTSU convened a Special General Meeting, and the union included the reform group’s policy package near the very end of the agenda. The four-hour meeting lost quorum before students could vote on the package.
During the 2013–2014 school year, the main student governance bodies, six of the St. George colleges, and two of the professional faculties started pursuing “defederation” — which would mean taking measures that would allow them to leave the UTSU and receive all the fees collected by the union from their students. The Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering (FASE) voted 95 per cent in favour of diverting the fees they paid to the UTSU to EngSoc’s budget.
Throughout that school year, then-UTSU President Shaun Shepherd (seriously, click the link) repeatedly claimed that the colleges and professional faculties could not defederate under the UTSU’s bylaws. The Varsity reported that, when confronted with the news that it was possible to run a referendum for colleges or faculties to defederate under the bylaws, Shepherd responded, “I’m just not going to do that.”
Negotiations stalled. Both the UTSU and EngSoc spent a lot of money on lawyers. The U of T administration at Simcoe Hall tried to intervene, leading to a set of recommendations that the Arts and Science Students’ Union described as “troubling” for its infringements on the autonomy of student societies. One student head described the situation as all “prevarication, equivocation, misdirection and obfuscation.”
UTSU and EngSoc settle on 2015 agreement
The UTSU and EngSoc reached an agreement that year, deciding that the UTSU would give 50 per cent of the membership fees it collected from students in the FASE to EngSoc. The agreement also included a measure guaranteeing that engineering students would elect at least three members of the UTSU BOD.
The agreement also entitled the UTSU to appoint a representative to sit as a full member on the EngSoc Board of Directors. Currently, that representative is the UTSU vice president, professional faculties — a position dedicated to looking after the needs of students not in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Representatives of EngSoc and the UTSU both reported leaving the negotiating table feeling very optimistic about the future of their relationship.
“A resurgence in many of the same issues”
In 2022, the UTSU massively reduced the size of its BOD from 44 to 12. The union argued that this was a practical change because there were rarely enough candidates to fill 44 seats, and once elected, many of them did not attend meetings. Alongside that change, the UTSU eliminated constituency-based representation, meaning that representatives from engineering — as well as all other faculties and colleges — no longer received guaranteed seats on the BOD.
Currently, one engineering student sits on the UTSU BOD. This leaves engineering students with an eight per cent share of the voting power — slightly higher than they had before the BOD downsizing. However, engineering students as a whole make up 21 per cent of the UTSU’s membership.
At the EngSoc’s September BOD meeting, Madeline Kalda — an engineering student and former UTSU executive assistant, professional faculties — and Michelle DeLoyde, ombudsperson of EngSoc, presented a 20-plus-page report to the board.
The report describes the relationship between the UTSU and EngSoc in past decades as “tenuous at best and actively hostile at worst.” It concluded that the UTSU violated the 2015 agreement by downsizing its BOD.
The report also laments that the UTSU is entitled to a representative on the EngSoc Board. One of the reasons the UTSU gave for downsizing its BOD in 2020 was to avoid having other organizations able to appoint their own members to its board, arguing that this could create a conflict of interest if members had financial responsibilities for two organizations. The EngSoc report called this an “excellent point” and questioned why that same principle was not applied to the representative that the UTSU appoints to the EngSoc Board.
The report also criticized the UTSU representative for “regularly fail[ing] to uphold the standards of attendance and engagement expected from all other members of the Board.” The 2015 agreement specifically stipulates that, unlike other members of the EngSoc Board, the UTSU representative cannot be recalled if they failed to uphold EngSoc standards.
In a statement to The Varsity, Al-Amin Ahamed, vice-president, professional faculties, said that he has not heard directly from any EngSoc BOD members about these complaints so far in his term.
He continued that timing prevents him from attending every EngSoc BOD meeting as he is also a full-time student who liaises with 10 other student faculties. However, he wrote that he keeps track of minutes for meetings he cannot attend.
A new president for EngSoc
EngSoc’s new president, Parker Johnston, elected in a byelection on October 15, made renegotiating EngSoc’s deal with the UTSU the number one point of his platform.
Along with the lack of BOD representation, Johnston, who has sat on the EngSoc Board since 2020, says the UTSU has been “constantly delaying” the transfer of fees it collects from engineering students.
In response to Johnston’s claims about delayed fees, UTSU Vice President, Public and University Affairs Aidan Thompson wrote in an email to The Varsity that the UTSU has independently verified that it has sent EngSoc all fees owed to the society for “as long as [the UTSU holds] records.”
Johnston said that he wants to ensure that engineering students derive benefit from the fees they pay to the UTSU — something that he thinks is lacking. In its report, the EngSoc suggested it might want to negotiate greater compensation from the UTSU if an investigative survey reveals that FASE students underutilize the UTSU’s services. The EngSoc voted to run such a survey at its September board meeting.
Johnston said he also wants to ensure the engineers are more properly represented in the UTSU, remarking that restoring the UTSU BOD of seats reserved for engineers would be one possible solution.
In an interview with The Varsity, Johnston said, “Obviously, I’ll wait until the results of the survey come out. But from my interaction with students, and what I’ve seen, engineers don’t get a whole lot out of the UTSU.” He emphasized how much value he and other engineering students get out of the EngSoc’s affiliated clubs, its academic advocacy program, and its independently-run orientation.
In an email to The Varsity, Thompson emphasized that, currently, students in engineering have the same representation as any other students on campus.
Thompson wrote that the UTSU is always open to further collaboration with the EngSoc and actively encourages participation from engineering students, adding that he doesn’t view the issues brought up in the report as grievances in the relationship between the EngSoc and the UTSU, just “points of misunderstanding.” He added that he and Johnston will meet soon to discuss the EngSoc’s complaints.
With files from Jessie Schwalb.