The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) saw a large turnout at two meetings held in close succession. The first meeting on October 27 was the inaugural monthly meeting of the General Assembly (GA), which comprises course union representatives from the departments in the School of Graduate Studies. The second meeting held on October 31 was the second monthly meeting of the Board of Directors (BOD).
The official attendance of the BOD was made up of eight elected BOD members and the three sitting executives at the time — Vice-President (VP) Academics and Funding for Divisions 3 and 4 Mohammadamir (Amir) Ghasemian Moghadam, VP Finance Zoya Tawhidi, and VP External Neelofar Ahmed, the last of whom has since resigned. This meeting, however, saw a large turnout of guests in response to a series of votes in the GA meetings.
These votes included a recommendation that the BOD vote against motions on its agenda — including a motion that the BOD abstain from making large-scale financial changes while a majority of seats on the BOD remained unfilled — and a proposal for the BOD to release a statement on the conflict in Israel-Palestine to support the statement made by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).
General Assembly meeting
The GA meeting began with an introduction from Moghadam, the meeting chair. Moghadam introduced the rules for the meeting and processes for proposing and voting on motions, including who was allowed to vote on motions. The meeting then moved on to executive updates from the VP Academics and Funding for Divisions 3 and 4, the VP External, and the VP Finance.
The GA also discussed and passed three motions that were added to the agenda by members, who were only identified in the minutes by their first name and initial.
The first motion was put forward by Robyn L., a course union representative. They proposed that the Board of Directors not make any substantial financial changes before it holds a by-election, while the majority of the executive seats and the majority of the BOD seats remained vacant.
The motion was crafted in response to another motion on the October 31 BOD meeting agenda to alter the distribution of grant money within the UTGSU. The BOD motion proposed to divert a portion of money from graduate student fees that currently goes to the UTGSU’s services and operations, and provide it directly to the course unions instead.
The mover of the GA motion argued that while the additional money might help course unions in the immediate term, it would underfund the UTGSU itself. They expressed concerns that this redistribution would cause course unions for larger departments to have substantially more money than others, and result in unequal services for grad students. They expressed that the UTGSU might face setbacks from having a smaller pool of funding, which could result in a diminishment in services the union operates such as health insurance, bursaries, and head grants.
The motion passed the GA, which would allow it to be brought forward for discussion and voting at the next BOD meeting.
Christiana M. proposed the second motion, which the GA also passed. The motion similarly recommended that the BOD not vote in favour of changes to the union’s financial setup. It also recommended it vote against a proposal in the BOD agenda for the union to remove its issues policy statements from the UTGSU policy handbook, which include statements on education fees, democratic university governance, and the freedom of choice, among others.
This same motion also included an item that recommended the BOD avoid condemning Hamas — the militant group currently controlling the Gaza Strip — “without nuance.” This motion reacted specifically to a motion on the BOD agenda that included a proposal for the UTGSU to release a statement on the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine.
Harshvir B. proposed a third motion that passed which involved issuing a statement in solidarity with the statement issued by the UTMSU and condemning the violence enacted by the Israeli military on civilians in Gaza. The motion read: “[Be it resolved] The GSU for a vote to stand in solidarity with our undergraduate peers in the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), who issued a statement on October 10th, that condemned the ongoing dehumanization of Palestinians and the atrocities committed against civilian life by the Israeli apartheid government.”
The members debated amendments to the wording, but ultimately, the GA voted in favour of the original motion with a majority.
Director Christopher Rodgers, a PhD candidate in pharmaceutical sciences, proposed adding a motion to the agenda for the UTGSU to “condemn all killings of/loss of civilian life in international conflicts.” Some assembly members discussed the redundancy of the motion given that the motion condemning the loss of civilian life in Gaza had passed, and Rodgers’ motion ultimately failed.
The three proposals passed at the GA were brought to the Board of Directors meeting for BOD members to review and vote on the motions.
Board of Directors meeting
Four days after the GA meeting, the UTGSU Board of Directors met on October 31. The meeting was attended by a larger number of guests than usual.
The meeting began with an in-camera session, wherein the BOD members discussed confidential matters not privy to guests. The in-camera session was motivated by Rodgers, who explained the session was to discuss discipline issues and financial contracts.
Upon returning from the in-camera session, the BOD discussed a motion for the executive to allow the BOD “to make the findings public that led to the [Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)] GSA to disaffiliate from the UTGSU.” Ahmed motivated the motion, stating that she wanted to make the report public to clarify misinformation surrounding the OISE GSA’s disaffiliation from the UTGSU. The BOD ultimately voted in favour of making these findings public.
In an email to The Varsity on November 12, Moghadam wrote, “We are doing our best to put [the findings] on our website as soon as possible this week.”
The BOD members also addressed the motions that had been passed in the GA and accepted the first two motions discussed and carried by the GA.
The BOD discussed the third motion proposing a statement for the union to release regarding the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Multiple guests and members raised their hands to speak on the motion, both in favour of and against it. After a few guests spoke, Rodgers called the motion to question, to go directly to a vote.
The results included three votes in favour, four against, and one abstention. The motion, which passed at the GA, ultimately failed at the BOD.
The meeting ended at 7:40 pm after the meeting’s extended time ran out. Before the end of the meeting, the Board passed one more motion to publish the names and email addresses of current BOD members on the UTGSU website.