At the University of Toronto Graduate Student Union’s (UTGSU) December 7 Annual General Meeting (AGM), members voted to allow the union to hold a byelection for Board of Directors (BOD) positions. They also reinstated the union’s Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) caucus, which advocates against the Israeli government, and established a committee to coordinate advocacy for increased graduate funding.

Much of the meeting was spent talking about the process for appointing executive committee members in the case of vacancies.

Members voted down an amendment to the bylaws allowing the BOD to appoint executive committee members if a by-election proved infeasible. However, the current executive committee members pointed out that the Canadian Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA) still allows the BOD to appoint executives. They stated that, as a result, the two interim executives the BOD appointed in November — Friedemann Krannich and Jady Liang, who are serving as interim Vice President (VP) internal and external respectively — could remain in their positions.

Around 250 people attended the approximately three-hour-long hybrid Zoom and in-person meeting, with about 50 attending in person.

To appoint or not to appoint?

The union began the academic year with one of six executive committee positions vacant; in last year’s elections, no one ran for the position of VP academics for divisions 1 & 2, which represents the humanities and social sciences. On September 28, the BOD voted to suspend President Lynne Alexandrova from office. VP Internal Aanshi Gandhi stepped down from her role on October 4. On November 7, VP External Neelofar Ahmed resigned. This had left only two executive committee positions filled.

At its November 7 special meeting, the BOD delegated the tasks and payment for Interim VP Internal and External to Krannich and Liang, respectively, pending confirmation from the union’s legal counsel that the decision was “legally possible with the bylaws and the [CNCA].”

At the AGM, BOD member and molecular biology doctoral student Vida Maksimoska proposed a motion that would add wording to the bylaws allowing the BOD to fill executive committee vacancies before the AGM if the union doesn’t hold a byelection for them. UTGSU members would then decide whether to approve the appointment at the AGM. 

VP Academics and Funding Divisions 3 and 4 Mohammadamir (Amir) Ghasemian Moghaddam argued in favour of the motion. “It allows the union in times of need, special circumstances, to implement something that actually benefits the membership — to have people in the office that can get the job done,” he told attendees.

Former VP External Ahmed spoke against the motion, criticizing the BOD for having already appointed Krannich and Liang before the bylaws explicitly allowed it to do so. She argued that holding by-elections would allow more people to run, diversifying representation.

30 per cent of attendees voted in favour of the motion, so it did not carry.

Later in the meeting, Maksimoska moved a motion to ratify Krannich and Liang as VP internal and external, respectively, which couldn’t move forward because members had not passed the bylaw amendment. The chair, Sandhya Mylabathula, suggested that members could construct an additional motion to suspend the bylaws temporarily and vote on whether to accept Krannich and Liang’s appointments, but members did not carry the motion. 

When asked during the meeting whether the lack of ratification nullified Krannich and Liang’s appointments, Moghaddam said that, in the absence of a specific bylaw, the UTGSU defers to the CNCA and that the CNCA gives the BOD power to appoint executives. As such, he said that Krannich and Liang will remain appointed. 

According to the UTGSU bylaw article 7.3, the BOD has “full authority” to establish a by-election to fill vacant executive committee positions at any time except during scheduled university closures.

According to article 142 of the CNCA, subject to the union’s bylaws or “unanimous member agreement,” directors of a not-for-profit corporation can appoint people as officers. However, those appointed officers cannot submit questions to members requiring their approval, fill BOD vacancies, issue debt, approve financial statements, change the corporation’s bylaws, or establish new dues for members to pay. 

In an email to The Varsity, the union’s new Executive Director Cory Scott wrote that the union is still determining how it will fill vacant executive committee positions in situations where a byelection may not be feasible. The BOD plans to consult with legal counsel and review ways to resolve this issue for the rest of the term.

BOD and executive-proposed motions

Students passed two of the motions set forward by the BOD. First, they added a portion to the bylaws allowing the union to hold byelections during the AGM for vacant BOD positions. Maksimoska motivated the motion, noting the many vacancies on the BOD, and members expressed their desire to have those positions filled. 

Ahead of the AGM, the union had already announced a by-election to fill the vacant BOD seats, announcing that voting would take place during the time of the AGM — from 7:00 pm on December 7 to 11:59 am on December 8. Seven hundred and four students — 3.3 per cent of the UTGSU membership — voted in the by-election, which filled 12 of the 23 vacant BOD positions.

Second, the members passed a motion allowing the BOD to schedule a board meeting if 25 per cent of the BOD and at least two members voted in favour of holding it. The UTGSU’s bylaws and policy didn’t previously specify whether the BOD could call a meeting of its own accord. Krannich noted that, according to bylaw 7.7.1, the VP internal is responsible for scheduling BOD meetings. The bylaw change aimed to ensure that the BOD could call its own meetings if the union lacked a VP internal — which the union experienced earlier this semester. 

Members also passed a motion accepting the UTGSU’s 2023 audited financial statement and appointing the same auditors for the next year. 

An audit ensures that an organization’s financial statements are fair and accurate. According to the auditor’s report, the financial statements accurately reflect the UTGSU’s financial position and follow accounting standards. As of August 31, 2023, the union brought in $828,082 more than it spent over the year. 

BDS Caucus reinstated, students call for suit against U of T

Krannich additionally motivated a motion to remove the BDS Caucus from the UTGSU bylaws and policies. BDS is a Palestinian-led movement that aims to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory through economic pressures. In 2021, the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies ruled that the BDS caucus broke the UTGSU’s policies prohibiting discrimination based on nationality and recommended that the union make the fee optional. The union refused, and the U of T administration decided to withhold student fees allocated to the caucus in 2022.

At its October meeting, the BOD voted to support removing the caucus. Krannich noted that the UTGSU hoped to remove the caucus so the union could use the money that had been withheld by the university. However, Scott clarified to attendees that U of T only withheld money the union explicitly collected for the caucus. 

Members voted down the motion to remove the caucus. 

Members also passed two motions proposed by criminology and sociolegal studies PhD student Sabeen Kazmi. The first motion recommended that the union recognize anti-Palestinian racism as a class of discrimination, note this form of racism in the union’s equity statement, and take action to support students’ rights to academic freedom when researching or speaking on Palestine. The motion specifically mentions a “surge” in doxxing of individuals who express pro-Palestinian views since October 7. 

Geography PhD student Majd Al-Shihabi spoke in favour of the motion, noting instances such as the Azarova and Faculty of Law scandal where he believes U of T silenced Palestinian voices. “All of these [instances] have led me to change my PhD topic to something not Palestine-related because I am feeling the pressure,” he said. “This is a motion to recognize the anti-Palestinian racism that myself and other Palestinian students are facing.”

Kazmi’s second motion recommended that the union reinstate the BDS caucus and pursue legal action against U of T administration for withholding funds from the caucus, claiming that U of T’s decision to withhold funds violated its commitment to academic freedom and represented a “clear example” of anti-Palestinian racism.

Additional motions from membership

Former BOD member and pharmaceutical sciences PhD student Chris Rogers proposed two motions that members carried. 

One recommended that the BOD vote to run a referendum asking students whether they agreed to a 50-cent-per-year levy supporting the Canadian University Press, a nonprofit national organization connecting student newspapers. 

The other tasked the union with filling the union’s Board of Appeal seats and ensuring it can function as soon as possible. According to the UTGSU’s bylaws, members can appeal any decision made by the BOD, the elections and referendum committee, or the equity officer to the Board of Appeal, which issues a final ruling on the decision. 

Scott clarified in an email to The Varsity that the Board of Appeal currently has no members. The BOD plans to establish a committee that will interview candidates for the Board of Appeal. 

Rogers also proposed an additional motion to record and livestream all of the union’s assembly, BOD, and executive committee meetings to increase “accountability and transparency.” Scott said that recording particular meetings that discuss finances might open the union to liability, and the motion did not carry.

PhD candidate Julian Nickel proposed a motion to create a committee that would coordinate action across U of T to secure increased funding for graduate students, which students also passed. 

During the approval of the agenda, members agreed to amend it to add a motion from Ahmed for members to vote on later in the meeting. 

The motion asked the UTGSU to withhold the honoraria usually paid to UTGSU directors from those who had not taken anti-oppression training. It also stipulated that directors who didn’t attend the training within the 30 days after the union suspended their honorarium would be automatically removed from office, following policy G9.1 of the UTGSU policy handbook

In a November email to The Varsity, Moghaddam wrote that four BOD members had not yet taken the training due to scheduling delays. Following the AGM, Scott wrote to The Varsity that the four board members have since received the training and that the union has not issued any honorariums for BOD members up to this point. Scott wrote that the UTGSU plans to hold a mandatory equity and anti-oppression training for new and incoming directors and officers once new BOD members start their terms in January. He noted that many “unforeseen circumstances” had resulted in staff, BOD, and executive committee vacancies that delayed trainings this past semester.

The meeting time ran out before members could discuss the motion.