A question of the utmost importance has come down from the Student Commons this week — should students pay an extra $2.50 in fees?

At its January 28 meeting, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors (BOD) approved two proposals that will put this question to the student body. The UTSU’s own Student Aid Program (SAP) and the University of Toronto Sexual Education Centre (UTSEC) hope to receive increased levies through referenda that the union will hold during its March elections. Two other groups vied for levy increases, but the board turned them down. 

Successes from SAP and UTSEC

SAP is a program run by the UTSU that provides financial aid to students on the basis of need. Currently, all full-time undergraduate students pay a three-dollar levy per semester towards this program, which raises roughly $240,000 per year to be distributed to around 480 students. At the meeting, the union proposed increasing this levy to five dollars.

The UTSEC is an organization which aims to promote safe sex practices on campus. They currently receive a 25-cent levy per student per semester. The group proposed an increase of 50 cents, for a total of 75 cents.

The Board approved both proposals. They will not go into effect unless approved by a referendum of the student body, which will occur during the upcoming UTSU elections from March 4–7.

Losses from the PEARS Project and Regenesis UofT

The Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy Response for Survivors (PEARS) Project is an organization which aims to support student survivors of sexual violence. Unlike the previous two programs, PEARS is not funded by a UTSU levy and requested instituting one for 97 cents — largely to pay rent for a new office. The group currently has an office in the UTSU Student Commons, but told the board that it wants a larger space with soundproof walls so that it can conduct confidential peer support sessions.

The UTSU Board voted to refuse this proposal. In an email to The Varsity, UTSU Vice-President (VP) Operations Samir Mechel explained that the board refused the proposal because the union had concerns about how PEARS was going to address the insurance and liability associated with a new office. He added that the UTSU would try to find a more private space for PEARS at the Student Commons.

Regenesis UofT is an environmentalist club that is part of a larger nation-wide organization. Among other projects, it operates six gardens around UTSG and puts the produce to charitable use. It requested a new levy of seven dollars and 23 cents, which the board denied. Mechel cited the exceptionally large size of this request as one reason for the refusal. 

Mechel also explained that the UTSU had intended not to approve any more than two levy proposals, out of worry that if the union held too many referendums, voter fatigue would set in and cause all of them to fail.

Extended debates over all four levy proposals were conducted in a private session of the Board — meaning The Varsity and all other visitors were booted from the Zoom call for them.

Executive reports

VP Public and University Affairs Aidan Thompson reported a deal the UTSU recently struck with U of T President Meric Gertler in response to Ontario’s higher education revenue crisis. The UTSU believes that U of T should lobby for more provincial funding rather than for the ability to raise tuition, and according to Thompson, Gertler has promised to support this position — so long as the UTSU can “shift the media narrative” to align with it. Thompson reported that, to this effect, the union has been “in and out of meetings with reporters” to present this narrative.

UTSU President Elizabeth Shechtman added that the union is preparing to create the Student Senate, which it hopes to implement next month. The Student Senate is a new governance body that the UTSU student body voted to make the union implement during its Annual General Meeting.

According to VP Professional Faculties Al-Amin Ahamed, the union has nearly completed renegotiations with the Engineering Society (EngSoc) about the fund-sharing agreement that redirects UTSU funds to the society. In the past, EngSoc has criticized the UTSU for breaking the terms of the original agreement by downsizing the BOD and removing previously secured engineering seats.