The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) saw a year of heightened involvement from the general student population as a large number of vacant positions led to most of the union’s power in the hands of few, and as it debated contentious issues.

Vacancy troubles

The UTGSU started the academic year off in September with a vote by the Board of Directors (BOD) to suspend President Lynne Alexandrova from office. 

Over the course of the school year, the UTGSU conducted an internal investigation into various allegations against her, mainly surrounding her failure to follow the union’s procedures and protocol. In March, the UTGSU BOD voted to begin the formal removal process, which prohibits her from attending BOD meetings and contacting UTGSU executives, BOD members, and staff.

Additionally, in the same September meeting, Vice-President Internal Aanshi Gandhi informed the BOD that she had provided her two weeks’ notice and would be vacating her position.

In November, Vice-President External Neelofar Ahmed resigned ahead of a vote in the BOD to suspend her from office. In a letter obtained by The Varsity, the BOD alleged that Ahmed violated UTGSU bylaws and harassed the union’s now-former Executive Director, Amir Hossein Moazzami. Ahmed denied those allegations and countered them with allegations of her own against. 

These three departures left the UTGSU with only two of its five executive positions filled. The union responded by appointing two BOD members as interim executives: Jady Liang as the interim vice-president external, and Friedemann Krannich as the interim vice-president internal. 

The position for president and vice-president, academics and funding for divisions 1 and 2, which received no nominations for candidates to run in the 2023 general election, remained vacant for the entire term.

Mid-year by-election 

In October, Krannich, who at the time served as a director for division 3, proposed a motion that would significantly alter the UTGSU course union head grant funding. Instead of money from graduate student fees going to the UTGSU’s services and operations, it would go directly to students’ respective graduate course unions.

This proposed motion caught the attention of many course union representatives and general members, who attended the October BOD and General Assembly meetings in larger numbers than usual to voice their concerns. Members expressed concerns that the proposed motion would result in unequal services for graduate students, as larger departments would have more money under this proposed structure. Students also voiced concerns about the number of vacant seats on the board and argued that the BOD should cease proposing large-scale bylaw or financial changes until a by-election could fill the significant number of vacancies. Krannich ultimately dropped the original motion.

In subsequent meetings, graduate students and UTGSU members called for a by-election, which was held during the December 2023 Annual General Meeting (AGM) and saw several additional directors elected to the divisional BOD seats. 

Debate over Boycott, Divest, Sanction

During the AGM, Krannich also presented a motion to suspend the union’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) caucus. BDS is a global movement that opposes the Israeli government’s occupation and oppression of Palestine by advocating for economic pressure. 

In 2021, the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies ruled that the UTGSU BDS caucus broke its bylaws prohibiting discrimination based on nationality. Following this ruling, in 2022 U of T decided to withhold the BDS-allocated funds from the union, and the UTGSU has been unable to access that money ever since. 

Krannich’s motion, which passed at a BOD meeting on September 28, 2023, was struck down by the members at the AGM. During the AGM, members also passed a motion to look into pursuing legal action against U of T for withholding the union’s funds. 

Slate campaigning scandal

Following the by-election, allegations of slate campaigning were presented by Justin Patrick — a graduate student at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and president of the OISE Graduate Student Association — to the union’s Chief Returning Officer (CRO). Slates are against UTGSU policy G2.2.3

The complaint focused on the use of the word “slate” in a letter that circulated in fall 2023 and was authored by Department of Physics PhD candidate Julian Nickel and Pharmacology Graduate Students Association President and Department of Physics PhD candidate Robyn Learn. In the letter, the authors advocate for a by-election and argue for the creation of “a slate of candidates and a campaign to re-invigorate participation in student government.”

The CRO conducted an internal investigation to review the allegations and concluded that they could not find “significant evidence to suggest that there was a group affiliation of candidates during the election cycle, or the appearance of a slate or party during the election.” Still, the CRO recommended that the BOD review the election policies and make additional efforts to educate candidates on proper and improper campaigning. 

Setting up for next yearThe UTGSU concluded its general elections for the 2024–2025 academic year on March 30, 2024. Mohammadamir (Amir) Ghasemian Moghaddam, who served as vice-president academics and funding for divisions 3 and 4 during the 2023–2024 academic year, was elected president with 65 per cent of the vote.