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UTSU Elections: Team Renew

Executive candidates' statements

UTSU Elections: Team Renew


Munib Sajjad


Elect Munib Sajjad for President with team RENEW! As the current Vice President, University Affairs, I have fought against the charging of illegal fees at U of T such as the Copyright charge. As your next President I wish to Renew our fight to create a more accessible and affordable education system. I want to finish our plans to pedestrianize St. George St., and I will fight for greater student representation at all levels of decision making at the University. I have worked hard to represent you this year, and that will continue with my team Renew.


Vice-President Internal & Services

Cameron Wathey

Elect Cameron Wathey for VP Internal and Services with team RENEW! As someone deeply involved in the U of T clubs’ community, I understand the importance of our student clubs, unions and associations, and that’s why I will support clubs by increasing clubs funding. Being a part of a campus life during my four years at  UofT has allowed me to get involved with the utsu through a variety of ways. Communication is important, so I will ensure members are consulted and there is discussion about utsu policy through Town Halls.


Vice-President Equity

Yolen Bollo-Kamara

Elect Yolen BOLLO-KAMARA for VP Equity with team RENEW! Having spent the past year becoming familiar with building campus community as VP Campus Life for utsu and building a strong connection with clubs on campus, I am excited to take that energy and experience and direct it towards building inclusive and safer spaces on campus. I’m looking forward to launching a mental health awareness campaign as well as continue to support ongoing organizing by expanding our racialized students collective and creating an accessibility fund for our clubs.


Vice-President External

Sana Ali

Elect Sana Ali for VP External with team RENEW! Since first coming to U of T I’ve had an interest and passion for working with my community to tackle issues and fight for what’s right. Next year, as your VP External, I will continue the fight against illegal ancillary fees like the Copyright charge, as well as renew our fight to reduce tuition fees for both domestic and international students. Education is a right, and I will work side by side UofT students to make that loud and clear to all levels of government!

Vote Sana ALI for VP EXTERNAL, Vote RENEW.

Vice-President University Affairs

Agnes So

Elect Agnes So for VP University Affairs with team RENEW! I’ve always been really active and involved during my time at U of T. I was the Promotion Director for Party for a Cause and I’m currently the Innis College director for UTSU. I believe that it is really important to ensure students understand their rights and that their voices are heard throughout UTSU. I’ll continue to lobby to re-introduce per-course tuition fees and create an academic appeals guide to provide students with a better and fair campus and a utsu that fights for students’ best interests.


UTMSU forced to redo referendum

January vote used a T-Card scanner from utsu’s November AGM, prompting security questions

The results of a referendum establish funding to expand UTM’s Student Centre were deemed invalid when the university found that the wrong voter list was used.

According to the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, UTMSU used a T-Card scanner containing the data from the utsu’s November AGM, accidentally allowing St. George students to vote in the UTM referendum.

The referendum called for a temporary fee increase over the next three years to fund a $4 million expansion, the cost of which would be split equally between the student union and the university.

The first referendum was approved with 1,368 students of 2,258 full-time students (about 60 per cent of the total vote) voting ‘yes’. Only five per cent of the student population needed to vote in order for the referendum to be valid.

The Medium, UTM’s student newspaper, wrote that the mishap was caused by the chief electoral officer (ceo) — responsible for overseeing the referendum process — and was subsequently “expedited” according to an explanation given by the UTMSU. The error prompted the ceo, Babatumi Sodade, to resign from his position.

The Medium also claimed that the UTMSU attempted to discredit coverage of the referendum, despite the reporters and editors involved confirming the facts and statistics used. The campaign was marked by “confusion” according to one report in the paper.

Vice-provost Jill Matus said that UTMSU requested a password-protected disk containing truncated student numbers for their voter list on January 7, 2013, but the disk was not picked up or used. This is the university’s preferred method of providing personal information for in-person voting.

“When requested, we provide information to student societies in this way, enabling them to verify their membership in order to conduct their business, while at the same time protecting students’ confidential personal information in compliance with provincial protection of privacy legislation,” said Matus.

Matus also said that the T-Card verification system used by UTMSU involves two parts: an online database — owned, operated and controlled by the university, which was first created to quickly verify membership for the sale of discounted ttc Metropasses by the utsu — and an optical card reader that belongs to the utsu. When in use for the UTMSU referendum, the T-Card reader was still loaded with data for the utsu’s November AGM.

“The uploaded voter information was therefore out of date and included St George students,” Matus said, adding that “had UTMSU advised the vice provost, students office in advance, as required, that it wished to use the T-Card reader for voter verification, the correct data for UTM would have been uploaded for the T-Card reader.” utsu’s confidentiality agreement specifies that the use of its date would be limited for the AGM only; hence, the fact that the T-Card reader with the same data was used at the utm referenda constitutes a breach of that confidentiality agreement.

Sandra Hudson, executive director at the utsu, says that the utsu has in no way engaged in any activity that breached its confidentiality agreement, emphasizing that no member of the staff of the utsu executive provided access to the student lists to UTMSU. Hudson added that the T-Card reader is not owned by the utsu but rather by the university, and the union did not have access to the database this year as they did not have the password; the November AGM was instead carried out by manual registration.

According to Hudson, the UTMSU was using the same password and username to access the system as they did in the 2012 election, when in the past the procedure has been to receive a new password with up-to-date information on a monthly basis.

Hudson questions the university’s reliability in administrating online systems and argues that “if each students’ union could manage their own list, there would be no danger that the university administration could accidentally provide this private information to the wrong students’ union.” She hopes to actively pursue this issue of access through greater conversation with the administration.

Matus is working on putting better safeguards in place to ensure that such errors do not happen again when the T-Card reader is used, and that student unions will be involved in the process to ensure a better password system for the T-Card reader. However, Matus does emphasize that “the T-Card reader should not be lent out by utsu to other student unions without written confirmation from the Vice Provost, Student’s office that the appropriate data for the student union in question has been uploaded.” She adds that “it is preferable, however, that, if in-person elections are to be held, student societies use the first method I described — the password protected CD — to verify voter eligibility.”

Political culture at UTM is different from St. George, according to interviews with students. There are no college councils challening the student union, and virtually no one to lead a “no” campaign.

With a strong commuter population, UTMSU has argued that a new student centre would be a welcome addition to the campus. If approved the next time, it would mean that the UTMSU would see a temporary increase of $54 per year for the first three years, as well as a permanent increase of $21 per fall/winter session (including the first three years). This yields a total fee of $100 per year for the first three years and $46 afterwards.

Planning for a second referendum is underway.

Colleges schedule March referenda on severing financial ties to UTSU

Colleges threaten to host votes themselves, if union refuses

Colleges schedule March referenda on severing financial ties to UTSU

Meetings at Trinity, Victoria, St. Michael’s and Engineering this week unanimously approved the holding of referenda to sever financial ties with the University of Toronto Students’ Union. Trinity scheduled a vote from March 25–29, and Victoria from March 23–26.

Shaun Shepherd, the outgoing UTSU president, has said the union will not host the referenda, as requested by the units seeking defederation. Instead, Shepherd offered to meet again with college leaders, saying he wanted to “focus on issues of primacy” such as illegal fees and access to multi-faith prayer space, and less on “silly” issues, including defederation, that he says are a “distraction.”

“Every few years we see this push for some type of drastic change,” said Shepherd.

Shepherd’s offer of mediation was swiftly rejected by college leaders, all of whom are determined to put the question of continuing financial ties with the union to a vote before the end of this academic year.

“Faith has been lost in the UTSU’s ability to hold meaningful dialogue,” said Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) president Shoaib Alli.

“This tactic isn’t new. They’ve been doing it all year. They defied the will of their members at the SGM in February, they’re trying to defy the will of their members now, and they’ll keep defying the will of their members until we fight back and throw off this degraded, corrupt system,” said Sam Greene, co-head of Trinity College. “Ninety per cent of what we’ve heard from the Union this year, and for the past decade, is prevarication, equivocation, misdirection and obfuscation,” said Greene.

Shepherd has publicly maintained that the UTSU’s bylaws do not allow for such referenda, and that only the union itself may determine its membership. However, item XIIc of the utsu bylaws states that referendum questions: “must be approved by the Board by three-quarters (3/4) of the Directors.”

Shepherd, who has a vote on the Board of Directors, acknowledged that a referendum could be approved this way, but ruled out the option, saying, “I’m just not going to do that.”

“The only possible explanation for the UTSU refusing to have a referendum is that they know they’ll lose,” said Greene. “They’re left with only two options: allow a democratic referendum and lose, or shut down and ignore the democratic will of their members.”


Unanimous Support from Colleges


The Trinity College Meeting (TCM), VUSAC , St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), and the Engineering Society’s Board of Directors all voted unanimously to host referenda under their own rules if the UTSU will not supervise a vote on the prospect of their financial exit.

Three student societies released reports this week on the logistics of defederation. The reports all reach the same conclusion: local units can provide all of the services UTSU does, at equal or reduced cost. SMCSU says their report is forthcoming. The UTSU rejected this analysis and repeatedly voiced concerns about the accuracy of the reports.

The engineer’s report claims that there is a potential for a $94,830 surplus if Engineering were to secede. Similarly, the VUSAC report claims severing financial ties with the union and re-routing student fees would yield “at minimum” $99,328 in new funds.

All colleges have indicated that it would be up their members to decide whether to allocate the funds to new projects, or return it in savings to their members.

Corey Scott, UTSU vice-president, internal, authored the union’s response to the Trinity report; the response alleges “many false factual and interpretive claims.” Scott added that “accurate information is crucial to the democratic process” and voiced concern that “students at Trinity will be voting based on the inaccuracies” contained within the original report.

Despite Scott’s objections, the Trinity College Meeting attendees, all of whom received copies of both the Trinity report and the UTSU response, unanimously approved a call to hold a referendum in late March.

The UTSU’s vice-president, equity, Noor Baig,  attended Trinity’s meeting as an observer and declined to answer questions.

Following the TCM, Shepherd sent a letter to VUSAC president Shoaib Alli, requesting that discussion of defederation be taken off the agenda.

“Our position continues to be that a dialogue between the UTSU and the VUSAC is the preferred approach to addressing issues raised by VUSAC,” Shepherd wrote.

Shepherd also attended Friday’s VUSAC meeting, and responded to questions for around one hour. It was here that he conceded that the union could hold a referendum, if the board approved it by three-quarters majority, while also reiterating that he did not feel a referendum was in the best interests of students.

A number of students at the meeting raised concerns about defederation, although it was unclear if they were Victoria students. At the end of the meeting 17 voted in favour, with zero against and zero abstentions.


Vice-Provost appears “non-commital”


Last week, Shepherd sent a letter to Trinity warning of “clear legal precedent” prohibiting financial secession. The Engineering Society and VUSAC received similar letters this week.

A courtroom conclusion seems probable, and will hinge largely on what action, if any, the university administration takes. The UTSU maintains that any referendum will be “of no effect,” although it is the University Affairs Board (UAB) of Governing Council that will ultimately vote on whether to approve the diversion of fees.

In letters sent to the units seeking defederation, Shepherd wrote that the UTSU “takes issue with your attempts to involve the university administration in the UTSU’s internal affairs.”

Vice-Provost Jill Matus declined to answer The Varsity’s questions on whether the UAB would consider a referendum from the colleges. Matus said only that “the University is analyzing the issues and will be writing to UTSU President Shaun Shepherd.”

Matus has also met in recent weeks with college leaders seeking defederation, including Sam Greene and Rishi Maharaj. According to Maharaj, Matus remained “non-commital” during those meetings but indicated that UAB would likely consider the referenda.

Governing Council election results announced

Governing Council election results announced

­The results of the 2013 Governing Council elections were announced Tuesday, with a total of 29 victors ­­— both elected and acclaimed — to take up positions as governors on next year’s council.

The most contested category was for representatives for full-time undergraduate Arts & Science students, whose two seats were sought by 19 candidates. Trinity College student Aidan Fishman was re-elected resoundingly with 1,008 votes, more than twice that of Adrian De Leon from University of Toronto Scarborough, who won the second seat with 477 votes.

The Governing Council is the university’s highest-ranking and most influential body, with a membership of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members. The council approves major decisions in such areas as the university’s academics, finances, and student life.

The vote, held online from February 11-22, was the culmination of a campaign period that saw candidates visiting lecture halls, sending emails through list-servs, and touring dining halls to rally support for their cause.

The closest race was lost by an incumbent, Chirag Variawa, whose campaign for his former position as governor for graduate students in Physical and Life Sciences was felled by a single vote. Alexandra Harris, a student in Nursing Science, won over six other candidates for the seat.

Over his previous two terms as governor, Variawa has sat on numerous sub-committees and led several high-profile projects. Variawa was the driving force behind the Blackboard Mobile App, a mobile-friendly version of the Blackboard Portal that is now available to all smartphones.

“I’ve made a measureable difference in the largest university in Canada for two consecutive terms, and have demonstrated my commitment to a realistic progressive vision in increasingly diverse and now more-accessible environments,” said Variawa.

In a departure interview with The Varsity, Variawa also discussed ongoing projects, including the construction of an integrated calendar system akin to Apple’s iCal for rosi. Variawa says the system would provide a calendar that would sync itself to smartphones, eliminating any potential confusion with general course information such as changing room numbers
or lecture time.

According to re-elected governor Aidan Fishman, the work of outgoing governors like Variawa can be continued. Fishman says the structure of the council itself encourages effective information flow between outgoing and incoming governors: “Institutionally, there’s definitely knowledge flow … [For example,] there’s the Office of the Governing Council, which employs various secretaries and systems to keep track of what the council is doing. So even if hypothetically the entire council changed from one year to the next, they’d have a record of everything that went on.”

In interviews with The Varsity, many of the incoming and outgoing student governors voiced common concerns and priorities, including an emphasis on transparency in Governing Council affairs, and the need for more students to become involved in campus life and activities.

“It’s so sad when you look at the actual numbers [of voters for Council], like it’s a fraction of the total body,” said Alexandra Harris. “I think a lot of U of T students just aren’t engaged [in university affairs] at the level that they need to be.”

Although they are in agreement about some basic points like transparency and student engagement, some of the newly-elected governors have priorities of their own. Harris said one of her primary concerns is opportunities available to international students.  The University of Toronto Act, 1971 still forbids anyone who is not a Canadian citizen from seeking office on Governing Council. Fishman’s key issues include abolishing the breadth requirements for Arts & Science undergraduate students.

Other winners were unavailable for comment as of The Varsity’s press time.

The elections were confirmed at Friday’s Governing Council meeting.

Sajjad to run unopposed for UTSU presidency

'Renew' slate to campaign against rising tuition costs

Sajjad to run unopposed for UTSU presidency

Current vice-president, university affairs Munib Sajjad will run unopposed for the presidency of the University of Toronto Students’ Union in this month’s election.

Sajjad heads a ticket called Renew, which includes 18 board candidates and a team of four vice-presidents. All the Renew executive candidates are set to be acclaimed to their positions.

Current vice-president, university affairs Munib Sajjad heads up the 'Renew' slate in this month's UTSU elections. FILEPHOTO: BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

Sajjad’s executive team of vice-presidents consists of Sana Ali (external), Agnes So (university affairs), Cameron Wathey (internal), and Yollen Bollo-Kamara (equity).

Current vice-president, equity, Noor Baig is running for the Board of Directors on the Renew slate as an Arts & Science director-at-large. Bollo-Kamara, appointed this year as vice-president, campus life, is running for Baig’s current role of vice-president, equity.

Acclaimed positions will be put to a “confirmation vote” with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ options on the ballot alongside the candidate’s name. According to the electoral code, positions where the candidate receives a majority of ‘no’ votes will be declared vacant.

“In my past term as the vice-president, university affairs, I saw first hand how important it was to unite all 47,000 members to build campus life, fight for our rights and representation as students, and provide cost-saving services,” said Sajjad in a statement released late Sunday night.

Sajjad appeared poised for a campaign emphasizing his work in exposing illegal ancillary fees and opposing tuition increases.

It is not clear what form a scheduled debate on March 7 will take. Sajjad could field questions from the audience, in a similar structure to the 2010 election.

Several opposition candidates are seeking positions on the UTSU’s Board of Directors, an oversight body with representatives from each of the colleges.

Ben Crase is running for Trinity College’s one board seat, while simultaneously seeking to succeed Sam Greene as Trinity’s co-head of college. Crase is a co-author of a recent report examining how Trinity could sever financial ties with the UTSU.

In his candidate statement, Crase pledged to “do everything I can to ensure that Trinity students are no longer fee paying members of the UTSU” by the time his term would begin in September 2013.

No other candidate referenced the ongoing defederation crisis in their opening statements.

The candidates convened Sunday in a closed-door all-candidates meeting. The campaign period begins Monday. Polls are open March 12 to 14.

U of T computer scientist claims top award

Stephen Cook has been awarded this year’s Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, Canada’s top annual science prize, for his influential career spanning four decades of computer science research.

“It’s quite an honour, I have to say,” Cook said of the award, which comes with $1 million in research funding over five years. The Herzberg medal recognizes researchers for excellence and “influence of research work conducted in Canada in the natural sciences or engineering.”

Cook, University Professor of computer science, first joined the faculty of U of T in 1970 as an associate professor. Cook’s chief research area has been in computational complexity theory, a branch of theoretical computer science studying how much time and memory computers take to solve different classes of problems.

Cook previously won the 1982 Turing Award, widely recognized as the ‘Nobel Prize of computing,’ for his seminal contributions to computer science.

With files from the CBC

U of T alumnus wins Oscar

University of Toronto alumnus Mychael Danna won his first Oscar last Sunday in the Best Original Score category for the film Life of Pi, based on Canadian author Yann Martel’s novel. This film was well received by the academy, winning more awards than any other nominated film this year, with a total of four Oscar wins. Danna was nominated for a second award, in the Best Song category, with “Pi’s Lullabye,” but he lost to Adele’s top hit, “Skyfall.”

Danna’s talent has lead him to work on scores for films such as Capote, Moneyball, and Ride with the Devil, among others, and with directors including Ang Lee, Denzel Washington, and Joel Schumacher.

Danna graduated from U of T in 1986 with a Bachelor of Music degree in composition, with his talent already being noticed by his professors. He worked with various drama groups at U of T, where he first met Canadian film director Atom Egoyan. He later worked with Egoyan on films including The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, and Ararat and Chloe.

Danna still frequently visits and supports his alma mater. In January 2011, he returned to campus as the first Louis Applebaum Distinguished Visitor in Film Music.

Law Faculty launches new program

The Centre for the Legal Profession, housed at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, will officially launch a new Program on Ethics in Law and Business this week.

According to the Centre’s Academic Director, Professor Anita Anand, the relevant question today is not whether a business decision is legal but whether it is right. The program’s aim is to draw attention to the ethical challenges that arise at the cross-roads between law and business, an approach that the Centre said has not been replicated elsewhere in North America. It comes at a time as there is increasing weariness about the behaviour of financial institutions and the spate of conflict of interest scandals, particularly those involving lawyers.

The program’s high-profile advisory board includes former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, former Ontario lieutenant-governor Hal Jackman, and Howard Wetston, chairman at the Ontario Securities Commission. Focusing on research, public debate, and advocacy, the program’s launch will feature a panel that will canvass recent high-profile cases like Nortel Networks and YBM Magnex International.

With files from The Globe and Mail.