In conversation with Adrian Huntelar and Ammara Wasim

The Varsity sits down with the newest UTSU executives to discuss appointment, transition, upcoming student life and advocacy projects

In conversation with Adrian Huntelar and Ammara Wasim

This past semester saw two University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) executives step down from their posts. They were replaced by Adrian Huntelar, formerly one of the union’s General Equity Directors, and Ammara Wasim, Vice-President Communications of the Muslim Students’ Association.

The Varsity sat down with both new executives to discuss their new positions and their future plans.

Unelected student politicians

In an op-ed that appeared last December 3 on The Varsity’s website, Huntelar, who is serving as Vice-President University Affairs, wrote that he understood that some students may have some concerns over the fact that he did not go through the democratic process of election. “I’m a political science major, so I know very well that appointed leaders rarely have the time or the mandate to get anything meaningful done,” he explained at the time.

Huntelar further addressed this concern in the interview. “I think the best way to address those students’ concerns is just to make myself as open as possible, listen to as many students as possible, to be in as many open forums as possible for students to raise their concerns with the UTSU.”

Wasim, the new Vice-President Campus Life, took the same view, but she maintained that it was less about their qualifications and more about the necessity of having someone fill their roles during the academic year. “As a student,” she said, “I would want someone to be in my position rather than having the position being vacant for three months.”

Transition process

Huntelar described the past two months as being “very informative,” detailing the learning curve he was initially met with. “I’m learning about just how many different aspects of university policy and governance actually influence students’ day-to-day life,” he said, noting that many factors like textbooks or accessibility accommodations fall under his portfolio.

Wasim highlighted the help the other executives and full-time staff have provided throughout her transition into the role. “They’ve been really nice and really supportive and helpful with everything,” she said. She also thanked her predecessor, Stuart Norton, for meeting with her and helping her out.

Both Huntelar and Wasim understood the limited amount of time left in their posts, but they underlined their commitment to make improvements on campus. “There isn’t a lot of time left, three months isn’t a lot of time to do a lot. I think it’s better to just focus on what really needs to get done and enhance what’s there,” said Wasim.

Student life and advocacy projects

Huntelar also spoke about food security, one of his top priorities. He said that the UTSU is working on multiple projects to raise awareness within the university and provide related services. “We’re working to create an online grocery store, so that students can purchase their groceries online on utsu.ca and have them shipped to the office,” he said.

The online grocery store concept will involve working with FoodReach, an organization that connects community agencies, like the UTSU, with wholesalers who provide foodstuffs.

“It offers a benefit to students who are pressured for time and money,” he said. “The main group that this supports is those who live off-campus without access to a dining hall, but also who are responsible for essentially making their own food.”

Wasim will first be focusing on the UTSU’s Winter Week of Welcome. In an earlier interview with The Varsity, UTSU President Mathias Memmel mentioned that one of the reasons why the hiring process was sped up was due to the need to have someone in the post by this week.

Wasim noted, “[Norton] had the plan in place already, I’m marketing and promoting mainly, and I’m attending all the events and running them on the day itself. I’m taking care of the smaller details, logistically.”

She also highlighted her intention to concentrate on the Campus Life Commission, which she chairs as part of her portfolio, and looking through requests for clubs funding. “I have to try to expand upon the Campus Life Commission in a way where it doesn’t necessarily have to be sitting down to a meeting,” she said, adding that she wishes to make meetings less “boring.”

With the UTSU elections coming up in March, Huntelar declined to comment on his intentions to run for a position or not, while Wasim mentioned being undecided at present. “I would tell you if I knew myself,” she said. “Right now, I have to figure out my course load that’s already hectic.”

UTSU appoints new VP University Affairs

November Board of Directors meeting fills position, addresses Landmark Project

UTSU appoints new VP University Affairs

Adrian Huntelar was appointed Vice-President University Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) at its Board of Directors meeting on November 25. The meeting also addressed the Landmark Project and reviewed executive reports.

Vice-President University Affairs

The Vice-President University Affairs position had been vacant since the resignation of Carina Zhang on September 3. The Board of Directors appointed Huntelar, previously one of seven General Equity Directors, to fill the vacancy.

Huntelar, a third-year Political Science and Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies student, said that he has “a tangible plan of action” and “a track record of stabilizing turbulent positions” as well as making progress for students — characteristics he said were important for the position.

His blueprint for the rest of the academic year includes improving food security on campus.

“It’s way too hard to find healthy, affordable food that also accommodates dietary restrictions, and is also accessible to commuter students,” he said. “Forty per cent of students in Canada are food insecure; I think that’s unacceptable.”

With regard to dealing with the university administration as part of his portfolio, Huntelar emphasized his “strong working relationship” with the Vice-Provost Students and the Vice-Provost International Student Experience.

“On a number of issues, if the student community moves first and we do the work to improve the situation on campus, and then we challenge the administration to do the same, we’ll create a race to the top,” he said. “We do better, they do better, we do better, they do better. The result is a better campus for everybody.”

The deliberation process, which included a presentation and questioning period, was conducted in camera.

Huntelar’s appointment comes after last month’s failed motion to consolidate the posts of Vice-President University Affairs and Vice-President External into one Vice-President Advocacy position.

The consolidation was intended to cut salary expenses in view of the union’s structural deficit from the Student Commons project. At the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), Anne Boucher, Vice-President External, argued that given the long hours she puts into her work, advocacy would be severely undercut by combining the two positions.

Huntelar himself argued in favour of keeping the position, saying that “frivolous” expenses like miscellaneous spending, transportation, and executive phone plans were the problem, not salaries.

Daman Singh, Vice-President Internal, said during the AGM discussion that students should not oppose the elimination of old positions just because “they want to run for it.” After this remark was met by audible objections, Singh apologized for the comment.

Landmark Project

Donald Ainslie, Principal of University College (UC), also gave a presentation on the proposed Landmark Project. The project is a plan by administrators to pedestrianize and beautify four core areas of the St. George campus, including King’s College Circle, the Sir Daniel Wilson quadrangle at UC, the area around back campus, and Hart House Circle.

Although cars will have limited access to King’s College Circle, Ainslie emphasized that pedestrians will have priority. The project aims to raise $20 million, $2 million of which has already been gifted by the University of Toronto Alumni Association and the University of Toronto.

Executive reports

The board also discussed the reports from members of the executive. Boucher did not submit her report on time, so it will be taken up at the December meeting.

The executive reports generated a significant amount of review from the members. Kassandra Neranjan, Academic Director for Humanities, brought up the issue that, while some individual board directors did not agree with the university-mandated leave of absence policy, Memmel had called it a “positive development” in his report.

Another contentious report came from Chimwemwe Alao, Vice-President Equity, whose report addressed the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and U of T professor Jordan Peterson.

“A group of graduate students associated with the Women and Gender Studies Institute reached out to me in order to discuss ways that I can support their organizing against Jordan Peterson,” said Alao in his report. “They had expressed interest in getting the CFS and member locals to also publicly condemn Peterson and show solidarity in their organizing.”

Alao brought forward an emergency motion on behalf of the graduate students at the November 17 to November 20 CFS National General Meeting. It passed unanimously, calling on all CFS-member unions to publicly condemn Peterson.