SCSU AGM 2019: Controversial motion to limit executive terms voted down

Questions on whether motion would remove president from office, procedural confusion dominate meeting

SCSU AGM 2019: Controversial motion to limit executive terms voted down

The 2019 Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 27 got off to an exciting start with the introduction of two emergency motions. It ended anticlimactically when a room booking issue meant the meeting could not be extended beyond 9:00 pm, thus leaving many items unaddressed.

Members only had time to debate one motion, which proposed preventing executives from serving more than one term — a rule which could have potentially removed current President Chemi Lhamo from her position had it not been voted down. Other motions, including ones that called for solidarity with Hong Kong, implementing online voting, and discussing SCSU pay were all left unaddressed.

Electoral Equity Act

The Electoral Equity Act, which sought to limit the number of terms executives could serve in their undergraduate degree to one, proved to be a controversial motion.

After it was moved, long lines formed behind both microphones, and a member motioned to call the question, which would immediately stop the debate and trigger an automatic vote on the motion.

A member who opposed the call to question, however, was found to be using another individual’s voting card, which had 25 proxy votes. This prompted calls for a revote wherein the opposition still prevailed. The question was not called, and discussion on the act continued.

In the discussion that followed, a member pointed out that the language of the motion, which specifies that it take effect “immediately,” might call into question the legitimacy of Lhamo’s position, since she served as Vice-President Equity in the previous academic year. After another member successfully called the question, the membership voted down the motion.

In an interview after the meeting, the mover of the motion, Annie Sahagian, explained that the intention was not to remove Lhamo from office. Referencing this interpretation of the motion, she said, “I was going to amend that.” However, there was not enough time to do so as the question was called.

The intended aim of the Electoral Equity Act was to encourage “student engagement, involvement and participation within SCSU,” explained Sahagian.

Sahagian is the sister of Carly Sahagian, the current Vice-President Academics and University Affairs. However, both parties say they did not collaborate on the motion, pointing out that this motion would prevent Carly from running for another term as well. Carly, along with Vice-President External Chaman Bukhari, were the only two executives to vote in favour of the motion. Vice-President Operations Ray Alibux abstained from voting, and the remaining three executives, including Lhamo, voted against the motion.

Emergency motion on Hong Kong protests

Shortly after the meeting was called to order and before the discussion on the Electoral Equity Act, Lhamo proposed an emergency motion be added to the end of the agenda. The motion, entitled “Student Solidarity for Hong Kong,” included resolutions to work with U of T to research “harassment within academic institutions of students who speak out against injustices” and to investigate “the pressure on students who are being instructed, manipulated or coerced into taking action by foreign influences.”

Lhamo told The Varsity that the investigation aspect of the motion seeks to protect international Chinese students from pressures by foreign influences, which she claimed the university was hesitant to do. The motion also calls for the SCSU to create a Lennon Wall on campus.

Lhamo also hopes this motion goes beyond the protests in Hong Kong, recalling the threats she faced and continues to receive, many with anti-Tibet sentiments since she is a vocal supporter of Tibetan sovereignty. She noted that she never received a report explaining the threats she faced, despite announcements that police had begun inquiries.

“I would hate to see that universities and external entities behave the way they did with me to any other students.”

Procedural hiccups

The night’s agenda saw two emergency motions, several re-arrangements, and an obscure order from Robert’s Rules. These hiccups were cut short at 9:00 pm, despite attempts to extend the meeting to 11:00 pm.

Alibux introduced the second emergency motion of the night, following Lhamo’s Hong Kong motion, which would commit the union to implement online voting. Alibux’s motivation to the chair for this being an emergency was two-fold: the climate crisis and a previous miscommunication within the team that prevented this motion from going onto the agenda.

The chair ruled against him, citing the timeliness required for an emergency motion, at which point Alibux challenged the chair, with the membership voting in his favour to contravene the chair’s ruling and allow the motion onto the agenda.

The agenda’s re-arrangement was crucial in deciding the few motions that the membership would get to debate during the AGM — members raced to add new orders to the motions until the question was called and the agenda for the night was passed. The AGM saw the membership address one member-submitted motion — Sahagian’s — before being brought to an abrupt end by a member calling for the order of the day, requiring the membership to conform to the agenda, which meant that the meeting was over at 9:00 pm. Despite Alibux’s attempt to challenge the chair’s ruling in this matter, the room had only been booked until 9:00 pm, and the meeting could not be extended.

Among the motions that weren’t addressed at the meeting were pay bumps for executives, pay for SCSU board directors to attend meetings, and a motion alleging that the union is undermining its commitments to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Israel movement — one which cited an Israeli flag in Bukhari’s office as an example of such action from within the union.

The Breakdown: UTSU’s 2019 Annual General Meeting

Member motions to address board attendance, equity collectives, climate crisis

The Breakdown: UTSU’s 2019 Annual General Meeting

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be held on October 30 in Innis Town Hall at 6:00 pm. The meeting is open to all UTSU members, which includes full-time undergraduate students, professional faculty students, Toronto School of Theology students, Transition Year Program students, and students on a Professional Experience Year.

The AGM requires a quorum of 75 members, of which 50 members must be physically present, with the rest being present through a proxy. The meeting acts as a forum for members to ask questions and raise items for discussion. Last year’s AGM was marred by long and heated debates, and notably lost quorum during the meeting. This loss resulted in a vote on policy without quorum.

According to the AGM’s agenda, UTSU President Joshua Bowman will give his address, which will be followed by an executive question and answer period.

The meeting will also see a proposal to change the union’s bylaws and elections procedure. One change to the bylaws will remove all mentions of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, as it separated from the UTSU at the 2018 AGM. There are also new outlines for abandonment of office for directors, which, for example, will occur if directors have two “unreasonable absences,” or other combinations of absences.

Member motions

On the agenda is a motion put forth by University College representative Lina Maragha to dissolve the UTSU’s equity collectives. The motion recommends this due to the perception that the equity collectives have not fulfilled their mandate since being introduced in 2017.

Instead, a “Equity Initiatives Fund” is proposed, which will provide funding to existing equity groups on campus. Three new community members will also be added to the Equity and Accessibility Committee under the new proposal.

Another motion proposes that the UTSU endorse all upcoming Fridays for Future climate strikes, as they did for the Global Climate Strike in Toronto last month.

Outstanding issues to address

Some outstanding issues that the AGM might address include the UTSU’s Student Commons project, which has put the union in financial jeopardy before, and been the target of numerous construction and planning delays.

The possibility of the UTSU leaving the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which has been a major topic of discussion surrounding the UTSU for the past few years, could also come to a front. Debate over student funding for the CFS has emerged in the context of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — a provincial mandate for universities that provides an opt-out option for “non-essential” incidental fees. The SCI has also created particular financial challenges for the union, as students can opt-out of certain UTSU fees deemed non-essential by the province.

The union has also been active in student advocacy, including a collaboration with city council on postsecondary transit fees, and pushing for the funding of increased mental health services.

The controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy has once again brought tensions to light between the union, Governing Council, and the university’s ombudsperson on the policy’s effects on student health — less than year-and-a-half after the policy’s approval.

Op-ed: Accountability, democracy, and samosas — attend the UTSU’s fall Annual General Meeting

All you need to know about the UTSU AGM

Op-ed: Accountability, democracy, and samosas — attend the UTSU’s fall Annual General Meeting

On Wednesday, October 30, at 6:00 pm, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) will be holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Innis Town Hall. This event is crucial for the governance of the UTSU, and gives our membership the opportunity to debate and ratify decisions and bylaws, and have their say in the direction and maintenance of our organization.

The UTSU AGM is one of our most important events, as it serves as a mid-year check on our progress as executives. As such, we work hard to ensure that the AGM is as accessible and open to our membership as possible.

Through measures like our online proxy system at utsu.simplyvoting.com, we want to make sure all members have a chance to engage with the UTSU on a personal level.

The AGM has been criticized in the past for being filled with “insiders” instead of general members. This is a valid criticism. In the past, the UTSU’s engagement skills were poor, and transparency was dubious. We’ve made strides this year to bridge this gap and want all students to feel comfortable at our AGM.

Our organization functions best when we hear your questions and criticisms, and we want to hear as many as possible. We’re here to listen.

The UTSU has a long history of packed AGMs with students raising their concerns with executives, irrespective of how receptive the executives may be. This has extended to the adoption of online voting — despite its initial failure — the proposed erasure of executive positions, the banning of slates, and the separation of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union from the UTSU.

Suffice to say, AGMs are wholly consequential to the operations of the UTSU.

Before I became an executive at the UTSU, I used the AGM as an opportunity to press my predecessors on the status of our membership in the Canadian Federation of Students, because I was under the impression that we would be pushing for a referendum to leave. As a general member, I was tired of the constant rhetoric — if the UTSU was pushing to leave, why were they still failing to deliver?

Furthermore, I advocated for resolutions that I found merit in, and spoke in opposition to points that I found to be unproductive. I found the AGM and the processes that preceded it to be extremely exciting: The Varsity’s bingo cards that predicted the events before they occurred, the samosas that sat lousily in the lobby of the event, the proxy cards that announced how many members were participating, et cetera. It was a lot to process my first time, and it was really one of the events that motivated me to get more involved with the UTSU.

The agendas are normally as follows: an address from the president and an executive question period; the presentation of audited statements and subsequent ratification of the auditor; the presentation of an annual report detailing the events of the preceding year; a package of bylaws to be discussed and ratified by the membership; and member-submitted motions.

The executive question period is a great opportunity to press executives on their actions or inaction. This period has addressed issues like a lack of water bottles at orientation, the inclusion of students from the satellite campuses, and whether the UTSU is democratic or not. This is a great opportunity, and has been historically utilized to a great extent by UTSU members.

Arguably, the two most consequential pieces of this upcoming AGM agenda are the audited financial statements and the Bylaw and Elections Procedure Code changes. The audit allows the UTSU’s general membership to see the financial health of the organization — where our money is being spent.

In addition, changes to the UTSU’s Bylaw and Elections Procedure Code are important, given that the UTSU’s Bylaws are legally binding and guide the organization’s general direction.

I highly encourage all of our members to come out and attend the AGM, if not for the opportunity to keep executives accountable and assess the health of our union, then for the samosas. If anybody has questions about the AGM, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We hope to see you on Wednesday, October 30, at Innis Town Hall!

Joshua Bowman is a fifth-year Indigenous Studies and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College and current President of the UTSU.

UTSG: VicXposure 2019-20 Photography 101 Workshop & AGM

Hey everyone,

Our AGM is on October 1st from 5-8PM! In addition to free food and meeting fellow photography enthusiasts, you’ll be hearing about:

All the fun Photo Things™ that we do, like photowalks and contests; applications for our First Year Representative and Staff positions; and some upcoming Volunteer Photography Opportunities in and around Vic!

We invite you to come for any or all of the programming. Again, this event will be happening in the Cat’s Eye, and we welcome photographers of all levels and equipment (including yer phones!). Put it in your calendars now—we’d love to see you all there!

Schedule:
5:00-5:30 Gather & Socialize
5:30-6:00 Annual General Meeting (AGM)
6:00-7:00 Dinner
7:00-7:30 Photography 101 Workshop
7:30-8:00 Socialize & Clean Up

UTSG: LGBTOUT Annual General Meeting

Date: September 30th, 2019
Time: 5:30-7:00 PM
Location: Multi-Purpose Room, Multi-Faith Centre

Come to our AGM to learn about LGBTOUT’s plans for the 2019-2020 year and how you can get involved!

 

Cost-cutting for the Student Commons has lost support from the UTSU constituency

The union's position of the project as a burden amplifies student frustration

Cost-cutting for the Student Commons has lost support from the UTSU constituency

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) took place on October 30. What was made clear to attendees was that, understandably, the UTSU is focused on the future — which means reigning in the Student Commons and the financial deficit stemming from it.

However, if the UTSU wants to maintain students’ trust, it must accept that the impassioned population that actually attends UTSU meetings may not entirely agree with campaign promises. This is especially the case when efforts to preserve financial security come at additional costs to students.

The UTSU finds itself scrambling to cut costs to salvage the Student Commons, a project it has referred to as a “dumpster fire.” There is no question that the Student Commons is putting the UTSU in a difficult financial position. At the same time, according to a blog post on the UTSU site, if the Student Commons continues to run a deficit four years after opening, U of T will reclaim management of the building and possibly force the UTSU to vacate it. The UTSU is not forever bound to maintaining this building — and it will inevitably run a deficit, regardless of the services and executive positions it cuts.

The UTSU’s attitude toward this project amplifies students’ frustrations with the project itself, given the financial sacrifices students are forced to make to construct and maintain a building that apparently no one wants. At the end of the day, it is student money that continues to go toward this project, and the UTSU’s apparent cynicism is discouraging.

Really, the union has an attitude problem. If it continues to position the Student Commons as a burden, then why should the student body be willing to support it, especially at a cost to student services? Let’s remember that the Student Commons is not just a “dumpster fire.” There are benefits to a new student space that the current UTSU team is not clearly explaining to students. It is important for students to understand why exactly it is necessary to make budgetary cuts to accommodate the Student Commons. 

This is all the more important given the UTSU’s apparent failure to consult with its constituents, which was a source of criticism at the AGM. One proposal was raised to merge two executive positions, Vice-President University Affairs and VP External, into a VP Advocacy position — largely to cut costs. There was concern among those opposing the proposal that combining these two positions would sacrifice student services to finance the Student Commons, a project that the current UTSU does not even seem to support. The UTSU had no contingency plan should the VP Advocacy proposal be voted down, but given the opposition from students, this proposal should not have been the only option.

Additionally, despite the UTSU also being responsible for representing UTM students, only four UTM students were in attendance at the AGM. University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union President Salma Fakhry pointedly reminded UTSU executives of the exclusionary nature of scheduling proxy sign-up during UTM’s reading week. UTSU President Mathias Memmel, in turn, explained that the online sign-up process was specifically meant to improve accessibility for all students. Fakhry reminded Memmel of the UTM community’s preference for face-to-face interaction, which the UTSU did not seem to consider.

But it is too early to say whether the new UTSU purposely excludes dissenting groups or if it is just having a difficult time connecting with them. However, it is evident that important voices are not being heard.

It is unacceptable to blame a lack of UTM student turnout on the UTMSU’s failure to organize; the AGM was a UTSU event, and it was necessary for the UTSU to adequately promote it on both campuses. The UTSU encompasses UTM students — they must be afforded the same level of access to UTSU meetings as UTSG students.

While the financial toll of the Student Commons greatly affects students, the UTSU needs to do a better job of communicating why it is such a significant issue to both UTSG and UTM students. Otherwise, the project will continue to be perceived as a mistake that we are forced to pay for.

Angela Feng is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying History and Cinema Studies. She is The Varsity’s Campus Politics Columnist.

UTSU AGM approves Appellate Board, changes to budget policy

Meeting lauded for civility, early conclusion

UTSU AGM approves Appellate Board, changes to budget policy

As the union’s Vice-President Professional Faculties Ryan Gomes put it, Thursday’s University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) was one of the most “civil” in a long time.

To the noted surprise of the executives, the chair, and the members alike, the meeting was remarkable precisely for its lack of controversy, unlike the AGMs of previous years. It was called to order at 6:45 p.m. and adjourned at 8:35 p.m. Past meetings have been marked by disruptions, long delays, and divisive motions.

Following introductory remarks on procedure and equity, the meeting began with a 25-minute presidential address and question period with UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike.

Denike outlined various UTSU initiatives and campaigns. She argued that the UTSU has been responsible with their funds and stressed the importance of holding the union accountable.

One question for Denike came from a UTM student, who asked the union President about the UTSU’s upcoming anti-Blackness town hall and their efforts to reduce anti-Blackness on campus. Denike replied that that the UTSU is “attempting to work with Black groups on campus in a much more constructive way.”

There were also three motions on the agenda, one of which was an omnibus motion to apply all of the bylaw amendments made by the board. All of the motions carried.

University College Literary and Athletic Society Vice-President Daman Singh moved an amendment to the bylaws 6.2 concerning the Elections and Referenda Committee’s ability to call multiple ratification meetings. This sparked debate over the democratic process of the UTSU and clarification on the proposed appellate board’s purpose as part of the bylaws.

Singh spoke to  The Varsity following the AGM, bringing up last May’s contentious annual ratification meeting.

“In the scenario that we get to May, and the election is over and students came out and voted down the results, in the proposed bylaws the election and referenda committee would have had the authority to re-host this meeting, and re-host it with the exact same motion that had failed,” he said. “I thought that this was fundamentally undemocratic.”

The bylaw amendments also establish an Appellate Board, which would hear any complaints a student would have about the election beyond the Elections and Referenda Committee.

According to the text of the bylaw, the Appellate Board “shall be limited to the hearing of appeals and disciplinary decisions form the Grievance Officer the Elections and Referenda Committee, and the Executive Review Committee,” and that all decisions made by the board are binding on the UTSU.

The other two motions concerned the budgeting process; UTSU Engineering Director Andrew Sweeny’s motion makes the UTSU earmark at least 25 per cent of its gross revenue to clubs, events, and services while VUSAC Vice-President Stephen Warner brought a non-binding motion to have the operating budget specify the amount that the union distributes to each of its levy groups, which include LGBTOUT, BikeChain, Downtown Legal Services, and others.  

Giving The Varsity his overall thoughts on the night, Vice-President Internal and Services Matthias Memmel said he’s “pleased that we had members show up. I’m pleased that everyone was civil — we’ve not always had meetings where they’ve gone as smoothly as this. But, you know, people raised concerns that they felt strongly about in the room, and we were able to answer them, I think, to people’s satisfaction.”

Seven motions pass, one fails, five motions not discussed at SCSU AGM

Meeting loses quorum, adjourns prematurely

Seven motions pass, one fails, five motions not discussed at SCSU AGM

Students came to discuss a number of issues at the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM), but only eight were addressed before the meeting adjourned early.

The meeting, which began on Wednesday, November 18, lasted four hours and saw seven motions passed. One motion that would have changed the vice-president, operations of the SCSU from an appointed to an elected position was the only motion to fail.

VP Operations: appointed or elected?

The most contentious resolution of the meeting was a motion to change the selection of the vice-president operations position from a hired to an elected one. SCSU president Nicole Dionisio, the mover of the motion, began the discussion. She explained that the motion was proposed because the role of the vice-president operations has transitioned from being primarily business-focused role to a more services-oriented one.  Dionisio said that a full-time staff member had been hired to help monitor the SCSU’s finances and operations, leaving the vice-president operations free to focus on reaching out to students, without needing a strong financial and operational background.

However, many students questioned the feasibility of the vice-president not requiring training or background in finance or management. Students listed several of the vice-president operations’ responsibilities, including accessing all financial records and presenting the budget.

Some students worried that a ‘popularity contest’ would not suffice in ensuring the capabilities of the person appointed. Furthermore, students mentioned that the voter turnout for SCSU elections is extremely low, with less than 10 per cent of the student body participating.

Govind Mohan, the resource co-ordinator of the UTSC Young Liberals and communications executive with the UTSC Film Club, and Syed Sajeed Bakht, a second-year computer science student spoke against the motion. “The SCSU is a $5 million organization, which, in the wrong hands could face appalling consequences, even without any malicious intent,” they later told The Varsity in a joint email.

The motion required a two-thirds majority vote to pass, which it did not meet. SCSU did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Motions carried

Several motions to amend the SCSU’s by-laws, including by-laws pertaining to the removal from office, committees, and executive responsibilities, all passed without much discussion. Motions for improved multi-faith space and scheduling, as well as a motion condemning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) also passed.

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The motion for a Racialized Student Collective, however, was contentious. It proposed the creation of a collective with an anti-racist mandate that would organize campaigns to combat oppressive systems, as well as provide a safe space, called the Equity Service Centre, for students to discuss their experiences.

Some students arguing against this motion were concerned about the inclusivity of the proposed space, while others worried about the opportunity cost, wondering if the space would always be active.

Those supporting the creation of this collective assured that non-racialized students wouldn’t be barred from the space and that the space in question, SL-210B, is largely under-utilized, stressing that the space would not be wasted.

Samreen Aziz argued that this space would act as a form of therapy for students. “The racialized space that the motion was referring to was to recreate a room in the Student Centre dedicated to students of ethnic minorities or of stigmatized religious background or really, any group of individuals who are facing tough times in the world,” she said, adding that the space is for “[students] who have cultural struggles between themselves and their society, who are victims to hate crimes, who feel overwhelmed by their own culture and adjusting to Canadian lifestyles, who have experienced PTSD or severe depression due to the things they or their families have experienced in war-torn countries -— it is for THESE [sic] people to sit and talk to one another to relieve themselves of stress and their frustrations.”

After further discussion, the majority voted in favour of the motion.

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Five motions not discussed after losing quorum

Five motions, those calling for Syrian refugee support, for South African solidarity, for a website update, for livestreaming the SCSU AGM, and for SCSU holding an open public forum at the end of the year, were not debated or voted upon, because the meeting lost quorum. The meeting was adjourned during discussion on the motion asking for the SCSU to donate $500 to the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

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Aziz, the mover of the motion, was extremely upset. She believes that the SCSU should cap the AGM at four speakers per motion, saying, “The debates went on far too long and by the time my motion came up, it was the fifth hour and people just wanted to get up and leave — no one cared anymore.” Aziz said that she does not blame the SCSU, remarking that the union has been extremely supportive of her campaign.

There are three options for the remaining motions: they can be moved for discussion at the next year’s AGM, the Board of Directors can call for another General Meeting this year, or the motions can be brought to the Board of Directors who would vote on them.

Aziz said that her motion will be brought to the next board meeting, where she has been told there is a high chance it will pass.

Katie Konstantopoulos, the Sociology director for the SCSU, says, “I think another General Meeting should be called, because I think these motions are too urgent or important to leave aside for a year.”

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Students react to the AGM

Renee Ball, president of the UTSC Young Liberals and an upper year representative for the Political Science Students Association believes that, overall, the meeting was conducted professionally and impartially. However, she, Aziz, Mohan, and Bakht all said that the meeting began too late and ran too long. Aziz commented that students did not anticipate the meeting lasting longer than two-to-three hours, and that the executive report and financial report reading took about two hours, not leaving enough for discussion of the motions.

Konstantopoulos was satisfied with the thoroughness of the executive report. She also praised the SCSU’s explanation of Robert’s Rules of Order prior to the meeting, saying it increased students’ access to participation in the meeting. “I think these changes really cleaned up the way the meeting was conducted, based off of comparisons to previous years; simply by changing the space and providing clarity, the overall atmosphere was more positive.”