Resignations, poor attendance records highlight UTSU BoD meeting

Some board members doing a “disservice” to themselves, says union Executive Director

Resignations, poor attendance records highlight UTSU BoD meeting

A series of resignations and discussion of poor board attendance records comprised the latest UTSU Board of Directors’ meeting.

Directors debated with each other over why the attendance for meetings was always very low, as well as how to improve engagement. The board also accepted the resignations of four directors at the meeting and filled five other director vacancies.

In December 2017, The Varsity found that 29 per cent of the board had missed enough meetings for them to have effectively abandoned office.

This is based on the UTSU’s Bylaw X, which covers abandonment of office. According to the bylaw, a director “shall be deemed to have delivered their resignation” if they have failed to send regrets for two missed meetings, failed to attend three consecutive meetings or any four meetings regardless of sent regrets, or failed to attend any three committee meetings.

Mathematics and Physical Sciences Director Wilson Wu began the meeting by proposing a motion to automatically accept any resignations from board members who have been deemed to have abandoned office. Wu’s motion did not receive enough support to be added to the agenda.

“I triggered Bylaw X for the sake of accountability,” Wu told The Varsity. “I felt that it was important we were active in applying our few measures of accountability, especially seeing that engagement had degraded to the point that over a dozen directors have effectively abandoned office.”

However, the agenda did dedicate time for discussion on attendance, after UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh noted that “there was will from the board to have some sort of discussion on attendance more generally.”

The discussion focused mainly on why directors were missing meetings and how to solve the problem for future boards.

Trinity College Director Nish Chankar said that although she didn’t “have the best attendance this year,” she and many others often missed meetings for work obligations.

“I don’t skip meetings for fun. I skip meetings for work, for other commitments I have. But the problem I have is that I’m really shit at replying to emails,” said Chankar. “I think that an easy fix to this problem is people not sending in their regrets. I can’t be the only one on the board who repeatedly forgets to send in their regrets.”

Wu also spoke at length about the issue, saying that although he understands “everyone has busy lives,” board members also made a commitment to the UTSU and should therefore follow through.

“When we signed up for this we took on a commitment to show up to all of these meetings,” said Wu. “So saying that, ‘Oh, we’re bad at responding to emails or we don’t want to commute all the way down to campus for a meeting’— these are all issues, but just by us signing up, we’ve agreed to deal with them.”

Tka Pinnock, the UTSU’s Executive Director, agreed that directors had other engagements but said that board members were doing a “disservice” to themselves by not being engaged.

“Your goal as directors is not to come to the board meeting and to stamp everything the execs have done,” said Pinnock. “Your goal as directors is to come to the meeting and to ask the execs to explain what they’ve done, to defend what they’ve done.”

She claimed that this year’s Division III directors, who represent the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, were less engaged than in previous years, which in turn leads to St. George directors becoming disengaged as well.

“St. George directors should not take the position that you’re only engaged when you think people from UTM are engaged so [that] you have this challenger, this enemy that you have to bolster yourself against,” argued Pinnock.

Pinnock also mentioned that last year, “there were things that execs got away with… [that], had there been an engaged board, they would not have been able to get away with.”

Resignations

At the meeting, the board also accepted the resignations of Aidan Swirsky, University College Director; Gaby Garcia-Casanova, General Equity Director; Rebekah Tam, Faculty of Music Director; and Hamboluhle Moyo, Victoria College Director.

Of the four, Tam had missed enough meetings to have effectively abandoned office.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Moyo said that he was resigning because he felt that he had not used his time on the board to the fullest extent.

“When one does not attend the council and commission meetings… it is rather easy to feel detached and become more disengaged,” he told The Varsity. “Most of the responsibility of disengagement is on us directors though it is fair to point out I don’t know the state of most of the directors’ lives.”

“It’s a shame that we’ve lost so many directors,” UTSU Vice-President External Anne Boucher told The Varsity. Boucher wrote that though some resignations were due to “personal reasons and they’re 100% valid… We need to rethink how we engage our board and membership.”

The board subsequently appointed five new directors to empty positions. Aron Sankar and Jeff Dryden were appointed as Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Directors, replacing Danja Papajani and Andrew Sweeny, who both resigned last year. Victor Cheng was appointed Faculty of Music Director, replacing Tam. Justine Huyer was appointed Transitional Year Programme Director after the previous director’s term ended last semester. June Marston was appointed as General Equity Director, filling one of the vacant spots for that position.

The board has also struck a Shortlisting Committee to hire directors for any vacant positions for the remainder of the year. Jones, Sankar, and UC Directors Kshemani Constantinescu and Anushka Kurian were appointed to the committee. They will serve alongside UTSU President Mathias Memmel, Singh, and one other executive.

UTSU UC Director resigns, cites “ongoing personal and professional disagreements”

Aidan Swirsky must also resign from UC Lit position

UTSU UC Director resigns, cites “ongoing personal and professional disagreements”

Aidan Swirsky, University College (UC) Director on the UTSU Board of Directors, announced his resignation on January 16, effective immediately.

In an email to the board, Swirsky wrote that “over the past few months, a number of ongoing personal and professional disagreements with some colleagues” contributed to his resignation. He also expressed worry about the advocacy work that he had wanted to “continue from first term and commence this term, including the fulfillment of certain campaign promises.”

Swirsky did not specify to which colleagues he was referring.

His resignation also necessitated his departure from the UC Literary and Athletic Society (UC Lit), UC’s student government, because UTSU directors are ex officio members of the student government.

Swirsky ran in the March 2017 elections as a member of the Demand Better slate, alongside UTSU President Mathias Memmel. The issues Swirsky campaigned on included lobbying UC for increased accessibility, having the UTSU work more with UC’s Student Life office, and advocating for lower tuition fees and stronger anti-discrimination policies.

In an email to The Varsity, Swirsky wrote that he has “reached a point where the divergence in beliefs with some of whom I ran with and greatly committed to last election cycle has taken too much of an emotional toll on me to stay in this situation.”

Swirsky said that he will continue to engage the UTSU’s commissions, specifically the Academic and Students’ Rights Commission, the Social Justice and Equity Commission, and the Campus Action Commission.

University College will not go on without representation. Kshemani Constantinescu and Anushka Kurian, who ran with Swirsky, will stay on the board.

“Aidan is going to be sorely missed. He’s been a unique, committed person to work with and we’re sorry to see him go, but we’re proud he’s made a decision that’s best for him,” said Kurian.

“Aidan has faith that Anushka and I, with his support, will be able to do our constituents justice in representing their interests on the board,” said Constantinescu.

Memmel said that Swirsky’s departure “is a loss for the board.” He continued, “I’m not going to pretend that he and I didn’t disagree on a number of issues… but I’ve always respected his independence and willingness to speak his mind.”

Swirsky has been a UC representative on the UTSU Board of Directors since May 2017, and he served in various positions on UC Lit since April 2015.

He has also been heavily involved in many community issues, including co-organizing a student consultation session on the university’s proposed mandatory leave of absence policy.

“If the policy unfortunately passes, even after the hard work that has been put in by countless student activists to direct it away from its concerning current state,” said Swirsky, “the next step in the process for the students working now will have to be creating ways to support students who are at risk of being subject to the Policy.”

Memmel said that it was likely too late in the year to fill Swirsky’s vacancy, adding that the board will decide how to proceed at its next meeting on January 26.

Excessive board absences undermine the UTSU’s commitment to accountability

The UTSU needs to hold directors responsible for their lack of commitment to the board

Excessive board absences undermine the UTSU’s commitment to accountability

Attendance has long been an issue for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The Annual General Meetings typically attract only a small fraction of the student body, and a recent analysis in a Varsity news story revealed that this issue is prevalent among Board of Directors members as well. Based on the UTSU Bylaw X.2 on “Abandonment of Office,” 29 per cent of this year’s board can be assumed to have resigned from their positions for excessive absences. This bylaw excludes members of the Executive Committee, General Equity Directors, and University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union directors.

The attendance of directors is crucial to fair representation. While the members of the student body may not have the time or means to attend meetings, the directors who are elected to represent them should be committed to the responsibilities of their roles.

UTSU executives are held accountable by a board of directors whose members are either elected or appointed to their positions. These directors are expected to influence UTSU decision-making according to the varying needs of their constituents. In the case of the seven General Equity Directors, they are specifically responsible for advocating for marginalized groups within the student body.

Consequently, attendance is necessary to ensure that constituents are being fairly represented at these meetings and that they are informed of the board’s decisions. It is important for directors to be present and to make informed decisions with their constituents in mind.

This is not to mention that each director has a perspective and mandate that is unique to their position — meaning that directors are absolutely critical to maintaining checks on the actions of the executive committee. Holding executives accountable is an important aspect of the director role, as they are required to stay mindful of executives’ conduct as well as the content of their decision-making.

In 2015, the UTSU board impeached a director for excessive absences that resulted from a “lack of involvement and representation” on the part of that member of the board. Former UTSU President Ben Coleman justified what had happened by saying, “The UTSU board has often been criticized in the past for not taking absences seriously, and this strikes a different tone where the expectation for representatives are much higher.”

In contrast, on the recent absences, current UTSU President Mathias Memmel said, “The role of the board is to hold the executives accountable, so it would be inappropriate for us to start disciplining directors or trying to remove them from the board.”

Memmel’s approach suggests that the board holds substantial power over the executives. This ignores the representational duties that absentee directors are neglecting, as well as the reciprocal nature of accountability between executives and board members that underlaid Coleman’s previous leadership.

Admittedly, it can be difficult for all members of the board to get highly involved with UTSU affairs. As Vice-President Internal Daman Singh wrote, “There is a small group of very involved directors but a larger group of directors who are less involved… it’s difficult for individual Directors to feel meaningfully engaged in the work of the organization.”

Although the sheer size of meetings can indeed be daunting and might explain why some directors are less present than others, it does not provide an excuse for absence. In choosing to hold office, directors have a responsibility to engage in these meetings for their constituents. This does not require every director to be vocal during debates, but they should at least be physically present and actively listening to the discussions.

The accountability role of directors on the board arguably plays a more important role than ever today, as the UTSU Executive Committee has filled two vacant seats with appointed representatives following multiple resignations. Carina Zhang, one of two elected executives who were not part of the Demand Better slate during the 2017 UTSU elections, resigned in September. She was replaced by Adrian Huntelar, a former General Equity Director. Similarly, former Vice-President Campus Life Stuart Norton, who resigned late last year, was replaced by Ammara Wasim. The UTSU now faces accountability concerns in two respects: poor attendance on the part of elected directors, and two of its current executive members not having been democratically elected at all.

Without a strong board whose members are both engaged in its politics and present for its meetings in the first place, the UTSU may be left vulnerable to issues of accountability and abuses of power. Likewise, directors must be held accountable for their actions by the other members of the board. If the UTSU does not comply with its own policies by removing absentee directors, then it brings the legitimacy of all of its actions into question. Repercussions for absences and tighter regulations on director attendance at meetings will reinforce the UTSU’s commitment to maintaining accountability and equitable decision-making.

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.

Office declared vacant on second impeachment attempt

UTSU board impeaches KPE director

Office declared vacant on second impeachment attempt

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has impeached Ernest Manalo, the director for the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE). The impeachment vote took place at a meeting of the UTSU’s Board of Directors on Saturday, November 28.

The motion for Manalo’s impeachment was originally scheduled to be the fifth item on the agenda, but the board voted to move the motion up and address it first. According to the motion, moved by e ngineering director Carlos Fiel, Manalo has failed to attend a total of five board meetings since the start of the academic year, including the October 7 Annual General Meeting. The motion also alleges that Manalo has missed committee meetings, attendance of which is part of his role on the Professional Faculties Committee. Neither Fiel nor Manalo responded to The Varsity’s request for comment.

The motion accused Manalo of failing to relay information from the UTSU and to inform his constituency or their student government, the Kinesiology and Physical Education Undergraduate Association, about his absences. The UTSU bylaws state that a director’s failure to attend three consecutive meetings or a total of four board meetings, including the Annual General Meeting, is equivalent to vacating their position.  Members of Manalo’s constituency, according to the board package, were said to be “frustrated and uninformed” by the director’s absence at the meetings and the subsequent lack of involvement and representation.

“The UTSU board has often been criticized in the past for not taking absences seriously, and [thinks] this strikes a different tone where the expectation for representatives are much higher,” said UTSU president Ben Coleman in an email to The Varsity.

Abdulla Omari, UTSU director for UTM, requested that the board consider tabling the vote to the Board of Directors’s meeting in January to allow Manalo to assess his capacity to hold office before voting on impeachment.

“We take representation seriously, but at the same time, as a board, we take fairness seriously,” Omari said. “One month’s time is enough to allow the individual to decide whether or not they can fill the capacity [and] to allow the board to evaluate whether or not they are filling capacity and acting on the concerns. I don’t think it’s fair to impeach someone when they were told the concerns an hour ago and formally read the concerns four days ago [in] the board package.”

However, Coleman remarked that he believed that this sentiment would have been “unlikely to lead to a different decision, as the information presented was already compelling.”

The board rejected Omari’s motion to table the vote and, after an in-camera session that lasted half an hour, proceeded to a secret ballot. Several minutes later, UTSU speaker Brad Evoy announced the vacancy of the KPE director’s office. Manalo was absent from the room at the time. “This is not a time to rejoice or celebrated,” UTSU executive director Tka Pinnock said to the board shortly after the voting results had been announced. A second vote to destroy the ballots took place afterwards, and passed.

This is not the first time this year that Manalo has been up for impeachment. A Board of Directors meeting held in September had the same motion on the agenda, after Manalo missed every summer meeting. Victoria University director Auni Ahsan moved the motion at the time.

At the September 20 meeting, Manalo explained that he had scheduling conflicts due to working two full-time jobs. Having to undergo medical treatment and not having access to his UTSU email were among the other reasons he gave for non-performance. Ahsan later withdrew his motion. “It was very specific concern of not attending the summer meetings. The discussion was ‘were you showing up? Yes? No? Why?” Omari said, addressing differences between the most recent impeachment vote and that of September 20. “This discussion has been significantly different, going to the very core of representing the membership.”

Manalo represented over 1,000 students. Last March, He campaigned for the KPE director’s office with the Change UofT slate. Although he lost to independent candidate Ryan Schwenger, his opponent was disqualified due to exceeding the campaign spending limit. Schwenger’s appeal was rejected and Manalo was announced the winner of the election. The UTSU is currently accepting applications on its website to fill the vaccancy.

Disclosure: Abdulla Omari also serves on the Board of Directors for Varsity Publications Inc.