Graduate Students’ Union investigating OISE elections

Executives report on mental health advocacy, freeze honoraria in anticipation of funding cuts

Graduate Students’ Union investigating OISE elections

An investigatory committee was commissioned by the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) to evaluate the integrity of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association (OISE GSA) elections, during a UTGSU General Council meeting on April 23.

The committee’s mandate is to assess whether the OISE GSA violated its constitution, following the alleged firing of its Chief Returning Officer (CRO), according to a GSU member at the meeting. The CRO is responsible for overseeing elections.

Five council members volunteered to join the committee, which is authorized to assess the possible constitutional violation until June 1.

According to a UTGSU representative who spoke at the meeting, the committee lacks the power to compel testimony through subpoena. However, it does have the ability to interview witnesses willing to testify, review meeting minutes of the OISE GSA, and present an assessment to the Council on whether the OISE GSA violated its constitution.

In an email to The Varsity, the OISE GSA Executive wrote that they “never had doubts about the integrity of following the elections process as outlined by [their] Constitution.”

The Executive noted that their elections had not begun by the time of the General Council meeting when these allegations of election fraud were brought forward, and that they are following regulations set by its Constitution to “re-set the Elections process.”

The UTGSU Executive Committee verified that the committee was struck before having a chance to “invite and receive a statement by the [OISE GSA] Executive and Council,” but also wrote that it believed it would be “inappropriate for the UTGSU Executive to ask the OISE GSA for a statement prior to the striking of the committee, as this would have constituted the beginning of an investigation.”

UTGSU executives also report on advocacy work towards expanding mental health services

External Commissioner Cristina Jaimungal also reported on work by the executive team on responding to U of T’s mental health crisis.

Jaimungal spoke on the launch of the first webpage specific for U of T graduate students to access mental health resources, which has received 5,000 visits so far. She also reported on the addition of a graduate-specific accessibility counselor at the School of Graduate Studies, as well as the expansion of a bursary to allow part-time professional students access to U of T gyms over the summer.

UTGSU executives further vote to freeze honoraria increases, following cuts due to Student Choice Initiative

Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto also introduced a motion drafted by the executives to freeze their own honoraria.

Rizzuto explained that the executive honoraria has been tied to a CUPE 3902, Unit 1 Collective Agreement, which has caused the executive honoraria to rise with increases of Teaching Assistant wages. CUPE 3902 is a union for U of T education workers.

The honoraria were slated to increase by two per cent the following year. However, in anticipation of funding cuts to the UTGSU as a result of the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative, the executives introduced the motion to cancel the raise and freeze their honoraria.

The motion passed in a vote by members of the General Council.

Why the UTSU can’t do without you

A message to the student body from a UTSU presidential candidate

Why the UTSU can’t do without you

My name is Bryan Liceralde, and I ran for president in the 2019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections. First, I want to congratulate the executives and directors for their impeccable victories in the spring elections. The UTSU is going to face many challenges this year, especially when it confronts issues caused by the policies of both U of T and the Ford government. Going forward, President Joshua Bowman must face the biggest issue in student democracies: voter apathy.

When I looked over the by-election positions in April, it was heartbreaking to see how many seats — both of Directors and Vice-Presidents (VP) — were vacant. It was all the more heartbreaking when I found that the election’s turnout rate stood at just 4.2 per cent.

From my brief experience in student politics, I can surmise that this lack of engagement is the fault of both the UTSU and the student body. It is our fault as student voters for ignoring the issues that will affect us, and it is the UTSU’s fault for not sufficiently promoting its elections.

If we collectively do not get our act together, students may choose to opt-out of UTSU fees through the Student Choice Initiative, greatly hindering the abilities of student governance. As a result, there would potentially be no organized student body to defend students from potentially harmful U of T policies. Had the UTSU done a better job in promoting its elections, the three VP positions left vacant from the elections may have been filled by March 25.

In an interview with The Varsity, Bowman said that the UTSU has “a lot of relationship-building to do.” He is right. The UTSU must do a better job marketing the clubs it funds and the services it provides to all students, not just to those in first year.

The UTSU VPs must make themselves more relatable to the student populace through engagement on social media. Of course, the executives reserve the right to keep some aspects of their lives private. Nevertheless, they should try to socialize with their constituents as much as possible. Doing so would bring us closer to realizing outgoing president Anne Boucher’s goal of making UTSU “more human.”

More importantly, the UTSU should demand changes to the university-mandated leave of absence policy, which, according to The Varsity, currently “allows the university to place students on a nonpunitive, but mandatory, leave of absence from U of T if their mental health either poses a risk of harm to themselves or others, or if it negatively impacts their studies.” If U of T refuses to amend the university-mandated leave of absence policy, the UTSU must demand its repeal.

On U of T’s part, it should increase funding to its mental health services and do more to encourage its students to use these resources. Any changes to the university-mandated leave of absence policy should be approved by both the UTSU and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Overall, the UTSU must work in tandem with the U of T administration to make our campus a more welcoming place.

As for students, the most important duty we have is to vote to keep our student democracy alive and our rights protected. I also strongly encourage students to run in the UTSU elections. We are all prepared for any UTSU position through our shared campus experiences — including both the struggles and triumphs that all students face. I know that we all have creative solutions to the most pressing problems in our student lives, so step up to the plate and run. We must confront a campus environment of ignorance with a spirit of optimism. Overall, we must reform student politics today so yesterday’s mistakes will not be repeated tomorrow.

Before I end off, I’d like to thank all the students who inspired me to run. Although I faced defeat, I’ll forever appreciate the support you gave me. As long as I’m a student here, I’ll always be on your side.

For 118 years, the UTSU has always been a beacon of hope for students. It is thus our responsibility to ensure that it keeps on burning.

Bryan Liceralde is a fourth-year Political Science student at St. Michael’s College. He was a presidential candidate in the 2019 UTSU executive elections.

Joshua Bowman wins UTSU presidential election

Lucas Granger, Avani Singh win remaining executive positions

Joshua Bowman wins UTSU presidential election

The results of the 2019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections are in: Joshua Bowman has been elected as President, Lucas Granger as Vice-President External Affairs, and Avani Singh as Vice-President University Affairs. All 10 Board of Directors candidates, none of whom were challenged, have been acclaimed.

A total of 1,602 people voted in the election, out of roughly 37,000 eligible voters, a turnout rate of 4.2 per cent.

Bowman won 686 votes, while runner-up Bryan Liceralde received 220 votes.

Granger won 567 votes, while runner-up Spencer Robertson received 213 votes.

Singh won her race on the third round of voting with 484 votes. Sharon Ma was the runner-up, Christopher Chiasson ranked third place, and Ramtin Taramsari came in last place.

Arunoshi Singh, Lina Maragha, Tyler Riches, Sing-Yan Ng, Tiffany (Tsz Wing) Tiu, Honesty Senese, and Disha Mittal were all elected to the board for their respective constituencies.

Incumbent University College Director Artur Khasanov was voted down, with 128 ‘no’ votes and 81 ‘yes’ votes.

Due to a glitch on the Simply Voting website, the elections for the two Director of Applied Sciences and Engineering seats did not show up on students’ ballots, which explains why the two candidates, Eran (Shankeran) Vijayakumar and Hasma Habibiy, received zero votes for their races.

According to current UTSU President Anne Boucher, the union is planning on holding a by-election for this seat, alongside one for the multiple other uncontested positions.

This UTSU elections season has seen the lowest engagement in recent memory — there were no candidates for three executive positions and 18 Board of Directors seats.

Due to this lack of engagement, the union will be holding a spring by-election for the positions that remain vacant. Nominations will open April 1, with an April 8–12 campaign period and April 13–15 voting period.

Crucially, there were no candidates for Vice-President Operations, Vice-President Student Life, and Vice-President Professional Faculties. The former two portfolios oversee important work during the summer — the VP Operations drafts the union’s operating budget and the VP Student Life runs orientation. In addition, as per the union’s own bylaws, a board of directors lacking most of its representatives would be inquorate and unable to function.

The election for Vice-President Equity has not been held yet due to ongoing discussions around whether candidate-hopeful Michael Junior Samakayi will be allowed to run. The Elections and Referenda Committee directed that the VP Equity election be held during the by-election period, but the UTSU’s elections notice does not include this position. It is unclear when the election for the position will be held.

Disclosure: Avani Singh served as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Varsity Publications Inc. — the not-for-profit corporation that publishes The Varsity — from May 2018 to March 17, 2019. Singh has recused herself from the role of Chair and is taking a leave of absence from the board for the duration of the UTSU election period.

Editor’s Note (6:50 pm, March 25): This article has been updated to correct that Vijayakumar and Habibiy received zero votes. An earlier version of this article also incorrectly stated that Khasanov won his election. The Varsity regrets the error.

Editor’s Note (7:28 pm, March 25): This article has been updated to correct vote counts for the executive positions.

Graduate Students’ Union elections voting begins today

Four executives running for re-election

Graduate Students’ Union elections voting begins today

The 2019 election period of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) has begun.

Four current executives are running for re-election to their positions. Branden Rizzuto, Christopher Ball, Sophie McGibbon-Gardner, and Leonardo José Uribe Castano are running for Finance, Academics & Funding Divisions 1 & 2, Academics & Funding Divisions 3 & 4, and Civics & Environment Commissioner, respectively. Castano’s position is uncontested.

Executive-at-Large Maryssa Barras, who took up the duties of Internal Commissioner after the previous officeholder, Lynne Alexandrova, was pushed out of her position in November, is running for External Commissioner against first-year Social Justice Education (SJE) PhD student Jacqui Spencer.

Alexandrova is running for University Governance Commissioner against Lwanga Musisi, a second-year SJE PhD student.

Running against Rizzuto are Kim Borden Penney, an SJE doctoral student and former financial professional, and Julie Marocha, who has served as the President, Vice-President Membership, and Events Coordinator of the Toastmasters International Toronto Engineering Club of Speakers.

For Academics & Funding Commissioner Divisions 1 & 2, Ball is running against Jarir Machmine and Norin Taj, a PhD candidate in Educational Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Vice-Chair of the UTGSU Equity and Advocacy Committee.

Gurdeep Singh, a PhD student in Cell and Systems Biology and the former co-president of the Cell and Systems Biology Graduate Union, is running for Academics & Funding Commissioner Divisions 3 & 4 against McGibbon-Gardner.

Two candidates are facing off for Internal Commissioner — Sevgi Arslan, a second-year SJE PhD student and former Ontario Public Interest Research Group Treasurer, and Adam Hill, a second-year PhD student who used to serve on the Society of Graduate Students and the Education Students’ Council of Western University.

The UTGSU represents more than 18,000 graduate students across all three campuses at U of T.

Voting will be exclusively online, and will take place from February 27 to March 5 at simplyvoting.com. Candidate statements can be found on the UTGSU’s website.

Doubts raised in emergency UTSU meeting over shortened nomination period for elections

Shortened period to accommodate procedure for levy referendum

Doubts raised in emergency UTSU meeting over shortened nomination period for elections

Directors raised questions about the accessibility of elections at an emergency University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) meeting held on February 15 to announce the dates of its elections.

In particular, directors were concerned about the shortened nomination period this year, which will run from March 11–15. This is about half as long as last year’s nomination period.

Social Sciences Director Joshua Bowman raised concerns about this shortened time frame, but his motion to extend the period narrowly failed. This was in part to accommodate an unspecified levy group seeking to hold a referendum that required it to submit a petition three weeks in advance of elections beginning.

To run in a UTSU election as a representative, students must seek nomination by collecting signatures from UTSU members.

Director candidates must collect at least 25 signatures by students who are UTSU members, and executive candidates must collect at least 100 signatures from their constituency during the election nomination period.

Director says elections should be more accessible, VP says nominations not “supposed to let everyone in”

“I just think that five days is simply not enough for [candidates] to collect signatures,” said Bowman, especially since the UTSU struck down slates at its Annual General Meeting in October. A slate is a group of candidates who run together in an election.

Responding to the concern, President Anne Boucher recognized that the nomination period was shorter, but said that the absence of slates this year should have minimal effects on signature collection.

She also said that “the actual threshold for signatures is quite low,” speaking from personal experience.

“It really only takes really just a few hours if you’re really going at it,” said Boucher. “Otherwise it really only takes a couple days.”

However, Bowman said that the absence of slates will make it harder for candidates to collect their required signatures.

“[If] you’re from a siloed community on campus, and you want to get involved, you have to go out and do all that legwork yourself,” without the assistance of slate members, said Bowman.

He also said the timing of the nomination period during midterm season increases the difficulty of collecting signatures.

Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm disagreed, citing personal experience where five to 10 of his signatures were from his slate and acquaintances from his slate, and the remaining votes were “collected within the space of three hours.”

He noted that the nomination period “is not really supposed to let everyone in,” and functions as a screening process.

Bowman disagreed with Biswurm’s portrayal of the nomination period as a “self-selection process,” saying that he thinks that “we need to make the UTSU as accessible as possible.” He recalled Biswurm’s statements at the AGM, when the VP said that “All these people here are insiders, every single one of us… We don’t speak for the normal person. The normal person doesn’t care about the UTSU.”

Bowman continued by saying that they were not making the election “as accessible as it can be,” and therefore not addressing insider culture. He further said that the shortened time frame would make it difficult for commuter students to run.

St. Michael’s College Director Kate Strazds spoke in support of Bowman’s points. She said that “elections can be super, super stressful for some people,” and she believes that the three weeks following the emergency meeting to the nomination period is not sufficient time for the UTSU to advertise the election.

Biswurm reaffirmed that he believes the nomination period should function as a screening process.

He said that the UTSU has already moved to increase accessibility in elections, giving accommodations for campaign funds, and that the subject of insider versus outsider culture doesn’t have “much bearing here.”

Boucher also said it would be difficult to lengthen the nomination period as a levy group had requested a referendum to be added to ballots, but it must submit its petition to the UTSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) “three weeks prior” to the start of the nomination period.

Moving the start date of the nomination period earlier would automatically make the levy group’s submission late.

Bowman moves to extend the duration of the nomination period, fails narrowly

Bowman then motioned to push the start date earlier by a week. University College Director Tyler Riches seconded the motion.

Boucher opposed Bowman’s motion, reaffirming that if the start date is pushed earlier, the levy group would automatically be unable to submit their petition on time.

Innis College Director Lucas Granger also spoke against the motion, agreeing with Boucher. “We have been kind of put in a corner by the ERC on this referendum question,” said Granger. “I do not want to see this referendum question fail before it can even start. So unfortunately, we’re stuck.”

Riches noted that, should the motion fail, he hopes that advertising for the elections will be effective enough to counterbalance the shortened nomination period.

Bowman’s motion ultimately failed, with six votes against and five in favour. The three noted abstentions were Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin, New College Director Arjun Singh, and Granger.

UTSU AGM 2018: UTSU strikes down slates

Future union elections can no longer have cross-campaigning

UTSU AGM 2018: UTSU strikes down slates

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has banned the existence of slates in its elections following a lengthy debate at its Annual General Meeting on October 30.

Slates are defined groups of candidates running together, often sharing branding and platforms, and have been a staple in UTSU elections.

The amendment to the Election Procedure Code detailed that no candidate will be allowed to campaign for another candidate, that no campaign material would solicit votes for multiple candidates, and that any cross-campaigning would be limited only to elections governed by the code.

UTSU President Anne Boucher spoke in favour of banning slates, saying that although there were pros, such as having a clearer vision and a more discernible platform, there were also cons, such as voters not having a clear sense of who they are electing.

“Having seen both sides, I can definitely say that I prefer having independent candidates run,” Boucher later said in an interview with The Varsity. “I think it offers them a lot more opportunity to give a fuller picture of who they are.”

Boucher ran in the 2017 elections as an independent candidate for Vice-President External, and in the 2018 elections as the presidential contender for the Compass slate.

She also noted the importance of knowing who people are voting for. “You can’t just base it off of a very catchy two- [or] three-point slate platform,” she said.

Mathias Memmel, former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor, noted at the meeting that there was frustration around the culture of slates in student politics. He claimed that the most popular idea to hate at U of T is the slate system itself.

Slates have long been a fixture in UTSU student politics. In the 2017 elections, there were three full slates — Demand Better, We The Students, and Reboot U of T — as well as the partial slate of Whomst’d’ve. In the 2016 elections there were two slates — Hello U of T and 1UofT.

— With files from Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi

One UTM’s victory was a foregone conclusion

Re: “Uncontested One UTM slate sweeps UTMSU executive elections”

One UTM’s victory was a foregone conclusion

According to the unofficial results of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections, held from March 20–22, 2018, the One UTM slate has won all five executive positions. Given that all executive candidates on the One UTM slate ran unopposed — a first in my three years at UTM — their victory was unsurprising.

The lack of opposition against One UTM discouraged me from voting during the elections, because their victory seemed like a foregone conclusion. Though I was approached to vote by both student volunteers as well as by members of One UTM, I still doubted whether my one vote would make a difference. I suspect many students had similar thoughts — the votes cast for each executive position was around 1,930 students, which accounts for approximately 13.5 per cent of over 14,000 students who represented by the UTMSU.

Though I agree with many of One UTM’s platform points, I still wish that there had been at least some competition, in the form of another slate or independent candidates, to allow for debate. Debating would allow the student body to see how exactly One UTM candidates would reach its goals, namely by exposing any flaws or inconsistencies in their claims or plans.

Hopefully future UTMSU elections will not be plagued by such a lack of competition.  For now, however, I look forward to seeing what changes One UTM will bring to UTM, and especially whether it will deliver on the promise of eliminating the $55 Student System Access fee that was central to its platform.

 

Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing and Communication.

U-Pass referendum fails

65.6 per cent of votes against establishing transit pass

U-Pass referendum fails

The referendum to establish a $280 per semester U-Pass transit fee for undergraduate UTSG students has failed to pass. A total of 12,428 students voted in the referendum, 306 of whom abstained. Of those who voted ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ 7,946 students — 65.6 per cent — voted against the proposed pass, and 4,176 students — 34.4 per cent — voted for it.

If passed, the TTC would have established a semesterly universal transit pass. The UTSU Board of Directors would have been able to increase the fee by up to five per cent per year to cover rising administrative and transit costs, up to $322.50 per session.

The U-Pass would not have had an opt-out option except for those students whose needs were protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code and restricted their ability to use transit.

“The outcome of the referendum is a strong indication that a UPASS without opt-out provisions for those students living near campus is not sellable,” said University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Mathias Memmel in an email to The Varsity. “Transit and housing remain significant barriers to affordable and accessible post-secondary education for our diverse student body.”

“We look forward to working constructively with both provincial parties and City Council in advance of the upcoming election. We also hope to continue our productive conversations with the TTC Board,” he added. 

Donald Wang, speaking on behalf of a ‘no’ campaign against the pass, wrote to The Varsity that it’s clear students do want a U-Pass, but not in this form. “The U-Pass, proposed and pursued with the best of intention by a group of student leaders, aimed to bring cheaper transportation to all students. However, in this referendum, the student body has spoken loud and clear – the U-Pass in its current form is unacceptable.”

“These election results show that it can’t just be subsidization of Toronto residents. The students want options to opt-out and the integration of the GO transit system. A better approach would see greater consultation and a slower, more thorough process. I hope the UTSU executives, current and incoming, are able to listen and advocate for the best of our collective student body.”

Speaking on behalf of U-Commute, which ran a ‘yes’ campaign, U of T student Aidan Swirsky told The Varsity, “We respect students’ decision, which was heard loud and clear, and hope the newly elected UTSU will build off this result and address the many criticisms heard during this cycle and throughout the year, if they wish to further explore the U-Pass.”