Playing favourites with finances apparently not a concern at the TCM

Voting down a motion to preserve impartiality in clubs funding was a disappointing move

Playing favourites with finances apparently not a concern at the TCM

The prospect of favouritism in clubs funding has become a topic of particular interest at Trinity College. At the year-end Trinity College Meeting (TCM) on December 4, an amendment to the constitution of Trinity’s student government was brought forward seeking to remedy the disproportionate allocation of funding by the Finance Committee (FC) to clubs whose past or current executives are sitting members of the FC.

The underlying principle of the motion appeared quite reasonable. It was a preventative measure, intended to preserve impartiality for those handling finances. Should it have passed, FC members would no longer have been allowed to vote on matters pertaining to the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers. “Furthermore,” it read, “no member of the FC shall be present during any in camera discussion of the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers.” Yet, counterintuitively, the motion failed.

There were a number of reasons cited by Jessica Rapson, who brought forward the motion, for the failure from the TCM: voter turnout was low, the reliability of the data that led to the suspicions of favouritism was questioned, and much of the debate was preoccupied by seemingly minute details. The TCM also requires two consecutive two-thirds majority votes in order to pass an amendment, significantly raising the bar for motions such as Rapson’s.

The decision of the TCM is both disappointing and perplexing. It seems only obvious that measures should be put in place to avoid favouritism in the allocation of student funds. Such an act of favouritism contradicts the democratic ideals of impartial representation of constituents, and it is, by its very definition, a conflict of interest.

When it comes to student government, money matters. The sums allocated to student groups for funding are not solicited by free donation but by student levy — a process in which students consent to be taxed with the expectation that their money will be returned to them in the form of events or services. It is expected that the allocation of this money will be determined fairly, without bias, and with the primary interests of the society’s constituents in mind.

The consequences of ignoring such a mandate are no clearer than at the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), which, less than a year to the current date, was discovered to have spent sizeable quantities of its collected levy on activities that can only be described as frivolous.

The example is different, of course, but no more concerning. The notion that money students willingly give to their unions may be spent in ways that serve to unduly benefit those who administer it is, quite frankly, unsettling.

Our befuddlement toward this decision is further stoked by the nature in which those involved in this decision avoided explanation. TCM Chair Leila Martin, FC Chair Amanda Cutinha, Co-Head of College Bardia Monavari, and Co-Head of Arts Lukas Weese all declined to speak to The Varsity on the motion and its outcome. Co-Head of Arts Julianne de Gara, Co-Head of Non-Resident Affairs Katrina Li, and Co-Head of College Victoria Lin did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment either.

Transparency from student representatives is most necessary in instances like this. A simple acknowledgment of their commitment to accountability or a comment on the findings and potential for conflict of interest would have at least served to meet the bare minimum of a response to students. It’s disappointing and notably suspect, then, that so many student representatives refused to comment on the outcome.

More than anything else, incidents like these, and like those at SMCSU, bring to mind the necessity of proper accountability mechanisms, issued specifically by those whose money is collected by these institutions. The motion presented at the TCM, were it ratified, would have served as a safety mechanism to ensure the prevention of improper action — something that student governance and its members should collectively and agreeably work to avoid.

Clubs funding motion concerning favouritism voted down at TCM

College leadership mostly silent on motion, outcome

Clubs funding motion concerning favouritism voted down at TCM

An amendment to the constitution of Trinity College’s student government seeking to reduce favouritism in clubs funding failed to garner enough votes to move past the first stage of consideration.

The motion went before the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) on December 4, but it did not meet the two-thirds majority required to bring it to a second round of voting in January.

The proposed amendment, motioned by Trinity student Jessica Rapson, addressed the disproportionate allocation of funding by the Finance Committee (FC) to clubs whose past or current executives are also sitting members of the FC.

Mitch Nader, Trinity’s Co-Head of Non-Resident Affairs, was the only elected student official to provide comment to The Varsity on the failed amendment, but only to say that “a lot of work was put into it and it was well presented.”

TCM Chair Leila Martin, FC Chair Amanda Cutinha, Co-Head of College Bardia Monavari, and Co-Head of Arts Lukas Weese all declined to speak to The Varsity on the motion and its outcome.

Julianne de Gara, Katrina Li, and Victoria Lin, the three other Student Heads at Trinity, did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment either.

Rapson’s findings and the failed motion

According to Rapson’s calculations, clubs whose past or current executive were members of the FC received, on average, three times more funding than clubs with no ties to the FC.

Rapson’s proposed amendment aimed to stop this favouritism by ensuring FC members could not partake in discussions or vote on club funding for clubs of which they were past or present executives or signing officers.

Under the TCM Constitution, an amendment requires a two thirds majority vote at two consecutive meetings in order to pass. Trinity students voted 62 per cent in favour of the amendment, with around 50–60 members of the college in attendance.

Rapson put the failure of the amendment down to low overall turnout. Rapson also cited the influence of prominent members of college and a digression from the purpose of the motion as other reasons for its failure to pass.

“The discussion was not about removing conflicts of interest, it was about if there was causation or whether the statistics were 100 percent reliable,” wrote Rapson. “And a lot of the discussion was just on minutia and it lost the sentiment of what the amendment was supposed to do.”

Jason Patrick, who seconded the motion, also attested to the influence that “two very prominent members of the Trinity community who command a lot of respect” had on the outcome of the vote.

Alex Forgay, First Year Representative on the FC, voted for Rapson’s motion “despite the motion’s flaws, and the fact that it may not solve the entirety of the problem.”

“Any movement toward greater transparency in the Trin financial community is a step in the right direction,” said Forgay. “While I understand why people voed against it, it is always troubling and disappointing to see an attempt at increased accountability fail.”

Rapson plans on collaborating with Monavari and Cutinha to craft an amendment satisfactory to all stakeholders. She hopes to move forward with the altered rendition next year, which leaves the winter session of club funding unchanged.

TCM constitutional amendment addresses clubs funding

Clubs with ties to Finance Committee receive up to three times more than those without

TCM constitutional amendment addresses clubs funding

Trinity College’s direct democracy student government will address potential conflicts of interest affecting club funding at their meeting on December 4.

A constitutional amendment is on its way to the floor of the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) regarding the correlation between the Trinity College Finance Committee’s (FC) allocation of club funding and its members’ affiliations with those clubs.

Trinity student Jessica Rapson proposed the amendment after calculating that, this fall, Trinity clubs with previous or current executives on the FC received on average over three times the amount of funding as clubs without executives on the FC.

The motion would amend the Conflict of Interest clause of the TCM’s constitution regarding procedures of the FC.

The altered clause would read: “No member of the FC shall vote on matters pertaining to the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers. Furthermore, no member of the FC shall be present during any in camera discussion of the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers.”

Rapson commenced her investigation after hearing that several well-established clubs, including two of which she is Treasurer, received “very little from the FC.” She used the publicly shared FC budget proposals to calculate the results.

Fellow Trinity student Luis Lopez ran a statistical regression on Rapson’s calculations through the system Stata and determined the relationship to be statistically significant with a 99 per cent confidence level. In his published report, Lopez cautioned against assuming a causal relationship.

“As I state in my research, the simple fact that the evidence seems to confirm a relationship could be problematic, since it could signal to Trinity students that there is preferential treatment in the FC — even if that is not the case,” wrote Lopez to The Varsity. “Perceptions in politics matter.”

While FC members must abstain from voting on their club’s received budget, Rapson believes this is inadequate in mitigating possible impartiality.

Rapson suggested that club executives sitting on the FC wield influence over budget allocation through their presence in the room. Their presence, said Rapson, pressures fellow committee members during voting. They are also able to answer questions about their clubs during discussion.

Rapson does not believe there is malicious intent on the part of the FC, or that members are actively misallocating funds to disproportionately benefit their clubs. However, she does think her numbers illuminate an issue that must be addressed.

“I think [the amendment] gives a better chance to people who are not really involved in student governance but who still want to have a Trinity club and make an impact on Trinity life,” said Rapson. “And it will also just level the playing field for everyone.”

TCM Chair Leila Martin confirmed that she received the amendment “about a month ago.” However, both Martin and the FC Chair Amanda Cutinha told The Varsity that Rapson had not presented her calculations to them prior to The Varsity’s request for comment. On November 26, Rapson posted her findings to a private Facebook event for fellow Trinity students. Martin was invited to the group. On November 30, Rapson also publicly posted her data to the TCM’s Facebook event, for all members of the college to review.

According to Cutinha and Martin, as of this academic year, no FC discussions occur in camera, so minutes are taken and available to the membership.

Both chairs believe Rapson is generating important discussion for Trinity’s direct democracy. However, both also told The Varsity that they will investigate the calculations further to see if other factors are at play before assuming a causal relationship between FC members’ involvement with clubs and the funding those clubs receive.

In order for the constitutional amendment to pass, there must be a two-thirds vote in favour of the motion both on the December 4 meeting as well as the subsequent meeting in January.

Trinity administration responds to vote of no confidence, allegations

Provost Moran elaborates on alcohol ban, plans for reconciliation

Trinity administration responds to vote of no confidence, allegations

In response to a vote of no confidence in the Office of the Dean of Students on September 25, Mayo Moran, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Trinity College, sent an email to all Trinity students.

In the email, Moran says that “some of the decisions [of the Dean’s office], particularly where they involve discipline, will be the source of unavoidable tension between some of the students and the Dean’s Office which is responsible, among other things, for maintaining discipline.”

“I realize that some of the allegations may worry you, particularly because you do not have the full details,” Moran’s email reads, “But I do want to assure you, as your Provost, that the Dean and her staff approach all student issues in an attentive, thoughtful way.”

The administration and students have been working to resolve dissatisfaction over how the college has handled a number of recent events, including an alleged assault of Co-Head of College Bardia Monavari while two assistant deans watched, and the Provost’s decision to suspend alcohol-licensed events at the college.

“We are working with the student leaders and others on a plan to re-establish the strong working relationships that enable us to hold the unique events that Trinity students enjoy,” wrote Moran in an email to The Varsity.

Monavari said that “students are disappointed–to say the least.”

A few weeks after the vote of no confidence was passed, Moran issued a temporary ban on alcohol-licensed events at the college, stressing that “the well-being of all our students is our top priority.”

“Because of serious concerns arising out of recent student-organized parties in residence, I placed the privilege of hosting licensed student-organized events on hold,” she said. “The hold will remain in place until we can be confident that future student-organized events can be conducted safely and responsibly, and with regard for the larger student body and applicable law and policies.”

The vote of no confidence was motivated in part by Monavari’s assertion that he was assaulted by a Campus Police officer while Assistant Dean of Students for Residence Life Adam Hogan and Assistant Dean of Students for Student Life Christine Cerullo stood by and watched.

Monavari consequently filed a complaint with Campus Police. He says that the Campus Police had confirmed that they received his complaint during the last week of September but have not contacted him since.

Another motivation was the college’s alleged mishandling of Trinity student Tamsyn Riddle’s sexual assault case, which resulted in Riddle filing a human rights complaint against the college and U of T.

Monavari stated that many of the events included in the TCM motion had “no causal link to alcohol.”

“By focusing on alcohol, the administration has effectively turned its attention away from the source of the issues,” said Monavari. “The assault that took place on September 23rd was enabled by a failure to act–not alcohol.”

Monavari notes that the Dean’s office’s “inability to follow up right after the incident was a result of negligence– not alcohol,” and that Riddle’s human rights complaint was a result of “inadequate policy and decision-making–not alcohol.”

Despite this, Monavari says communication between the student leaders and administration has been “very professional.”

“We are working towards a reconciliation process between the Heads team and the Dean’s Office; this will be done with the aid of a third-party counsel,” he said. “It is important to emphasize the following: there is no personal animosity between the student heads and the Dean’s office.”

“We are also looking to any ways to improve what we do and are hopeful that something positive will come out of this difficult set of circumstances,” said Moran.

Campus Police did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

All statements sent to The Varsity by Moran were made on behalf of the college and its staff.

Student alleges assault by Campus Police

Bardia Monavari says Assistant Deans of Trinity College did nothing to protect him

Student alleges assault by Campus Police

A Trinity College student claims to have been assaulted by a Campus Police officer in the aftermath of a residence party on September 23.

The student, Bardia Monavari, Co-Head of College at Trinity, alleges in a formal complaint filed to the Campus Police that the Assistant Dean of Students for Residence Life Adam Hogan, and the Assistant Dean of Students for Student Life Christine Cerullo wrongly pointed him out to the police as the organizer of the party and consequently did not act as he was verbally and physically assaulted by a Campus Police officer.

According to the Trinity Co-Head of Arts Lukas Weese, who was witness to the incident, Hogan called Campus Police because he thought that the party was becoming too loud. At the same time, a fire alarm was pulled and students in the residence were evacuated.

After it was determined that it was a false alarm, Monavari says that he and Weese were asked by Hogan and Cerullo to speak to the officers.

“They made us think that it was an informal conversation,” Monavari told The Varsity. “I didn’t think I was going to be held liable for anything.”

However, according to Monavari, the situation escalated when an officer threatened to hold him accountable for the cost of calling the fire department.

“He would continue his threats through unprofessional taunts to me specifically, saying, ‘You’re fucked,’ ‘You’re done,’ and ‘Someone needs to pay for these fines and it’s going to be you,’” Monavari wrote in his complaint.

The officer then allegedly asked for Monavari’s name, which Monavari refused to give him.

“In response to this, [the officer] shoved me from behind, grabbed my shoulder, and forcefully placed my hands behind my back, claiming I was under arrest,” Monavari wrote.

Weese confirmed Monavari’s account of the event, adding that “while this was happening, [Hogan] and [Cerullo] were watching and did absolutely nothing to stop this assault from taking place. They stood there, incredibly apathetic, just did not do anything to condemn this behaviour.”

Actions against the Dean’s Office

Another witness at the scene, first year Trinity student Ellie Schoefell, further corroborated Monavari’s description. “It was obvious that they were targeting [Monavari] and they didn’t target [Weese] at all. And they tried to handcuff him, I think. It looked like they were doing something with his wrists,” she told The Varsity.

“[The Assistant Deans] were there, they were definitely on the scene,” she further alleged.

As a direct result of this event, former Head of Arts Thomas Robson put forward a motion for the September 25 Trinity College Meeting (TCM), Trinity’s direct democracy student government, for a vote of non-confidence in the Dean’s Office. The motion passed 209 to seven with five abstentions.

Robson stated that he also motioned for the vote in part due to the office’s mishandling of Trinity student Tamsyn Riddle’s sexual assault case, which resulted in her filing a human rights complaint against U of T and Trinity.

Based on this vote, TCM Chair Leila Martin will send a letter to several governing bodies at Trinity, including the Office of the Provost, the Board of Trustees at Trinity College, all committees of Senate, and members of Trinity College Corporation. The letter will inform them of the students’ vote.

“Effectively this vote was just students voicing their concerns with the Dean’s Office and students informing administration above the Dean’s Office that we no longer have confidence in the said office,” Robson said.

Robson stated that he would like to see Monavari and Riddle receive an official apology from the Office of the Dean of Students. “I think specifically the two of them have been wronged egregiously,” he said.

Monavari also said that he wants there to be disciplinary actions against Hogan and Cerullo, who, he said, “enabled the police to violently assault me.” He said that “a lot of times a lack of action is worse than actually being malicious to someone.”

Weese stated that he wants to see Hogan and Cerullo “gone, to be honest. I think that would be the best scenario… We want these people to receive the appropriate disciplinary action, which I would say is removal from their position.”

The Varsity reached out to the Office of the Dean of Students at Trinity, and received a statement from Young Um, Trinity’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs. “Providing a safe, respectful, and welcoming environment is a priority at Trinity. The College is in the process of carefully reviewing the series of events concerning Saturday night and therefore we are not in a position to comment at this point,” Um said.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, Director of Media Relations at U of T, stated in an email to The Varsity that Campus Police have opened an investigation. “It’s ongoing so there’s no further information to share at this point,” she said.

Campus Police were unable to provide comment at time of publication.

Editor’s Note (October 4): This story has been updated to reflect that Young Um responded to The Varsity‘s request for comment from the Office of the Dean of Students.