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.

U of T’s biggest stories of 2017

The Varsity looks back at the defining headlines of last year

U of T’s biggest stories of 2017

JENNA MOON/THE VARSITY

Toronto and U of T organized against Trump after his inauguration

Following Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States, protests broke out in Toronto and around the world in opposition.

Trump’s actions have had a direct effect on members of the U of T community. One of his first major acts was an executive order on immigration, which limited the country’s intake of refugees, as well as visitors and immigrants from certain majority-Muslim countries.

Joudy Sarraj, last year’s Trinity College Female Head of Non-Resident Affairs, told The Varsity that she would have been impacted had she not had dual Canadian-Syrian citizenship. In the wake of this executive order, a protest took place on University Avenue in front of the US Consulate, attended by a number of U of T students.

Eliminating staff positions at the UTSU was a promise the Demand Better slate ran on. TOM YUN/THE VARSITY

UTSU: Demand Better dominated, two staff members laid off, Hudson lawsuit settled

The Demand Better slate, led by Mathias Memmel, won the majority of executive positions and board seats in the March 2017 UTSU elections. The slate ran on a platform focused on fixing the union after years of mismanagement. Within the fall 2017 semester, two executives, Vice-President University Affairs Carina Zhang and Vice-President Campus Life Stuart Norton, resigned for personal reasons, and they have since been replaced.

Demand Better executives also fulfilled their campaign promise of cutting back salary expenses, laying off two full-time staff members who oversaw clubs and health plans. This stirred controversy in the student body; opponents claimed that clubs and student services would be negatively affected, though the UTSU argued that they would not be.

The UTSU also settled a two-year lawsuit with Sandra Hudson, the union’s former Executive Director, who they alleged committed civil fraud. The UTSU was seeking $277,726.40, which was initially given to Hudson as part of a compensation package when her contract was terminated, and an additional $200,000 in damages.

Details of the settlement are undisclosed but have drawn the ire of several board members and Vice-President External Anne Boucher.

Trinity students have clashed with their college administration over two alleged assaults and a ban on alcohol-licensed events. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Trinity student alleged assault, TCM vote of no confidence against administrators

In September, Trinity College student Bardia Monavari, Co-Head of College, alleged that he was verbally and physically assaulted by Campus Police following a residence party. Monavari placed the blame on college administrators Adam Hogan and Christine Cerullo, who he said refused to intervene when they saw the alleged assault.

Soon after, the Trinity College Meeting, Trinity’s direct democracy student government, passed a near-unanimous vote of no confidence in the Office of the Dean of Students. The motion signalled the disappointment of students in Trinity’s response to Monavari’s alleged assault, as well as the alleged mishandling of Tamsyn Riddle’s sexual assault case. Riddle filed a human rights application against both Trinity College and U of T. Since the vote, Provost Mayo Moran has banned alcohol at college events, and the Office of the Dean of Students and the college heads have been using an external facilitator in mediation meetings.

Thousands of college students in Ontario were out of school during the five-week faculty strike. PHOTO BY CONNOR MALBEUF, COURTESY OF THE GAZETTE

College strike affected U of T’s partner schools, campus unions secured strike mandates

Faculty at colleges in Ontario went on strike for close to a month, following failed negotiations with the College Employer Council over job security and academic freedom in classrooms. This affected UTSC and UTM students enrolled in joint programs with Centennial College and Sheridan College, respectively. After faculty rejected a tentative agreement, the strike ended when the provincial government enacted back-to-work legislation. This forced faculty to return and for any other unresolved issues to be decided in binding arbitration.

Meanwhile, labour unions at U of T began preparing for negotiations as their tentative agreements with the university expire. Sessional lecturers, under CUPE Local 3902 Unit 3, voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. The main topics included wage increases and improvements in benefits, but talks stalled on the issue of job security. The union reached an agreement shortly after, which was later ratified. Unit 1, which represents teaching assistants, also voted overwhelmingly for a strike mandate. Their main point is increasing wage rates, but no statements have been released yet about the ongoing status of negotiations.

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Jordan Peterson remained a source of controversy

U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson gained international attention in September 2016 after publishing his YouTube series criticizing political correctness. The news gave way to many rallies, both in support and in opposition of the controversial professor and the right to free speech.

Throughout 2017, Peterson remained a source of controversy. In February, a right-leaning conference where Peterson and Ezra Levant, founder of The Rebel Media, were scheduled to speak was interrupted by protesters and resulted in crowd control police taking to the campus.

Later in the year, Peterson had his funding request denied for the first time by a federal agency, proposed creating an online university to counter traditional institutions, and doxxed two student activists.

In November, Peterson proposed creating a website targeting “postmodern, neo-Marxist” professors, which he eventually abandoned. Later in the same month, hundreds of individuals and organizations across Canada signed an open letter to U of T calling for Peterson’s termination.

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 uses facilitator for mediation between college heads, Dean’s office

Ban on alcohol-licensed events lifted conditionally

Trinity uses facilitator for mediation between college heads, Dean’s office

According to an email sent out to Trinity College students during reading week, the Heads Team and Dean of Students office are working with an external facilitator to help with the mediation process following the vote of no-confidence in the Dean’s office this September.

They also announced that Saints Ball, Trinity’s annual licensed charity semiformal, would be held as usual, ending Provost Mayo Moran’s ban on alcohol-licensed events, albeit conditionally. The event was held from November 18–19.

“Temporary postponement of licensed events depends on student behaviour during [Saints Ball],” said Co-Head of College Victoria Lin when asked prior to the semiformal.

The email added that the Heads Team and the Office of the Dean of Students are undergoing mediation “to restore trust and our positive working relationship.” The two parties will meet with the facilitator again on November 20 to see “where things stand,” according to Co-Head of Arts Lukas Weese.

The external facilitator, Chris McGrath, was appointed by Moran. He is currently the Associate Vice-President Student Experience and Registrar at Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. McGrath has years of experience working with students, including a term as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at U of T from 2006–2011.

“As our discussions to date have been positive, we were able to proceed with the Saints Ball in a manner that helps to preserve a fun and positive experience, while emphasizing safety for all students. The Heads Team and Dean’s Office are committed to continuing to work together to ensure a positive student experience at Trinity,” said Dean of Students Kristen Moore.

A new rule was introduced at Saints Ball this year, ending in-and-out privileges to the event. People attempting to exit and re-enter risked having their admission wristbands cut off. The purpose, the Facebook event page message said, was to “maintain student safety.”

Saints co-chairs Gabriel Ferland and Viktoriya Mykhaylychenko said in a joint statement, “We are unsure as to how much this had to do with the Heads Team and Dean of Students, as Saints has always been a difficult event to control and the Dean’s Office has always tried to find new ways to maximize security.”

Meanwhile, as the Heads Team and the Dean’s office work together to rebuild trust, Co-Head of Non-Resident Affairs Mitch Nader said, “Things are progressing normally for the rest of the student body.”

“Students can, and have always been able to, go to the dean’s office with their concerns,” confirmed Nader.

Letter to the Provost of Trinity College

A Trinity College student responds to Provost Moran following the TCM's vote of no confidence

Letter to the Provost of Trinity College

Editor’s note: The following letter was written by a fourth-year Trinity College student and is directed to the Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College, Mayo Moran. The letter was written following the Provost’s response to the Trinity College Meeting’s recent vote of no confidence in the Office of the Dean of Students. The Varsity received the letter on October 27, 2017.

Dear Provost Moran,

I am writing in response to your letter to students regarding the overwhelming vote of no confidence against the Office of the Dean of Students on September 25. In your letter, you called on students to support the Dean of Students, reasserted your complete support for the Dean, and called for a re-evaluation of the alcohol policy because that somehow resolved the fact that your students do not feel served by this Dean.

I never attended a Trinity College Meeting before September 25, but passing a motion of no confidence in this Dean of Students was so important that I rented a gown and attended to vote in favour. This is a Dean’s Office that has systematically failed and disempowered women who were sexually assaulted in this College — several of whom, like Tamsyn Riddle, are my friends, and whose stories I have heard from their own mouths. The Dean’s Office has ignored the advice of student leadership on issues like the readmission of accused sexual assailants into residence, leaving student representatives increasingly powerless to address Trinity College’s far-reaching culture of impunity. You can understand why I and many other students had absolutely no confidence in the competence of this office long before the incident with Campus Police, and why I am shocked that your letter to students makes little mention of the Dean of Students’ record on sexual assault, except to say that students “do not have the full details.”

I understand that isolated disciplinary decisions are controversial and that unpopular decisions must occasionally be made, and stood by. That being said, students’ systematic and widely reported experiences cannot be dismissed because we “do not have the full details” of every case; it is insulting to suggest that the women who have spoken up know less about their own sexual assaults than you do. What students have seen and experienced is no less valid because of your personal confidence in the Dean’s Office. We as students have reached a consensus — evidenced by the overwhelming support for the vote of no confidence — that we do not trust the Dean of Students or their “expert consultations” to protect vulnerable people in our community. Members of the Dean’s Office should have resigned that day. Regardless of how well or poorly they performed, they should have respected the fact that they cannot serve us when they have categorically lost our faith.

Given that they failed to resign, however, it falls to you to advocate for students’ concerns with more than platitudes — particularly by launching an investigation into the Dean’s ability to respond to complaints around sexual assault, which we made clear was of far greater concern to us than the alcohol policy, to which you chose to devote the majority of your letter. We have placed our trust in you to do something, and for you to maintain our confidence, we require more than general assurances that the lived experiences and informed opinions of your students are less important than your own. Please do not allow your private views to interfere with your responsibility to treat your students’ concerns with respect.

 

Yours truly,

Hunter McGuire

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.

Alcohol-licensed events temporarily banned at Trinity College

Provost Moran cites concern for student safety

Alcohol-licensed events temporarily banned at Trinity College

The Provost of Trinity College, Mayo Moran, has suspended events with alcohol licenses across the college, citing “a concern for student safety,” according to a statement released by the student heads of Trinity.

The event ban comes two weeks after Trinity College students passed a vote of no-confidence in the Office of the Dean of Students at the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), Trinity’s direct-democracy student government, and one week after TCM Chair Leila Martin wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees requesting an investigation into allegations made against the Dean’s office.

Trinity College regularly hosts licensed events where alcohol is sold to students who are of age. These events require a Special Occasion Permit, issued by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and must be approved by the Dean’s office beforehand. At this time, all licensed events have been banned at the college, but non-licensed events will continue as planned.

On October 13, the Head’s team met with the Provost; Monavari said that they discussed “safety, developing transparency and accountability between student leaders and administrators, and clarifying roles in different echelons of Trinity governance.”

Monavari said that the ban is “a temporary measure” put in place by the Provost “in light of the vote of non-confidence.” It is unclear how long the ban will be in effect. 

Monavari said that “events are integral to the social fabric of” the college and that the two parties are “swiftly working to resolve these issues.”

A meeting is currently being scheduled by the Provost for the student Heads and the Office of the Dean of Students to discuss future steps.

Monavari is at the centre of one of the allegations outlined in Martin’s letter. During a residence party at Trinity on September 23, Monavari was allegedly assaulted by a Campus Police officer when he was pointed out by Assistant Dean of Students for Residence Life Adam Hogan and Assistant Dean of Students for Student Life Christine Cerullo, who allegedly stood idle while Monavari was assaulted. Monavari claims to have been uninvolved with the residence party, and has since issued a formal complaint to Campus Police.

Moran and the Office of the Dean of Students did not respond to The Varsity request for comment as of press time.