When I was recently asked what the UTM Campus Conservatives (UTMCC) do on campus, I answered that it is the official opposition to the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).
I mean this figuratively: over the past academic year, the UTMCC, above all other clubs and societies on campus, has been the loudest source of valid criticism of the UTMSU.
I must disclose that I am not affiliated with any political party or ideology. I’ve come to the above conclusion as an observer of the interactions between three campus actors: the UTMCC, the UTMSU, and UTM’s student newspaper, The Medium.
Let’s start with last October. Philip Power, founder and former president of the UTMCC, shared a Daily Wire article on Facebook, commending it for exposing “the blatant Political bias of the UTMSU.” The same story was covered by The Medium. Allegedly, the UTMSU offered free burgers in exchange for signatures on a petition denouncing the Ontario Progressive Conservative’s minimum wage freeze.
However, the fact that the UTMSU would attempt to manipulate students against any political party is reprehensible and contrary to its mandate. It ought to be a non-partisan representative of all students, regardless of political affiliation.
In November, Carol Dinno, Vice-President of the UTMCC, scolded the UTMSU for raising executive salaries. Dinno wrote on Facebook, “I can guarantee that these raises are in no way earned nor are they democratic.” While the question of the raises being “earned” is up for debate, I agree that the way in which the UTMSU procured them was unwarranted: students were not consulted on how much of their money was going to be put toward these raises.
Meanwhile, The Medium recently published a series of critical articles against the UTMSU. Alicia Boatto, the paper’s Managing Editor, wrote an opinion piece explaining that student unions across all three U of T campuses have been actively hostile to the freedom of the student press. This includes the UTMSU’s recent antagonism toward The Medium’s journalists.
Former UTMCC president Michael Lo Giudice shared and reiterated the sentiment of Boatto’s piece. He pointed out a lack of student awareness regarding funding for the executives’ significant salaries and claimed that the executives were behaving like “campus dictators.”
UTMSU Vice-President External Atif Abdullah, who has been highly responsive to The Medium’s critical coverage of the UTMSU, dismissed Boatto’s article as a “bunch of lies” in a Facebook comment. He wrote a letter to the editor responding to Boatto’s article, accusing The Medium of “subjective journalism.” He made the case that the paper should be held to the “same standards of accountability as the UTMSU.”
After The Medium’s News Editor Ali Taha wrote an opinion piece in response to Abdullah’s letter, UTMCC Treasurer Yousuf Farhan shared Taha’s piece and tagged UTMSU President Felipe Nagata and Abdullah in his post. Abdullah deflected by alleging that The Medium “manipulated” its staff’s work and wrote that he was “not going to continue this bickering.”
Abdullah has failed to understand that the UTMSU is not the same sort of actor as The Medium when it comes to student democracy. The former is held accountable by the latter, and not the other way around. There is no question that The Medium should have complete freedom and independence when it comes to coverage of student politics, so long as it is unbiased and does its due diligence. However, if the paper was to abide by the UTMSU’s rules, journalistic integrity would be compromised.
When it comes to criticism of the UTMSU, a distinction must be drawn between the role of The Medium and the UTMCC. It is inherently the responsibility of the paper to hold its student union accountable and keep the student body informed about how its money is being spent. However, it is obligated to do so ‘neutrally.’
The UTMCC has no such obligation, mandate, or limitation. In fact, the UTMCC focuses on community engagement and service provision that has little to do with student union politics. The fact that it chooses to take on the responsibility of holding the UTMSU accountable as a campus group, unlike most other individual students or student groups, means that it is the only existing student opposition on campus.
Furthermore, in continually defending The Medium, the UTMCC proves itself to be a leading proponent of free speech and student democracy at UTM. This is why the voice of the UTMCC is so crucial. The executives are bombastic and unapologetic when it comes to criticizing the wrongdoings of the UTMSU, and they do so without fear of repercussion.
I don’t advocate for the UTMCC as a replacement for the UTMSU. In fact, it is unfortunate that we have arrived at a point where our student union is being criticized for pushing an ideological agenda. After all, they should not have one to begin with.
Students of all political affiliations should have a strong, active group with which they can identify, whether it be the UTMCC or the Young Liberals. But our students’ union should be non-partisan and representative of all students. Hopefully, the UTMCC’s role as a force of opposition and accountability pushes the UTMSU toward this end.
Mduduzi Mhlanga is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.
Disclosure: Mhlanga ran in the 2017 UTMSU elections.
Editor’s Note (January 29): Mhlanga publicly announced his campaign for election to the Campus Affairs Committee of the UTM Campus Council following the publication of this article. Though Mhlanga is not officially affiliated with the UTMCC, he was endorsed by the UTMCC following his election announcement.