University of Toronto Students’ Union hires new General Manager, Michelle Lee-Fullerton

General Manager crucial in directing Student Commons, possible CFS defederation

University of Toronto Students’ Union hires new General Manager, Michelle Lee-Fullerton

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has hired a new General Manager, Michelle Lee-Fullerton, thereby replacing the former position of Executive Director. The General Manager position is functionally the same as Executive Director, but Lee-Fullerton says that the new title “represents the turning of a new chapter for the UTSU.”

The purpose of the General Manager is to act as a link between the elected UTSU executive team and the operational staff that oversee the completion of projects. Lee-Fullerton told The Varsity that she will work with the incoming Executive Committee to help develop their overarching goals into a defined plan for the year, aiming specifically to get “operational needs met while upholding the organization’s fiscal responsibilities.”

A major project of the UTSU is the Student Commons, projected to open in September 2018 after a rocky path to completion. As of February 2017, the Student Commons had a projected deficit of over $800,000 over the first eight years, with a $300,000 loss expected in the first year alone.

With the opening of the Student Commons, the UTSU has the important responsibility of managing the building in its crucial first year. Regarding the potential of the Student Commons, Lee-Fullerton noted that “the opportunities and possibilities to support student initiatives and service from a capacity perspective is impressive itself.”

Another important topic for the incoming executive is the issue of possible defederation from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). The CFS is an organization that the UTSU is a member of that lobbies for student issues. The incoming UTSU executive is in favour of CFS defederation, and Lee-Fullerton said that she is ready to seek direction from student leadership on this issue.

She noted the importance of the relationship between the General Manager and the executives, as the General Manager is there to respond to the objectives of the student leadership.

Lee-Fullerton cites seven years of experience with student unions as preparation for her new role. She anticipates being able to begin moving forward with the UTSU promptly due to her familiarity with student unions and their governing structures.

Lee-Fullerton told The Varsity that she has worked with two other student unions prior to the UTSU. She said that she was the Clubs Coordinator and later the Student Groups and Engagement Coordinator at the former student union of Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. She added that, similar to the role of General Manager in the UTSU, she had worked with the Executive Committee to create initiatives to increase student engagement. She also told the The Varsity that she was the Events Manager and eventually the Director of Programs and Services at the Students’ Association of MacEwan University, which oversaw a portfolio encompassing clubs, events, programs, and services across three campuses.

As a project manager, Lee-Fullerton said that she has also worked with student building projects in various stages, akin to the Student Commons. Aside from student unions, she said that she has also worked for a municipality and within the private sector.

“Over the years, I’ve been able to see and be a part of some great organizations that produce some really great work for students. I look forward to being part of a healthy and well-executing UTSU team.”

UTSU Board of Directors approves $300,000 in accessibility spending

Money approved for Med Sci entrances, archives final move of outgoing board

UTSU Board of Directors approves $300,000 in accessibility spending

On April 29, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors approved a $250,000 donation for a project to make the Medical Sciences Building entrances more accessible, as well as $50,000 for a project to digitize the union’s archives. The spending approval occurred during the final meeting of the outgoing 2017/2018 Board of Directors.

The $250,000 donation was made toward the Landmark Project, which is an initiative by U of T to beautify the St. George campus while also making it more accessible. The donation comes from the Wheelchair Accessibility Fund (WAF). WAF is bankrolled by a $1.00 per session levy collected by the UTSU to make UTSU events and services accessible.

Specifically, the UTSU wants to improve accessibility for the north and east entrances to the Medical Sciences Building. There are plans to replace the stairway entrances from King’s College Circle and from Queen’s Park with wheelchair-accessible ramps. In recognition of the donation, the new entrances will be named after the UTSU, with the current proposal being “The UTSU Welcome Path.”

At the board meeting, outgoing Vice-President Internal Daman Singh made it clear that the money for the donation is not taken from the UTSU’s operating budget, as this money “can only be used with approval from the board on capital accessibility projects.” Currently, the UTSU estimates that there is over $1.5 million in the fund.

In addition to the Landmark Project donation, the outgoing board also voted to allocate $50,000 from the WAF for the UTSU’s project to digitize its archives. These funds will go towards expenses such as hiring DOCUdavit, a document scanning and storage company. The UTSU announced on April 20 that it had been in the process of digitizing all documents from its 100-year history to be made available to the public on April 23. As of press time, the archives are not yet public.

Singh said that the UTSU is undertaking this project because “anything that the UTSU has that can be public should be public.” He added that exceptions would be made for documents relating to human resources issues, for privacy reasons.

The approval of this expenditure was the last major action taken by the outgoing Board of Directors. The new board, which met directly after the outgoing board’s meeting, approved all items on its agenda, including the transfer of signing authority, a spending authorization resolution, and the election of a finance committee composed of members of the board.

As the incoming Vice-President Internal, Tyler Biswurm described that the spending authorization resolution acts as a provisional budget in the transitional period between boards. The resolution approved $316,124.58 in spending based on the actuals of last May.

Controversial clubs deserve funding too

Having an unpopular opinion shouldn’t mean being denied student union recognition

Controversial clubs deserve funding too

At the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) debate on March 21, the candidates for Vice-President Campus Life — Yolanda Alfaro of the Compass slate and Spencer Robertson, who ran as an independent — were asked about their positions on the UTSU funding clubs that are considered ‘controversial.’ The example given was Students for Life, a pro-life group known for its graphic signs and forthright, provocative campus demonstrations.

Alfaro, who was ultimately elected to the position, gave what seemed like a perfectly sensible response. She insisted that, if a decision were made to deny funding, that decision would not be about discriminating against people’s beliefs, but rather it would have more to do with student safety.

The funding of pro-life groups on campus is an issue that has been brought before the courts. Earlier this year, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union was in court facing a lawsuit by three members of UTM Students for Life. Similar suits were brought by pro-life groups at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and a ‘men’s issues’ group at Ryerson University. Another lawsuit with a pro-life group was previously settled in favour of the Ryerson Students’ Union in 2016.

Even if the UTSU does not have a legal obligation to fund certain provocative, controversial, or unpopular clubs, it should adopt a policy that allows for a wide range of views to be supported as clubs on campus. This is the case even if those views are controversial or only held by a minority of students.

On its face, Alfaro’s response at the debate was the right one. She made the crucial distinction between groups that hold unpopular beliefs and groups that represent a threat to student safety. Groups that incite or threaten violence, or that have openly discriminatory or hateful agendas that target marginalized populations, should not get funding. The UTSU — and by extension, all students — should not be involved in sustaining those types of clubs on campus.

But when I reached out for Alfaro for comment, she blurred that distinction to the point of nonexistence. While she provided that her “stance is not quite directed towards controversial clubs, because not everyone would share the same idea of ‘controversial’ as me,” that caveat didn’t hold up. Of Students for Life, she said, “When demonstrations start happening on campus that can be triggering to folks who just want to feel safe walking to class, that’s where I disagree.”

Alfaro is implying that coming into contact with Students for Life can be damaging to students’ safety or wellbeing. Given that Students for Life poses no physical threat to safety, however, the source of concern stems from the group’s expression of its pro-life views, which are upsetting to many students.

Alfaro’s argument therefore blurs the crucial line between ‘controversial’ and ‘harmful,’ because it suggests that the articulation of a position itself can pose a threat to student safety if the view is offensive enough. While we need to be sensitive to the reality that some students may be adversely affected by a group like Students for Life, not recognizing or funding a group for that reason sets a dangerous precedent.

As long as the UTSU is in the business of supporting political and advocacy groups, being considered ‘controversial’ should not be a barrier to funding. First and foremost, there is the problem that Alfaro herself recognized: the UTSU should not be put in charge of deciding exactly what views students can handle being exposed to. Being the arbiter of political opinions on campus is beyond the VP’s job description, and giving the UTSU the ability to deny funding based on those opinions is incompatible with open discourse.

The perceived broad unpopularity of a group or the position it represents should not be a barrier to funding either. Even if the number of people who support Students for Life is dwarfed by the number of people who oppose it, that shouldn’t be a reason to deny the group funding. Broad support or interest is just not something we typically expect of our student clubs. There is already a minimum amount of popularity that a prospective club needs to have before it is recognized in the first place: the UTSU mandates that a club has a membership list of at least 30 people to qualify for even the minimum level of funding. Attracting interest that far exceeds the names on that list should simply not be a consideration as far as recognition or funding goes.

Finally, and most importantly, we ought to acknowledge that a diverse student body is bound to have a diverse set of beliefs, and that a wide variety of those beliefs ought to be given a platform even if many of us find some of those beliefs disagreeable.

It doesn’t help to pretend that abortion is no longer a contentious issue, either on campus or in Canadian society more broadly. Any issue so complex is bound to generate a huge array of differing views that goes way beyond the ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ dichotomy. And we can see in politics that the question is still open, even if we would prefer it settled: leaders of major parties in both the upcoming provincial and federal elections are known to have pro-life views and voting records.

Open and equal discourse is constructive discourse, and constructive discourse is a goal worth striving for. This means protecting the distinction between ‘harmful’ and ‘controversial.’ Clubs that threaten the physical safety of students are one thing. But ‘controversial’ is in the eye of the beholder, and we should make sure that there is room on campus for disagreeable and unpopular views, as well as for the students and clubs that promote them.

Zach Rosen is a second-year student at Trinity College studying History and Philosophy. He is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.

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.”

Compass slate sweeps UTSU executive elections

Elections see 25.3 per cent turnout, a significant increase from previous years

Compass slate sweeps UTSU executive elections

UTSU elections results were released shortly after 6:00 pm on March 28, revealing a clean sweep by the Compass slate of all executive positions. Of the 50,405 students eligible to vote, 12,734 did, a 25.3 per cent turnout. The majority of votes in all races were abstentions, with the exception of Nursing Director.

President-elect Anne Boucher received 2,376 votes; her opponent, Michelle Mabira, received 1,191. In this race, 9,167 voters — 72 per cent — abstained.

Boucher said she was “beyond grateful” upon hearing the results. “I’m so excited to begin, especially with the amazing team I’ll have with me. You probably hear this year after year — but expect change, because we’ll work our butts off.”

Vice-President Internal-elect Tyler Biswurm was elected with 1,946 votes; his opponent, 🅱️oundless’ Alyy Patel, received 899. There were 9,889 abstentions, constituting 77.7 per cent of voters.

The VP Campus Life race saw winner Yolanda Alfaro receive 1,668 votes and independent opponent Spencer Robertson take 1,140, with 9,926 abstentions.

VP Professional Faculties-elect Yasmine El Sanyoura received 535 votes to 🅱️oundless’ Gallop Fan’s 310, with 3,280 abstentions.

The three executive positions were uncontested and received over 70 per cent abstentions. VP University Affairs-elect Joshua Grondin won with 2,390 votes for and 422 votes against. VP External-elect Yuli Liu received 2,990 ‘yes’ votes and 693 ‘no’ votes. Ammara Wasim, VP Equity-elect, received 2,597 votes in favour and 936 against.

In addition to sweeping the executive positions, all Compass candidates were elected except Tiffany Tiu. Tiu, who ran for one of two Professional Faculty Director at-large positions, lost to fellow Compass candidate Christopher Dryden and independent candidate Virginia Wong.

Michelle Mabira declined The Varsity‘s request for comment.

Reflections on the second UTSU executive debate

Compass came out strong and independents held up, but 🅱️oundless had difficulty keeping up

Reflections on the second UTSU executive debate

On March 21, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) presented a second round of executive debates on the topic of union operations. Unlike the first day, all positions present — President, Vice-President Internal, VP Campus Life, and VP Professional Faculties — were contested, allowing candidates to discuss weaknesses in one another’s platforms.

Compass emerged strong on the second night of executive debates. Compass candidates’ financial and operational knowledge of the UTSU’s past actions presented them as better prepared than their opponents. Compass also expressed ideas that considered all aspects of the university, including student need and financial support.

Though 🅱️oundless and independent candidates conveyed solid ideas as well, these paled in comparison to their opponents’. 

Independent candidate Spencer Robertson and Compass candidate Yolanda Alfaro presented very similar ideas for VP Campus Life, with Robertson putting an emphasis on the importance of the Student Commons as a central, uniting space, and Alfaro focusing on improving access to on-campus student life for commuter students. This was the friendliest of the debates, with moderator Jaren Kerr making time for questions like whether or not they would book Drake for orientation if they had to brand the show the “Drake Pepsi Concert.”

Compass VP Internal candidate Tyler Biswurm and Compass VP Professional Faculties Yasmine El Sanyoura emerged as clear winners in their respective debates.

“Humanizing” the UTSU was central to Biswurm’s ideas, who presented himself as someone fully aware of the UTSU’s shortcomings and who would be able to use this knowledge to form substantive, realistic goals that aim to increase student engagement. While pointing out the difficulties in creating new bursaries, he noted the need to simplify and centralize applications to make financial aid more accessible.

El Sanyoura supported her ideas with a detailed history of the VP Professional Faculties position, and she proposed policy amendments for faculties beyond her own, indicating that the medicine faculties’ gym fee adjustment rates could set an example for potential future adjustments for other faculties with sessional start and end dates.

In comparison, 🅱️oundless candidates seemed flustered and unprepared as members from the Compass slate revealed inconsistencies and shortcomings within the 🅱️oundless platform.

Specifically, Biswurm noted 🅱️oundless candidate Alyy Patel participated in a $3,000 off-campus retreat in her role as UTSU orientation coordinator, which is hypocritical in light of her platform points in this regard. 

Though she noted that she “wasn’t the only orientation leader” who took part in the retreat, she didn’t own up to her choice or explain how and why her opinions may have changed since.

In addition, Biswurm criticized the idea of running a pub within the student commons, calling it unrealistic considering the deficits experienced by other student union-run pubs around the country.  

To their credit, 🅱️oundless candidates seem to be trying to reach out to students who don’t have much knowledge of the UTSU’s operations. However, though this accessibility is an important aspect of student outreach, their ideas seemed to be stagnated by this perspective, as candidates chose to focus on making the UTSU seem fun and relatable rather than constructively educating students and providing services.

This was painfully clear when🅱️oundless VP Professional Faculties candidate Gallop Fan responded to a question about whether the engineering faculty should have a fall reading week with the statement, “I want other people to make my decisions for me.”

🅱️oundless’ numerous slip-ups support the statement made by Fan during the introduction of his slate on the first night: “Let’s be honest, we’re running for the trolls.”

All in all, 🅱️oundless candidates seemed unprepared to debate topics unrelated to the few mentioned on their slate, which became apparent in contrast to Compass candidates’ overall better preparation and knowledge of the UTSU.

The presidents’ debate between Compass candidate Anne Boucher and independent candidate Michelle Mabira covered a range of topics, from the Hudson lawsuit settlement to clubs funding.

Like other Compass members, Boucher had a strong focus on specific, administrative changes that could be made to improve student relations with administration and the UTSU, emphasizing the need to balance student services with financial realities and making it clear that meeting with the UTSU does not fill a student consultation quota.

Boucher clearly has a good understanding of the UTSU’s faults, such as the absence of direct communication with students about finances and the lack of student support in running advocacy campaigns. To both ideas, she suggested making the budget more “readable” and hiring part-time student employees to run campaigns.

Mabira likewise suggested improving the “readability” of the budget, but went further by suggesting social media posts that actively inform students about their finances. Both candidates did a great job presenting their ideas, many of which overlapped.

Ultimately, the second night of debates was one of the best opportunities for candidates to make their intentions known and, overall, candidates took advantage.

Compass candidates showed their preparedness in terms of knowledge of the UTSU. Independent candidates Robertson and Mabira were able to bring in dimensions of passion and personal investment that made up for their inexperience within the UTSU itself. And even 🅱️oundless candidates effectively communicated their desire to improve the UTSU, however implausible their ideas may seem.

Angela Feng is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Anthropology and Cinema Studies. She is The Varsity’s Campus Politics Columnist.

The UTSU executive candidates on the issues: The Varsity’s data analysis

Most candidates endorsed the CFS’ “mission and vision” while also advocating to leave the organization

The UTSU executive candidates on the issues: <i>The Varsity</i>’s data analysis

The Varsity has conducted a survey of all 11 candidates for the seven available University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) executive positions by asking them to respond to certain issues on a scale of 0–10 or a no/yes. The executive candidates rated the union’s current social progressiveness an average of 6.8.

Almost all indicated a strong desire for the UTSU to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), with an average response of 8.4 out of 10 in favour of the union’s current efforts to leave. The Compass and 🅱️oundless slates were strongly inclined to leave the CFS, while independent presidential candidate Michelle Mabira and independent Vice-President Campus Life candidate Spencer Robertson were more neutral on the issue.

The Varsity also asked candidates to rate their endorsement of “a system of post-secondary education that is accessible to all, which is of high quality, which is nationally planned, which recognizes the legitimacy of student representation, and the validity of student rights, and whose role in society is clearly recognized and appreciated.” This is the “ultimate goal” listed on the CFS’ constitution. The data revealed that, on average, candidates rated this a 7.2.

Leave CFS: “The UTSU should increase its advocacy efforts to leave the CFS.”

Endorse CFS MS: Endorse the CFS’ mission statement.

The results of the survey also showed that, on average, the candidates favour a more cooperative relationship with the administration. Aside from its VP External candidate Yuli Liu, on average, the Compass slate said that the UTSU-administration relationship should be more cooperative. 🅱️oundless VP Professional Faculties candidate Gallop Fan also responded in favour of a close relationship with admin. Mabira, 🅱️oundless VP Internal candidate Alyy Patel, and Liu all indicated a strong desire for a more combative relationship with the administration.

With regard to position-specific issues, both presidential candidates Anne Boucher of Compass and Mabira noted that the needs of colleges, faculty organizations, student associations, and international students are of the utmost importance to the UTSU, ranking all issues a 10. They both indicated that the UTSU should not re-hire the two staff coordinator positions removed last year. On the other hand, Mabira strongly believed in the importance of a close relationship of the UTSU with the UTMSU, ranking the issue a 10; Boucher ranked it a five.

VP Internal candidates Patel and Compass candidate Tyler Biswurm both considered the attendance of Directors to Board meetings as important. Biswurm believed that 10 per cent of the union’s operating budget should go into the Student Commons, while Patel believed that 50 per cent of it should.

% of budget for Student Commons: “Percentage of the union operating budget that should go to the Student Commons.”

Importance of Directors attending board meetings: “How important is it for Directors to attend board meetings?”

VP Campus Life candidate Robertson responded that orientation is good as it is currently; Compass’ VP Campus Life candidate Yolanda Alfaro responded that orientation needs to be changed.

Uncontested Compass candidates Ammara Wasim, VP Equity candidate; Liu; and Joshua Grondin, VP University Affairs; also expressed their opinions on pertinent issues detailed in the survey. Wasim neither agreed nor disagreed when asked if the UTSU has internal issues with racism, Liu slightly agreed that the proposed U-Pass fee of $280 per semester is worth the fee increase for all students, and Grondin agreed that the needs of international students should be a top priority.

Candidate breakdown

Compass has a candidate for each of the seven executive positions while 🅱️oundless is only fielding candidates for VP Internal and VP Professional Faculties.

According to the survey, most candidates are upper-year students. Boucher is in fifth year, while seven candidates are in fourth year. Liu is a third-year candidate and Biswurm and Robertson are second-year candidates.

In addition, the data revealed a pretty even distribution of the candidates from the colleges and professional faculties. There is one candidate each from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Innis College, New College, University College, and Victoria College. There are two candidates each from the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design; St. Michael’s College; and Woodsworth College.



New College UTSU Directors elected in uncontested race

Sharon Ma, Manuela Zapata and Chengye Yang elected

New College UTSU Directors elected in uncontested race

New College elected its University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) directors in an uncontested race that ended on March 20. Sharon Ma, Manuela Zapata, and Chengye Yang were elected as New College’s three UTSU directors.

Ma, a third-year student majoring in Fundamental Genetics & its Applications major and double minoring in Biology and Music History & Culture, received 30 per cent of the vote with 135 votes cast. This is her second term as New College’s UTSU director, having been elected in fall 2017. She was also a member of the Accessibility, Campaigns & Advocacy, Finance, Elections & Referenda, and Executive Review committees at the UTSU during the 2017–2018 academic year.

In addition, Ma was also elected as Education & Philanthropy Commissioner receiving 81 per cent of the vote with 199 votes cast. The position was uncontested.

Zapata, a first-year Life Sciences student, received 24 per cent of the vote with 107 votes cast. She was also elected as one of two Off-Campus representatives, gaining 38 per cent of the vote with 133 votes cast. Zapata was elected as one of two first-year representatives of the New College Student Council (NCSC).

Yang is a third-year Life Sciences student and received 16 per cent of the vote with 70 votes cast. This is also Yang’s second term as New College’s UTSU director, having been elected in Fall 2017. In her candidate statement, Yang claimed that as one of New College’s UTSU directors, she aims to attend all of the UTSU and New College Student Council meetings. Yang missed enough UTSU board meetings in 2017–2018 to effectively abandon office, violating the union’s Bylaw X.

Nine per cent of the votes were spoiled with 39 votes cast. In total, 246 votes were cast in the 2018 NCSC spring election.