UTSU Board bans candidates from using non-U of T student firms in election campaigns

Decision stems from previous slate’s use of Splash Effect last year

UTSU Board bans candidates from using non-U of T student firms in election campaigns

The February 11 meeting of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors upheld a decision by the Elections and Referenda Committee to ban candidates in UTSU elections from using marketing firms not run by U of T students during their campaigns.

UTSU President Mathias Memmel explained during the board meeting that candidates who violate this article will be penalized by up to 15 demerit points. He noted that the penalty is indicative of the seriousness of the violation.

“If we’re going to be reimbursing people for professional services, I would much rather those be students,” said Memmel.

Memmel said that candidates hiring non-university-affiliated firms to run their marketing campaigns is an issue the board noticed during last year’s elections.

The We the Students slate hired a student from Splash Effect, an external marketing firm, during last year’s UTSU executive and board elections. The slate did not reply to requests to clarify whether the student hired attended U of T.

Memmel said that last year seemed to be an anomaly, but he added that the union wanted to address the concern before it becomes a legitimate issue, especially after learning that other university students’ unions have dealt with similar issues as well.

The next UTSU Board of Directors meeting will take place on February 24.

Don’t look a sex toy in the mouth

Re: “UTSU receives large dildo in mail”

Don’t look a sex toy in the mouth

For any U of T students who have been longing for something big, sexy, and made of borosilicate glass, last month, the universe — or Amazon, to be more accurate — delivered.

On January 29, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) office received an anonymous package from Amazon. The package contained a clear, seven-inch blue-spiral shafted dildo.

This delivery is one of many similar incidents that have occurred in universities around Canada — the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) received two dildos last month — one pastel pink and one mint green. The UTSU also received an anonymous package containing earbuds, a water tester, and iPhone chargers last November.

UTSU President Mathias Memmel expressed his amusement regarding the incident, and disappointment over the dildo’s  quality. I would like to do the same. Ryerson’s LIBO-manufactured dildo doubles as a vibrator with eight vibration frequencies, is USB-rechargeable, and can be remote controlled. The UTSU’s PRISMS Kama dildo is merely a non-porous, hypoallergenic, lubricant-compatible dildo that must be manually heated or cooled to “amplify sex play.”

While I am saddened that the dildos the RSU received both outnumber and outperform the one that the UTSU received, I am also flattered that a third-party would invest time and money to make sure that members of student unions across Canada are sexually satisfied. High quality sex toys are expensive and a strain on the wallets of most university students, whose money is usually divided between food and bills. The cheapest dildo on the website of Stag Shop, a popular Canadian adult entertainment store, costs $16.99. Moreover, while the cheapest traditional vibrator costs $9.99, dual or trial vibrators are thrice the cost at $30 and up, and fleshlights are upwards of $40.

This lack of affordability of sex toys is especially frustrating given that it can be hard to find sexually satisfying relationships while juggling the demands university makes on students’ time and attention. The time and attention of student union members especially is very precious, as it is often divided between their union duties and academic responsibilities.

Thus, even if it is apparently done as a marketing tactic, I am glad that someone is sending student unions all over Canada the things they need, like phone chargers, headphones, water testers, and, yes, sex toys — even if all the sex toys do is provide a chuckle rather than a climax.

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

UTSU receives large dildo in mail

The latest in mysterious student union sex toy sending spree

UTSU receives large dildo in mail

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has joined the ranks of around a dozen other Canadian student unions that have mysteriously received sex toys in the mail. While Ryerson University’s student union recently received an ornate, pink and rose gold vibrator, the UTSU was sent a large, clear, spiral-shafted dildo of reportedly low quality and price.

The package, addressed to the union’s 12 Hart House Circle office, came on January 29 and was opened by a staff member. It came from Amazon.

UTSU President Mathias Memmel said he was amused by the unexpected delivery. He was, however, disappointed in the low quality of the dildo. “I think it’s a copycat.”

Amazon and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are hot on the trail of the sex toy-sending rogue. Student unions from Dalhousie University in the east to Royal Roads University in the west have been receiving dozens of mysterious packages, including sex toys and assorted electronic goods.

The UTSU recieved one such package back in November. The contents included earbuds, a water tester, and iPhone chargers.

The RCMP’s investigation has found that the items are coming from distributors in China, who may be “sending their goods to Canadian university student unions as a marketing tactic,” said RCMP Constable Darryl Waruk.

Student concerns about mental health policy demand the administration’s full attention

Recent events surrounding the mandatory leave policy should spur the university to better prioritize the student voice

Student concerns about mental health policy demand the administration’s full attention

The most recent draft of the controversial University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy was withdrawn last week in what many have classified as a resounding victory for the dignity and respect of students struggling with mental health issues at U of T.

Having been in the works for the past few years, the policy allows for students struggling with mental health issues to be placed on a non-punitive leave of absence from their studies, under circumstances in which their mental health is ruled to negatively impact their studies or to present a physical threat to themselves or others. The originally proposed draft of the policy was met with widespread concern from students and campus organizations, prompting Governing Council to delay the final vote on the policy’s recommendation pending further feedback and revisions.

The status of the policy currently remains uncertain. In light of the concerns raised, the university may choose to reintroduce a revised draft in the future — and it is fortunate that being sent back to the drawing board provides optimal opportunity for reflection. When it comes to mental health on campus, the past months have demonstrated that students will not back down if they feel their needs are not being met.

University-mandated leaves of absence are currently governed using the Code of Student Conduct. It should be acknolwedged that, in contrast to the existing measures in the code, the University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy is intended to be non-punitive; unlike measures adopted under the existing framework, it does not result in a punitive mark being added to a student’s record.

Nevertheless, much of the criticism of the policy has centred on its potentially discriminatory treatment of students with mental health issues. The Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) weighed in to this effect in December 2017, expressing the opinion that it does not meet the legally mandated duty to accommodate the OHRC’s Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability and the Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addiction. The university, according to the OHRC, is required to take all steps to accommodate those with disabilities “to the point of undue hardship.” Despite these concerns, the Academic Board approved the most updated draft of the policy at the end of January, prompting the OHRC to request another delay on the policy’s progression.

It is disconcerting that the OHRC’s intervention appears to be the tipping point in the university’s final decision. The OHRC’s insistence that the policy could possibly be in contravention of Ontario human rights law — and therefore a legal liability — finally incentivized the administration to reconsider. In comparison, the numerous, repeated, and profound concerns raised by students and campus organizations over the better part of this academic year apparently did not provide sufficient impetus to substantially revise the policy in a way that could meaningfully accommodate their concerns.

A profoundly inspiring grassroots movement has formed in opposition to the policy, bringing together students from across the three campuses. The St. George Round Table, representing the student heads of colleges and undergraduate faculties, sought out concerns from students to streamline the feedback process. Petitions opposing the policy were circulated by Students for Barrier-free Access and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The U of T Graduate Students’ Union Executive Committee came out against the policy, and students from iStudents for Mental Health united to present a panel discussion reviewing the tenets of the policy. Online, students gathered in a Mandatory Leave Policy Response Group to present a line-by-line breakdown of the policy and compile student criticism.

The ultimate outcome of the draft being withdrawn would not have been possible absent the hard work of these organizations and of all the individuals involved. But despite the overwhelming amount of feedback the administration has received in this regard, the amendments to the policy remained nominal. Of the 14 concerns raised by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) with respect to the policy, only three were ultimately addressed by the time the most recent draft was completed.

Firstly, the word ‘essential’ was added to Section 1.c.21 of the policy to narrow the scope of the “activities” with which the student’s mental health condition could be ruled to interfere. Secondly, in response to a concern that the policy’s invocation would disproportionately impact international students given their enrolment-dependent immigration status, an amendment was made to provide students with access to a Student Immigration Advisor “where appropriate.” Finally, a provision was added to ensure the university’s compliance with the Personal Health Information Protection Act, which outlines the guidelines for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal health information in Ontario.

Much of the rest of the policy remains exactly the same, and numerous issues have been left unaddressed. The policy contains no explicit requirement for the involvement of medical professionals in the process and places the power to make these determinations in the hands of the Vice-Provost Students. While health professionals have the training to properly and accurately assess mental health issues and determine the extent to which students’ lives may be affected by them, the same cannot necessarily be said for members of the administration who do not receive this training.

Concern has also been raised that the vague language of the policy poses limits to student autonomy by granting overbroad powers to the administration. Students’ ability to stay in school, as well as to return to their studies if they are placed on leave, falls entirely under the discretion of the Vice-Provost Students. Any appeals must be made within 15 business days of the decision to the Discipline Appeals Board of the University Tribunal. The Senior Chair will hear and make a final decision on the appeal.

Finally, in a sad twist of irony, a policy intended to relieve mental health stressors may actually cause even greater distress by potentially forcing students in already precarious situations to take time off school. At a competitive institution like U of T, assignments can pile up after just a day of neglect, so prospects like falling behind by a semester or more, or being unable to complete one’s degree, can be harrowing. It is hardly an uncommon occurrence for mental health related stressors to interfere with students’ studies at U of T — the highly pressurized atmosphere is often considered to be a disturbingly ordinary part of the student experience.

To its credit, the administration has maintained that the policy is non-punitive and meant to be exercised in students’ best interests. Nevertheless, a number of the policy’s provisions have sparked monumental and understandable resistance from the student body, centred on fears that it will work to unduly marginalize some of the most vulnerable people on campus. If the university truly wants the policy to work for students, it is vital that it be receptive to their concerns moving forward — only then can it begin to develop a meaningful solution to addressing mental health issues on campus.

Now that the policy is once again at the drawing board, the university has the chance to issue a more meaningful response.

U of T can be a deeply isolating place, and a comprehensive approach to addressing mental health on campus is sorely needed here — such a policy has the potential to be a progressive addition if implemented in a way that is designed to serve those to whom it applies.

Fortunately, the past months have demonstrated the passion students at this institution have for supporting one another through mental health struggles. And while we hope that any future drafts of this policy will address its current flaws in a way that is more sensitive to students’ concerns, we know students will continue to push for change if these efforts fall short.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Resignations, poor attendance records highlight UTSU BoD meeting

Some board members doing a “disservice” to themselves, says union Executive Director

Resignations, poor attendance records highlight UTSU BoD meeting

A series of resignations and discussion of poor board attendance records comprised the latest UTSU Board of Directors’ meeting.

Directors debated with each other over why the attendance for meetings was always very low, as well as how to improve engagement. The board also accepted the resignations of four directors at the meeting and filled five other director vacancies.

In December 2017, The Varsity found that 29 per cent of the board had missed enough meetings for them to have effectively abandoned office.

This is based on the UTSU’s Bylaw X, which covers abandonment of office. According to the bylaw, a director “shall be deemed to have delivered their resignation” if they have failed to send regrets for two missed meetings, failed to attend three consecutive meetings or any four meetings regardless of sent regrets, or failed to attend any three committee meetings.

Mathematics and Physical Sciences Director Wilson Wu began the meeting by proposing a motion to automatically accept any resignations from board members who have been deemed to have abandoned office. Wu’s motion did not receive enough support to be added to the agenda.

“I triggered Bylaw X for the sake of accountability,” Wu told The Varsity. “I felt that it was important we were active in applying our few measures of accountability, especially seeing that engagement had degraded to the point that over a dozen directors have effectively abandoned office.”

However, the agenda did dedicate time for discussion on attendance, after UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh noted that “there was will from the board to have some sort of discussion on attendance more generally.”

The discussion focused mainly on why directors were missing meetings and how to solve the problem for future boards.

Trinity College Director Nish Chankar said that although she didn’t “have the best attendance this year,” she and many others often missed meetings for work obligations.

“I don’t skip meetings for fun. I skip meetings for work, for other commitments I have. But the problem I have is that I’m really shit at replying to emails,” said Chankar. “I think that an easy fix to this problem is people not sending in their regrets. I can’t be the only one on the board who repeatedly forgets to send in their regrets.”

Wu also spoke at length about the issue, saying that although he understands “everyone has busy lives,” board members also made a commitment to the UTSU and should therefore follow through.

“When we signed up for this we took on a commitment to show up to all of these meetings,” said Wu. “So saying that, ‘Oh, we’re bad at responding to emails or we don’t want to commute all the way down to campus for a meeting’— these are all issues, but just by us signing up, we’ve agreed to deal with them.”

Tka Pinnock, the UTSU’s Executive Director, agreed that directors had other engagements but said that board members were doing a “disservice” to themselves by not being engaged.

“Your goal as directors is not to come to the board meeting and to stamp everything the execs have done,” said Pinnock. “Your goal as directors is to come to the meeting and to ask the execs to explain what they’ve done, to defend what they’ve done.”

She claimed that this year’s Division III directors, who represent the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, were less engaged than in previous years, which in turn leads to St. George directors becoming disengaged as well.

“St. George directors should not take the position that you’re only engaged when you think people from UTM are engaged so [that] you have this challenger, this enemy that you have to bolster yourself against,” argued Pinnock.

Pinnock also mentioned that last year, “there were things that execs got away with… [that], had there been an engaged board, they would not have been able to get away with.”

Resignations

At the meeting, the board also accepted the resignations of Aidan Swirsky, University College Director; Gaby Garcia-Casanova, General Equity Director; Rebekah Tam, Faculty of Music Director; and Hamboluhle Moyo, Victoria College Director.

Of the four, Tam had missed enough meetings to have effectively abandoned office.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Moyo said that he was resigning because he felt that he had not used his time on the board to the fullest extent.

“When one does not attend the council and commission meetings… it is rather easy to feel detached and become more disengaged,” he told The Varsity. “Most of the responsibility of disengagement is on us directors though it is fair to point out I don’t know the state of most of the directors’ lives.”

“It’s a shame that we’ve lost so many directors,” UTSU Vice-President External Anne Boucher told The Varsity. Boucher wrote that though some resignations were due to “personal reasons and they’re 100% valid… We need to rethink how we engage our board and membership.”

The board subsequently appointed five new directors to empty positions. Aron Sankar and Jeff Dryden were appointed as Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Directors, replacing Danja Papajani and Andrew Sweeny, who both resigned last year. Victor Cheng was appointed Faculty of Music Director, replacing Tam. Justine Huyer was appointed Transitional Year Programme Director after the previous director’s term ended last semester. June Marston was appointed as General Equity Director, filling one of the vacant spots for that position.

The board has also struck a Shortlisting Committee to hire directors for any vacant positions for the remainder of the year. Jones, Sankar, and UC Directors Kshemani Constantinescu and Anushka Kurian were appointed to the committee. They will serve alongside UTSU President Mathias Memmel, Singh, and one other executive.

UTSU resignations trigger questions of democracy

Internal replacement procedures and mixed justifications for absences warrant keeping an eye on this issue going forward

UTSU resignations trigger questions of democracy

If someone you voted for in the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring election was elected to the board, there’s an 18 per cent chance they have bid their position farewell.

Of the 39 elected members that initially occupied the board following the spring election, a total of seven, for a host of reasons, have now officially resigned from their posts. The union lost two executives and five elected directors: Vice-President University Affairs Carina Zhang, Vice-President Campus Life Stuart Norton, University College Director Aidan Swirsky, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Directors Danja Papajani and Andrew Sweeny, Victoria College Director Hamboluhle Moyo, and Mathematics and Physical Sciences Director Wilson Wu. Appointed General Equity Directors Ted Williamson and Gaby Garcia-Casanova have also resigned, bringing the number of UTSU resignations to a total of nine thus far in the academic year.

It should be noted that Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) President Rebekah Tam occupied the Faculty of Music Director position until the FMUA elected its Vice-President External, who, as per the organization’s bylaws, stepped in to fill the role. Tam’s resignation from her temporary post was not included in The Varsity’s calculations above.

The UTSU’s bylaws outline the appropriate procedures for replacing any vacancies on the board. As per By-Law X, s. 5, Division I or II Director vacancies occurring after the nomination period for the fall byelections, which take place at the beginning of October, are to be replaced through an interim election process, in which any candidate belonging to the constituency in question can run, but only board members are able to vote. Executive resignations that occur prior to August 1 must be replaced via byelection, while those occurring August 1 or later are replaced through an internal hiring process wherein at least two candidates must be recommended to the board for a vote.

In summary, if resignations occur after the prescribed deadlines, the members who remain on the board are granted substantial control over whom their new co-workers will be. Four of the representatives outlined above have since been replaced in this manner, and it is unclear as of yet whether the seats formerly belonging to Swirsky, Moyo, or Wu will meet the same fate.

There is also reason to believe the UTSU is anticipating the possibility of future resignations. At the Board of Directors meeting on January 26, the UTSU appointed a Director Shortlisting Committee for the purpose of seeking members in the community who could apply to fill any future vacancies.

Given the UTSU’s mandate to advocate for and provide services to the constituents who put them in power, any substantial turnover in staff warrants further examination, particularly when elected representatives are replaced through internal mechanisms later in the year.

Many people might have reason to be concerned about the democratic legitimacy of the UTSU to begin with. Voter turnout has hovered from 9–13 per cent over the past few years, and as of December 2017, 29 per cent of this year’s board has been absent from enough meetings to technically warrant their removal altogether. Unexpected facelifts to the Board of Directors’ roll call can hardly help matters in this regard.

The impacts of a resignation, in turn, can be significant. Directors and executives are generally elected on the basis of specific platforms and promises, and they work hard to represent their constituents during their time in office. Once those representatives are out of the picture, it is possible their projects may be left behind, the work they pursued through UTSU committees and commissions might be delayed, or the ideas they pitched to students throughout the course of their campaigns may not make it past the cutting room floor. If representatives quit too late in the year, replacing them may not be feasible at all.

Given the problems associated with resignations, it is in students’ best interest to understand why they happen in the first place. Certain cases this year hint at serious concerns about the board’s operations. Sweeny resigned following a majority board vote to approve the Hudson lawsuit settlement, stating that it was “so disappointing” that the UTSU had lost his support. Meanwhile, Swirsky’s resignation letter to the board expressed he had experienced “a number of ongoing personal and professional disagreements with some colleagues” and that divergences in beliefs with the members he had run alongside during the election cycle had taken a substantial emotional toll.

Both these cases suggest that resignation can sometimes result from fundamental problems that representatives experience when trying to work together throughout the year.

Other times, frustratingly, we are given no insight into what happened at all. Little has been said about the departures of multiple representatives this year, including both executives, except that they resigned for “personal reasons.” Though it is not our prerogative to disrespect the privacy of these individuals, it should be acknowledged that little information is ultimately made available to students on reasons why their formerly elected representatives are being replaced.

To its credit, the UTSU has released statements about the two executive resignations that took place this year. However, there is also no formal obligation to publicize such information. As confirmed by UTSU Vice-President External Anne Boucher in conversation with The Varsity, all that is required when a representative resigns is for email notice to be given to the meeting chair, though it should be noted that resignations are formally accepted at Board of Director meetings and therefore eventually appear in agendas and minutes. The present circumstances might therefore amount to difficulties when trying to engage in meaningful conversations about the dynamics that lead to resignation — a situation not conducive to preventing them in the future.

In an email to The Varsity, UTSU President Mathias Memmel wrote, “The UTSU is a demanding organization, and we shouldn’t expect volunteer directors to make it the most important thing in their lives. If a director or even an executive is fundamentally unable to do their job, they shouldn’t be shamed for resigning. No one is served by elected representatives who aren’t in a position to represent anyone.” Though we agree with these sentiments, a student union cannot claim to be fully democratic when it becomes commonplace for their elected members to be replaced by appointed ones. The members who currently sit on the board should see it as their responsibility to fulfil the democratic mandate granted to them by students and to remain on board for as long as possible.

In a similar vein, Boucher told The Varsity that she was disappointed with the number of resignations the board has received so far, and she expressed the need to rethink engagement with the board and the UTSU membership.

Meanwhile, our job as journalists is to make information about the UTSU as accessible as possible to the student body. This means we’ll be striving to better publicize any resignations that may happen the future. The UTSU team’s efforts to work together and our commitment to transparency hopefully mean we can ride out the rest of the year without having to wonder why another seat at the board table is empty.

FoodReach partnership is a win for financially strained students

Re: “UTSU to pilot online grocery store project with FoodReach”

FoodReach partnership is a win for financially strained students

As any student will know, finding cheap food or groceries while living off-campus can prove difficult. There are limited options downtown, and anything remotely healthy or balanced in grocery stores is steadily increasing in price. Investing in sustenance through quality produce can mean spending large amounts of a limited income, if you have any such income, or even foregoing meals to pay for other living expenses, including rent.

The extent of this issue is evident across the country. Simon Fraser University, for instance, introduced emergency voucher systems in 2015. Other universities like the University of British Columbia and U of T have student-run food banks. These services are widely used by those unable to afford groceries, especially students with families.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s online grocery pilot project with FoodReach brings hope of affordable and quality produce to students who find themselves under financial strain or otherwise unable to keep up with rising food prices. The FoodReach partnership seems promising: this non-profit can provide healthy produce, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, that students may normally forego in favour of cheaper options such as frozen pizzas and instant noodles. FoodReach’s spending model of buying in bulk and distributing across small groups aims to alleviate costs and increase access to good food.

This program can also serve as a model for universities across the country. It serves as a better alternative to the programs in BC mentioned previously because the stigma attached to asking for food vouchers or products from a food bank means students might be less willing to use those services. Without this concern, such a service would likely be more widely accepted and used by the students who need it.

The introduction of the FoodReach system means students will have access to quality groceries, and it acknowledges the university’s responsibility to provide resources that help students flourish.

 

Maria Pepelassis is a second-year student at Trinity College studying History.

UTSU to pilot online grocery store project with FoodReach

Full program rollout at Student Commons expected September 2018

UTSU to pilot online grocery store project with FoodReach

 

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) will be starting an online grocery store in the next academic year. The service will allow members to order goods online and have them shipped to and stored at the union’s office at 12 Hart House Circle.

The project is in collaboration with non-profit organization FoodReach, which works with agencies that serve local communities and connects them with food wholesalers.

FoodReach provides lower prices by buying in bulk. FoodReach Project Lead Alvin Rebick said that the group acts as a large buying organization that distributes to smaller partners. “This allows agencies with smaller budgets to benefit from pricing that would otherwise only be available to large purchasing bodies.”

The organization “was established to address issues of food access and improved food quality & service to agencies and schools,” wrote Rebick.

According to UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Adrian Huntelar, the program “is being seriously considered for the transition to the Student Commons,” which is expected to be complete in September. The UTSU office is not a suitable permanent home for the program due to a lack of storage space in the office at Hart House Circle.

“We cannot responsibly provide a service that involves perishable food unless we have proper storage space, meaning fridges, freezers, and solid storage rooms,” said Huntelar. “Right now, the UTSU office is simply not equipped to handle large quantities of groceries.”

This won’t stop the union from at least piloting the project. Huntelar sees the program as playing an important role in ensuring food security for students. “The main group that this supports is those who live off-campus without access to a dining hall,” said Huntelar, “but also who are responsible for essentially making their own food.”

With the Student Commons on the horizon, the UTSU also hopes to move the Food Bank, which has been operating in the Multi-Faith Centre every Friday, to the new building to allow for operation every weekday.