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UTSU Executive Committee to reverse decision to allow overtime pay

Union hesitant to change pay structure following consultations

UTSU Executive Committee to reverse decision to allow overtime pay

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Executive Committee has announced that it will repeal a recently passed amendment that gave executives the ability to receive overtime pay.

The amendments to the executive remuneration policy were passed at the committee’s meeting on August 19. The change reads, “any additional hours worked shall be compensated at the same hourly honorarium,” without providing an upper limit on hours.

However, the committee later decided to overturn the change. “After consultations with our Board of Directors and our membership, we have come to the conclusion that there are far better and more effective ways to achieve our goals,” wrote UTSU President Joshua Bowman in an email to The Varsity.

Explaining the context to the amendment, Bowman wrote: “We want to empower individuals who decide to get involved with the UTSU with the opportunity to make tangible and meaningful change.” According to Bowman, the Executive Committee will repeal the amendment that expanded executive member overtime pay at their next meeting.

Bowman remains optimistic about future pay policies, and stated that the UTSU will continue to ensure the well-being of their staff members. In order to achieve this, a Time Keeping Management Policy is planned to be approved at the next Board of Directors meeting on September 22.

The intended goal for both the overtime pay amendment and the new timekeeping policy is not only for transparency in executive pay, but also to properly compensate executives for their work, wrote Bowman.

The Hudson lawsuit

The proposed policy change comes four years after the UTSU was involved in a legal battle with former staff and executives regarding overtime pay.

Former Executive Director Sandra Hudson, along with former President Yolen Bollo-Kamara and former Vice-President, Services, Cameron Wathey, were all accused of committing civil fraud after Hudson was terminated by Bollo-Kamara and given a compensation package totaling to $277,726.

Of this amount, $29,782.22 was given as a payment for the alleged overtime hours she worked. However, records for additional hours worked could not be found, and according to the UTSU, Hudson’s termination had no legal grounds, as she only ever had positive reviews from her employers.

Bollo-Kamara and Wathey settled with the union separately in 2016, while Hudson continued the legal battle until the lawsuit was settled in October 2017. Hudson agreed to pay a portion of the money back, and accusations of fraud and theft were not proven. It was later revealed that Hudson had filed a claim for damages alleging that former UTSU President Mathias Memmel broke a mediation agreement after he discussed the details of the lawsuit during an April 2016 Board of Directors meeting.

Editor’s Note (September 16, 2:04 pm): Article was amended to reflect that assistant vice-presidents would not have received overtime pay under the repealed policy.

Op-ed: Become involved in campus politics through the First Year Council

The council is part of the UTSU’s effort to increase student engagement on campus

Op-ed: Become involved in campus politics through the First Year Council

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is unveiling the First Year Council (FYC) at the start of the fall 2019 semester. The goal of the FYC is to engage first-year students in campus politics and improve their overall experience at U of T.

The UTSU hopes that increasing first-year student engagement will help us in mounting a defense against the effects of the Student Choice Initiative, the provincial mandate to give students an opt-out option for certain ancillary fees. Part of the inspiration for the idea came from first-year councils established by other student unions, like those at McGill University and McMaster University

I did not become involved with any campus political organization until well into my third year at U of T. My story is the same as that of many others: entering student politics as a first-year student without any connection to the social networks within can be extremely intimidating, and sometimes feel impossible. The FYC aims to empower new students in a way that makes their insights feel respected and valued. 

In my first year, I went to several drop-in events before I found a club where I actually felt welcomed. As a member of Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT, I picketed outside of a Tim Hortons on Bloor Street with several students who shared my view on fair wages. As I was doing this, a student from my program recommended that we run for executive positions on our academic student union. This inspired me to run for and subsequently be elected to the Arts & Science Students’ Union executive, which oversees 62 active course unions at UTSG. 

I am now the President of the UTSU, but I had to meander through a myriad of lost connections and one-off experiences with clubs before I found my footing in student government. This should not be the only way for students to get involved with politics on campus. 

The UTSU is tasked with representing all full-time undergraduate students at the downtown campus, including first-year students. Students should not have to wait years before feeling comfortable enough to get involved in student politics. The FYC was created to change that. 

The UTSU is a huge organization. We have a 41-person Board of Directors, with seven executives and directors from across the colleges and faculties. Getting involved with such a large organization may seem daunting, and the reality is that for the most part, it is. 

Students are asked to balance their studies with a cumbersome election period that takes place both in-person and online. After rounds of debates, social media campaigns, and handing out pamphlets, there is still a possibility that candidates will not get elected. 

The incentive for students to actively get involved with UTSU programming and operations has been gradually chipped away over time.  Moreover, engagement is very low, as seen in the voter turnouts in our previous two election periods — respectively at 4.2 per cent and 2.9 per cent. We should be creating opportunities to change these trends.

The FYC will be one of the only institutions that is completely operated by first-year students at the University of Toronto. While residence councils and college-based student societies have long been creating positions for first-year students, they have done so with the impetus that senior students will be guiding their decision making. This is not the case with the FYC. 

The FYC will be composed of an appointed body of 10 councillors and two executives that will meet each month and report to the UTSU Board of Directors. At the first meeting, the FYC will select a president and vice-president from among its membership. After its inaugural year, the FYC will be elected entirely by first-year students. It will be able to create and lead its own committees, which will be dedicated to addressing specific issues facing first-year students.

Now in my fifth year at U of T, I know first-hand how long it takes to become meaningfully involved with the UTSU. Our hope is that, in creating the FYC, we can create a UTSU that genuinely supports its first-year members. We need fresh ideas, and this year, the UTSU wants to find new ways to implement those ideas from first-year students. Through this new initiative, we will be listening to first-year concerns and amplifying them in a supportive and meaningful way.

The FYC is a way to do this. Apply and become involved in a university that wants to hear from and work for you.

Applications for the first FYC will be accepted until September 20. Interested applicants should check out the FYC page on the UTSU website and fill out the application form.

Joshua Bowman is a fifth-year Indigenous Studies and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College and current President of the UTSU.

U of T’s university-mandated leave of absence policy remains controversial a year after it was approved

Policy has been invoked eight times since its debut, says U of T

U of T’s university-mandated leave of absence policy remains controversial a year after it was approved

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide

Five months ago, approximately 100 students stood outside Simcoe Hall, the seat of the university’s power, to protest what they perceived to be the administration’s inaction in the face of a growing mental health crisis on campus. Only one day earlier, U of T confirmed that a student died in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, the site of another suicide the previous summer.

Although protestors gathered in silence, their message to administration officials was clear: despite having at least three known suicides in campus buildings in the past year, U of T has failed to take concrete action on the mental health crisis on campus.

An aspect of the students’ frustration with the administration is the highly controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy, which allows U of T to unilaterally place students on leave if their mental health either poses a dangerous physical risk to themselves or others, or if it negatively impacts their studies. It’s a hallmark of the university’s mental health framework. 

Despite heavy public opposition, Governing Council — the university’s highest decision-making body — passed the policy almost unanimously in June 2018, with only three out of over 40 governors voting against.

According to Sandy Welsh, U of T’s Vice-Provost, Students, the policy has been used eight times in the past year. Six of those cases “involved urgent situations such as death threats with plans including acquiring a weapon, physical attacks and persistent and concerning communications.”

While the other two cases also involved threats, “other systems and supports were in place such that the urgent situations clause did not need to be invoked,” Welsh wrote in an email to The Varsity in late July.

Welsh also noted that a medical professional was involved in all eight cases due to serious mental health issues among the students. When the policy debuted, many within the community took issue with the fact that nowhere in the policy were medical professionals required to be involved.

As it currently stands, the policy notes that medical professionals “may” be involved but does not explicitly make it a requirement.

According to Welsh, two of the eight students placed on leave returned to their studies within six weeks, with accommodations made. The university is working with three others so they can return in the fall. One student is still away, and the remaining two cases are “relatively recent,” she noted.

Welsh also wrote to The Varsity that feedback from the families and students involved in the policy has been positive, citing one family who was pleased with its application. “The family had thought that due to the student’s behaviour, their student would have been expelled,” she said. 

Upon its introduction to the public sphere in the fall of 2017, the policy drew condemnation from student groups who criticized what they saw as a lack of consultation with students. 

Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, noted that the initial draft of the policy raised several human rights concerns and fell “short of meeting the duty to accommodate.”

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), under then-president Mathias Memmel, initially backed the policy, noting that they were “impressed” by it. However, the UTSU later withdrew its support due to concerns over the apparent lack of consultations.

Speaking to Governing Council on June 25, a year after the policy was approved, U of T’s Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr noted that due to the generally good feedback on the policy, senior administration has no plans to modify the document. 

Regehr is scheduled to conduct a formal review of the policy in the 2020–2021 academic year.

However, student leaders continue to criticize the policy. Lucinda Qu and Kristen Zimmer, both prominent student activists, strongly rebuked the university’s existing mental health structures at a March Business Board meeting, the first governance meeting sinceafter the Bahen suicide.

Qu, one of the few students in the room, said that “the university is ignoring the needs of students in a blatant attempt to take the onus off of its administration for our mental health, safety, and well-being.”

“We see this policy, we see it in print, we see it in writing, and we are afraid. The consequences of this fear, the consequences of being silenced is life-threatening,” Zimmer said at the same meeting.

Joshua Bowman, President of the UTSU and the organization’s third chief executive since the policy was first introduced, wrote to The Varsity, expressing that the document gives the administration “too much discretionary power” to place students on leave.

Bowman also noted that the policy “is a reflection of the administration’s desire to remedy the mental health crisis from their perspective of the situation,” and that it was not “born out of consultation with students.”

“The reality is that we are experiencing a mental health crisis on campus,” he wrote.

Despite repeated calls from the student body to stop using the policy, even amid the formation of a dedicated mental health task force last spring, U of T is remaining steadfast in keeping it. 

“What we can do and will continue to do is work with our community partners to provide every opportunity for our students to seek the kinds of service and supports they require,” Welsh wrote.

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Why the UTSU can’t do without you

A message to the student body from a UTSU presidential candidate

Why the UTSU can’t do without you

My name is Bryan Liceralde, and I ran for president in the 2019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections. First, I want to congratulate the executives and directors for their impeccable victories in the spring elections. The UTSU is going to face many challenges this year, especially when it confronts issues caused by the policies of both U of T and the Ford government. Going forward, President Joshua Bowman must face the biggest issue in student democracies: voter apathy.

When I looked over the by-election positions in April, it was heartbreaking to see how many seats — both of Directors and Vice-Presidents (VP) — were vacant. It was all the more heartbreaking when I found that the election’s turnout rate stood at just 4.2 per cent.

From my brief experience in student politics, I can surmise that this lack of engagement is the fault of both the UTSU and the student body. It is our fault as student voters for ignoring the issues that will affect us, and it is the UTSU’s fault for not sufficiently promoting its elections.

If we collectively do not get our act together, students may choose to opt-out of UTSU fees through the Student Choice Initiative, greatly hindering the abilities of student governance. As a result, there would potentially be no organized student body to defend students from potentially harmful U of T policies. Had the UTSU done a better job in promoting its elections, the three VP positions left vacant from the elections may have been filled by March 25.

In an interview with The Varsity, Bowman said that the UTSU has “a lot of relationship-building to do.” He is right. The UTSU must do a better job marketing the clubs it funds and the services it provides to all students, not just to those in first year.

The UTSU VPs must make themselves more relatable to the student populace through engagement on social media. Of course, the executives reserve the right to keep some aspects of their lives private. Nevertheless, they should try to socialize with their constituents as much as possible. Doing so would bring us closer to realizing outgoing president Anne Boucher’s goal of making UTSU “more human.”

More importantly, the UTSU should demand changes to the university-mandated leave of absence policy, which, according to The Varsity, currently “allows the university to place students on a nonpunitive, but mandatory, leave of absence from U of T if their mental health either poses a risk of harm to themselves or others, or if it negatively impacts their studies.” If U of T refuses to amend the university-mandated leave of absence policy, the UTSU must demand its repeal.

On U of T’s part, it should increase funding to its mental health services and do more to encourage its students to use these resources. Any changes to the university-mandated leave of absence policy should be approved by both the UTSU and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Overall, the UTSU must work in tandem with the U of T administration to make our campus a more welcoming place.

As for students, the most important duty we have is to vote to keep our student democracy alive and our rights protected. I also strongly encourage students to run in the UTSU elections. We are all prepared for any UTSU position through our shared campus experiences — including both the struggles and triumphs that all students face. I know that we all have creative solutions to the most pressing problems in our student lives, so step up to the plate and run. We must confront a campus environment of ignorance with a spirit of optimism. Overall, we must reform student politics today so yesterday’s mistakes will not be repeated tomorrow.

Before I end off, I’d like to thank all the students who inspired me to run. Although I faced defeat, I’ll forever appreciate the support you gave me. As long as I’m a student here, I’ll always be on your side.

For 118 years, the UTSU has always been a beacon of hope for students. It is thus our responsibility to ensure that it keeps on burning.

Bryan Liceralde is a fourth-year Political Science student at St. Michael’s College. He was a presidential candidate in the 2019 UTSU executive elections.

UTSU to donate $100,000 to Hart House to improve accessibility

Incoming UTSU Board strikes finance, ad-hoc mental health committees

UTSU to donate $100,000 to Hart House to improve accessibility

Representatives from the outgoing University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors voted on April 28 to donate $100,000 from its Accessibility Resources Fund to Hart House. The donation aims to make it easier for people with disabilities to access the building.

The grant will contribute to the construction of a universal washroom at Hart House, which would be designed to minimize boundaries and restrictions for occupants with disabilities.  

The outgoing Board also voted to approve the UTSU’s 20192024 Strategic Plan, with changes, following criticism of the plan by directors in a previous Board meeting on April 4.

The intention of the plan is to provide a clear long-term direction and vision for the union, as well as improve continuity of key initiatives between each turnover of directors and executives.

UTSU President Joshua Bowman, who assumed the presidency following the end of the outgoing Board’s meeting, explained in an email to The Varsity the notable changes to the plan since the previous Board meeting.

The first was to recommend that the UTSU’s communications will “strive to comply with AODA [Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act] regulations.”

The second was to recommend that UTSU representatives view decision-makers as “partners”, rather than “representatives.”

“This is an important alteration,” wrote Bowman, “as the title of ally implicitly states that decision-makers would be working in our best interest, which is not always true especially given recent events.”

The third change was to highlight campus groups — including clubs, student societies, and levy groups — as a focus for the UTSU to foster relationships and to strengthen relations and engagement with students.

Incoming Board strikes ad-hoc mental health committee, finance committee

The incoming Board of Directors for 201920 held its first meeting, shortly after the last outgoing board meeting on the same day.

The new Board struck an ad-hoc mental health committee, which Bowman explained would meet and discuss “solutions that we see from our own individual lived experiences, and the communities that we come from.”

Long-term goals of the committee are to gather responses from U of T students through surveys; interact with various student societies, divisional faculties, and equity-seeking communities; and ultimately submit a report to U of T’s Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health.

Academic Director of Humanities Keenan Krause; Faculty of Dentistry Director Lucia Santos; University College Director Lina Maragha; Director of Applied Sciences and Engineering Jeremy Sharapov; and Victoria College Director Thomas Siddall were elected by the Board to serve on the mental health committee.

The Board also struck its Finance Committee, which will oversee the union’s budget and finances.

The directors on the committee are Academic Director of Mathematical and Physical Sciences Michael Morris; St. Michael’s College Director Neeharika Hemrajani; Director of Applied Science and Engineering Harrison Chan; Woodsworth College Director Andrea Chiappetta; and Professional Faculties at-large Directors Katharina Vrolijik and Hasma Habibiy.

One Year On: Checking campaign pledges by UTSU executives, part two

Reviewing work of President, Vice-Presidents Operations, University Affairs

One Year On: Checking campaign pledges by UTSU executives, part two

At the end of April, the 20182019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) term came to an end. In this second article of a two-part series, The Varsity reviews the work that the outgoing executives have done to fulfil their pledges.

President Anne Boucher

The role of President is to act as the chief executive of the UTSU and set the overall tone and direction of the union.

In her profile with The Varsity, Boucher pledged to ensure that the transition to the Student Commons is smooth and successful, lobby “to reintroduce the federal transit tax credit and to increase transit subsidies for students,” and change the Associate Membership Agreement (AMA) between the UTSU and University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).

The Student Commons is a planned student-run hub previously expected to open last September, but it has been repeatedly delayed due to issues with construction.

From Boucher’s executive reports this year, she has consulted with U of T’s University Advancement division and conducted planning to manage the opening of the Student Commons. However, construction issues have prevented the opening of the building during her term.

She wrote that she was “glad… to contribute to the project, in ways that should help smooth the opening of the building for the incoming executives.”

On lobbying in favour of reintroducing a federal transit tax credit and increasing transit subsidies for students, Boucher wrote that her “lobby work happens through [the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU)].” However, the UCRU has not made either objective a priority to lobby for this year.

Since assuming office, the AMA between the UTSU and the UTMSU has dissolved, resulting in the UTMSU’s independence from the UTSU.

“I’m happy that UTM students now benefit from a student union that can serve them fully, and that UTSG students benefit from a UTSU that will have the ability to work fully for St George students,” wrote Boucher.

In addition to her pledges, highlights of Boucher’s work include starting a Peers with Ears program which “connects peers who have struggled with mental illness with those currently experiencing similar hardships.” She also developed the union’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, which will support the “long term health” of the organization, she wrote.

Boucher has further led consultations with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities with respect to the Student Choice Initiative, which may result in a loss of funding for clubs and the union. To date, the results of the consultations are unclear.

Boucher did not respond to requests for comment on consultations between the UTSU and the ministry.

Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm

The Vice-President Operations manages the union’s finances, coordinates its full-time staff, and oversees the services that the UTSU provides to students.

In his profile with The Varsity, Biswurm pledged to improve the union’s financial transparency by publishing a “human readable” budget, prevent the disengagement of directors by altering the bylaws and internal structure of the union’s Board of Directors, and allocate 50 per cent of the human resources costs of the Student Commons project to student jobs.

Biswurm oversaw the publication of a newly formatted budget that was aimed to be more accessible than in previous years.

Addressing his pledge to prevent director disengagement, Biswurm wrote to The Varsity that he successfully “passed several amendments revamping the bylaws of the UTSU that govern director attendance,” to clarify expectations and enforcement, while also being “more forgiving of absences arising from exceptional circumstances.”

With regards to changes to the board’s internal structure, Biswurm wrote that he “will admit that the project of restructuring the board will not come to fruition in the 201819 term.”

He did note, however, that “a significant deal of thought and planning has gone into the project to date,” citing the union’s recent “all-encompassing governance review,” as well as a formulation of initial “recommendations and models” for restructuring.

Addressing his pledge to allocate human resource costs to student jobs in the Student Commons, he noted that the delay of the building’s opening has prevented him from fully implementing his pledge.

Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin

The role of the Vice-President University Affairs is to advocate on behalf of students to the university administration, as well as represent the union on several university bodies.

In his profile with The Varsity, Grondin pledged to lobby against the university-mandated leave of absence policy. He further pledged to lobby to introduce a grade forgiveness program, as well as improve accommodations for students affected by mental health problems.

Grondin fulfilled all his pledges to lobby for these policy changes but noted that these efforts were met with varying degrees of success.

He has spoken against the leave of absence policy at key governance meetings, including the University Affairs Board, Business Board, and Governing Council. Drawing on his own experiences with mental health challenges, he appealed personally to members of the boards to vote against the policy. Despite his lobbying, the policy passed and came into effect in July.

Since then, Grondin has written a guide to the policy in language easier for students to understand, highlighting rights, resources, and frequently asked questions. He has distributed the list to every college and faculty society.

His advocacy for the grade forgiveness program “never got as far as [he] originally intended.” He and his assistant began “a thorough review of similar policies and procedures in other universities” at the start of his term, which resulted in “a 12-page summary of [their] findings and recommendations.” They also worked with administrative officials from the Faculty of Arts & Science to collect data specific to U of T.

However, he found that Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) representatives were already pushing a similar proposal. To respect the autonomy of ASSU, which already had strong ties with administrative officials in the faculty, he decided to defer advocacy to ASSU.

Referring to his advocacy to improve accommodations for students affected by mental health problems, he wrote that he has worked extensively to improve supports. A significant achievement includes how he and his assistant “pushed for the expansion of hours in the Health and Wellness Centre,” which led to its current hours lasting “until 7pm three days of the week.”

He also worked with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students to lobby for 24-hour counseling services to be available at Robarts Library and in the Bahen Centre.

In addition to his pledges, Grondin has noted that the “bulk of [his] work throughout the year came from beyond [his] initial pledges.”

Highlights of his work include his help with coordinating much of the UTSU’s Pride programming for LGBTQ2S+ students, lobbying “for the provision of free menstrual products with students from various college societies,” creating a task force on sexual violence in the UTSU, and working on a report on microtransactions and Digital Learning Services, which has been presented to the Vice-Provost, Innovation in Undergraduate Education.

Ameera Karim, Dermot Gordon O’Halloran, Michael Junior Samakayi win UTSU by-election executive positions

Arjun Kaul wins uncontested Vice-President Operations race

Ameera Karim, Dermot Gordon O’Halloran, Michael Junior Samakayi win UTSU by-election executive positions

After no candidates ran in the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Spring Election for a large number of executive and director positions, Ameera Karim, Arjun Kaul, Dermot Gordon O’Halloran, and Michael Junior Samakayi have won the positions of Vice-Presidents Student Life, Operations, Professional Faculties, and Equity, respectively.

The VP Equity race was uncontested in the initial election but delayed due to outstanding appeals to the Elections and Referenda Committee.

The by-election saw 1,071 voters, a turnout of 2.9 per cent — 531 fewer voters than the 4.2 per cent turnout of the Spring Election.

Karim won the most contested executive race, garnering 344 votes and beating out runner-up Spencer Robertson by 94 votes. There were 410 abstentions, accounting for 38.3 per cent of votes cast in this race.

Kaul ran uncontested and received a yes vote from 89.2 per cent of participating students, with 377 students abstaining and 75 voting no.

O’Halloran’s competition, Muskan Sethi, withdrew from the race midway. Therefore, O’Halloran was elected Vice-President Professional Faculties with 130 votes. There were 120 abstentions in this race, totalling 46.5 per cent of votes.

Samakayi won by the largest margin of the contested executive elections — 376 votes were cast in his favour over the 164 votes cast for runner-up Hanya Wahdan. There were 531 abstentions, equalling to 49.6 per cent of the vote.

The UTSU Board of Directors also saw 16 positions filled, still leaving two seats unfilled.

UTSU executive candidates debate focuses on orientation, mental health, equity

Crowded by-election playing field comes after minimal engagement in general election

UTSU executive candidates debate focuses on orientation, mental health, equity

Issues of transparency, club funding, mental health, and equity took centre stage at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) by-election executive candidates debate on April 11. Candidates for Vice-President Student Life, Vice-President Equity, Vice-President Professional Faculties, and Vice-President Operations competed for votes in a crowded election.

The debate was moderated by Board of Directors Chair Eric Bryce and began with a land acknowledgement and equity statement given by current Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin.

VP Student Life

The VP Student Life election is the most contested race of both the general and the by-election period, with four candidates running. The three candidates at the debate were Ameera Karim, Spencer Robertson, and Bhanu Priya Sharma. Miharu Ho was unable to attend due to an academic conflict.

Robertson also previously ran for Vice-President External Affairs in the general election, but ultimately lost to Innis College Director Lucas Granger. He also ran unsuccessfully in 2018 for VP Campus Life, which is now called Student Life.

Candidates were asked about the Student Choice Initiative — the provincial government’s mandate for an opt-out option for certain student fees starting September — and how they would make up for a loss in funding.

Sharma emphasized the importance of creating an open discussion between students and herself, suggesting that this could be a possible way to not have students opt out.

Karim suggested the possibility of holding training sessions for club leaders in order to help them gain corporate sponsorships. She also proposed holding drop-in hours at the UTSU office, helping clubs find cheaper alternatives for their needs, and making the Student Commons bookable for clubs.

The Student Commons is a planned student-run hub to be located at 230 College Street that is a decade in the making, whose much-delayed opening is set for June.

Robertson hopes to open the door to more constructive criticism from club leaders. He also wants to make the Student Commons bookable and reduce the amount of time that non-U of T clubs can use the space.

Candidates were also asked how they plan to better involve clubs and groups in orientation going forward.

Sharma plans to implement bimonthly video chats with club leaders. For orientation, she wants an action plan for emergencies, a water station, and a booth for international students to get help.

Karim wants the Clubs Carnival to feel like less like a “filler event.” She hopes to use this position to collaborate with colleges and to train them to make orientation feel more special.

Robertson described this year’s orientation as a “nightmare,” adding that he wants to create a space where students can give feedback and assess where orientation can improve.

One audience member asked if candidates would grant funding to anti-abortion groups, and all three adamantly said that they would not.

“The answer is a hard no,” said Robertson. “We shouldn’t fund clubs that take away the rights or safety of students.”

Karim agreed, stating that these clubs create an unsafe atmosphere on campus, and that the VP Student Life should listen to students concerns about these groups.

“There’s clearly a line between freedom of expression and hate speech,” she said.

Sharma concurred with both candidates as well, saying, “While every student has the freedom to voice their opinion, it would also be a hard no for me to give them funding or space at the Clubs Carnival in which they could promote a hurtful topic.”

Another audience member asked about corporate sponsorships and where the candidates would draw the line in allowing clubs to attain corporate sponsorships from controversial or socially irresponsible companies.

Robertson said that he hopes to be in a financial position where he could decline money from unethical companies, saying there are times when the UTSU needs to draw the line.

Karim said that she would not want to take money from any company that creates or promotes an unsafe environment, and hopes to work with club leaders to help them find money from ethical sources.

Sharma stated that while she would recommend that club leaders refuse funding from organizations that would “take away the rights” of students, the decision would ultimately be left up to the club leaders as to where they get their funding.


VP Professional Faculties

The candidates for VP Professional Faculties — Dermot Gordon O’Halloran and Muskan Sethi — took the stage shortly after to discuss how they would represent and bring attention to students in their constituencies. O’Halloran is a music student and Sethi is in Chemical Engineering.

Sethi wants to engage with professional faculty students by being open to feedback and finding out what type of support they need from the UTSU.

O’Halloran pointed out that many professional faculty students do not realize that they are even a part of the UTSU. He echoed Sethi’s point that the UTSU needs to be more open to feedback, and wants to implement more physical advertising for the UTSU, pointing out that he never saw any campaigning in the Faculty of Music.

Both candidates said that they did not know that the first election was even happening, and O’Halloran only found out about the by-election by reading The Varsity.

An audience member asked about U of T’s new mental health task force and how the candidates plan to lobby the administration to make sure pro fac students are better represented.

This task force was proposed by U of T President Meric Gertler in response to student protests against perceived inaction on mental health issues.

In response, Sethi said that she wants to make students’ voices heard at Governing Council meetings and use available channels to advocate for all students.

O’Halloran took issue with the fact that there are only three student representatives on the task force but said that making resources available would alleviate many of those concerns.


VP Operations

Arjun Kaul is running uncontested for the VP Operations, and as such, his portion of the debate was structured as a “fireside chat” moderated by Bryce.

Kaul believes that, as VP Operations, he would have to split his time between managing finances and enforcing the governmental structure of the UTSU.

In terms of funding, Kaul believes that he can cut through unnecessary features of the role to help students directly. He cited the $301,000 the UTSU spends on the help desk and questioned how much this actually supports student wellness.

Outgoing VP Operations Tyler Biswurm said that no one is fully prepared for the role and that there is a steep learning process. Kaul responded that he intends to read over the bylaws in detail and seek public testimonials.


VP Equity

For the final portion of the debate, candidates for VP Equity Michael Junior Samakayi and Hanya Wahdan took the stage.

When asked about the best way to tackle issues of equity on campus, Wahdan said that she hopes to understand how the UTSU can work with different faculties on campus and how they can produce a more positive image. She also wishes for the UTSU to have a seat within each faculty and train members to create a more positive environment.

Samakayi pointed out that there were issues of representation that need attention, citing the mental health task force as an example. He said that it is impossible to represent 50,000 students, as the UTSU currently does, without diverse representation. Samakayi also added that he wants people to start thinking more about accessibility, and he hopes for students to feel welcome and not marginalized.

As for how the UTSU can better respond to issues of inequity, Wahdan said that mental health is a major priority and that she wants to look closer into why “recent events” on campus are recurring.

Samakayi agreed with this assessment and said that a more diverse and representative body is a solution. Both candidates were adamant that empathy is a key attribute to the ideal candidate and that everyone should be comfortable to speak out on issues of inequity.

Voting ends today at 5:00 pm and students can cast their ballots at