Clubs and academic society representatives discussed the failure of the Student Centre expansion referendum at UTMSU’s open forum held on February 13.
The event, which was attended by about 12 students (of which five were UTMSU executives), was intended to provide club and society executives a platform for feedback on the Student Centre expansion campaign, as well as other issues.
“I was pleased with my experience, given that the participants and I were encouraged to speak openly and that the atmosphere was non-confrontational and friendly,” said Siddharth Chaudhari, a representative of the English and Drama Student Society.
However, Mariam Assaad, president of the Middle Eastern Students’ Association, was less satisfied with the event.
“I was personally underwhelmed by the number of people that attended. I expected clubs and societies to be really excited for something like this, [since] it’s the perfect chance to voice our opinions and demands,” said Assaad, adding that the poor attendance might have been due to a lack of advance notice about the forum, as well as the session being held in the midst of midterms.
The club and society executives who attended the event said that the Student Centre expansion campaign was too imposing, which they felt left a negative impression on voters. One student noted that referendum volunteers would follow people out of buildings, refusing to leave them alone.
UTMSU President Raymond Noronha agreed that the campaign could have been improved.
“Volunteers did a good job,” he said. “But I guess they were a bit aggressive.”
When asked why student clubs and societies hadn’t shown stronger support for the expansion during the campaign, several students said it wasn’t clear how the expansion would benefit them. For instance, the executives said they didn’t know how many more offices would be built in the Student Centre.
Posters designed and put up around campus during the campaign period listed 154 square feet of office space and 60 sq. ft. of storage space, translating into 18 new offices and three new storage rooms. This allotment and others were determined through cost predictions worked out with members of the administration, according to a presentation by UTMSU’s executive director, Walied Khogali, at the January 17 meeting of Student Centre tenants.
Chaudhari took issue with the fact that there was no model of the building available to show how the Student Centre would look after expansion. “It doesn’t make sense for us to volunteer for something we don’t entirely understand,” he said.
According to statements by Noronha before the voting period, definite plans could not be made before approaching an architect, which he said would come after funding was secured.
Noronha said that the UTMSU’s next steps involve speaking to university administration about increased study space (one of the major student concerns during the campaign), implementing rules to allow only UTM students to use the campus library, and increased food options on campus.
Noronha was unable to confirm, however, when this meeting would take place. Paul Donoghue, UTM’s chief administrative officer and a key figure in the negotiations, was on vacation until February 18.
Some club executives allegedly took issue with their having been listed on campaign materials as endorsing the referendum when they had not explicitly agreed to. For example, Rebeeyah Jabeen, founder of the brand-new UTM Archery Club, said she was never asked for her permission to have the club listed (but added that she personally didn’t mind that it was done).
UTMSU executives also encouraged student leaders to bring their concerns to the upcoming Principal’s Town Hall on March 19.