Dear fellow UTM students,
I am writing this opinion piece to engage you all in a very important conversation that deserves honest discourse. I am disappointed by the coverage of our campus paper, which has not been forthcoming on the facts.
Last week’s editorial and article misconstrued the facts by referring to proposed bylaws as “stupid”. I was also disappointed by the personal attack made against UTMSU staff and the lack of professional courtesy being extended to the representatives of your students’ union at UTMSU and UTSU; we were not interviewed about an important process that will affect students in the years to come. UTM students deserve better.
Firstly, you should be aware that this coming Wednesday is a very important annual general meeting of the University of Toronto Students’ Union happening at the St. George Campus (OISE auditorium) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. At this meeting, important resolutions will be considered, such as the approval of the audited financial statements, bylaw changes and issue-related motions such as support for international students. In the weeks leading up to the AGM, there has been quite a bit of discussion on campus about the proposed changes to the structure of our Board of Directors. Ms. Yolen Bollo-Kamara, the president of UTSU, has posted an articulate explanation of the proposed board structure that is in compliance with new federal legislation (called the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, or CNCA for short) that oversees the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), and can be a bit difficult to understand. Your student union has shared this information via social media and through mass email to avoid any confusion, so that all students have the correct information before the annual general meeting. What is at stake at this meeting? Plenty. I would like to start off by providing some context.
Your student union (UTSU) was established in 1901 and currently represents all 50,000 full-time undergraduate and professional faculty students at U of T’s St. George and Mississauga campuses. UTSU has a long history of advocating on behalf of all students. UTSU is an organization that is commitment to equity and advocacy, improvement to the quality of and access to education, enhancement of the student experience, and the provision of cost-saving services. UTSU works closely with UTMSU to fulfill that mandate at the UTM campus. Students working together through UTSU have won many victories, for example, reforming the policy on flat fees that saves students $2,300 a year. For a list of other victories, please visit utsu.ca/victories.
Your student union at UTM (UTMSU) and UTSU have a symbiotic relationship. This relationship started formally in 2008 and continues today. Students have benefited from the collaboration and co-operation of student unions across Ontario and Canada. This collaboration and co-operation has lead to many victories and new services such as the U-Pass program at the UTM campus. It is relevant to note that UTSU is incorporated federally (Canada) while UTMSU is incorporated provincially (Ontario).
Currently, members of UTSU that are full-time students enrolled at the St. George and Mississauga campus are being requested to approve bylaw changes that comply with the federal law through the CNCA. The first thing to understand is that the CNCA does not permit our Board of Directors to exist as it currently does. The law does not allow for a restriction of your voting rights to elect just a director from a college, campus, or faculty of registration. The current UTSU bylaws include positions for students elected solely by students within each faculty, and the colleges affiliated with the Faculty of Arts and Science. This is no longer possible. In anticipation of the requirements of the new law, students at last year’s AGM commissioned an investigation, report, and recommendation of a new structure, which was recommended unanimously by the 2013/14 Board of Directors. The recommendations were to shift towards at-large representation for this reason.
The students studied the structure and drafted a report and a set of recommendations after thorough consultation and were guided by not only the law, but also the mandate of UTSU. For more information on the board structure, please visit utsu.ca/board-structure.
The process to approve bylaw changes is outlined in the governance documents of UTSU, which dictate that the proposed bylaws be approved by the policies and procedures committee and ratified by two-thirds of the Board of Directors before the proposed changes are considered by the membership at an annual general meeting. We have heard from some that they have concerns with the proposed structure. After much discussion with UTM representatives on the UTSU Board of Directors, we are of the opinion that due to the toxic discourse, consensus on a new structure is unlikely. Hence the possibility of any other bylaws to be approved through the process outlined above in time to meet the deadline to be compliant with the law is slim if any. We have encouraged all students, affiliated with the UTM campus or not, to approve all the bylaw amendments vetted by UTSU’s legal counsel to be necessary for compliance. That is the responsible thing to do. If the bylaws are not approved and we do not have consensus on a new set of bylaws, UTSU will not be compliant with the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. This will have real and serious consequences on members of UTSU, the levy groups of UTSU such as the Sexual Education Centre and the Women’s Centre, and, most importantly, UTM students. As mentioned above, UTSU and UTMSU have a symbiotic relationship, one that is also financial in nature. If UTSU ceases to exist as an incorporated entity and loses its ability to collect and remit fees, UTMSU services and campaigns will be directly affected.
Finally, I am disappointed that our campus paper, which collects fees from all UTM students, has failed to report accurately on the process and the consequences of failure to comply with the law. We hope that the reporting of our campus paper will be balanced and fair. The use of repetitive quotes from a right-wing blogger of the National Post is not credible and does not serve to inform but only confuse and misinform. We hope that the editorial staff will be diligent by investing in a process of checking for facts before publication. For more information about the UTSU AGM, please visit utsu.ca/annual-general-meeting.
My fellow friends and students; please remember to be in attendance at the UTSU Annual General Meeting this Wednesday, October 29 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. We will do our best to accommodate you in your arrival to the OISE auditorium.
We have plenty of challenges ahead of us such as rising tuition fees and student debt. We can reverse this trend.
UTM, always remember that we are stronger when we work together.
In student solidarity,
President of UTMSU