Confusion arose last week on the subject of a motion to amend the U of T Student Union’s bylaws at its Annual General Meeting this Wednesday, October 29.
The amendments include a section on replacing college directors with “constituency” directors representing various minorities.
The UTM Students’ Union, whose members are also members of UTSU, took advantage of multiple avenues to disseminate information on the bylaw changes and to encourage voting for the motion, including emails to all UTM undergraduates and info sessions.
UTMSU also alleged at an info session that The Medium had published “false” information in last week’s article “‘Stupid’ bylaw proposed downtown”.
The Medium has followed up on several of the questions raised. An appendix of The Medium’s answers to common questions is available.
Consequences for UTSU if bylaws are not approved
If members vote down the proposed amendments on Wednesday, the union will have a year to submit alternative bylaws that comply with changes to the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act.
A motion to reincorporate UTSU in Ontario, and thus avoid being under the jurisdiction of the federal act, was proposed over the summer but defeated by the board.
UTSU president Yolen Bollo-Kamara said that if the bylaw amendment motion fails at this week’s AGM, UTSU would have until October 17, 2015 to propose another board structure, approve it at the board level, and vote on it at a general meeting.
But Bollo-Kamara wasn’t sure of the exact consequences of failing to pass a compliant structure by next October.
“This is new legislation and hasn’t been tested yet, so no one knows for certain,” she said.
She noted the possibility that Industry Canada could impose new bylaws on UTSU, the union could face legal action, or it could dissolve.
“In any circumstance, we have a responsibility to pass compliant bylaws so that we can retain control of the UTSU and continue to exist and be structured according to the will of the membership. This isn’t a risk I’m comfortable taking,” said Bollo-Kamara.
A major effect on UTM students, in the event that the motion is passed, would be that directors representing them would be voted on by St. George students as well, and UTM students would also be able to vote for all other directors.
Option to retain college directors
In an interview with The Medium, Bollo-Kamara was asked whether UTSU could modify the current college and faculty director positions instead of removing them, such that all students could vote for all directors.
She confirmed that this was a possible way to comply with the act.
“That could have been an option proposed, but many of the smaller colleges and faculties in particular are opposed to having all students be able to vote for their representative directors,” she said.
She added that if this solution were proposed, the directors would be “elected by and accountable to the entire membership, while expected to represent a particular college or faculty”.
However, the new model is compliant because all the director positions allow all students to vote for all directors. That is, the minority directors, the UTM directors, and the faculty-at-large directors who remain can all be voted on by the entire membership.
Bollo-Kamara said students could request that the board structure be opened for further review even after the motion is passed.
Colleges would lose right to vote on board
UTSU’s statement also said that the colleges and faculties would not lose representation under the new structure because they would be represented through “new committees” that would discuss their constituencies’ issues and put forward motions to the board.
Asked whether the new Arts and Science Committee and Professional Faculties Committee would have a vote on the board, Bollo-Kamara said that they would “appoint representatives as voting members to the other UTSU committees” and that “the college and faculty student societies also retain speaking rights at the board and the right to receive notice, an agenda, and an executive report for all meetings”.
UTMSU executive director Walied Khogali confirmed that these committees would not be able to vote on board decisions.
In the current model, the seven college directors and the 12 categories for directors representing the faculties have voting power on the board.
The possibility of a “class” model
UTSU’s statement discussed another option, that of a “class” model, which would involve dividing members into 19 classes for each faculty and college, and allowing students to vote for only the representative in their own class but still comply with the act.
A proposal for a class model was put forward but was defeated by the board “on the strong recommendation from legal counsel”. According to the statement and to a Facebook comment by UTSU VP internal Cameron Wathey, two legal firms advised the union that classes would lead to “corporate paralysis”, since any single class could defeat a proposal even if it was passed by all the other classes.
UTSU’s VP university affairs Pierre Harfouche commented on the class model in a Facebook note encouraging students to vote against the proposed constituency structure.
“All the problems that legal counsel told us about are not really that big a deal in my eyes,” said Harfouche. “Yes, we may need to host 19 different veto votes every time the structure of the UTSU changes—but only if the proposed change unfairly affects some classes over the others.” For example, he said, a class for UTM students would have a veto if the rest of the union voted to kick UTM out.
Harfouche said he favoured the class model over the option of having all students vote for all directors.
“I don’t believe that all students should be able to vote, for example, for the international student issues director, because their issues are very particular,” he said. “Also, I don’t think the majority of students are equipped to understand LGBTQ issues in depth enough to make a difference. LGBTQ clubs should elect the LGBTQ director.”
UTMSU alleges that The Medium printed falsehoods
In a meeting with Medium staff last week, and afterwards at UTMSU’s info session on the upcoming AGM, Khogali said that The Medium had published “false” and misleading statements in its coverage leading up to the AGM.
At the info session last Thursday, Khogali made explicit reference to statements in last week’s article.
Speaking about the bylaw amendment for a new board structure, Khogali said, “Some of the criticism you’ll hear out there is that—and this is something that was reported in The Medium, which is false, not true—is that 45,000 people will be disfranchised.”
Referencing a National Post article criticizing the proposed structure, The Medium’s article stated that many students “wouldn’t have a category representing them”.
While the new model would add 13 director positions representing “constituencies” such as women, LGBTQ, racialized students, and commuters, it would also remove several positions. Many students, such as those who are male, upper-year, or non-racialized, would not have a director specifically tasked with representing the group they belong to.
Of the 24 voting positions on the proposed board structure, 13 would be filled by the constituency directors, and 11 seats are for the arts and science at-large directors, the transitional year program, UTM directors, and professional faculties.
“The other thing that was mentioned that created some confusion with some people is that professional faculties will not be represented. That’s not true,” Khogali said.
The article stated that if the motion passes, “a number of positions” representing professional faculties would be dissolved. The AGM’s order of business shows that the existing 12 director categories for professional faculties would be cut down to three “faculty at-large” directors.
Following the info session, Khogali apologized to The Medium’s reporter for his comments.
The Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act can be found at laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-7.75.