The unofficial 2013 spring election results show that Munib Sajjad and the rest of the candidates from Team Renew were elected to executive positions in the U of T Students’ Union. Though UTM students have their own student union, UTMSU, Sajjad stressed the importance of UTSU to Mississauga students and elaborated on related elements of his campaign’s platform.
UTM students are paying members of both the U of T Students’ Union (based on the St. George campus) and the UTM Students’ Union. UTSU provides UTM students with health and dental plans. At the Scarborough campus, students pay only to their local union. The Scarborough Campus Student Union also provides its members with a health and dental plan.
“We at UTSU have been present at the UTM campus, not only working at the campus and other associations, but we’ve all taken time to make a presence,” he said when asked about the perceived distance, both in scope and geography, between UTSU and Mississauga students. “We have a good relationship with UTMSU and we want to establish stronger connections. […] What we’re doing together this year is collaborating more with our campus partners and delivering services to students where they are in popular hubs on campus.”
He explained how UTSU’s proximity to Simcoe Hall at the St. George campus “makes interactions quite regularly, so that’s how we’re effective for UTM students”.
According to Sajjad, this proximity allows UTSU to better relay concerns and ideas from other campuses and also allows the different unions to form a unified voice. UTSU has more meetings with the provost and vice-provost than other student unions, and its partnerships with other campus unions allow it to bring up those unions’ concerns at meetings.
When asked about Sana Ali’s resignation, Sajjad declined to comment until the team could make a group response. Ali was Team Renew’s vice-president external candidate until she resigned last week in an open letter on Facebook. In her letter, Ali wrote that she felt she was placed on the slate to “fill a space and fulfill a pre-set mandate”. She criticized the slate for “groupthink” and a “desire to suppress any kind of communication I may have with the ‘opposition’ ”.
A prominent element of Team Renew’s platform was the intent to lobby for international students to get access to OHIP. International students were cut from OHIP in the ’90s because of funding issues, and the province has scaled back health services even for citizens of Ontario. Despite this, Sajjad is adamant that getting international students into the program will benefit everyone.
“It’s not that there isn’t enough money, it’s that the priorities are different. Across the board, I’m seeing international students not getting access to the public healthcare from the ’90s. But in Manitoba they are offering international students healthcare,” he said. “Why? Because international students were empowered and able to speak about how they were affected by the healthcare access.”
In Ontario, international students are prevented by law from serving on governing councils, “a sign that the provincial government doesn’t have interest in helping international students and is just using them as cash cows,” said Sajjad. According to Sajjad, international students tend to stay in Ontario—whether for work or for graduate studies—and they also invest about $2 billion a year into the province.
Despite this, international students pay the highest tuition and receive the fewest benefits. “I definitely see a sense of xenophobia in this lack of support. […] Our university is extending its outreach to countries abroad, but they are not extending support to international students when they arrive,” said Sajjad. “Grants aren’t even given to international students.”
As president, Sajjad aims to make the times and dates of discussion meetings—open meetings in which students can participate—more visible outside of the UTSU website so international students can come and talk about this and other issues that concern them. Team Renew’s hope is that by concentrating on making the provincial government aware of the views and benefits of international students, they will encourage the government to restore OHIP access to them to encourage more to come to the province.
Another part of the platform was establishing a drop credit policy for students to foster academic fairness. According to the policy as proposed by the slate, a student who does poorly in a first- or second-year course would be able to retake it. UTSU has posted a discussion paper about it on their website; students are free to read it and submit feedback and suggestions through the site.
By assessing the situation and needs of each campus, a solid and coherent design for a drop credit policy can be drafted and proposed so that “students have the ability to show they’ve made progress [on fixing] mistakes in their studying”, according to UTSU.
Sajjad encourages any student looking to get involved with either of these projects, or with anything else at U of T, to visit utsu.ca.