Erindale Part-time Undergraduate Students, an organization that represents part-time students at UTM, has been revived after three years of inactivity. Under the leadership of president Cherri-Ann Valentine, who also serves as associate to the UTMSU VP Campus Life, EPUS plans to hold another referendum to achieve part-time students’ support for the U-Pass.
After being promised access to the U-Pass, part-time students suddenly found themselves ineligible in March earlier this year. The UTM Students’ Union emailed students with information regarding eligibility. In a brief note at the end of the email, part-time students were instructed to contact the newly reformed EPUS.
EPUS disbanded in 2008 when the Student Administrative Council and the Erindale College Student Union merged to become UTMSU. At the same time, the two organizations attempted to merge with EPUS to be able to represent and collect a levy from part-time students. Following the merger, the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS), the organization based at St. George that represents part-time students on all three campuses, took UTMSU to court. As per APUS’s policies, the UTMSU was not within its jurisdiction to hold such a referendum. While the intent to merge EPUS with UTMSU was considered “in good faith”, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the UTMSU had acted against the authority of APUS.
UTMSU, whose membership only extends to full-time students that pay into the union through tuition, created the paid position of VP Part-time Affairs to provide representation for part-time students on campus. With EPUS active again, the position of UTMSU’s VP Part-time Affairs is called into question. The executive position is paid from the membership fee taken out of all full-time students’ tuition.
“This is a discussion that we need to have with the Board of Directors,” said UTMSU president Gilbert Cassar. “The VP Part-time Affairs has been assisting EPUS. The UTMSU is doing this out of goodwill to help EPUS get into shape to start collecting fees again and operate efficiently.”
While APUS expressed their pleasure about the revival of EPUS, they would not comment on whether they would support a second part-time U-Pass referendum after intervening in the first. APUS did not want to move forward with the U-Pass for part-time students last year, maintaining that many part-time students would not benefit from the service.
“EPUS, logically, should have been re-established with APUS,” said Jeff Peters, president of APUS. “Historically, APUS funded EPUS’s first-ever financial audit, paid staff, and even provided office hours. To date, APUS was never informed that EPUS was going to be re-established—neither about elections, funding, or even whether it is still guided by the same bylaws. APUS still receives calls from various administrative departments regarding outstanding matters, yet EPUS seems to be functioning completely independently of APUS but instead with UTMSU, a full-time student union.”
Currently, EPUS is not collecting fees on behalf of part-time students.
The issue over the part-time U-Pass stems from a series of negotiations gone awry. APUS notified UTMSU after the U-Pass referendum in the fall of 2010 that they would pursue legal action. Since part-time students do not pay membership fees to the UTMSU, but instead to APUS, the student union can only advocate for full-time students. The UTSMU was accused of unrightfully attempting to provide a service for students that legally fall under the membership of APUS. In March, the UTMSU announced that part-time students would not be included in the summer U-Pass.
Both the UTM administration and Mississauga Transit pulled out of negotiations. After continuous attempts by the UTMSU executives, Mississauga Transit came back to the table; however, they insisted that the cost of the U-Pass would have to be increased. UTMSU agreed to raise the price to $140—$55 more than what students had agreed upon through the referendum. Without enough time to hold another referendum, the UTMSU proposed a motion to subsidize the U-Pass out of the contingency budget, funds reserved for emergencies, for full-time students. The total cost of the subsidy was $121,000.
Former president Vickita Bhatt claimed that the funds used from the contingency budget would be replaced by executive salary cutbacks and unused money from the union’s ministries. Presently, UTMSU will only state that they have implemented a multi-year plan to replenish the funds. Due to complications with APUS, UTMSU was not able to negotiate a U-Pass contract with Mississauga Transit and the UTM administration specifically on behalf of part-time students.
“Interestingly, APUS was told students overwhelmingly support the U-Pass, including part-time students,” said Peters. “The reality is that not all part-time students are in favour of the U-Pass, and this needs to be acknowledged and respected. Why should those who do not require a U-Pass and those who cannot afford a U-Pass be forced to subsidize it?”
To get involved or to inquire, students can contact EPUS or attend a Ministry of Part-time Affairs meeting at the UTMSU office in the Student Centre every week on Wednesday afternoons.