A group of UTM students collected 600 signatures in support of their petition to the UTMSU board of directors to hold a referendum asking students whether they would be in favour of diverting fees from Varsity Publicationsand either forwarding them to Medium II Publications or refunding all undergraduate UTM students.
On Wednesday, Raymond Noronha, the president of UTMSU, sent an email to Joshua Oliver, the editor-in-chief of the Varsity, and Luke Sawczak, the editor-in-chief of the Medium, informing them of the petition and inviting them to discuss it at UTMSU’s board meeting the next day at 6 p.m.
Noronha attached scans of about half of the signatures that had been collected. Neither Oliver nor Sawczak had been given notice of the petition until they received the email.
Oliver and Murad Hemmadi, the managing online editor of the Varsity, attended the board meeting on Thursday, along with Sawczak and Larissa Ho and David Sanchez, the Medium’s news editor and advertising manager, respectively. Also present were the petitioners themselves and Cameron Wathey, UTSU’s VP internal and services and the UTSU designate on UTMSU’s board.
After other items on the agenda had been discussed and voted on, Christopher Thompson, last year’s president of UTMSU and its current speaker, read the motion and gave the students who had collected the signatures speaking rights. They argued that the Varsity did not include enough UTM coverage to justify its value to UTM students.
“I was very surprised and concerned to hear about this petition […] It obviously shows that there are some students who are at UTM who are not happy with the services that we’ve been providing them, which I take very, very seriously as the leader of the organization,” said Oliver at the meeting.
Oliver went on to say that the Varsity doesn’t feel that this “formal remedy” is the best way to go forward, since UTMSU is not formally involved in the governance structures relating to the Varsity fees, which are collected by the university on behalf of the Varsity Publications, a corporation.
“We don’t feel that UTMSU needs to be formally involved, although we obviously welcome the informal input of UTMSU as we go forward […],” said Oliver. “I think the first step would be for us to have a discussion and exhaust every possible other option before we got into something procedurally complex.”
Sawczak expressed his concern that the Medium had not been consulted about its inclusion on the petition and defended the Varsity’s usefulness at UTM.
“As UTM we are part of U of T,” he said. “I appreciate a kind of patriotism for UTM, but at the same time, to cut a flow of information into the campus that keeps students better informed of what’s going on at U of T, which is really the parent organization of UTM—I don’t think it’s a good idea to cut this education.”
Najwa Hassounah, one of the students who had collected petitions, said in an email interview, “I did not see any value in paying for both the Medium and the Varsity. I was also not happy that the Varsity implemented a fee increase through a referendum that was not promoted at UTM last year.”
She discovered that many UTM students did not know that they pay incidental fees to both the Medium and the Varsity.
“Also after reviewing the articles from the Varsity, there [were] little if any articles about the affairs at UTM or UTM students,” said Hassounah. “We wanted UTM students to decide where their fees are directed. The petition was a process for us to raise attention and awareness as well as voice the concerns of UTM students.”
Since the Varsity and the petitioners agreed to talk it out before taking formal action, UTMSU’s board moved to accept the petitions but to strike out the second part of the motion about the referendum. According to Walied Khogali, UTMSU’s executive director, the referendum would not in any case be legal.
The current levy to the Varsity is $3.74, having been raised last year by $1 via a referendum.