Last year, Unite UTM was elected in what was considered historic UTMSU elections with four teams and two independents. One of the victorious slate’s main promises was that they would return their salaries to students if they do not work toward their platform points. A year after, The Medium spoke to each of the five elected executives and received a response from three, who addressed what the union has achieved, what’s in progress, and what couldn’t work.
During the 2016 Spring UTMSU elections, the current union, running as Unite UTM, pledged to donate their salaries if their campaign promises were not met.
Some of the team’s promises included working toward a grade forgiveness policy; free post-secondary education for all students; eliminating the $35 exam remark fee; lobbying for a minimum $15 minimum wage across campus; reforming governance at UTM; creating a Nap Room; a heated bus-shelter at IB, Deerfield and Hart House; free menstruation products on campus; study space expansion; cheaper, healthier and expanded food options on campus.
The Medium received responses from four out of the five elected representatives.
“We promised that we would give our salaries back if we did not work towards accomplishing everything on our social contract,” Nour Alideeb, president of the UTMSU, wrote in an email to The Medium. “We stand by our promise and we’re very proud to say that we genuinely worked towards accomplishing everything that we set to do, and the year has yet to be finished.”
Alideeb recapped the promises her team has achieved throughout their term such as free feminine hygiene products across campus bathrooms, removing the $35 exam remark fee, and implementing a Nap Room in the Student Centre.
Another promise made by the team was to establish a GTA wide U-Pass. Whereas the GTA U-Pass was not achieved, according to Alideeb, the union has successfully lobbied for it. She further elaborated that UTMSU engaged in negotiations with Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency.
“Over the past year, we were the first students’ union to meet and lobby for the GTA U-Pass with Metrolinx (the provincial transit agency). They said they were open to seeing this project happen, and would require statistics and detail to determining fares and working with municipal transit authorities. From their direction, we came up with a survey, with support from MiWay, that can account for where students are commuting from and what respective transit systems they use,” wrote Alideeb.
“The work going forward highlights that it is a multi-year project that requires careful analysis and strategic lobbying of municipal governments and the Ontario Government for funding, direction and assistance.”
While Alideeb credited her team’s work with Metrolinx, VP Internal Jackie Zhao wrote to The Medium regarding the difficulties the GTA U-Pass presented.
“My team and I have accomplished each of the Internal campaign points except a GTA U-pass,” he wrote. “As we’ve mentioned before, we have worked extensively on the GTA U-Pass, as we’ve been collecting data and are the first and only group to be speaking with Metrolinx and MiWay about a GTA U-Pass.”
“The GTA U-Pass is still in progress, along with the Student Centre expansion, but there’s also a progressive plan that I hope next year’s team will be continuing to fulfill, unless they have an even better one to work with,” Zhao continued.
Zhao also credited the addition of more locker spaces, a bursary for international students, an emergency food plan fund, and increased club funding as his achievements while in office.
The Medium reached out to Zhao on Sunday for further details on the bursary and the food plan fund, but received no response, as of press time.
The team had also campaigned to either lower or establish free tuition fees. As previously reported by The Medium, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne said that free Ontario tuition was not feasible. She had explained that free tuition would restrict access to post-secondary education, as the government would have to come up with more money to afford the free education.
Alideeb had told The Medium then that she was not pleased with premier Wynne’s response, and that the “Fight the Fees” campaign had statistics which supported their cause. Alideeb recited the union’s actions this year in regards to free tuition.
“I wish we could have achieved free tuition for all. I think we really shook up the place with our first Day of Action in four years; we set the tone across the country that students in Canada want free tuition for all, and that it is actually possible,” wrote Alideeb. “Instead of free tuition, my team was able to remove unnecessary fees like the $35 exam remark fee, we implemented free menstrual products in all washrooms across campus, and we’re currently working on removing the $15 exam reproduction fee.”
The group had promised to expand food locations, which Alideeb credits as a success with the inclusions of Chatime in the Blind Duck Pub, as well as Fusion 5 in the Temporary Food Court in Davis, and Bento Sushi in the Instruction Centre.
As reported on September 12, UTM’s director of hospitality and retail services, Vicky Jezierski had stated to The Medium that consultations took place with students in the form of a survey back in 2011, right before TFC and IB were built. Jezierski had added then that a Student Advisory Committee was also set up, open houses were held, and consultations resumed with the Residence Student Council, the Graduates Council, and UTMSU.
“UTMSU has taken active involvement in committees with the administration to discuss food options on campus,” wrote Alideeb. “We know that Davis will be gutted in the upcoming months to make room for a new and improved food court with a variety of options, so stay tuned for that.”
Heated bus shelters
UTMSU’s VP external, Marise Hopkins, added in an email to The Medium that the university plans on expanding the Temporary Food Court in Davis to include new food options, including Thai Express. Hopkins explained that UTMSU also tried to lobby the university for including a Popeyes as well, but Popeyes was not on the top ten foods that students demanded when completing a campus survey.
Among the other platform points for Hopkins were heated bus shelters at the Instruction Centre and Hart House, sponsoring two World University Service of Canada students, and OHIP for international students. Hopkins commented on her progress for these points.
“As VP external, we lobbied the administration to install video surveillance for the shuttle bus stops at both Hart House and the IB building,” wrote Hopkins. “Initially we wanted them to install a heated bus shelter there, but due to lack of space and accessibility in that area, it was not physically possible.”
Hopkins conceded that the union is still working on the health care for international students. She also stated that she has recently been working on a relief project pertaining to the East African drought, where she hopes to set the ground for next year’s executive team to continue from.
“We ran into difficulty when trying to secure commitment from the administration to sponsor two WUSC students,” said Hopkins. “Some priorities were long-term goals, like achieving free education, securing OHIP for international students. Still, we brought a lot of awareness to the issues and look forward to next year’s team continuing the work.”
VP university affairs
Vanessa Demello, the VP of university affairs and academics also wrote to The Medium to discuss the projects completed while in office.
“As VP university affairs and academics, I have worked towards achieving all of my campaign points by working with students through commissions and ministries (before they were phased out), the Office of the Registrar, and the greater UTM Administration and Community,” Demello wrote.
Three new commissions were introduced to replace UTMSU’s nine ministries this year, including the Ministry of International Students, Ministry of Student Services, Ministry of Education and Outreach, Ministry of Student Life, Ministry of University Affairs & Academics, and the Ministry of Social Justice. The new commissions were Campaigns and Advocacy, Student Life, and Student Services.
“Certain goals may be perceived as difficult to achieve due to things that need to go through the U of T governance process or have been worked on but not achieved since they are long term goals,” Demello continued. “From my understanding, the incoming UTMSU executives plan on continuing the work that was started this year and are striving for even more.”
Demello also reiterated the removal of the exam remark fee and the establishment of co-op at UTM and the implementation of the anti-calendar. The Medium reached out to her for further details on the co-ops at UTM, but received no response, as of press time.
UTMSU’s spring election results for the 2017-2018 academic year were ratified last Tuesday at the union’s board meeting. Fresh UTM slate had swept the elections against UTM First. Alideeb and Demello had taken a leave of absence and were the campaign managers of the victorious slate.
Both Alideeb and Demello stressed that although results for some projects have not been achieved this year, some are still currently in progress and going through administration approval.
“We are currently working to create a UTMSU syllabus and are waiting for approval to move the Cr/NCR deadline to the Last Day of Classes,” wrote Demello, adding that the union has also conducted a survey with students to see their course preferences during the Summer session, and has accordingly sent the survey results to the administration and governing bodies.
“As for study spaces, the university will be starting renovations in Davis very shortly, which will see a massive increase in study/lounge space,” Demelllo added. “North Phase 2 will also have an adequate amount of study space to satisfy our ever growing population here at UTM.”
Promises made by the rest of the executive team included providing heated bus shelters at Deerfield and IB, lobbying toward OHIP for international students, and getting more locker spaces around campus.
The Medium reached out multiple times to UTMSU’s VP equity Maleeha Baig, but did not receive a response, as of press time.