Before you begin reading this piece, I would like to offer a disclaimer. This is an opinion piece based on an issue that has been a long time coming at UTM, and which is now starting to boil over. Things get tricky here because while this is my opinion, it’s also rooted in real life events that happened recently. It’s still important to remember that this is not a News article, it’s an unfiltered update on what’s happening at UTM that not many students know about. If you think this doesn’t affect you as a student you better think again.
The past few months have shown a disturbing new trend amongst U of T’s students’ unions across all three campuses. Slowly, each campus has begun to ban student journalists from either live tweeting meetings, or attending public meetings all together without prior permission. By doing so, these student groups have greatly restricted how student journalists can report on events and inform the rest of the student body regarding important issues. Many of these meetings review how the unions have handled their financials and where exactly student money is being used. If there is an issue with financials or the passing of a policy that puts students at a disadvantage then who’s going to know about it?
Over the past few years, the UTMSU has dictated how student journalists are to contact and interact with union members. The union has refused to speak to us in person and will only converse with us via email. This hasn’t always been the case. When I first started writing for The Medium I remember having interviews with the union executives back in 2015. In 2016, after the email policy began to be enforced, the UTMSU president was still quick to answer my questions at an agreed upon deadline. However, over the past two years, the executives have become less concerned with the well-being of the student body and more concerned with keeping their friends employed within the union as well as fabricating a false image of themselves.
During the course of the first semester, I received several emails from the UTMSU detailing how The Medium staff were to do their job, and how we should address members of the union. They even lodged complaints against our staff. But the catalyst for this specific editorial comes after the UTMSU’s AGM where the union accused us of misdemeanor.
Following the AGM The Medium’s Editor-in-Chief received an email from the VP External voicing outrage that our News Editor, Ali Taha, was talking to a UTMSU volunteer after the meeting and asking questions without the UTMSU’s permission. The UTMSU has demanded that under no circumstance are members of The Medium permitted to approach any executive member of the UTMSU or anyone affiliated with the union in person. Doing otherwise is deemed by the UTMSU to be unprofessional and inappropriate. Since when is asking a question to another person considered unprofessional? Abdullah then escalated the situation by attempting to ban The Medium from freely attending public student events. They demanded that we ask permission prior to any event for their approval. The UTMSU would do well to remember that they are simply democratic representatives, not royalty, and they cannot control the behaviors and actions of everyone around them. I’d like to take this time to remind the UTMSU executives that up until now The Medium has followed the request for email correspondence out of courtesy, not requirement.
I’m also going to note here that each year The Medium does what it can to establish a professional rapport with the newly elected union executives. We update students on all the goals the union promises to accomplish and we do report on positive events and policies that the union achieves. To be accused as biased reporters with an agenda and constantly restricted in attempts to do our jobs is greatly insulting.
My main issue is this: the UTMSU has always claimed to stand for freedom of speech and yet they try so hard to limit student knowledge of their meetings, they avoid addressing unfulfilled campaign promises, and the student body turns a blind eye. Do you know how many times my predecessors and myself have asked for the dates of Board of Director meetings only to be brushed off and ignored? Those are public meetings open to all UTM students and they are kept secret for some reason. On the off chance we do get someone to tell us a date and time, it suddenly gets changed last minute and no follow up date is given. Short of camping outside their office until the next meeting is held, I’m at a loss.
The union was put together to further the interests of students. That goal has long since died out. The current UTMSU only seems interested in furthering their personal and political interests at UTM. Remember, these are individuals who vehemently oppose specific politicians for silencing the voice of minorities and public opinion, yet the UTMSU will turn around in the same breath and try to control how The Medium interacts with other UTM students. Newspapers and reporters, either at the level of student journalism or national media, are watchdogs. It’s our job to report, ask questions and inform the general public. If someone doesn’t want to answer our questions all they have to say is “No,” and then walk away.
What has further troubled me is that this isn’t a problem isolated to just UTM. Recently the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union banned the Varsity and The Underground from live tweeting and attending events. This action resulted in a statement by the Canadian Association of Journalists explaining the laws of free speech to U of T’s student unions. How completely arrogant do you have to be to assume you can ban someone from writing about a public event? Apparently so arrogant that the Canadian Association of Journalists needs to remind you of basic rights.
Even more worrisome, is that somehow the students on U of T’s campuses have allowed unions to get so corrupted that no one is brave enough to protest what they do. Who besides the student newspapers holds these people accountable for their conflict of interests and broken promises? Vice versa, if the unions pass an important bylaw or policy that can help students why not have that coverage put out in wider circulation? If the concept of media presence at meetings makes student unions so nervous, maybe they should reflect on why that is. There needs to be some sort of unbiased check and balance with student unions. You know, someone besides the unions friends to remind them of their job duties and legalities. You’d think that the student body would also hold the union accountable for their actions but the reality is, students at UTM are too passive to care. After five years at this campus I see how complacent the student body has become and it needs to change. Students pay the union every year, they fund their salaries and for what? You’re literally giving your money away and you don’t know if it’s being used appropriately or not.
When I first attended this school, UTM was actually a fun place where people wanted to hang out together, converse about differing opinions and have a good time. Largely the union was responsible for that environment; they really do set the tone for campus social life. Now no one is allowed to have an opinion differing from the union and what they deem is right. My favourite part of this is that the union who claims to be a fighter for student rights and freedom of speech have demonstrated a disheartening amount of hypocrisy. It’s time that ends. In conclusion, I’m not abiding by the requests of any union anymore. My reporters and I will attend any and all meetings we desire, and the free press, student journalists or otherwise, do not answer to the union and their overreach for control. I sincerely hope some UTM student or even a faculty member reads this and gets pissed off enough and spreads the word. Because free speech on this campus is essentially dead and I need someone to care.
This article has been corrected.
- January 7, 2019 at 5 a.m.: “If there is an issue with financials or the passing of a policy that puts students at a disadvantage than who’s going to know about it?” was changed to “…then who’s going to know about it?”