The U of T Advisory Committee on the Temporary Use of Space held its first meeting this week, with the goal of providing a forum for discussion about the university’s policy on temporary space, and its use by campus groups. Included on the committee are representatives from the Offi ce of the Vice-Provost, Hart House, and the Office of Space Management, along with various representatives from student societies (ASSU, Innis College Students’ Society, Woodsworth College Students Association, Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council), campus groups, and student unions.

The Advisory Committee was created in the aftermath of a heated Governing Council meeting in October. During the meeting, the recently revised Policy on the Use of Temporary Space at the University of Toronto was roundly criticized by several members of campus and student groups, among them the APUS, ASSU, and UTSU. Governing Council heard opinions criticizing the policy of limiting students’ space for assembly, unfairly targeting small student groups, stifling dissent on campus, and having a potentially negative effect on student experience at the university. Eventually, repeated loud interjections from observers and nonmembers in the Council Chamber led to a brief recess. Although the policy was approved by the Governing Council, it was decided that a committee would be set up to address the various concerns raised during the meeting.

Akash Goel, VUSAC president and a committee member, points to an imbalance in scheduling between internal and external groups as one of the key issues on the agenda. Currently, external groups (such as private parties or LSAT and MCAT study sessions) can book campus space several months in advance, while internal groups can only do so one month in advance. “This policy impedes internal groups because many space are already booked when they start looking for one,” he said. “We’re advocating for a review of this, as well as a major discussion about whether external groups with connections to internal groups have access to lower booking costs.”

Ishraq Alim, VP External of the U of T Muslim Students’ Association points to another particularly frustrating issue for campus groups, that each group can only have one designated signing officer to book campus space at any time. “That one person has to go in person and book the room,” he explains. “We want to either increase the number of signing officers, or move toward a more efficient online method.”

Another committee member, ASSU President Gavin Nowlan, is optimistic about the committee’s role in providing a forum for discussion on key campus space issues. This has blossomed from just looking at the grand overall policy and the related hierarchy, into a committee that’s going to look how we do everything when it comes to temporary space, how it’s booked, rules and regulations, pricing, [etc.],” he explains. “We’re hopefully going to address a number of the concerns of how space is allocated and how you go about getting it.”

Akash Goel also notes that more subtle and specific issues can be addressed in a committee setting, such as private versus public events. While public events are supposedly open to anyone, gender or religious based events could pose different challenges. “There are certain gray areas, and we wanted some of those gray areas to be ironed out, and find out where they lie. It’s important as a committee to discuss those issues.”

While not a member of the committee, the Étudiants Francophones de l’Université de Toronto (EFUT) was another key actor in the lead-up to Tuesday’s meeting. Goel, Nowlan and Alim each point to EFUT as an important player in gathering the major shortcomings in the university policy, and articulating seful recommendations for their improvement. Specifically, EFUT noted that the committee itself left St. George campus groups underrepresented, despite the fact that the committee’s discussion affects them most of all, and put forth a detailed proposal for a new committee. EFUT has since been invited to speak at the Advisory Committee’s next meeting.

In separate conversations, Goel, Nowlan and Alim also stressed the fact that this week’s meeting served mainly as an introductory session to present the issues and concerns to be addressed in future discussions. While specific action plans are not yet in the works, all three appear optimistic that the committee will at least provide a venue for input from those most affected by the university’s policies.

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