UTSU President Sandy Hudson went over the major initiatives undertaken in 2008-2009— such as Drop Fees, International Student Orientation, and the Sustainability Commission—and listed the goals which UTSU hopes to meet in the coming year—namely, two Xpression Against Oppression Weeks, increased funding for nearly three hundred clubs, a campaign to ban bottled water on campus, and a revitalized Taskforce on Racism.
In light of recent developments like the Flat Fee Proposal and the Towards 2030 Plan, this year’s AGM also focused on a sense of growing discrepancy between the university administration and the general student-body. During a panel discussion, Adam Awad, VP University Affairs, pointed out a gradual devaluation of the undergraduate experience at U of T. Both Awad and Hudson said that the administration's zeal to turn U of T into a completely research institution is bringing increased corporate involvement in university affairs, and diverting attention from undergraduate-based academics.
“There is nothing wrong with universities becoming economically and commercially viable,” said Awad. “But when they begin to sacrifice programs that foster critical thinking in favour of those which merely appease corporations and donors, they are going against their essential founding principles.” Awad went on to give already visible examples of this—such as the suspension of the History and Philosophy of Education program at OISE, the proposal to affiliate the Transitional Year Program (TYP) with Woodsworth College, and the fact that the Department for Near and Middle Eastern Studies still does not have a Professor of Arabic Literature.
Student response to the discussion revealed that there were doubts about whether UTSU is equipped to respond to such changes in a fair and balanced manner. Students cited concerns that the organization's current structure and agenda are not faithful to the larger university community.
“Colleges increasingly prefer to organize events and deal with issues on their own,” said James Finley, a council-member from St. Michael’s. “They feel that UTSU is incapable of understanding their individual concerns. I, personally, have yet to see anything tangible on UTSU’s part that shows they are eager to either mend or develop relationships with the colleges which comprise their constituents.”
Similarly, University College student Graeme Maitland maintained that UTSU’s administrative workings are often too cliquey and opaque for those not affiliated with the organization. He requested that union policies be posted online, so that transparency can be guaranteed to all members of the U of T community.
UTSU members and unaffiliated students disclaimed such criticisms as unfair. “It isn't completely realistic for any single body to represent all 41,000 undergraduates,” said Daniella Kyei, VP Equity. “But we really are trying our best. We make ourselves much more visible than before, get as much feedback as we can, and regularly visit different colleges and faculties."
Kyei recommended that students attend the various Commission meetings to express their concerns. "In fact, I encourage people to get actively involved. It’s very irresponsible of us to complain and bicker amongst ourselves while the administration is busy making such sweeping changes."
HOW TO GET INVOLVED WITH UTSU:
The AGM is essentially a chance for any full-time undergraduate to be kept up-to-date with the workings of the student union. Whatever issues arise, both during the AGM and in general, are then taken up individually by one of UTSU's five Commissions.
All full-time undergraduates are encouraged to attend Commission Meetings, so they can have a direct say in the student union's major decisions. These meetings occur regularly; their dates, locations, and times can be found both online and in the UTSU member handbook and dayplanner. The Equity Commission meets 1:30pm on December 2 at 12 Hart House Circle. Visit the 'About UTSU' page on utsu.ca for more information on how to get involved.