Op-Ed: UTMSU meetings show concern for their membership
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) held its annual general meeting (AGM) on Thursday, Nov. 12. The meeting was a completely different experience for me than similar meetings for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) I attended as an executive and a representative of the UTMSU. Truth be told, general meetings were not my favourite setting for interacting with students; I preferred talking to students one-one one about the issues that matter to them. AGMs are, however, crucial for engaging the membership and developing organizational work.
That Thursday, approximately 100 students packed into the Erindale Council Chambers. Speaker Ashkon Hashemi set out the rules and three speakers addressed the need for participants to maintain an inclusive space. Before the agenda was ratified, UTSU Division III Director Hashim Yussuf served a motion calling for the UTSU to postpone their second general meeting of the fall semester. Hashemi stated that unanimous consent would be required for the motion to be added. The sole hand that rose to object the consideration was that of Ryan Gomes, UTSU VP Internal.
The UTMSU Executives, led by President Ebi Agbeyegbe, spoke about the work and accomplishments of the UTMSU in the past year. Discussion ensued throughout the meeting about proposed bylaw changes, including the phasing out of the role of the Vice President Part-Time Affairs and shifting the responsibility of supporting part-time students to all members of the Executive. After the report, students raised concerns and suggestions for the union to take on. Important points on creating better services and accommodations for transgender and gender nonconforming students were brought forward.
The UTMSU Executive refrained from mere lip service and invited the concerned members to work with them, ensuring those who identify with these needs most can help shape the union’s work. Others gave feedback on services to help ensure they are more affordable and distinct from what’s provided by the university. Again, these concerns were met with direct engagement by UTMSU Executives, who provided key information regarding the competition the union faces as the university offers new duplicate services, and then committed to do more.
Finally, Hashim Yussuf reintroduced his motion for the UTMSU to call on the UTSU to postpone the Nov. 18 General Meeting due to concerns about the academic calendar and midterm season at UTM, and the lack of consultation conducted by the UTSU for motions on the agenda. The motion passed nearly unanimously with Gomes alone not aligning himself with the broad will of UTM students. Ryan Gomes and the rest of his UTSU executive have seemingly ignored over 500 petitions that were served to the Executive last week calling for the General Meeting to be postponed by students on both the UTM and UTSG campuses.
In comparison, the UTSU General Meeting of Oct. 7 and the actions of the UTSU Executive seem firmly rooted in overriding genuine concerns raised by members. I would argue they show a particular lack of concern towards supporting marginalized communities on campus, including students with disabilities. On Oct. 7, 2015, the membership of the UTSU voted to reject the proposed board structures presented. As he motioned to adjourn, Ryan Gomes stated the union would go “back to the drawing board” and consult members to bring forward a new structure in 2016. There has been little to no consultation since then.
In the general meeting they have distinctly termed “AGM Part 2,” UTSU President Ben Coleman and VP Internal Ryan Gomes are serving up the board proposal defeated by members on Oct. 7. In a move that can only be described as selective amnesia, the UTSU Executive is misleading students to believe it is legitimate to re-vote on items already rejected by the membership a month ago.
In addition, UTSU executive and college council representatives at UTSG have fueled consistent antagonism towards UTM students. UTM is already removed from central decision-making on the UTSG campus at Simcoe Hall. Now, the needs of a predominantly racialized campus are being ignored by UTSU Executives. Finally, the defeated board structure that Coleman and Gomes aim to pass will proportionally reduce representation for UTM students on the UTSU Board.
Over 500 students (at both UTSG and UTM) have expressed that they are unable to attend the Nov. 18 meeting. This is more students than expected to attend the meeting itself. Is the UTSU Executive going to ignore these voices? Proponents of this meeting claim the rejected proposal that failed to get two-thirds approval on Oct. 7 was still the most supported option and thus ought to be re-considered. Yet at the October 2014 AGM, the board structure put forward to the membership by the previous UTSU Board also did not meet the two-thirds threshold needed to pass. Having received 1,600 votes in support, it remains the most popular board structure presented to members. Why doesn’t that structure get another shot?
It is clear that the UTSU Executive is driven by political objectives that ignore the democratic will and needs of their membership. In contrast, the UTMSU aims to create a space for marginalized voices and its work is already taking shape. The general meetings exemplify and epitomize this difference.
Munib Sajjad was President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union in 2013-14.