Will the real Max Zimmerman please stand up?
The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) held its Fall General Assembly (FGA) virtually on Monday night. The meeting adjourned just before midnight, giving the FGA a run time of under five hours, a noted improvement from last year’s seven hour meeting.
The meeting, which was hosted over Zoom and live-streamed to Facebook, ran into a number of tech issues early on, notably the naming of many participants “Max Zimmerman” upon entry. The poll voting system also failed to register a large portion of votes and UOSU’s SharePoint link did not allow many participants to view documents that included information necessary to vote.
Voting was quickly moved to the raised hand feature and a large portion of the Max Zimmerman participants managed to rename themselves in the meeting and assume their correct identities. The SharePoint issue was resolved by members sharing a number of files to the Zoom chat.
The meeting followed an agenda published on UOSU’s website in advance of the meeting. The agenda included 12 items, the first eight of which were presented with little intervention from participants.
Item eight presented a bundle of constitutional amendments that the UOSU Board of Directors (BOD) had approved to be sent to a vote by the General Assembly. None of these amendments were externalised and the package passed with 55 voting in favour, two voting against, and 13 people abstaining. Among the package was an amendment to the pay formula of UOSU executives which will increase the salaries of the Executive Committee. This increase will come into effect in May 2022, meaning the current Executive Committee will not be receiving a pay raise.
Amendments to positions book
Item nine — amendments to the positions book — took up a significant amount of the meeting’s time. The UOSU presented 14 positions to adopt as a bundle, of which seven were externalized to be individually debated. Before moving on to the individual debates the remaining seven positions were voted on as a bundle and passed.
The seven externalised positions were debated in the order of requests to externalise, beginning with position three; ‘cuts to education’ which was not debated and quickly passed.
Next was position one; ‘climate emergency, divestment and ethical investments’ which debated the merits of shareholder activism and some of the language of the position. Ultimately, the position passed.
Debate on motion 13 — Solidarity with Uighur Muslims — began with comments on motion 14 (Solidarity with Palestine) being brought up. Due to the length of the ongoing debate, an omnibus motion was presented by UOSU’s president Tim Gulliver to bundle the remaining positions. It easily passed.
Motions from Members
The first of student submitted motions was brought by second-year philosophy and political science student Max Christie. Christie’s motion (agenda point 10.1) sought to expand eligibility of UOSU executives to include full-time students. Christie explained the motion as a matter of choice to allow executives the option to continue full-time studies during their mandate.
Current advocacy commissioner Armaan Singh voiced his opposition saying had it been brought last year he probably would have voted in favour, but now with the experience of his term Singh understands the need to study only part-time during the mandate.
“Being a full-time student and being an executive is not sustainable,” said Singh. “Executives have a very huge role, splitting time between this demanding job, taking care of yourself so that you can effectively carry out your mandate and being a part-time student is already hard enough. I can’t imagine how hard of a task it would be if execs were charged with full-time courses.”
“I would envision that this would result in resignations, this would result in execs being put in positions that they can not fully carry out their mandate with. Ultimately, it’s student money that’s going to this union and this money should be spent to give salaries to an executive team that will work very very hard and with dedication and not have to worry about splitting their time with five other courses.”
Debate against this motion centered largely on mental health and burnout related to the workload with many pointing out that they want their representatives to put their mandate first.
The motion to expand the eligibility of UOSU executives failed when put to a vote.
Agenda item 10.2 was the first of two motions brought by third-year public administration and political science student Ryan Banfield. The motion called on pressuring the University of Ottawa to reduce the pressures caused by grades.
This motion did not use the language of qualitative grading but its adoption was expected to be understood as a mandate for the UOSU to advocate for this.
Equity commissioner Sana Almansour spoke to a qualitative grading initiative for BIPOC and first-generation students.
One person spoke against the motion saying that students were or ought to have been aware of what they were getting with this semester and did not deserve another year of leniency. This attracted ire from students that pointed out they were not choosing COVID-19 and that the argument overlooked students that could not drop a semester (such as international students or those on scholarships).
The motion went on to pass with 59 voting in support, five against and five abstaining.
The FGA then moved on to Banfield’s second motion; “Affirming Freedom and Promoting Transparency” which called for the club disbanding process to be made more transparent.
Banfield introduced the motion saying in part, that it “does not change the powers of the student union, it only changes how it reports on these powers. As a result, this motion maintains the principle of fairness on which the constitution and clubs code are both built. By choosing freedom through accountability we can not only prove the haters wrong but also set an example of student unions across Canada on how this can be done.”
“Every time there is a free speech crisis on campus there’s always this swarm of alternative media, political commentators who say ‘the wokes are coming for you’ or ‘the university is really eroding people’s freedoms’. So this motion would take away their ability to start up debate fires and just fill the discourse with inflammatory garbage by basically affirming that, yes we do care about freedom of expression, and we report on it with a clearer process that explains why we do this, what rules those [removed] clubs and people violated.”
Opposition to this motion had to do with the lack of steps or clarity on what was being asked for as well as the motion’s note on opposing views being healthy parts of discourse on campuses setting up a possible foothold to groups that might promote hate. The motion was quickly moved to question and failed in a vote of six in favour, 26 opposed and 16 abstaining.
Agenda point 10.4 was a motion for wider exemption criteria for the U-Pass, moved by Mark Day who spoke to the reason behind the motion. Anticipating no debate and hoping to save time, Day moved for a vote. The motion was adopted with 40 voting in favour, 20 against and three people abstaining.
Agenda point 10.5 was removed from the agenda as the motion brought to reopen the Minto Sports Complex’s squash facilities, was no longer relevant with the recent opening of the courts.
The final motion from a member was brought by Miten Soni, who spoke on the increase to international student tuition during COVID-19. UOSU has long been in favour of freezing tuition and this summer successfully advocated for domestic and out-of-province fees to stay the same but were unsuccessful in maintaining the international pay structure.
Soni spoke on the motion saying “the increase of international tuition is not a new matter but what the university has done this summer has been particularly shocking for students and has resulted in an additional burden of up to $14,000 for us every year.”
Soni spoke to the previous pay system for international students saying “If you were a full-time student your fees would reduce every year but over the summer the university silently changed the structure so that fees would not reduce and they labelled this a change. They did not announce anything so essentially we found ourselves in a position where we are paying $7,000 more per term than we expected to pay. All of this despite the fact that the university does not treat international students the same as regular students in terms of scholarship opportunities and such.”
The motion saw little opposition with just one vote opposing it and passed with 53 members in favour and no abstentions.
Following four and a half hours of discussion, the meeting reached its final two agenda items with “other business” being utilized by Gulliver to thank those in attendance for participating in student democracy and the members of the UOSU team that worked to put on the FGA together.
Adjournment was called on at 11:45 p.m. and passed with the minimum number of students present to reach quorum.
–With files from Amira Benjamin