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Letters have drawn backlash from Toronto students for ‘meddling’ in their student politics

Photo by Julia Malowany/The Varsity

Student unions across Ontario are urging the University of Toronto’s governing council to reject a new policy recommendation they say would sacrifice the autonomy of its student unions.

Last month, the University of Toronto Student Societies Summit submitted a report designed to address complaints about governance at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), namely bylaws and procedures related to its election process that came about in 2011. The summit was assembled by the university administration to engage in a discussion among 20 of the U of T’s student associations to address those problems.

The outcome calls for the university’s governing council to “establish a robust policy for student societies that, while recognizing the autonomy of those societies, also reinforces their obligations to represent and benefit members and includes a process for creating or restructuring societies,” according to the final report.

The UTSU and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union have both formally rejected the summit recommendations, according to the Varsity.

Now, at least 13 student associations across Ontario have sent identical letters to members of the U of T’s governing council asking that they too shoot down the proposal.

The letter, obtained by the Fulcrum, calls the summit a flawed process because “it has far exceeded its original mandate and scope,” and points to concern that it would force the U of T’s student groups to forgo some of their autonomy.

“Neither the university administration nor the governing council has a role in the administration of student union elections, the establishment of bylaws, policies or guidelines for our organizations, the adjudication of member grievances, or the democratic process established for and by the membership,” the letter reads.

“The proposed recommendations however, seek to sidestep the role of the membership (…) and will unequivocally impact and impede the ability of University of Toronto students to shape and run the student unions.”

The senders are all part of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which includes close to 40 members in total.

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) was one of the first batch of associations to send the letter, followed by another wave a day later that included the Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD).

SFUO president Anne-Marie Roy said all student unions should be “100 per cent autonomous,” and the proposal sets a bad precedent in working against that. That’s why she and other CFS members decided to step in.

“If one student union is having its autonomy taken away, it’s incredibly dangerous to later on see a domino effect across the province,” said Roy.

But some U of T students aren’t concerned as much with the university administration encroaching on their student union as they are with other unions “meddling” in their student politics.

Many have taken to Twitter with the #noCFS tag in retaliation. “Get off our campus” and “stay out of our business” are among the opinions expressed against the other student unions, often in favour of the summit recommendations.

In an interview with the Varsity, a student on the U of T’s governing council was heavily critical of the letter-writing campaign.

“The hypocrisy demonstrated by this letter-sending is astounding,” said Aidan Fishman.

“The (U of T’s student unions) have taken the consistent line that the report should not be implemented because the university administration supposedly has no right to intervene in the internal affairs of U of T students,” he told the paper. “But now, student unions at a number of other universities, backed by a multi-million-dollar lobby group, are interfering in the internal affairs of U of T students.”

Roy said the SFUO has taken a stance because what happens with the UTSU during this time is important to all student federations, including hers.

“While it might be perceived that I’m only doing this for the University of Toronto, I’m also doing this for the students at the University of Ottawa,” she said.

The U of T’s governing council will meet May 22 to discuss the summit proposal.