The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) met virtually on January 25 for the first monthly meeting of the year. The council discussed the vacancy for directorships and monthly reports on what directors have worked on, including the promotion of a grant and scholarship fund. A motion to indict Internal Commissioner Sarah Alam was also discussed in a closed session, but was eventually put forward.
Vacancy and sued
The Council discussed Executive-at-Large Kirthika Shanmugham’s decision to resign due to a personal emergency. The place is currently vacant and there was a discussion about whether it should be occupied so late in the year. The council ultimately decided to suspend the union’s statutes to leave it blank due to the challenges of appointing a new executive board, although they noted that the statutes should only be suspended in exceptional circumstances.
In addition, there was some discussion about a proposal to indict Alam, which was put forward by Adam Hill, a representative of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Council and a former candidate for internal commissioner. The discussion about the Supreme Court proposal was kept in the camera, which meant that guests and media were not present. According to External Commissioner Justin Patrick, the matter was eventually referred to the next meeting.
The proposal that Supreme Court Alam claimed that she “deliberately excluded” proposals from UTGSU’s annual general meeting (AGM) and agendas for board meetings in September and did not address questions as to why these materials were excluded. It also contained allegations that she failed to perform tasks such as distributing the audited accounts with two weeks notice, scheduling meetings of the Policy and Operations Committee and updating UTGSU’s articles of association as amended, among other requirements.
In a response distributed to the board, Alam Hill challenged the allegations. “Unfortunately, the justifications presented in the proposal for the Supreme Court case give the facts incorrect and do not provide complete information,” Alam wrote. She characterized Hill’s allegations as a form of harassment which has been standing on since she entered the office.
Hill claimed that the proposals he submitted to the general meeting were ruled out. However, Alam provided evidence that the proposals were circulated to the management and wrote that they had been dismissed by the managers. In response to Hill’s claim that the Politics and Operations Committee has not met often enough this year, Alam wrote that she believes the committee has failed to maintain membership and be quorate for meetings due to harassment from Hill. She included a complaint from another member who felt uncomfortable because of Hill’s behavior.
She also challenged the legitimacy of other allegations, pointing to the 15 days between the public upload of the financial audit statements and the general meeting at which they were approved. Although UTGSU has not updated the public statute document on its website, Alam pointed out that the association officially amended its statutes at the 2021 general meeting.
The leaders discussed a number of finance-based initiatives that UTGSU has worked on, including donations, grants and scholarships.
In the wake of a movement by general Assembly who urged UTGSU to donate $ 25,000 to UofT Emergency Food Bank, Danielle Karakas, Academics and Finance Commissioner: Sections 3 and 4, updated members on the work she has done to build the union’s relationship with the food bank.
The union has also promoted its initiative to create a $ 250,000 pool for new emergency grants and scholarships, with Finance Commissioner June Li wanting a draft of grants and scholarship ideas from late February to early March.
Furthermore, University Management Commissioner Lwanga Musisi said a number of students applied for the Black Graduate Student Excellence Bursary this year, mentioning that he appears to be consulting with indigenous students and groups on campus to set up a native student scholarship.
Dhanela Sivaparan, Academics and Finance Commissioner: Divisions 1 and 2, provided updates on the advocacy work she has done with individual students regarding issues they may face in their departments. In addition, she noted that she is working on creating virtual programming for February, focusing on equal groups, and programming for International Women’s Day in March.
External Commissioner Justin Patrick has been working on signing a partnership agreement with the U of T department of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy to collaborate on the union’s Cops Off Campus campaign. In addition, Internal Commissioner Alam spoke about the ongoing work she is doing to organize the weekly board meetings and other issues.
Disclosure: Kirthika Shanmugham was former chairman of Varsitys board of directors in the fall of 2021.