It’s finally going down downtown. After years of distrust, scandals, and failed attempts from opposition slates to “overthrow” the alleged regime that is the student union, several U of T colleges have announced their plans to legally disband from the University of Toronto Students’ Union.
Well, would you look at that! It appears I’m not the only one to question the student union once in a while.
A decision like this isn’t made in one afternoon at a board meeting. For months, Trinity College, St. Michael’s College, Victoria College, and the Engineering Society have been considering leaving UTSU. The Varsity reported that the Engineering Society hired a law firm following the highly contested proceedings of UTSU’s November Annual General Meeting. This is no small matter.
After months organizing extensions of their AGM and discussion on electoral reform, UTSU announced that they would not be able to implement the amendments in time for this year’s elections. That’s when the colleges and the society publicly announced their plans to disband from UTSU.
At UTM, we don’t see or feel the tension of St. George’s political climate. They don’t have just one building run by their student union that houses most of the clubs and societies. Downtown, smaller college unions, professional faculty societies, and other organizations (like the St. George Round Table) advocate on behalf of students, plan events, and offer services. They also question the actions of the largest union on both the UTM and St. George campuses: UTSU.
That union is not to be confused with ours, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union. Those are the people who don yellow shirts and ask you to vote yes for fee increases for the U-Pass and Student Centre expansion.
So what does this mean for UTM?
We pay fees for and are members of both UTSU and UTMSU. The story of how this structure developed is from before my time and merits an article of its own, so I won’t bother with the details for now.
Here’s what you do need to know: the direct benefit to you of retaining membership with the distant downtown union is your student health and dental plan. Other than that, you’ll only see UTSU executives during this month’s election campaign. And then you’ll see them again next March.
The colleges and society downtown seeking defederation acknowledge that the health and dental plan is a necessary service. If these organizations leave UTSU, their students will no longer be members of the student union and will not receive health and dental insurance. As such, the colleges and the society are reportedly looking for affordable alternatives to administer the service to their students, thereby eliminating the main need to pay membership fees to UTSU.
Did UTMSU consider administering this service to UTM students? I don’t know. You’d have to go back to 2006, when the union was established, to find that out. Will they consider it? I’m almost positive that they won’t. By contrast, the students at the Scarborough campus only pay fees to their own union.
From my own experiences at St. George, it seems like the question isn’t really about electoral reform. That was just the catalyst. The question remains: why should students pay fees to two unions? At St. George, students belong to smaller colleges that operate under the greater U of T banner. They register with one college and take up residence in that college if they choose.
UTM used to be a college as well. We were called Erindale. Even though we’ve transitioned to a governance structure with greater autonomy to become a campus of our own, we still operate as a college in terms of student union fees. We pay membership to UTMSU, which used to be our college council, and to UTSU.
It surprises me that colleges and societies based on the St. George campus would consider separating from UTSU before UTM would. We in Mississauga are separated not only by technicalities, but by entire cities. Many students don’t realize we have separate student unions and separate student newspapers.
Even with the shuttle bus we pay for through our tuition, the St. George campus grows more and more distant. This year is the first time UTM has run elections for Campus Council, a new governance structure that will allow the Mississauga campus to make more important decisions independently of St. George.
With all these bodies insisting that greater autonomy promotes efficiency, why is UTM still tied to a union that we see and hear from once a year—when they need us to vote them into office?