Our changing identities

Our student unions still carry vestiges of when they acted together

UTM students are fee-paying, voting members of both UTMSU and UTSU. As their annual general meetings are approach on November 14 and the 27, respectively, the Medium staff have been talking about the relationship between the two bodies.

One of the comments that started the discussion came from Pierre Harfouche, a St. George student who was recently elected to UTSU’s board. He brought up a curious fact about the fee structure: most of the fees that UTM students pay to UTSU are remitted to UTMSU. Moreover, the downtown union provides few services to us. One of them is the health and dental plan, which is funded by UTSU with a subsidy for UTMSU for its administration. UTSU also audits UTM levy groups such as BikeShare and the Women’s Centre, according to Raymond Noronha, UTMSU’s president. The majority of our services are provided by our own union. So, says Mr. Harfouche, even though most of our fees only pass by UTSU on their way back to UTMSU, we have a say in UTSU, including a guaranteed seat on their executive, whereas none of the other non-UTSU unions or councils enjoy the same deal. He would like to see more of a balance.

The contract between UTMSU and UTSU is confidential, says Mr. Noronha—despite the fact that it determines the use of student funds—but some explanation of the situation comes through a look at the history. Years ago, the Erindale College Student Union, now UTMSU, operated barely independently of the Student Activities Council, now UTSU; in fact, in 2005 and 2006, Walied Khogali, the current exective director and former president of UTMSU, held a SAC position that once existed called VP UTM. It was dismantled when ECSU became UTMSU and asked for a remittance of UTM students’ fees in order to provide more services itself.

Maintaining such a closeness is not obligatory. Scarborough students, by contrast, do not pay fees to UTSU and their health and dental plan is administered by their own union. But UTM’s arrangement does work in its students’ favour; UTMSU certainly has no motive to lose that aegis. And to be fair, the UTSU executive—whatever these promises are worth—often campaigns on points involving “tri-campus unity”. In 2009, for example, the campaign included a promise to lobby to increase the transfer credit limit between the two campuses.

We certainly have a stake in what goes on downtown, enough to invest in one party over another. But there’s also something to be said for the fact that part of what led to ECSU’s separation in the first place was our campus’s exploding population, bound up with the evolution from “Erindale College” to “the Mississauga campus”. As we keep growing, the trend to independent governance will continue. Are there dependencies we can consider removing in order to offer them internally? After all, for most of them, that’s effectively what already happens.

The topic of splitting is a live one. Several St. George student bodies voted overwhelmingly to split from UTSU at the end of last year. Such a move hasn’t been advocated in UTM’s case, and the question isn’t likely to be formally addressed anytime soon. But while our campus goes on creating a more and more definite identity for itself—not least with the recent dissolution of the Erindale College Council in favour of Campus Council—it may be time to take a hard look at our student unions’ identities, too.

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