Students gathered at the UTM Students’ Union’s annual general meeting last week for the presentation of audited financial statements that recorded a significant profit last year and to discuss general questions and future projects, including the drop-credit policy, a heated bus shelter, multi-faith space, and a new referendum to expand the Student Centre.
On Thursday, a number of students (the union was unable to supply precise figures before publication) signed in at the doors of the Davis Building’s Council Chambers for the meeting’s start at 5 p.m. Additionally, a large number of students were not in attendance but had entrusted their votes by proxy to attendees. Quorum for a UTMSU AGM—40 in person or 75 by proxy—was reached. Each member is allowed to hold a maximum of 11 votes including their own.
The typical physical attendance is about a hundred, with hundreds more by proxy, averaging 84% votes being cast by proxy over the last two years.
After the distribution of a summary of Robert’s Rules of Order and the financial documents to be presented, the chair, last year’s president Chris Thompson, called the meeting to order. Ro’a Saafan, the current VP equity, and Cat Criger, UTM’s Aboriginal elder, gave an opening speech highlighting students’ duty “to the next seven generations” (an Aboriginal expression as cited by Criger).
President Raymond Noronha delivered an address, praising his team’s work on Orientation Week and stating that his executive slate, UTM Connect, is working on the promises on which they campaigned last spring, including a heated bus shelter, more multi-faith prayer space, a 24/7 copy and print centre, and coffee vending machines for cases in which the one in Davis isn’t functional, as well as long-term goals like the drop-credit policy, which was unequivocally rejected last year by the vice-dean, undergraduate, Kelly Hannah-Moffat).
Noronha also spoke briefly about the $400 winter residence fee recently discussed in a meeting between UTMSU and UTM’s director of residence and student life, Dale Mullings, calling it “unreasonable and unfair”. He also said that the union’s Food Task Force, which submits recommendations to the food advisory committee, was lobbying the university to rework its renewed contract with Chartwells when the current one expires.
The president ended his speech by opening the floor to questions. He solicited feedback on whether the union should or should not hold a new Student Centre expansion referendum, which would also involve a new proposal since rising construction costs mean not everything originally agreed on under the $4-million proposal last year could be included for the same price this year. The initially successful Student Centre expansion referendum was thrown out last spring after failing to be ratified by UTMSU’s board of directors due to a mishandling of the voter list.
Many students took to the floor to recommend that the referendum be rerun and to praise the points Noronha had raised. Lines quickly congregated at two microphones, of which one was functional, and Thompson explained that the line order would be altered in order to alternate between genders.
“Especially in regards to office space, I think [the referendum] was a really good initiative on the part of UTMSU,” said Tuneer Mukherjee, the president of the UTM Debating Club. “For certain reasons, it did fall through […] but I support the Student Centre expansion.”
Andjela Ocicek, the president of the UTM Athletic Council, requested clarification on how the expansion would be funded, to which Noronha responded that “unfortunately, students would have to bear some of the financial burden”, but said that the university had offered to match students dollar-for-dollar for the first time last year. (The previous offer, extant since 2008, was to match only 50¢ to the dollar, up to a maximum of $2 million that is still current.)
One early question about the necessity of a heated bus shelter was met with a reply by Noronha citing the now-infamous Middle Entrance sign and the costs associated with it. Throughout the event, several students reiterated that a heated bus shelter was essential, and that waiting in the Kaneff Centre was not an option because, as Noronha said, if you’re running from Kaneff, “there are chances that you could fall and slip, and you don’t want to be missing any of your courses, especially when you pay so much for your tuition”. Hassan Havili, UTMSU’s VP part-time affairs, described at length the inadequacy of the current shelter and alleged that he and a friend had broken one of its benches by standing on it.
Oliver Clayton, UTMSU’s LGBTQ coordinator, asked that UTMSU lobby for more gender-neutral, single-user washrooms and more queer space, describing the current office as smaller than the table in the room, including the space already used to house queer literature.
He also expressed doubt about the “gender parity” policy governing the turn-taking, saying that it genders the speaker unnecessarily and simplistically. This concern was subsequently raised by another student who said that it “actually emphasizes that someone’s a man, someone’s a woman”.
Thompson replied that, based on precedent, the gender parity policy was in place to ensure that “different perspectives” were represented.
When the questions tapered off, VP internal Nausheen Adam took approximately five minutes to present the 15-page financial statements of the union and of the Blind Duck, which UTMSU is required to routinely present.
The report shows a surplus of revenue over expenditures of about $205,000, compared to last year’s $39,000. Adam said that the figure is “less than it looks” because of expenses involved in long-awaited maintenance to the Student Centre’s roof and other parts.
Other significant changes from the previous year included a $61,300 decrease in InfoBooth revenues to a total of $277,900, an $86,100 increase in wage expenses to a total of $592,000, an $8,800 increase in photocopier expenses to a total of $16,100, a $13,700 increase in clubs expenses to a total of $93,700, a $146,200 decrease in InfoBooth expenses to a total of $165,800, and $7,100 decrease in meeting expenses to a total of $26,800 (all figures rounded to the nearest hundred).
In Schedule B, “Social Activities and Planning”, ministry expenses and revenues each fell by some $60,000, while Orientation, which saw a small deficit of about $350 the previous year, netted an excess of revenues over expenditures of about $67,300 last year. In Schedule D, “Academic Societies Affairs Committee”, about $10,000 less was given to societies compared to the previous year while revenues from student levies and the dean’s contribution remained stable.
There was no discussion whatsoever of any of these specific figures in Adam’s presentation, although she did attribute some of the expense decreases to Noronha having secured cheaper and better rates for supplies.
For the first time last year, said Adam, the Blind Duck did not require a written-off advance from UTMSU ($28,500 in 2012) in order to end with an excess of revenues over expenditures. However, it still required a student levy, which this year totalled approximately $81,000, to avoid a deficit that would otherwise have been approximately $35,500. This point was clarified in the response to the one question that followed the presentation of the financials.
Adam moved to appoint the same auditors for the 2013/14 year. The motion was seconded by Cameron Wathey, UTSU’s VP internal, which UTMSU VP campus life Grayce Slobodian contested in a point of order because Wathey is not a UTM student. After some confusion as to which of the UTSU executives present—which includied president Munib Sajjad and VP equity Yolen Bollo-Kamara—held the honorary UTMSU vote, it was determined that Wathey did in fact hold it.
When Wathey was asked after the event why the UTSU executives were present, he replied that they were “just observing”.
A few more students took the microphone at the end of the event to congratulate the union on a successful AGM and to promote upcoming events, including UTSU’s AGM on November 27 as advertised by Sajjad, before the assembly broke for a dinner reception in the Green Room of the Student Centre.
The full audited financial statements of UTMSU and the Blind Duck can be viewed online at utmsu.ca/section/19.
This article has been altered from the print edition to clarify that the university’s matching offer was previously at a lower ratio.