The University of Toronto Students Union, legally known as the Students Administrative Council of the University of Toronto, Inc., is a student advocacy group at the University of Toronto. It is Canadas second largest student union and the third largest in North America.
The council evolved from the University of Toronto Union, which was founded in 1901. This was replaced by the Students Parliament in 1907. The Students Parliament suffered from low attendance from its elected members, especially representatives of the medical school. As the years progressed its Executive shouldered much of the work. In 1913, the parliament was replaced by a Students Administrative Council composed of solely male students. The Womens Students Administrative Council was formed in 1916, and in 1919 the two councils formed a Joint Executive. In 1931 the separate councils were abolished and the Joint Executive became the main body, and during 1935-1936 the unwieldy name "Joint Executive Students Administrative Council" was simplified to "Students Administrative Council". At an annual general meeting on 16 November 2006 University of Toronto students voted to change the name to University of Toronto Students Union.
The mandate of UTSU until 1971 can be found in section 34 of the University of Toronto Act, 1947. SACs original offices were located in Hart House, but are today based in the Louis B. Stewart Observatory at the centre of Hart House Circle, just south of the Hart House building itself.
The Union is governed by a Board of Directors which includes elected representatives from each of the schools federated and constituent colleges and professional faculties. The number of directors from each division is proportional to the population of that college or faculty.
The Union runs through its standing committees, and the Board of Directors. The bulk of the Unions work is put through the committees: Equity and Accessibility, Campaigns and Outreach, Clubs, Elections and Referenda, Finance, Governance, Services, Student Aid, and the Executive Committee. The committees are made up of members of the board of directors and deal with specific issues of operations and services. Projects and budgets move up through the committees. Students can participate in Working Groups, which can include any University of Toronto St. George student as long as at least half of them are UTSU members. Working Groups have a short-term, student focused mandate to complete a project.
2.1. Governance Federal structure
In April 2013, students of the Engineering Society EngSoc, one of the UTSU federated bodies, voted to separate from UTSU following several years of tension between EngSoc and UTSU. After several years of negotiations, UTSU and EngSoc came to an agreement where UTSU recognised EngSoc as the main student government for engineering students, ensured that EngSoc would receive half of all UTSU levies and put EngSoc as the primary provider of student services to engineering students. EngSoc agreed not to defederate in return.
Voter turnout in UTSU elections was very low for several years. Recently, turnouts began reaching as high as the 15% mark, but have once again dropped to 6% following the controversy surrounding the 2010 elections.
4. Services and businesses
UTSU provides a variety of student services, including a Used Textbook Exchange, the U of T Food and Clothing Bank, and funding and services for campus clubs. UTSU also administers the student Health and Dental Plan and Student Discount Metropass sales, a program that was recently made permanent after lobbying from student unions throughout the Toronto area.
5. National affiliation
In November 2002, UTSU members voted in favour of becoming members of the Canadian Federation of Students, with 65% of those who voted supporting this decision.
in 2016, a movement called You Decide UofT launched a petition to hold a referendum on CFS membership. A few months later, 4 out of the 7 UTSU exec endorsed the campaign and called for an end to UTSU membership of the CFS. In the 2017 UTSU elections, the Demand Better slate, which had a policy of leaving the CFS, won most of the executive positions, including the presidency.
In 2009, the University of Toronto changed how they charged fees to students in the Faculty of Arts & Science. Instead of charging per-course fees, they started charging a flat fee – meaning that students would have to pay for five courses – even if they only took three. This amounted to a 66 per cent tuition fee increase for no service improvement.
The UTSU had been opposing the flat fee structure since it was announced in 2009. Since the implementation of the program, students have found it difficult to have a part time job and do well in their studies, since they do not have the choice to reduce their course load under this tuition fee scheme. The flat fee scheme has also placed additional financial stresses onto students, worsening concerns about mental health. They launched a strong campaign over the last few years to address this issue. In addition to petitions and protests, we garnered support from alumni, who started a letter-writing campaign to oppose flat fees, we brought the issue to a provincial level through the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, making it one of their main lobbying asks and educating students across the province to the unfair fee-collection model, some of whom did not know it was taking place at their school.
In 2013 the UTSU ramped up our campaign, collecting more than 6000 postcard petitions from students asking the government to address the issue of flat fees and delivering them to the Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. In December 2013, the provincial government announced that new legislation would limit the amount of fees that universities can charge to students. Under the new policy, 100 per cent of tuition fees can only be charged if students are taking an 80 per cent course load or higher. This will reduce tuition fees for some students over $2300 per year. The changes will roll out over two years starting in fall 2015.
Access copyright UTSU was a vocal opponent of the Universitys controversial license with Access Copyright, which has since not been renewed. Access Copyright claimed that the license would provide students with the ability to use copyrighted works without penalty – a right already granted to students through the Copyright Act. Affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, students and researchers are permitted to use copyrighted works for educational purposes. Under the former license, each student at the University of Toronto was charged $26 in fees that provided no service or protections for students.
Other victories include:
National Grants 2008
Student Metropass 2009
Bottled Water-Free Campus 2011
Hart House for Women 1972
Centre for Women & Trans People 1986
Childcare at the University of Toronto Mississauga 2007
Ancillary Fees 2013
Divestment from South African Apartheid 1990
Open Source Software 2013
Undergrad Access to Robarts 1972
Sweatshop-Free Campus 2000
Student Access to Athletic Space 2011
International Students – No Work Permits needed! 2013
Tuition Fee Freeze 2004
Unpaid Interns’ Rights 2013
Multi-Faith Space 2013
7. Criticisms and controversy
UTSU and its predecessor body SAC have long been the target of criticism. The earliest manifestations of this were in response to SACs policy, established in 1926, of not interfering in political issues for fear this would impede campus unity. This policy extended to The Varsity newspaper, which was published by SAC. In 1929 and 1931, SAC dismissed editors who published unpopular opinions. In the mid-1930s, SAC was criticized for failing to support efforts by anti-war and pro-peace advocates on campus, groups which SAC declared were of limited interest. In 1946, SACs decision not to endorse efforts to prevent deportation of Japanese Canadians was also the brunt of campus criticism. Anti-racist advocates also derided SACs inability to embrace this cause in the 1940s.
This criticism began to shift in the 1960s when the student council embarked on a more activist agenda. One of the more concrete manifestations of this was in 1972, when the Medical Society held a successful referendum calling for their withdrawal from SAC. Administrative hesitation was the only factor which prevented this withdrawal from becoming effective.
Controversial public positions
The UTSU has been criticized for having taken controversial public positions on equity and racial issues on campus, as well as having become involved in controversial campaigns relating to certain global issues like the Sri Lankan conflict or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and federal issues like the Aboriginal movement Idle No More. Many criticisms have come from members of provincial and federal political parties, including both the Liberals and Conservatives and their student arms, which have questioned the legitimacy of UTSUs democratic credentials.
2007 CFS campaign allegations
The UTSU has also been criticized for its involvement with the Canadian Federation of Students, due to numerous reports of interference with student union elections at other schools in the Greater Toronto Area. Former S.A.C. Vice-President Sam Rahimi 2004-2005, has claimed that he was repeatedly asked to participate in election campaigns at Ryerson and York Universities, and that he and other student leaders from S.A.C. were bused in to these schools at election time to campaign on behalf of C.F.S. friendly slates The Canadian Federation of Students denies these claims.
2008 threats of legal action
The UTSU has recently been involved in a number of scandals in which they have been accused of silencing students who disagree with the ideas of the union. In a recent referendum regarding the construction a Student Commons Building that was to be completely funded and run by students as opposed to funded by private donations and run in part by the administration and by students the UTSU was accused of actively pursuing students who it felt were campaigning against the union. The then president of the union went so far as to threaten legal action against a student who was putting up posters questioning the UTSUs approach to the student commons.
2012 lecture protests
A protest in November 2012 against guest lecturer Warren Farrell at an event organized by the Canadian Association for Equality garnered criticism after an estimated fifteen protesters blocked the entrance to the event and caused a delay in the lecture. One person was arrested at the event but was released with no charges. The UTSU organized the protest after the university administration denied their request to cancel the lecture. The protest was organized in response to controversial excerpts from Warren Farrells publications and statements he made about incest in a 1977 Penthouse interview.
One of the feminist protesters is recorded as repeatedly saying "You are fucking scum" to a male attendee.
2013 membership defederation
In 2013, several major divisions of the UTSUs membership - Trinity College, Victoria College, and the Engineering Society - held referenda proposing effective "defederation" from the Union by rerouting fees directly to their respective College or Faculty-based student societies, rather than paying the fees to the Union. All three divisions voted overwhelmingly in favour of fee diversion.
After a long history of incumbent election victories, in 2015, a non-incumbent opposition slate won all 5 of the executive seats and a large number of the board.
Lawsuit against former executives and executive director
On September 24, 2015, it was revealed that the UTSU had filed a statement of claim against the former president, former vice-president internal & services and the former executive director regarding the dismissal of the former executive director. The lawsuit has since been settled between the former president and former vice-president internal & services.
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