Notice of Referendum
The TST Graduate Students’ Association (hereafter TGSA) is holding a referendum this year on two questions. The first is a question of changes to the TGSA constitution. The second is about whether TST graduate students should migrate from membership in UTSU (University of Toronto Student Union) to UTGSU (University of Toronto Graduate Student Union, henceforth GSU). Voting will take place online via Uelect for conjoint students and electronic ballot for non-conjoint students. Each question can be voted on individually.
Conjoint students will vote using Uelect at voting.utoronto.ca. Non conjoint students will receive an email which will give them a link to a voting website.
Voting will take place between February 19 and March 5, 2018. The results of the Referendum will be announced to the TGSA Membership, the UTSU and the UTGSU on or before March 9, 2018.
The first question for referendum involves changing sections 4.1-4.3 of the TGSA’s Constitution. These changes would affect the ways in which TGSA’s non-executive membership is made up on the TGSA Board (hereafter the Board). Three changes have been suggested by the Board’s Constitutions and Policies Committee.
The first is to modify Section 4.2.2 to remove Concentration Representatives from each of the TGSA’s concentrations. The concentration representatives replaced the departmental representative positions upon the abolition of the Toronto School of Theology’s departments. The Constitution and Policies Committee has proposed to replace these representatives with five members at large whose primary responsibility will be to represent historically under-represented groups within the TST. These groups will be selected by the Board and named in the TGSA’s Policies. They also propose to add a seat for a T/PhD representative.
The second change is to modify the language of 4.2.3. This modification will clarify that College Representative’s shall be elected from the membership of the College which the Representative represents.
The third change is to constitutionally ratify the policy of appointing non-voting officers to the board.
Question One will appear on the referendum ballot as follows:
Section 4. Board of Representatives
4.1 The TGSA Board is the governing body of the TGSA.
4.2 The voting members of the TGSA Board are as follows:
4.2.1 Executives elected by and from the TGSA: President, Treasurer, Vice-President Academic, Vice-President Conferences, and Vice-President External.
4.2.2 Program representatives elected by the TGSA, one from each of TST’s degree programs with graduate students.
4.2.3. College representatives from each TST college with graduate students, elected from among the TGSA members of their college.
4.2.4. Five members at large, elected by the TGSA, whose primary responsibility is to represent historically under-represented groups within TST and named in the Board’s policies.
4.3 A Secretary and other non-voting officers will be appointed by the TGSA Board.
Yes, I approve these constitutional changes
No, I do not approve these constitutional changes
The second question concerns whether or not the TGSA should declare its intention to leave the University of Toronto Student’s Association (hereafter UTSU) and join the University of Toronto Graduate Students Association (hereafter the GSU). Historically TST joined UTSU, an undergraduate organization, as a unit since most of our members are second entry undergraduates. Given that the TGSA’s Graduate programs are now conjoint, the question arises as to whether it would be more appropriate for the graduate students, ie the members of the TGSA, to join the UTGSU thereby gaining access to its health plan, benefits and student union run services as opposed to those of UTSU.
Question Two will appear on the referendum ballot as follows:
Do you approve the TGSA leaving the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and joining the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU)?
Yes, I approve the TGSA leaving UTSU and joining UTGSU
No, I do not approve the TGSA leaving UTSU and joining UTGSU
As per TGSA’s Policies and Procedures regarding referenda, the Board commissioned a Referendum Committee at its December meeting. This committee consists of:
- Robyn Boeré (Regis College) – Returning Officer & Chair
- MJ Perry (Knox College) – Official “YES” Representative
- Emma CW Ceruti (Emmanuel College) – Official “NO” Representative
- Ethan Rector (Wycliffe College) – VP External
- Liam Farrer (Regis College) – Communications
In accordance with Section E.4 of the Policies and Procedures for TGSA Purpose anyone with questions, comments, or concerns is encouraged to contact the Chief Returning Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why should the TST Graduate Students’ Association (TGSA) join the Graduate Students’ Union (the GSU)?
The GSU advocates for equity among graduate students, both in the School for Graduate Studies and in non-SGS faculties like TST. Currently TST graduate students, teaching assistants, and research assistants are among the worst funded and paid in the entire University of Toronto. This discrepancy is unlikely to ever be a priority for our current union (the UTSU), but would be for the GSU.
The GSU provides 50 conference bursaries of $250 every fall and spring through a lottery, which we would be eligible to enter. It also offers merit-based awards for exceptional students, donations to student-led initiatives, and arranges an $85 bursary for summer memberships students who choose to join the Hart House gym or the Athletics Centre. We would also have free access to GSU intramurals and the GSU gym.
The GSU provides confidential advice for graduate students who are pursuing appeals or petitions or facing discrimination, harassment, or other problems with their supervisor, department, or school. This could be particularly valuable for TGSA members in conjoint programs who are now part of the U of T appeal process.
Like other GSU course unions, the TGSA would be entitled to receive an annual “head grant.” These grants can be considerable: the Department for the Study of Religion Student Association receives around $700/semester with a third of TGSA’s membership. Such funding could allow the TGSA to offer more conference awards and seminar grants and improve our professional development workshops, social events, and conferences.
TGSA would have more accessible, reliable, and significant representation in the GSU than in the UTSU, for two reasons. First, TGSA could simply elect or appoint a representative instead of needing to navigate the UTSU’s complex elections process, which on multiple occasions has resulted in TST students being denied a representative (Documentation available from the “YES” Representative upon request). Second, as a smaller union of only graduate students, therefore the GSU is much more focused on the needs of graduate students, like us. UTSU is student union for undergraduates and as such the needs of undergraduates dominate.
Joining the GSU would also allow us to connect with graduate students in other disciplines, access opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaboration, and learn about cross-disciplinary professional development and social activities – all historic priorities for the current GSU leadership.
Certain health benefits are better and more appropriate for the graduate student demographic: the GSU plan provides $125 every two years for eyeglasses and 100% coverage for psychologists (up to $500), speech therapists ($1000), and podiatrists. The GSU plan also costs less to add your first dependent – $533 instead of $650 – and has an excellent track record in arranging insurance coverage for students who go on parental or sick leave.
For these reasons and more, I believe the GSU is the best home for us. I also believe that as students of theology, it is our responsibility to consider not just whether a change would bring an immediate individual cost/benefit but also what is best for our community as a whole, both now and in the future. Therefore, starting February 19, I urge you to join me in voting yes to the GSU.
Why should the TST Graduate Students’ Association (TGSA) change its constitution?
Prior to the formation of the conjoint degrees programs, there were departments that focused on the areas of study mentioned in this constitution. When the conjoint programs were developed the TGSA constitution was rewritten to reflect changes that were anticipated.
Since the introduction of the conjoint programs the departmental system has been eliminated by TST making departmental representatives unwarranted. However, there is a recognition that in the history of TST and its member colleges there have been identifiable cohorts who have been under-represented a variety of areas, including student government and advocacy.
Therefore, it is prudent to reassign the five Board seats currently representing departments to represent this historically underrepresented groups. Allowing the specific representations to be described within the policies allows the Board to address the emergent issues of previously unidentified cohorts to be met without requiring a constitutional change (a referendum).
It is best to have designated Board members represent people that exist rather than departments that do not exist.
Why should the TST Graduate Students’ Association (TGSA) stay in the University of Toronto Students Union (UTSU)?
The GSU charges $618.72 a year in student fees as opposed to the $427.02 charged by UTSU. Joining the GSU would, therefore, necessitate a yearly fee increase of $191.70 per student. While the yearly fee increase may not seem significant in the grand scheme of things, many of our students are on very limited budgets. This increase would be roughly the same as a semester’s worth of textbooks or a family’s trip to the grocery store.
The GSU health and dental plan does not cover as much as the UTSU health and dental plan. For example, prescription medications are only covered up to 80% through GSU while through UTSU they are covered up to 100%. Similarly, basic dental care (e.g. examinations, cleanings, and x-rays), is covered up to 70% by the GSU while through UTSU it is covered up to 100%. Graduate students probably do not have the money to cover the gap in prescription and dental costs. Furthermore, statistically graduate students are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to developing health problems, most of which require medication. The decrease in prescription benefits has the potential to put students in financial strain.
Finally, GSU is more staff run versus student run. Some TGSA members may prefer the student union to be run by students. Staff members may not have the same personal experience as graduate students and therefore may not be as personally invested.
Why should the TGSA keep their constitution as it stands?
The concentration representative seats (Bible, History, Theology, Contextual, and Pastoral) represent all students in TGSA because they cover all the possible program areas. These new seats do not do that. The new seats are aimed not at program areas (relevant to academics) but at membership (non-academic services).
A student’s college representative may not be acquainted with the member’s concentration in the same way as a concentration representative is. This would likely make the concentration more useful both in advocating for the student, but also in advising the student if they have any concerns during their studies.
Many students are more familiar with the students in their concentration then their college. They may feel more comfortable consulting their concentration representative.
Although “Departments” do not technically exist, there are various associations, institutes, and seminars in the Toronto School of Theology that represent the concentrations.
Finally, the wording of the constitutional change is both subjective and does not offer consistency. It is also problematic that the board is able to select which groups are historically underrepresented and may change these groups at will, and in doing so remove a previous group’s underrepresented status. Furthermore, there is the problematic notion of limiting the number of underrepresented seat. Finally, there is the problem of possible tokenism. The underrepresented board member may be treated as a token of that particular underrepresented group.