By Gabriela Silva Ponte
The Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU) amended its bylaws at this year’s Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) on Dec. 1, which started with a fiery distraction.
Shortly after TMSU president Marina Gerges addressed the meeting, the fire alarm sounded. Students were asked to leave the building and were allowed back in shortly.
The TMSU passed a series of bylaw amendments, which focused on changes in wording—to make bylaws sound less “legal”—adjusting sentence structure and moving away from paragraph form towards point form, according to director of programs Corey Scott.
“These bylaws have not been amended in quite a while. They’re very outdated and we needed to introduce more methods for accountability,” said vice president education Nathan Sugunalan.
The package introduced new bylaws pertaining to the organization of committees and meeting expectations.
The first new bylaw—External Directors Bylaw—summarizes, in one concise section, all the information on the role of the Board of Directors (BoD) which was previously scattered throughout the document.
This amendment also outlines new teams, including an audit committee as well as an elections and referenda committee. It further changes the “bursary” committee to the “student grants” committee, to broaden the scope of student financial help.
According to Scott, it helps the reader find information on committees, who’s on them, how they run and explains their mandates.
The amendment also creates an entirely new bylaw—Executive Committee Bylaw—solely for general meetings.
The Executive Committee Bylaw outlines the different meetings the TMSU hosts, the notice that must be given to students, quorum indications, agenda due dates, meeting procedures and reports for those attendees, according to Scott.
It also includes a requirement to record and link meetings for students who are unable to attend in person.
One major bylaw focuses on the creation of an Elections Procedure Code, which is not part of the bylaw package but is to be consulted along with it.
This code lays out that individuals looking to run for an executive position must undergo a training series with an overview of the positions to understand the responsibilities of the role as well as election training that lays out the processes of running for said title.
Sugunalan said he hopes this will allow candidates the ability to ask questions and debate.
He added the code would be difficult to change but it may be modified by the Chief Returning Officer or the Elections and Referenda Committee.
Though the committee can change the code, their modifications must be endorsed by the BoD.
The Elections and Referenda Committee oversees elections and referenda from the union, reviews the rules of elections, sets out election dates, hires election officials and recommends changes to the board.
Previously, the code was embedded within the bylaws and lacked some of the specific requirements for candidates hoping to run.
The last of the changes focused on reformatting the External Directors Bylaw from paragraph form to point form, with a focus on readability for students. Though this was already the case before, it made it clearer that external directors can vote on committees they are a part of but not at the board of directors meetings.
The TMSU has five external directors appointed for three-year terms. They are recommended by the nominating committee and are approved by the BoD.
External directors oversee corporate strategy, management, accounting and legal matters and are essentially a bridge between the general student population and the union.
Gerges expressed she was hopeful this amendment package would pass before it was discussed.
“This is probably the best day ever if [the bylaw amendment] passes, which I know it will,” said Gerges, who moved the motion.
Gerges said she consulted different students’ unions, governance, legal advisors and student leaders.
“I’ve repeatedly told executives in the past that a good governance structure requires that the bylaws be revised, as needed, to ensure that they stay current and best practices that work in the best interest of students,” she said.
She added it was important to improve readership both for Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students as well as board members, to ensure everyone knows what’s expected of them and their executives.
But before the package was passed, a student engaged in a back-and-forth discussion with the chair, asking that the package be revised to allow the board of directors to change the TMSU’s bylaws in the future, if need be.
The attendee further asked that the approval of the package be postponed until the next general meeting next semester.
The chair ruled this motion out of order and asked that the amendment be further discussed at the general meeting in April.
He added that there is a specific process for such discussions.
The bylaw amendment package came into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
Here’s what else you missed at this year’s SAGM:
Marina Gerges addresses Reddit posts
Gerges addressed the audience at the meeting’s start. She discussed the Reddit posts surrounding her presidency and an alleged letter that claimed she was racist and harassing staff.
The letter was posted to Reddit in June claiming that Gerges was “extremely toxic, dangerous and racist.”
The letter detailed events involving Gerges, including the alleged use of the term “FOB”—which means “Fresh Off The Boat”—a derogatory term used toward racialized people and those with language barriers. The letter also outlined other alleged behaviour, including vaping on prohibited grounds and cancelling meetings abruptly.
In her address, Gerges stated she was wrongfully targeted.
“Last January, I decided to run for president of an organization that I knew had a history of financial and governance issues. But I was naive,” Gerges said. “I did not know the levels certain people would go to target those who are trying to create a different students’ union,” she added.
“I had rumours circling about me that I didn’t understand, and soon it became clear that this had nothing to do with me,” said Gerges.
She added she thought it had to do with her need to make “transformative and long-lasting change.”
Official TMSU name change
A motion to officially rename the Ryerson Students’ Union to the Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union was also passed, though some attendees were opposed.
The union was awaiting the university’s legal name change before finalizing its decision.
As previously reported by The Eyeopener, legislation to legally change Ryerson University’s name to Toronto Metropolitan University was passed on Dec. 2.
This name will now be reflected on articles of incorporation, bylaws, policies and all other legal documents to do with the TMSU.
Vice-president operations Spyros Zarros said he was excited to launch a new logo and implement the students’ union’s new name across campus.
He also addressed the importance of the change.
“We must also continue to reflect on why we have changed the name and continue to root our work in understanding the ongoing impacts of colonialism in our relationships, institutions, customs and throughout the campus,” said Zarros.
Reopening the Good Food Centre and CopyRITE
Gerges stated one of her main goals in her presidency was to reopen the university’s food bank, the Good Food Centre.
“I visited the food bank at [the University of Toronto] to learn more about how they do things,” Gerges said.
She says she reviewed vendors, finances and previously signed agreements to assist in her understanding of the function of the Good Food Centre.
The centre is located in the Student Campus Centre (SCC) B 03A. Students can attend events and use the Good Food Box program, but have to register as a member of the food bank for all its services.
Vice-president equity Areesha Qureshi also announced that CopyRITE has reopened this semester.
In 2021, The Eye reported that the TMSU (formerly known as the RSU back then) would not be putting money toward CopyRITE due to the nature of online learning and the lack of need for printing.
The service re-opened this semester and is located in SCC12B.
Zarros said students have a 25 per cent discount on the printing service.
“It’s the most affordable place and the most convenient place for you folks to print your stuff,” he said.
Security across campus
A student raised concerns over increased security across campus, especially its impacts on marginalized communities, including trans folks.
In November, TMU announced they would place more security guards around campus in response to recent incidents of alleged sexual assaults in Kerr Hall.
Gerges said it was important to consider other options first and understand the effects this would have on marginalized communities across campus.
“I don’t believe that increased security would solve the issue, especially when it comes to trans people,” said Gerges. “I think it’s important to explore other avenues and not go straight to security or policing and really consider what that means for other communities.”
Faculty of arts director Aya Bakir encouraged students to join equity meetings and ask these questions throughout the year, rather than only bringing them up at the SAGM.
“This is actually part of the ongoing conversation that we’ve been having in the social equity committee,” said Bakir. “We strongly advise students to come over and join our equity committee because we do want to find a solution that fits all students.”
Zarros announced the TMSU has partnered with Grammarly for a discounted subscription for students. He said the discounted fee will be between $7.55 and $8.89.
As reported by The Eye earlier in the fall semester, a motion was passed at the October BoD meeting to investigate the renewal or creation of premium Grammarly accounts for students.
The Eye reported back in January that the union was offering a discounted price on Grammarly, along with meditation app Calm and one Popeyes location in Whitby.
At the October meeting, Zarros said this was the case due to the pandemic, especially since students didn’t have access to similar services from the university.
Student group office keys and email domains
An attendee asked about the assignment of keys to student group offices in the SCC for the 2022-23 school year. Vice-president student life and events Ozioma Molokwu said the TMSU had difficulty with handing them out at first.
“Due to a number of factors, we have been delayed in terms of assigning offices and office keys,” said Molokwu.
She added that the TMSU has officially asked those previously using the offices to come clean them out. Some office keys have already been handed out, according to Molokwu.
Another student group leader was worried about the lack of access to student group email domains.
Executive director Reanna Maharaj said she is the owner of all the student group email accounts and if there is confusion with them, students should forward those concerns to her.
She said she would have the accounts renewed for another two years—which is the standard procedure.
Inclusion of law students
The TMSU was also questioned by an attendee on their efforts to represent the Lincoln Alexander School of Law students at the university within the organization.
“With the law school being sort of new, it sometimes feels like the law faculty is trying to usurp the role of the student union and how the student union normally represents students,” said the student.
The student asked what initiatives and projects the TMSU is undertaking to make sure law students are being properly represented.
Gerges said the TMSU is hoping to connect with the Lincoln Alexander Law Students’ Society to do an end-of-year grad event for those graduating. She acknowledged the TMSU could be doing more.
“I really do need to be doing more for law students because they are our members,” she said.