New policy for student organizations

Putting more power in student hands, creating forum for students to discuss and resolve disputes

University of Toronto students will get a new forum to resolve disputes with the societies that represent them, under a new policy for student organizations. 

The changes, approved by Governing Council on June 23, are outlined in the new Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations, and are the result of more than two years of consultations. 

The policy confirms the principle of the autonomy of campus groups and student societies, describes principles to guide their open, accessible and democratic functioning, and establishes a complaint and resolution process to respond to conflicts that cannot be resolved at the society level.

“These changes put more power in the hands of students,” University of Toronto Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr said. “We heard from students that they want additional measures to make sure the student societies that represent them are acting in an accountable and democratic way.” 

The University collected about $38 million in fees from students on behalf of student societies in 2015-16. In return, it requires that student societies operate in an open, accessible and democratic fashion. 

The policy creates a new student-focused body – the University Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS) – that will consider cases when all internal avenues for settling a dispute within a student society have been exhausted. The chair of the council will be appointed by the University Affairs Board of Governing Council and will assemble panels made up of the chair and four students to hear cases as they arise.  

A summary of all the council’s decisions will be posted online to bring more transparency to the way disputes between students and their societies are addressed. 

Vice-Provost, Students, Sandy Welsh stressed that the changes are designed to respect the autonomy of student organizations.  

“The creation of this council will give students an important new forum to discuss and resolve disputes,” she said. 

Governing Council heard arguments both for and against the change from student leaders. 

Leaders from the University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union, the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students, the U of T Graduate Students’ Union and Scarborough Students’ Union spoke against the move, saying it will infringe on their ability to represent student interests. 

Leaders from the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Engineering Society, the UC Lit, Victoria University Students Administrative Council and New College Student Council spoke in support of the change, with several noting that if students associations conduct themselves in an open, democratic and accessible manner, there will be no need for the new council.  

Welsh noted in her presentation to governing council that the new policy does not change the existing authority of the provost’s office or give it more power.  As is the case under the existing Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees, the provost will retain the power to withhold fees as a final measure if a student society is not acting in an open, accessible and democratic manner or is not following its constitution.    

That long-standing policy is not changing, she noted. 

Under the new policy, a five-member CRCSS panel convened to hear a complaint will consider informal mediation, whenever possible and appropriate. The panel may also determine no further action is required, issue a reprimand, recommend changes be made by the society or recommend to the Provost that fees be withheld. 

The chair of the new council will serve for a two-year term and can be University of Toronto faculty, staff or alumni. Student members for a panel will be drawn at the chair’s discretion from a pool of students appointed by each student society and must be registered in a degree program at U of T. Panel members will change with each case, and one student member will always be drawn from the four representative student committees: the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Association of Part-time Students, the Scarborough Student’s Union and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union.

The new policy includes two sections. One sets out principles for the functioning of both campus groups as defined by the Policy on the Recognition of Campus Groups and student societies, defined as those for which the university collects fees under the Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Fees.   

The second part of the policy is devoted to the complaint and resolution process for student societies and the establishment of the CRCSS.  This section applies only to student societies for which the university collects fees on their behalf. 

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