Ultra Vires


UTSU: The Union That Doesn’t Serve You

Dear Class of 2016:

Welcome to the University of Toronto Faculty of Law!  I’m sure that some kind upper-year students have pointed out to you that the Transition Space is actually much nicer than the facilities we had to put up with in Flavelle House, where the professors’ offices are very nice but the classrooms left much to be desired.  (It’s nicer provided that you have a laptop battery that can last a few hours, of course!)

Institutional knowledge and memories sometimes do not descend too well in professional schools, as people seem to leave just as they have become used to being there.  This is a good thing in some ways – memories of the awfulness of the Moot Court Room will vanish among U of T law students – but it is a bad thing in other ways.  One of which is the subject of this column.

Law students at the University of Toronto are charged for membership in two student organizations: the Students’ Law Society (SLS), and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).  Outright fees to each of them are approximately $70 per student, per organization, per year.

Most law school clubs, by operation of UTSU’s policies, are not eligible for funding.  Most law students do not use UTSU’s services, aside from the supplementary insurance.  (That supplementary insurance premium, a separate charge from the $70 mentioned above, can actually be bargained down to a better rate elsewhere – the Graduate Student Union has done this, as has the engineering students’ organization.)  Furthermore, UTSU’s agenda is somewhat different from that of the students of a professional school.


The SLS spends its budget on student gatherings, on various student clubs’ guest speakers, and on extras for student life.  Every last cent is budgeted for, and I can attest from three years’ service on the Social Affairs side that it runs a surplus every year.  (Some allotted money always goes unspent.)  Each club, political or not, has access to funding on an equal footing, with clear policies guiding its allotment.  UTSU, by contrast, has had spending scandals in previous years.  It engages in political activism that is not typical campus fare – when this writer was a 1L, at their “Xpression Against Oppression Week”, the honoured keynote speakers were Angela Davis (famous for her time on America’s Ten Most Wanted list, and then for her Communist activism) and Ward Churchill (faux Aboriginal activist who lost his tenured position over credentials inflation, who called the 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns”).  “Israeli Apartheid Week” is another of the campus events they proudly endorse, and sponsor with your money.

Constituent members have tried to escape UTSU – 60% of Trinity College students voting in a referendum on UTSU membership desired to leave it, and UTSU ignored the results.  At an Annual General Meeting of students on the St. George campus, a majority voted to allow online voting – intended to increase student turnout, which had fallen to 10% in UTSU’s elections.  UTSU ignored the Annual General Meeting vote.  The executive of the Graduate Student Union felt compelled after that to post a letter on the GSU website, distancing itself from UTSU’s democratic irregularities.

But I digress.  UTSU is what it is – an organization for undergraduates, which does undergraduate things in a rather corrupt fashion.  They are on a different page from law students, and it is frankly not right that each of us should have to subsidize their activism by $70 per annum.

But that brings us back to institutional memory.  How UTSU survives is that it takes law students a couple of years to realize what they truly are, and how useless they truly are for law students.  And by that time, the money taken is gone, and there is only a little left to be taken in the final year.  Most of us think – “well, I’ve got better things to do with my time.”  And so the cycle goes on.

So this is my challenge for members of the Class of 2016: find out for yourselves the sort of organization that UTSU is, and challenge members of the SLS executive to act, to redefine our relationship with this corrupt student union.  SLS President Brendan Stevens and SLS Vice-President (STAG) Peter Flynn (good men and fine student officers, both) know precisely what UTSU is, but they are awfully busy with all the other assorted issues raised by the transition – freeing us and our student fees from UTSU, given that the fees become sunk costs at the start of each year, falls down the priority list.

If you come to agree with me on UTSU’s relevance (or lack thereof) to law students, and want to save yourself $140-$150 over the next two years, ask Brendan and Peter to take up the UTSU issue.

Harass them until they do – as members of the SLS executive, they work for you.  Unlike the UTSU executive.

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