Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Administration declines to step in

Written by Angie Oliveira & Aliza Libman - News Department
Excalibur - Wednesday, 25 February 2004

When exactly the York administration should get involved in student politics was in debate at the February 12 Student Issues Roundtable (SIR) meeting.

A number of student leaders, including members of the newly-formed Student Voice for Democratic Choice, urged SIR co-chair and vice-president students Bonnie Neuman to step in after the York Federation of Students (YFS) passed a motion to change when elections should be held.

The motion, passed February 10, allows council one year from the time they are ratified to hold an election. In the past, the bylaws stipulated that elections must be held every March. With the amendment passed, council can delay the next elections until January 2005.

“I’m asking [you in] your role as Provost to step in and ensure democratic change occurs,” said Student Voice member and vice-president of Atkinson Students Association (ASA) Shamini Selvaratnam.
Selvaratnam presented a petition, signed by approximately 4,000 students, demanding a March YFS election. She is one of many students angered over the postponement of elections and believes that the council is going against the agreement they made with the Constituency Committee, which stated they would follow their bylaws, which then stated that a March election will take place.

“I knew what my term was when I signed up,” said fine arts councillor Randy Orenstein, who agrees that a March election should take place.

Representatives of the Graduate Students Association (GSA), the Transgendered Bisexual Lesbian Gay Alliance at York, and the Student Senator Caucus also expressed their concerns.

“It seems as though the university is in no other position but to intervene,” added Darryl Hobbs, vice-president of the GSA.
Though Neuman acknowledged the concerns raised, her response was that the university will not step in. At that point, some student representatives walked out of the room.

“It’s not the university’s role to run YFS,” said Neuman. “That’s essentially what you’re asking us at this point.”

Neuman explained that the reason for the administration’s interference in January was concern that the YFS had not seen a new council for over a year.

“It was only when we hit the 18-month marker [without an election],” she says, that the administration stepped in. She added that the university waited as long as possible before intervening and took only minimal steps when it did.

Neuman was also concerned about the precedent she would be setting if she took the position that it was alright for the university to intervene in student government.

“Student governments want to be and are respected to be autonomous,” she said. “When we last intervened, I was being barraged with complaints by some of the people in this room.”
Instead, the only solution Neuman offered was telling students to exercise their democratic right and vote, or to lobby the YFS if students are unhappy with the current council.

“The problem essentially is back in your hands,” Neuman said, adding that she would ensure that elections be held within 12 months of the council’s ratification.

YFS vice-president academic and university affairs Stefan Santamaria was also present at the SIR meeting. He defended the council’s need to delay elections so that no similar problems would reoccur.

“There have been some serious problems within the YFS,” said Santamaria.

Santamaria also questioned the validity of the petition presented by Selvaratnam because of allegations of coercion, but said he would speak to any concerned student who visited his office.

“I will be willing to speak with every person who signed the petition,” he stated.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

March elections postponed

Written by Aliza Libman - Assistant News Editor
Excalibur - Wednesday, 11 February 2004

The York Federation of Students (YFS) has voted to amend their bylaws and delay the traditional March elections, despite the objections of some council members.

The motion, which passed 22-4-0, amends the bylaws to allow any council to set an election date within one year of the time they are ratified, which, in the case of this council, would be any time before January 22, 2005.

“There are so many reasons that this has to be done,” says president Paul Cooper. “We inherited an organization that is in complete disarray … It takes much longer than two and a half weeks to rectify these problems.”

Cooper and his council only took office on Friday, January 23, after being ratified the previous evening. Their ratification had been delayed because of concerns of misconduct on the part of the elections committee, who adjudicated claims of overspending by Cooper and his 26-member slate.

“We all want a fair and democratic YFS election,” agreed faculty of arts councillor Jordie Saperia. “In order to fulfill our job, we will require more time. It’s in the best interests of everybody.”

Other members noted that the previous two years had been fraught with controversy as last March’s elections were cancelled, then-president Angie Joshi was deposed, and the outgoing council refused to ratify the incoming one.

“We’ve become a joke to most students around the country,” said environmental studies councillor James Gewutrz, noting that the current council has an obligation to fix the situation before calling an election that would just be a repeat of the problems of the past.

Some members of the constituency committee, which carried out the mediation that allowed the council members to take office, claimed that by changing the bylaws, the council is violating the spirit of the agreement that they signed during the mediation.

The agreement states that “the YFS bylaws call for a March Annual Election and the YFS recognizes that they are bound by their bylaws”.
“This motion goes against the agreement that we had in place,” said faculty of education students association president Marek Przemieniecki, adding that since all other student governments held March elections, the bylaw amendment would contravene all the conventions of the university.

Council members in favour of the amendment argued that it was fully within their right to change the bylaws if they felt it better served the interests of the students.

Opposition to the bylaw amendment was strong, with a number of councillors speaking against it.

“Extending your terms is basically unnecessary,” said fine arts councillor Randy Orenstein. “It does not take months to rework simple rules if you have clearly defined goals …. It would take you approximately 10 minutes to define bylaws that would be binding on [those goals].”

Representatives of the college councils of Winters, McLaughlin, Founders, Atkinson and Calumet addressed the YFS, informing them that their colleges opposed the motion to amend the bylaws.

Chief returning officer Ryan Jarvis added that the elections could indeed be duly held in March, as student affairs was prepared to administer them to ensure no repeats of previous problems.

As well, a group of students calling themselves Student Voice for Democratic Choice, who had collected 4,000 signatures on a petition calling for March elections, expressed their dismay that the voices of these 4,000 students would be ignored.

“Four thousand people signed this petition. That’s more students than voted in the elections in March,” said Stong councillor Hammam Farah, who opposed the motion.

“I would like to question the sincerity of the signatures on this petition,” said faculty of education councillor Aliza Jesin, claiming that she was approached by students who told her that they were coerced into signing the petition or signed it without knowing what they were signing.

In an interview, Iris Sepiashvelli, a fourth year philosophy student, reported that she witnessed a number of students blockading a hallway on the day of the rally and telling other students to sign the petition, regardless of their personal feelings.

“People weren’t allowed to pass without signing. When they asked what it was, they were told that it was a long story and that it was for the well-being of the students,” she alleges.
Sepiashvelli also noted that students were offered candy as an incentive for signing.

But Orenstein, who took part in the rally, saw no coercion and doubts that any took place.
“Had I seen anything of that nature, I would have spoken out against it and apologized to the student who was stopped,” he says.

Orenstein adds that since the group who collected the signatures was not a formal group but just a number of concerned students, he cannot officially speak for any of them.

Despite the objections of many councillors and college presidents, who have non-voting status on the YFS council, the motion was carried and the vote is binding until the annual general meeting where both council members and college presidents will vote.

Members of the Atkinson Students Association (ASA) were angered that no councillors voted in representation of Atkinson, despite the appointment of two councillors, Aurangzeb Mubshar and Boris Augilero, by the ASA the previous evening.

“The Atkinson constituency was not represented,” says Atkinson vice-president Shamini Selvaratnam.

The two members had not been ratified into their positions, the speaker Kiley Thompson ruled that the positions were still technically vacant.

Selvaratnam argues that no such ratification is required, due to a contractual agreement between Atkinson and YFS.

The council also voted to reduce the executive salaries by 10 per cent, from $20,000 to $18,000 a year.

“We ran on a platform of `holy shit, executives get too much money’,” said Cooper. “Executives don’t need to get paid that much.”
Members of council suggested that the surplus $8,000 be spent creating bursaries for needy students.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

YFS Councillor: "F*** Off! You can put that in your notes"

Written by Aliza Libman - Assistant News Editor
Excalibur - Wednesday, 4 February 2004

The newly elected York Federation of Students (YFS) council held their first meeting last Wednesday night in a controversial session that ended with one member running out screaming obscenities.

In stark contrast to past YFS meetings, which typically started hours late and failed to address most agenda items, Wednesday’s meeting began on time and moved through all agenda items.

“In three hours we went through 13 agenda items. We’ve already come through on almost half of our promises,” says president Paul Cooper, who adds that “our salaries are going down by 10 per cent on Tuesday [February 10]”.

Controversial agenda items included the removal of two councillors, a motion to de-federate from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and a contract with a nationwide marketing company that would bring free copies of the National Post to York.

The motion to look into de-federating from the CFS was raised by vice-president external Alan Kan.“We get very little back from this organization,” Kan said, and proposed to investigate other student unions, such as the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, which he feels might serve York students better. Many members of the Progress Not Politics (PNP) slate supported the motion, saying that their mandate to de-politicize the YFS includes de-federation.

“The CFS is an extremist fringe group [that] embodies everything that is wrong with this YFS,” said Cooper.

Some council members opposed the motion though, citing the fact that PNP did not campaign on the issue of de-federation.

“What sort of consultation has been done?” asked Keele councillor Nick Freedman. Other councillors proposed that a referendum of York students be held before de-federation is pursued, and claimed that the CFS has served students very well in the past.

“They’ve been responsible for a lot of very positive things,” said Founders College president Curtis Phills.

The CFS is widely credited for their role in pressuring the Liberals for the two-year domestic tuition freeze. The supplementary fee students pay to the CFS is currently $0.24 per credit, which totals $28.80 for a student who does a full 120-credit degree at York.

The meeting also declared the seats of Glendon councillors Ron Fiedtkou and Hossein Samiian vacant, allegedly in accordance with YFS by-laws, which state that a seat can be declared vacant if the councillor misses three meetings in a semester.

There was some debate regarding whether this removal contravened a Glendon-YFS agreement that requires removals be done in conjunction with the president of the Glendon College Students Union (GCSU), which was further complicated by Fiedtkou’s position as GCSU president.

Fiedtkou and Samiian were elected to council in March 2002, and had remained in their positions following the elections, since no one ran for the position.

Acting speaker Kiley Thompson ruled that the removal could proceed, despite the objections of a number of members.

“There [has] been no opportunity for the members to defend themselves,” said Freedman, to which Cooper responded, “If they were interested, they would have run for the position in the election, and they would have been here.”

Neither Samiian nor Fiedtkou were present during the vote, though Fiedtkou arrived after the removal had already happened. “I’m not upset,” he says. “It was expected.” Fiedtkou notes that he plans to be involved in the appointment of new councillors to the vacant positions, as the contract requires.

The council also voted to pursue a contract with Clegg Campus Marketing, to bring racks with free copies of the National Post to campus, which Cooper brought forward as a financial benefit to students and an opportunity for further diversity of media on campus.

“In university, debate and discourse is very important,” Cooper said.

The motion came under fire from representatives of campus papers, who attended the meeting. The representatives asked Cooper what provisions would be added to ensure space for York’s 16 campus papers.

Representatives also expressed concern, asking if the added revenue from the contract would be used to compensate campus papers for lost advertising revenues and lower circulation. Cooper then stated that members of York University Press, the campus media collective, would be involved in the negotiations process.

The council halted any further funding to the campus paper Critical Times, calling it too political, and created a special commission on the by-laws, headed by Yaakov Roth. Calumet councillor Alon Hacohen was appointed to the commission.

Other actions taken were to appoint members to the Security, Parking and Transportation and Office Décor committees, and to move to hire lawyers and a policy consultant.

The three-and-a-half-hour meeting ended with several councillors and former councillors upset over the motions that were passed, including Atkinson vice-president Shamini Selvaratnam, who told the council to “fuck off! You can put that in your notes.”