If there’s only one thing that could be said about the UTSU, amid its colourful history, it would be that their performance has always been…questionable. As Mathias Memmel, VP Internal, remarked, “we’re widely disliked and no one trusts us with money, and who can blame them?” One such a money-fumbling incident would be the 2015 lawsuit in which the UTSU sued its former executive director, president, and vice-president internal for civil fraud.
And that’s just the general opinion of the UTSU throughout the undergraduate student body. Engineering students in particular haven’t had the best relationship with the student union: it’s no secret that “EngSoc and the UTSU spent years screaming at each other,” Memmel comments.
The relationship between the two organizations have improved, however; the UTSU “tries to meet with the EngSoc execs regularly.” The reason for this improvement? The UTSU traditionally has “had a hard time reaching [professional] faculties,” and only recently has realized that the solution is “to work with local groups like EngSoc.” Engineering groups know what engineering students need, which is why the UTSU has tried to support these groups with money and other resources, instead of “strid[ing] into the Pit and try[ing] to save the day.” An example of this would be the diversion of funds from the UTSU to EngSoc. Currently, 50% of UTSU fees collected from engineering students goes to EngSoc, where EngSoc uses these fees to provide services and programs that the UTSU did before, aside from club insurance and certain club funding.
The UTSU has been making strides in winning back the approval of the students it serves, according to Memmel, by “getting [its] house in order, [which] means fixing the finances and getting the UTSU in more positions where it’s actually able to do something useful.” A recent accomplishment is the newly overhauled Health and Dental plan, which covers things like psychotherapy. An added bonus is that students can now opt out online. A new service they provide is the Resource Bank, which is “basically a room full of equipment that student groups can rent.”
The student union has also been working on a survey of its entire membership, developing a realistic business and operating plan for the Student Commons opening at the end of the year, and discussing what the Ontario Student Grant (OSG) truly means for students. In particular, the UTSU has met with the Premier’s office and elected politicians to advocate the fact the OSG (“free tuition” announced by the government last year) will cover less than half the cost of an engineering degree. The UTSU’s long-term goal? To turn itself into a functional student government that people actually like. Memmel is hopeful: “We take in a lot of money every year, but most students don’t see where it goes. If we change how we spend our money, we can stop being a joke to so many of our members.”
Memmel’s final message to engineering students is a plea to give the UTSU a chance. “Student politics is rotten, and student politicians are even worse, but student governments can do good things when people make the effort to work hard and to listen. Engineering students should know that their criticisms are being acted on, and that things are getting better – we’re here to listen and act.”