Alyson Allen

Cannon Editor-in-Chief

 

On Friday, October 30th, the Engineering Society’s (EngSoc) Annual Accountability Meeting (ACM) was held virtually with a record number of participants. To the surprise of many within the Skule™ community, no EngSoc Officers, including EngSoc President Christopher Kousinouris, were recalled.

ACMs are run midway through the Officers’ terms to ensure they are following promises and responsibilities. During these meetings, Officers present what they have been doing within the first part of their term, and members of Skule™ have the opportunity to  vote to recall (essentially remove) an Officer from their position if their work is not considered satisfactory. For a recall to pass more than two thirds of votes must be in favour of it. Following the removal of the Officer, a fellow Officer assumes the responsibilities of the recalled and the position is run in the following EngSoc election. 

Upon beginning their roles in April, Officers had to prepare for a truly unpredictable 2020-2021 year. With all of Skule™’s operations moving online, many logistics and plans had to be completely re-worked for a year of mystery. With the high stakes to complete their duties and strong promises made during elections, EngSoc Officers had a lot to prove to keep their positions.

In the past decade, only one recall passed. However, the 2020 ACM was rumoured to have a second recall, this time for the EngSoc President’s neglect of student opinions of PEY changes. Students proved they were ready to challenge EngSoc’s operations. 

It all started on October 22nd when VP Academic Mirjana Mijalkovic posted on the Skule™ Facebook group with the agenda for the October 23rd Faculty Council Meeting, instantly sparking commotion. Her post announced: 

We are FINALLY voting on the new proposed PEY/Coop program. This proposal has gone through many amendments since the Summer of 2019, and Christopher and I are very excited about the changes/additions that have been added to it in order to make it a plan that will benefit our community.

This was the first time many Skule™ members were informed about the PEY/Coop Program negotiations since last mentioned in Winter 2020, despite the information being sent out to a small number of students on the EngSoc Governance Mailing list. And this caused a lot of concerns, complaints, and questioning throughout the online community.

Students were quickly upset about the lack of communication on EngSoc’s part to notify the community in advance and, more notably, about the proposed PEY changes themselves (for details, read The New PEY Program) .  The main frustrations with these changes, for context, surrounded the tripled increase in fees and the lack of trust towards the Engineering Career Centre (the ECC, which runs the PEY Program) ability to provide relevant and beneficial professional assistance. 

Within the timeframe between Mirjana’s post and the Faculty Council Meeting, concerned students flooded the Skule™ Facebook Group, it being one of the easiest ways to reach a large portion of the Skule™ community. Discussions took place about what the PEY Program could have included instead and the issues students have had with the ECC and during their PEYs.

Many students shared a resonating thought: Why wasn’t the student community’s input involved in negotiations?

Tucked within the comments of many anger-filled threads, Chris Kousinioris, President of EngSoc, posted a response document, Chris’ reply to Student Concerns on EngSoc’s Handling of the New PEY Deal. In an attempt to appease the situation, Chris emphasized, “this program was going to move forward in its general structure no matter what” and announced that agreement had been made between the Faculty and the ECC. He also acknowledged that EngSoc had not provided timely details of the plan nor about the negotiation process. 

This did not appease the situation. With the response being rather difficult to find, students yet again pointed out the lack of communication from Chris’ part. And, with the Program supposedly agreed upon, apprehensive students yet again took to social media to share further issues they had with the program, especially since 2T4s hadn’t been informed that they were to be the first to begin it. 

On October 25th, with high tensions and the looming ACM, Chris attempted another statement on Facebook, now titled EngSoc Presidents’ Statement on the new PEY Co-op Program.  Yet again, Chris attempted emphasizing that “We clearly and repeatedly communicated to the faculty that students were unhappy with the proposal in its current form.” and “I supported the deal at faculty council in order to begin repairing strained relationships between the faculty and myself following months of negotiation and to put us in the best possible position for future negotiations.” He strongly promised that he would continue negotiations and improve communications. 

Nearly all seventy-seven replies to the Facebook post opposed and doubted the new statement. Some noted again that the statement, at the time being only on Facebook, was poorly located for all students to gain access to. Others again shared more frustrations, now towards Chris himself, since realizing many of the PEY negotiations were from his part. 

On the eve of the ACM, tensions were still brewing, especially after a student posted their document, Beyond the PEY ECC Crap, regarding general concerns about all EngSoc Officers. This document’s aim went beyond concerns with Chris and targeted the actions of any EngSoc Officer that deemed questioning, such as Skule™ planners printing and typos, the lack of information regarding Pit renovations, and the usage of EngSoc finances on various items including business cards. By sparking conversations in preparation for the ACM, the thoughts of recall were brewing. 

Chris  prepared one final response and, again, tucked it in the middle of the comments to the post. With the assistance of the rest of the Officer team, factual inaccuracies regarding the claims in the document were addressed. Along that, a few other students provided links to the right facts that had sparked misunderstanding. Yet again, this attempt of communication wasn’t positively received, with various students claiming the language used was “unprofessional”, “inflammatory”, and “pointed fingers”. At this point, it seemed like the myriad of Facebook posts and comments had fully strained, with the vote just a few hours away.

Students came prepared to the ACM with what they had seen unfold in the previous week. This meeting started off with an additional item however: the Investigation Report on Christopher Kousinoris, October 2020, written and presented by Ombudsperson Saskia van Beers and Speaker Zahir Firoze. The investigation, approved by Chris, displayed “…the complaints against the Engineering Society President, Christopher Kousinioris, (henceforth, Chris) alleging he did not fulfill his duty of representing student concerns in discussions with the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (henceforth, Faculty) on the new PEY Program proposal.” Student allegations were investigated, including (1) that Chris seemed to express support for the new program and that the student body supported well and (2) he had a lack of consultations and used his own self to represent the student body. 

Proof of improper communication and failings during the negotiation process were now available for the whole student body to see and assess.  The investigation proved that Chris was aware that “there was a portion of the student body that did not support the program and that more consultations should’ve been conducted, but still believed that his choice to ‘back the deal’ was in the best interest of students.”

Chris clarified that he meant the support of the program was in the best interest of the body and that the Faculty would not have accepted major changes to the program. Faculty members, who were part of the PEY negotiations and were interviewed by the investigators, further implied Chris’ lack of a defined stance on the matter. 

Alongside information regarding Chris, the investigation report summarized the findings from the PEY Program Student Input Survey,  sent to the Skule™ community to get a better idea of student perspectives about the PEY Program before the ACM. The 985 responses received proved that most  first years were not aware of the PEY program changes and that most students were against the program changes. 

After the investigation was presented, the motion to recall Chris was set in motion. Chris presented what he had done during his term and a new plan for future negotiations. He explained how to ensure that more PEY Program negotiations would be made, but with better communication, in an attempt to convince students he would learn from his mistakes. Following the presentation, students participating in the meeting had the opportunity to question Chris about his roles. 

For over 2 hours, tensions were high as students voiced their opinions and concerns, begging for more clarification, wanting to know whether they should trust Chris to handle the situation for the rest of his term. 

Eventually, the time for voting had begun. A Microsoft Form was sent to students attending the meeting to recall Chris. With 65% of votes for a recall, the motion failed with just less than 1%. Chris was to remain EngSoc President. 

Students didn’t want to agree and demanded proof of the results. Moments after, it was revealed that the proxy votes were not accounted for in the voting form. Students who could not attend the ACM had the opportunity to have another student take their place at the meeting and vote in their place. A lack of proxy votes therefore meant not all votes were counted. 

Another form was sent out for a second round of voting, yet not within the speed it took for a large number of students to leave the meeting call after having heard the previous results. Although this voting form accounted for the proxy votes, students were apprehensive that voting members who had voted the first time were not going to now, seemingly losing vote credibility. It was noted that students are typically supposed to stay for the full meeting to prevent situations like this. 

After a recount, the motion failed again, this time with around 63% of the votes voting for recall. Chris remained the EngSoc President. 

At this moment, more students expressed anger and frustration, questioning the entire integrity of the vote. Some mentioned concerns about not being inclusive to the various timezones students may be due to COVID-19. It was brought to the attention of the students that Bylaws would not have allowed that and that proxy information was available beforehand. 

With Chris remaining in position, the other Officers also kept their places, even though many questions were raised from the student document presented the day before. After a gruelling 7-hour meeting, the ACM ended with an anticlimactic ending. 

With the ACM out  of the way, the tension from that week shifted to monitoring the EngSoc team’s actions under a harsher light. Chris is now under a microscope with students with students ready to take action if anything is deemed unacceptable. 

So, what has happened since?

To the relief of many, PEY Program negotiations are not over and the EngSoc team is working to address issues brought up at the ACM. 

During the ACM and a document titled Official EngSoc Stance and Plan on the New PEY Deal, Chris made promises outlining next steps, including promises for direct negotiations, student protests and PEY  boycotts if needed. Since then, some PEY agreements have been reached based on key student input and two PEY Program Representatives have been elected and will be transitioned into their role as soon as possible.

Alongside Chris’ promises, project plans for various Officer portfolios have been shared for student input, such as Pit renovations, Student Choice Awards, and EngSoc Mental Wellness Bursary. 

Overall, the 2020 ACM proved that students of Skule™  are passionate and will take action on changes for the better, even if it doesn’t affect themselves directly. The student body wants to be involved in discussions and puts high standards in elected Officers to fulfill these duties. Even in these trying times, students are motivated to stand up for what they believe can make their experiences at U of T better and more fair. 

Only time will tell if these demands will be met. 

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