Towards 2030, a document that reflects U of T president David Naylor’s vision of the university’s future, will go before Governing Council next Thursday. The plan will likely go through without a hitch and be adopted as guiding principles for the university’s development. This Monday through Wednesday, students, faculty and staff will have their say. The University of Toronto Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Union will hold a plebiscite on the controversial document.
The plan calls for unregulated tuition and non-academic fees, and a decreased undergraduate population in favor of graduate students. The plebiscite will ask members of the university, including students, faculty and staff, whether or not they support deregulation of fees.
The vote is a symbolic one: GC members decide the plan’s fate.
“This is something that we’ve been consulting on around the whole university, very much including students, for over a year,” said Rob Steiner, spokesperson for U of T. Steiner said he does not see the plebiscite as a useful exercise of student discontent.
The administration consulted handpicked task forces in the making of Towards 2030. Student unions claim they were refused presence on these committees. A town hall meeting early on in the process was the extent of open consultations with the larger university community.
Steiner encourages concerned students to contact their representatives on GC with any concerns as changes are made. “And if they can’t find a representative who wants to hear them […] then they should run [for GC office],” he said. Students have eight representatives on the 50-member council.
“I think that it’s a bad precedent that Towards 2030 seems to be suggesting a private institution,” said UTSU president Sandy Hudson. “We fear that other universities will follow suit and the American form of funding higher education will creep up to Canada.”
“And as a result I think we won’t be seeing a university filled with the best and the brightest […] we’ll be seeing a university of the richest.”
While the plebiscite will only put forward the question of deregulating tuition fees, the unions are also concerned about the proposed increase in “industry research partnerships,” or corporate-funded research. Student unions and the U of T Faculty Association have warned that corporatization of research will compromise academic freedom at the university.
Steiner said that U of T is prepared for any ethical quandaries. “We have tons of policy and watchdogs in every faculty that we specifically designed to ensure research ethics, and to ensure the primacy of academic freedom in any research collaboration,” he said.