U of T’s petty cash grab

An editorial on the ancillary fee review

U of T’s petty cash grab

Was U of T trying to pass an unfair financial burden off to students through ancillary fees? Ancillary fees are imposed by each of U of T’s many departments, who seem to have been ignorant of the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities’ (MTCU) regulations. Yet, the central U of T administration has an obligation to ensure compliance across the whole university. The vastness and complexity of the organization is not a valid excuse for their obvious failure.

Based on the available evidence, we can come to one of three conclusions: the university was either ignorant of, willfully blind to, or deliberately allowed departments to continue violating the MTCU’s rules on ancillary fees. In any case, students have good reason for serious concern and harsh criticism.

If U of T’s administration were ignorant of the rules on ancillary fees, or failed to ensure compliance, it points to a shocking level of ineptitude on its part. It seems inconceivable that administrators simply missed the memo on ancillary fees. It’s more likely that the university simply allowed its departments to exploit a loophole and shift costs onto already cash-strapped students.

The university has already admitted that some fees violated the MTCU’s regulations, and that others were wrongly categorized or poorly explained. U of T has acted appropriately in admitting and remedying some of its faults in this area. There are, however, unresolved disputes over many fees, and even where the university acknowledges its mistake, its attempts at a remedy do not go far enough.

When a student is caught cheating on an exam, they cannot simply promise not to cheat again and by so doing, retain the grades they have unfairly earned. Instead, unfair gains are stripped away and punishments imposed. U of T admits that it cheated on ancillary fees, but claims the right to keep thousands of dollars it collected from students through these unfair fees.

So far, U of T has promised to stop cheating in the future, but not to rectify past abuses. U of T rightly holds its students to a high standard of academic honesty — why does it hold itself to a different standard in legal and financial matters? If a department had no right to impose the fee in the first place then it has no right to keep the money earned from that fee.

The UTSU, GSU, SCSU, and other student unions involved in the Ancillary Fee Review process deserve the sincere thanks of every student for highlighting this abuse of the fees system and for fighting to get a fair deal for their members. This is an example of one of the best roles students’ unions can play: an astute watchdog, carefully ensuring that the university, armed as it is with significant resources and staff, does not infringe on the rights of students. In this instance, student leaders met the university on its own turf and proved more effective at, or more willing to, ensure compliance than U of T’s central administration — an achievement that cannot be ignored.

Yet, reading the university’s fee review, there are a striking number of cases in which the university and the UTSU have different interpretations of how the regulations apply to particular fees. The UTSU claims that a number of fees are tuition-related and therefore unjust, while the university claims that the services named are optional and that the fee is therefore justified. Combined, these fees add up to a significant amount of money. Clearly, further action is needed to resolve this dispute and this is an opportunity for the MTCU and provincial government to intervene.

The MTCU shares responsibility for these unfair fees, since it has obviously failed to enforce its own regulations. Like the university, the ministry was either complicit or incompetent in this failure. Ontario now has a new premier, and Kathleen Wynne and Brad Duguid, her Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, could not make a better first move than to intervene on ancillary fees on the side of fairness and on the side of students.

Action by the MTCU to clarify that any service or resource necessary for a complete educational experience must be covered under tuition, not squeezed out of students through extra fees, would help compensate for past failings. It would also be a gesture of good faith and set the tone for a more productive dialogue between student leaders and the government.

U of T’s administration should be ashamed of its serious failure of oversight. Meanwhile, U of T’s students should be proud of the dedicated student leaders who succeeded in protecting the current and future student body from exploitation. The controversy over ancillary fees demonstrates that we have the power to hold U of T’s administration to account and to effect change at our university.

Students charged “illegal” fees

Admission prompted by student union-led investigation

Students charged “illegal” fees

In response to an initial investigation by U of T student unions, senior university administrators released a report last Tuesday that found at least seven ancillary fees charged to students were in violation of guidelines set out by the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU), as well the University of Toronto’s Policy on Ancillary Fees.

The report downplayed the number of fees in violation, saying that while “a few instances of fees may be interpreted as non-compliant,” the “vast majority” were in line with university policy. MTCU guidelines state that if a university levies a fee later found to be illegal, and no resolution can be achieved, “the university’s operating grant will be reduced by an amount which corresponds to the revenue raised by the fee increase,” meaning that the university would receive less funding from the province.

U of T’s vice-president, university operations Scott Mabury said there would be no refunds of the fees that had been found in violation of Ministry policy. Instead, they will cease to be charged to students in the future.

Upon finding that “embedded in the university’s list of ancillary fees are many user-fee items that should be covered under tuition fees,” the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), and Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) began a lengthy process: scrutinizing thousands of fees, levied upon students in dozens of faculties and departments across U of T’s three campuses. The results of those investigations, which began last year, were shared with The Varsity by representatives of the student unions.

“It is obvious that the university needs to seriously reconsider the MTCU’s policy on compulsory fees,” finds the UTSU’s report. “Many of the fees currently being charged to students do not fall within the guidelines, and many more of these fees are simply unjustified or illegal.” The UTSU’s submission condemns the university, claiming that it should be “ashamed” for “exploiting what it considers to be loopholes in the policy as a means of generating revenue.”

The unions and the administration remain divided over the question of at least eight other fees, ranging from copyright access to co-op fees, to system access fees for ROSI.  “It is becoming more of a trend for universities to go to student councils to raise fees,” said Munib Sajjad, vice-president, university affairs for the UTSU. “We have to look into things like infrastructure fees and computer fees, and why we should be paying this.”

The administration’s fee review was conducted by the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, and the Planning and Budget Office. Its findings were presented to the Business Board in late-January 2013, several months later than the university had promised.

At the Business Board meeting, Mabury stated that the crux of the university’s findings were that “most fees in Category 5/6 were found to be [in] compliance” with a limited number of fees that were not compliant.

The administration’s report commits to discontinuing the fees found in violation by 2013–2014. The university has also ruled that iClickers and other additional online materials for courses are no longer required to be purchased by students in order to complete a mandatory credit course — instead, the university is to provide other methods of evaluation to its students that do not require these materials.

The report also commits to updating departmental websites, and revising the next ancillary fee schedule to “unbundle” certain fees that are currently a black box, levied under vaguely-worded descriptions, such as the laboratory supply fee that charges for multiple items, such as course manuals, lab coats, and equipment. The university will also clear up another vague fee that is charged to students in the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) for unspecified course materials by elaborating on what it covers on the IBBME website and in the 2013–2014 fees schedule. “It is important to the university to ensure that students have full information on the fees that they pay,” said Mabury. The report contains a host of other measures intended to address the obscure nature of some fees, including a new “best practices” website and more extensive consultations with students, staff, and faculty.

 

NARROW SCOPE

The university and ministry divide compulsory ancillary fees into eight distinct categories. The university’s investigation was limited to just two of these, Categories 5 and 6. Category 5 fees cover the cost of select learning materials and services, and Category 6 is for administrative fees charged only to students who use the services covered by the fee.

According to the university’s Policy on Ancillary Fees, the sole approval required for such fees rests with Mabury. For all other fees, which fall under Categories 2 through 4 and include student services, organizations, levies for specific projects, and “extraordinary” academic surcharges, students must be consulted or otherwise engaged through such means as a referendum.

Although changes to ancillary fees must be reported annually to the Business Board of Governing Council, neither university protocol nor ministry policy limit how much they can be increased. In some cases, U of T faculties have increased these fees astronomically: a 43 per cent increase for medical student registration, a 67 per cent increase for applicants to the commerce program, and between 400 and 2,000 per cent for nursing clinical placement fees.

“Many fees outlined in the ancillary fee schedule … increased at rates of above 10 per cent to over 4,000 per cent,” finds the UTSU’s report. “It is highly unlikely that increases at this rate are for the purpose of cost recovery.”

The investigation began when students at IBBME complained to the GSU about certain ancillary fees they were charged, totaling over $1,500.

“IBBME students were shocked. The university seemed to be ignoring ministry policy, which says you have to provide students with information on what the fees are for and submit proposals to Governing Council before making changes,” said Jason Dumelie, GSU academic and funding commissioner.

Concerns over those specific fees were raised with both the administration and the ministry, and were partially resolved in March 2012. The episode prompted the university to undertake its review beginning in July 2012, giving other student unions the opportunity to file reports in the process.

The UTSU submitted their own review of contentious fees applicable to undergraduate students, including building access fees, laboratory supply fees and work placement fees. Union concerns range from clear violations of policy, to vague descriptions given for fees that made it difficult to ascertain whether the fee was legal or not. Sajjad, who led the UTSU investigation, said that some fees “are very unclear” and that there have been “misinterpretations of MTCU policy.”

In their filing, the SCSU raised concerns about “unfairly high” co-op term fees that can run as high as $583 per academic session for international development studies, economic policy, physical sciences, and computer science. Guled Arale, vice-president, external, at SCSU believes some of these fees should be covered by the university’s central operating budget, and states that U of T’s ancillary fees are among the highest collected by any institution in the country — an issue that the university’s report declined to investigate.  Many of Scarborough’s co-op programs in the humanities, social sciences, management, teaching, and science programs have work placement requirements in order to graduate.

Both the GSU and UTSU contested the Access Copyright fee (also called the CANCOPY fee), which charges students for the photocopying and distribution of published copyrighted works. The UTSU alleges that this is “an illegal fee that serves to benefit the university” as many non-students (including faculty) also use the service. The university’s response is that its agreement with Access Copyright is a short-term contract that can be reconsidered in December 2013.

Some fees that existed before ministry guidelines were issued continue to fall outside of its jurisdiction, and will not be repealed. These fees include the $45 student system access fee, charged to access ROSI.

In general, union leaders have expressed concern over slow response times from both the university and the ministry. Dumelie stated, “The ministry has been slow in responding to us… We have received a little guidance from them, but over the course of a year, it’s not a ton.” Many of those involved with the union’s investigation had hoped to procure refunds for the repealed fees in the new year, a prospect that now appears unlikely.

At the Governing Council’s Business Board meeting in January 2013, many administrators said they were glad the fee review was conducted, calling it a much-needed clarification. Sally Garner, of the Planning and Budget Office, said that the university’s biggest step moving forward will be its best practices website, which will be launched over the next six to eight months, and will ensure faculties and departments have the resources needed to set appropriate fees for their students.

Trinity, SMC, Engineers announce UTSU secession plans

As prospect of sweeping reforms dim, college leaders seek exit from union

Trinity, SMC, Engineers announce UTSU secession plans

Student heads from Trinity College, St. Michael’s College (SMC), and the Engineering Society announced Sunday that they plan to seek “defederation” from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), a potentially drastic measure if approved. The surprise announcement came as the union prepares to host executive elections this year that will not feature some of the key reforms demanded by the college leaders.

All three college leaders seeking defederation cited the minutes of the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC), which met on Thursday and Saturday last week, as clear indications that their reform recommendations were not going to be implemented in time.

The minutes of the erc meeting strongly suggest that this year’s election will not utilize online voting, a key plank in the college-backed Non-Partisan Declaration on UTSU Electoral Reform. The student body is slated to vote on the Non-Partisan Declaration at a special meeting on Tuesday night.

The union reacted to calls for electoral reform by hiring a law firm to conduct a review of its current electoral policies. The review considered submissions from a number of sources, including the Non-Partisan Declaration. The results of the firm’s review were released late last week, and did not include the proposals listed in the Declaration, focusing instead on clarifying rules, appeals processes, and election timelines.

Rishi Maharaj from the Engineering faculty, Mike Cowan from St. Michael’s, and Sam Greene from Trinity have been quietly preparing over several months for the possibility of defederation referenda. Updated: The Engineering Society hired the law firm Heenan Blaikie on retainer for $10,000 following November’s AGM. The money came from a $67,000 legal fund established by the Engineering Society’s Board of Directors in July; the Society currently has no plans to allocate any of the remaining funds to possible UTSU-related expenses.

Heenan Blaikie has previously represented students’ unions attempting to defederate from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) — a national organization of which UTSU is a member — most recently at Guelph. Attempts to part ways with the CFS have resulted in lengthy and expensive legal battles.

“From the beginning of this discussion everyone must have been thinking about legal representation,” said Maharaj. The Engineering Society executive will meet Monday to discuss next steps, and will likely ask their Board of Directors to discuss approving in principle the concept of a referendum on defederation, with specific text to be finalized at a later date.

Trinity will follow a similar process, with the meeting to approve the holding of a referendum set for this Thursday. “It’s clear that the Union is ignoring the will of its members in order to maintain the system that keeps incumbents in power,” said Greene, head of college at Trinity, adding that “the failure to implement reform is inexcusable and deeply unethical.”

As UTSU vice-president, internal & services Corey Scott pointed out in the union’s initial statement on the matter, the union is not, strictly speaking, a federation from which members can secede. Although most parties involved are using the terms “defederation” or “secession” to describe the process, a more accurate description of the arrangement sought by the three colleges’ leaders is a re-routing of student fees currently paid to the UTSU to college student governments instead.

Sunday marked the beginning of what could become a protracted fight over whether the colleges should seek to sever financial ties with the central student union.

“It is unfortunate that this has happened, despite the best intentions of the students’ union to accommodate voices,” said Scott. “The UTSU funds numerous clubs based and run by Engineering, smc and Trinity students. The UTSU will continue to represent our members, despite the numerous intentional and malicious blockades that we have seen this year.”

As of The Varsity’s press time, significant questions remain unanswered as to the feasibility of colleges independently providing services currently delivered by the UTSU.

All three college heads were exploring ways of providing health and dental plans to their students. It was not clear whether students whose divisions or colleges defederated would be able to participate in UTSU clubs and events or have access to UTSU scholarships.

Maharaj has called for an “impartial and fair referendum” on the question of defederation, administered by the university. University administrators were unavailable for comment.

Election underway for university’s highest office

Several incumbents, but still no international students, running for election to Governing Council

Students will have the opportunity to vote on ROSI starting February 11 for student representatives to Governing Council, the university’s most senior decision-making body, for one-year terms. There are eight student positions available across five constituencies. This year, 38 students are running, up from 23 last year. There will be only one acclamation this year, compared to three last year.

Several incumbents, including Aidan Fishman and Chirag Variawa, are seeking reelection. Despite a motion this week that called for international students to be eligible to run for Governing Council, the University of Toronto Act still expressly forbids such candidates.

Disparaged by some students as a largely symbolic position for those hoping to pad their résumés, the importance of the Governing Council has inspired neither ambitious campaigns nor widespread voter interest. Incumbent graduate candidate, Chirag Variawa, argues, “the problem is that discourse is all one sided.”

Students tend to learn about candidates through candidates’ own promotional material, rather than debates. “There are false claims being made, but these are hard to parse,” Variawa noted. Perhaps familiar with these problems, candidate Reema Gowani explicitly included a rejoinder in her platform: “I refuse to make outrageous promises to the student body in order to get votes — I have realistic goals that are achievable.”

While there was a single debate held for graduate student candidates, information about it was almost entirely unavailable. There were three participants, one of whom joined over Skype. Similarly, no information was to be found online about several undergraduate candidates, aside from a brief statement of intent on the
Governing Council’s website.

This lack of awareness might also contribute to an expectation of do-nothing student governors. Variawa complains, “There is one person who has never shown up to a council meeting … and they are not held accountable, either.”

Especially at the undergraduate level, however, students appear to be trying to do things differently this year. For instance, Daniel DiCenzo (Mississauga) and Adrian De Leon (Scarborough) are running as a slate. “When candidates have the same goals and purpose I believe it helps create a greater impact,” said DiCenzo. He added that he hopes to work with other students, regardless of whether or not he and De Leon are both elected. “I still plan to complete the tasks I have set out as a potential governor. I will also work with other student governors and collaborate with them. Students are always stronger together.” DiCenzo and De Leon have been endorsed via Twitter by Munid Sajjab, Univeristy of Toronto Students’ Union vice-president,
university affairs.

Despite the challenges of pushing forward substantive policy at Governing Council, student plans have focused on a few main issues. Among these are improving often demoralizing teaching and course experiences for students. Candidate Ashley Racine writes, “many students … have been tricked into taking courses which sound great, but are taught in a disorganized and disinterested fashion,” because “professors may opt out of the publishing of student evaluations of courses.” She hopes to either pursue a policy of mandatory publication or “putting these evaluations to work in determining faculty positions.”

Fishman takes a different approach, arguing that grade deflation is the chief difficulty, and one that the administration is already aware of. “I plan to put further pressure on U of T officials to increase the pace of mark-raising, and specifically to make our incoming president aware of how much harm our current grading policies do to this university.”

Fees are another major problem pointed out by prospective governors. DiCenzo explains that many students are concerned with “ever increasing ancillary fees.” Gowani similarly notes that her goal is to “make the opt-out process easier than it currently is for students.” Candidate Areesha Jacob emphasizes, bluntly, that the problem is “tuition fees,” providing no further detail.

Apathy towards the Governing Council has itself become a concern for several candidates. Fishman noted that during his tenure, “I did my best to keep in touch with students via my Governing Council Facebook page.” He hopes to expand his program of informing students, stating, “I’m considering hosting an informal ‘office hour’ once a week.” Gowani also cited Internet presence as important, saying, “Social media is a strong way of reaching people in our day and age. Because of this, I will keep an active Facebook page where I will update all followers.” Jacob hoped similarly to improve student involvement: “I plan to create an online survey or questionnaire for my fellow students to fill out.” Racine said of her plans to improve engagement, “It could be as simple as going door to door in the clubhouse building, speaking to students in different fields of study from my own.”

If engaging with students is one problem candidates face, having an impact as one of only eight students of the 50 members on the Governing Council is another. “The most important role of a Student Governor is to be a skilled negotiator, since making progress on any of the issues relevant to students rests largely on convincing other figures that a certain policy is beneficial for U of T and can practically be implemented,” says Fishman.

Most candidates agree with a strategy of persistent engagement with other members of the council. Racine notes that from her time on the Arts & Science Council, she learned that “students’ issues can be put on the agenda, it just takes a persistent person.”

University heeds calls for more prayer space

First Muslim space opens at Emmanuel College, with plans underway for a multi-faith space at Robarts

Just days after students endorsed a motion calling for expanded prayer space on campus, two new spaces at Emmanuel College and Robarts Library have won praise from student groups and administrators.

The new prayer space and ablutions facility in Emmanuel College were officially opened on January 22. The Canadian Jaffari Muslim Foundation, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, the Islamic Institute of Toronto, the Muslim Chaplaincy, and the Muslim Students Association at U of T all helped cover the $25,000 cost of the prayer space, while the cost of the $75,000 ablutions facility was shared by Emmanuel College and Victoria College.

“It’s beautiful,” says Hasna Egal, a fourth-year neuroscience student, “the Muslim prayer space is welcoming, clean and very quiet.”

It’s not an uncommon sentiment, in the newly renovated Muslim prayer space at Emmanuel — from the sweeping rugs, to the sunken shoe racks and the Islamic art work that decorates the well-lit walls.

The decision to add a Muslim-only prayer space to Emmanuel College, a Christian theological school, may have privately caused a few raised eyebrows. But it’s a decision that makes sense, according to Emmanuel College principal, Mark Toulouse.

“There’s a history of Emmanuel College and the Muslim community that has been standing for about four years now,” said Toulouse. “In February 2010, we started the Muslim studies program, as well as the Canadian Muslim continuing education certificate program. We also have a master’s program — the Muslim Studies track, for students interested in becoming Muslim chaplains.

“So, we’ve looked at this question of increasing Muslim studies on campus, and recognize there’s a need to pay attention to the lived experience of what it means to be a person of faith as a Muslim.”

The decision to construct the new prayer space has been welcomed by the Muslim community on campus and by U of T’s first Muslim chaplain, Amjad Tarsin. The programs focusing on Islam and new spaces for Muslim students are all an expansion of Emmanuel’s efforts to enrich multifaith dialogue both on and off campus.

“I think it’s going really well — the space is very beautiful. The whole space fills up every prayer time, but what’s also really cool is that you can find people studying there and using it as a hangout space,” said Tarsin.

Asked whether a Muslim prayer space can be inclusive to all students, Tarsin said: “It’s definitely inclusive and I wouldn’t see why not. Students are welcome to observe prayers. I don’t think it hurts to have a few places around campus for prayer and worship. It’s what students need.”

Plans for a multi-faith prayer space on Robarts Library’s eighth floor are also well underway. The push for more prayer space has been led by
University of Toronto Students’ Union vice-president, equity, Noor Baig, as well as the newly-formed Student Committee for Appropriate
Accommodation and the Office of Student Life.

“We’ve officially confirmed the plan to make the prayer space this summer with the Robarts staff,” says Baig. “We haven’t advertised it yet, as we didn’t want students waiting too long in case of any delays. There’s always a need for more prayer areas on campus. Designating a space in Robarts makes sense — it’s a high traffic area in a central location.”

The newly-renovated space will be an inclusive area for students of all faiths to pray, no matter what religion or practice they adhere to. A draft of guidelines is being formulated in collaboration with the
Multi-Faith Centre for different groups to be able to use the space at the same time. The new prayer room will be open in the next few weeks, though no firm date has been set.

“We’ll definitely be spreading the word about it through all our different channels, and there will be a launch event,” says Baig.

But word has already gotten out, and the prospect is getting students talking.

“It would be really convenient,” says Egal. “Some of the other prayer areas around campus are tiny and cramped. It would be great to have a large space that’s central.”

It’s all part of the bigger plan for inclusivity that Toulouse highlighted. “It’s our responsibility to provide the space that will enable people to join our community and to live out what is important to them in terms of their faith.”

Although there are no statistics available on the frequency of prayer space usage, the Ontario Human Rights Code requires the university to make reasonable religious accommodations for all students, staff, and faculty.

There are over 75 faith-based student groups at the University of Toronto, and more than 150 formal worship services held every week. The university has a long tradition of Christian theological education, with more than 10 such programs and nearly 2,000 students studying for a degree in theology, and there are fledgling programs in Jewish and Muslim theology at Victoria and St. Michael’s Colleges respectively.

Food services task force at UTM expands across province

Disagreement over full release of Chartwells’contract slows progress

Food services task force at UTM expands across province

A task force initially established to investigate the quality of food services at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) has now expanded province-wide, after the idea was adopted by the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O). The task force is mandated to investigate food options on campuses, examining issues including price, quality, and availability.

“Why are meal plans increasing in price? Why are costs going up and food quality is going down? Students aren’t happy, and this task force is about investigating food services across campus,” said Munib Sajjad, vice-president, university affairs for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and a UTM student.

The investigation is expected to explore ways of promoting more diverse food options on campus. According to Grace Guo, vice-president, external affairs at University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the goal is to better accommodate students’ needs and diversity by ensuring  clearly-identified options like Halal, Kosher, vegetarian, and vegan.

“Our main goal is to be an active actor around the food services on campus, from hosting town halls to consult students, to distributing surveys to collect feedback,” says Guo.

While the task force based at UTM has been steadily progressing, the process has been slowed by corporate and administrative reticence to release information. The task force at UTM will continue with its work while the CFS-O convenes a larger body to conduct a province-wide inquiry. One of the biggest delays, says Sajjad, is the fact that the contract between Chartwells, the food service provider at UTM, and the university is not fully available to the public.

Under the food service contract signed in 2004, Chartwells is responsible for most of the operational tasks for food services at UTM. These include operating the food service outlets, managing staff, providing recipes and nutritional analysis, marketing the facilities, and providing catering and cleaning. According to Paul Donoghue, chief administrative officer at UTM, the financial terms of the contract are considered to be proprietary commercial information, and are therefore confidential.

Although the non-confidential elements of the contract have been shared — specifically, the key operating context and the nature of exclusivity — Sajjad says that isn’t enough. He says the union was only able to see the summary, which didn’t indicate price, inflation, quality, or diversity of food on campus.

“I thoroughly believe companies like Chartwells are witholding information from students on the way things run. We need to see the financial aspects of the report in order to make changes that benefit students and allow them to be part of the decision making structure,” he says.

Guo adds that not being able to see the contract is problematic because the union does not have all of the nessary information.

Donoghue points to several channels where student involvement in the decision-making process is encouraged: the UTM Residence Student Dining Committee, the Food Advisory Committee, customer comment boards, the Chartwells online Dine on Campus comment page, UTM community food service surveys, and open dialogue with the Hospitality and Retail Operations.

“We welcome any opportunity for input from the UTM community and look forward to continuing to be guided by that input and advice. With that guidance, over the past five years UTM has made significant improvements and changes in our food services,” says Donoghue.

Since the task force began, both the UTSU and UTMSU have been gathering student feedback and opinions through food surveys distributed in hard copy or found online on the unions’ websites. Students’ opinions are then processed and delivered to the Hospitality and Retail Services department.

“We want to bring everything we heard from students to Hospitality Services, along with Faculty and staff of UTM to make UTM student food experiences a great one,” says Guo.

Following a decision by the CFS-O, the UTM task force on food services is now part of a wider initiative stretching across Ontario. Ten campuses, including Ryerson, York, and Lakehead, have been actively involved, and since the campaign kicked off last summer, 5,000 paper copies of surveys have been collected, with 3,000 responses online.

“Food services on campus really is an important issue to students in Ontario and it has definitely been something people prioritize. We’ve been seeing some great results,” says Sarah Jayne-King, CFS-O chair.

The CFS-O has been helping to provide participating universities material province-wide, including surveys for individual campus groups and student unions. After the February 15 deadline to submit surveys, the CFS will put together a final report that will summarize the findings and provide recommendations to improve food services across the province.

The report is set to be prepared over the summer, and will be used as a resource for students and unions to engage campuses about ways to improve campus food facilities.

“Take shelter” in Robarts as blizzard strikes, students told

Simcoe Hall under fire for late decision to shutter St. George campus

“Take shelter” in Robarts as blizzard strikes, students told

A record-breaking 30-centimetre snowfall prompted a tri-campus shutdown at U of T on Friday. Campuses at Scarborough and Mississauga declared a snow day early Friday morning, but student leaders harshly criticized Simcoe Hall for stalling on the decision to close St. George campus until nearly 3.00 pm.

“There are grave safety and equity concerns that lay within the non-closure of the university in such extreme weather conditions,” said Munib Sajjad, University of Toronto Students’ Union vice-president, university affairs. “I personally saw pictures of wheelchair ramps un-shovelled, professors cancelling classes without an email or message at 9 am and a number of commuting students finding out in surprise and dismay.”

Within hours, a Facebook group had been created called “Snow Day for Student Safety.” Members posted photos of unsafe ramps, walkways, and roads, and shared stories about personal injuries or falls. The group, along with Sajjad, urged students to email Provost Cheryl Misak and vice-president, human resources and equity Angela Hildyard, with whom the final decision to close St. George campus rests.

“Unfortunately, when we have a storm forecast followed by inclement weather, any decision, whatever it may be, about when to stay open and when to close the campuses will most certainly cause inconvenience and distress for many in our community,” said Misak through a university spokesperson. “We were on the one hand sensitive to safety and commuter issues … [but] we also had to be sensitive to the fact that many students wanted the St. George campus to stay open, in order to attend things that were important to them, from exams (both undergraduate and PhD), classes, swim meets, and special academic events.

“The decision about when to close a campus is always very difficult. We do our best to weigh all of the factors and we trust that our students, faculty and staff will know that they are not taken lightly.”

After the St. George campus closed at 3.00 pm Friday afternoon, students were advised that it would be possible to “take shelter” in Robarts Library, which remained open until 11.00 pm that evening.

There were unconfirmed reports of a car accident on campus. Drivers said cars were stuck in snowbanks or otherwise blocked, and that the university’s department of Transportation Services was backlogged with requests for assistance. The department did not return calls made by The Varsity, and a university spokesperson said staff had been working hard throughout the day to assist stranded drivers.

There have been three reported deaths in Canada from the storm, and clean-up from Friday’s blizzard is estimated to cost the City of Toronto up to $4 million.

For a social media recap of the snowday, click here

Governing Council briefed on ROSI substitute

New website has plenty of virtual bells and whistles — but will still have “hours of operation”

The university’s central hub for tuition payments and course registration, ROSI, is expected to be phased out and replaced by the Next Generation Student Information System (NGSIS) in the coming years, according to new information revealed in a presentation to the Governing Council’s
University Affairs Board (UAB).

The purpose of NGSIS is to improve service and enhance the experience of students, staff and faculty through the implementation of a renewed and expanded suite of student information services.

“NGSIS is about creating new ways to improve the access and interface to university services and transactions for students, across an almost unlimited set of domains, that is, it’s not only about course identification, registration, grades, and fees. We want to include as much as possible through a common interface,” said Marden Paul, director of planning, governance, assessment and communications.

He added, “The focus is on services, not systems. This is a very important point to the program.”

Vice-Dean Suzanne Stevenson explained the system and the research that went into creating it at a UAB meeting last week.

“At each kind of functionality, we researched what would best meet the needs of the U of T community, and also what are the resource issues, and what are the timing issues, and then we make a decision about how to deploy these very high-level approaches,” said Stevenson.

“We had to allocate significant attention to things that could have an immediate effect on students, on staff, and really let people know that we are listening to the needs of the organization and responding to those. And that they can see this kind of multi-year process that we would break things into and make positive changes as we could over time.”

Besides the long-term project of a replacement to ROSI, over 20 shorter-term goals have been identified by the administration in areas such as student life, registration, degree planning, curricular activities, student financial services, strategic planning, and divisional partnerships.

In response, plans are underway for a host of new services for students, such as a “one stop” registration page, electronic UHIP cards, a residence choice gateway, an online course-finder and degree explorer, a ROSI bookstore service, and improved Varsity Blues team registration services. Some of these services have already begun implementation. Administrators hope to reduce phone calls to the Student Accounts office and line-ups for UHIP, and enable the creation of a central database that can predict future residence needs.

“One of the things that some students find annoying as they’re burning the midnight oil with ROSI is that it actually doesn’t function for a lot of the night,” said Aidan Fishman, a student governor currently seeking reelection. “Does the new system plan to be 24/7 functional?” asked Fishman during the briefing.

“That is a very difficult question because any system has to have periodic times when it has to have system work of some kind. To not have that is very complex and to make that work right is very expensive,” said Stevenson.

Dr. Gary Mooney, another governor, said that having a system that worked 24/7 is becoming increasingly important.

“In a typical business, the day of the system being down is becoming less and less acceptable,” he said. “What was at one time tolerable — system maintenance and all that stuff ­— in the business world (and we are a large business) that is no longer tolerable and so we should try and work to have a portal that is open on a 24/7 basis.”

Fishman also enquired whether the administration was looking into creating an official timetable generator to help students prepare their course choices prior to registration.

“That was something we wanted to do this past year but the resources did not allow that,” was Stevenson’s response.  She explained that there were off-the-shelf products that provided services like this, but that they did not work well for U of T because of its size and the number of courses offered. “We did some practice runs where it would come back to us with 400 different possible schedules for the courses you had put in.”

Another suggestion brought up at the UAB meeting was a “push to iCal” option for course schedules. Chirag Variawa, a graduate student governor, explained that as a TA he had seen students at the beginning of the term trying to input things from ROSI to iCal on their phones.

Stevenson said that it was a good suggestion and worth looking into, adding that the faculty registrar was investigating ways to push an exam calendar to student phones.

Stevenson said that in addition to the current projects, they “are currently selecting other short-term projects. “We want to continue this kind of ‘what can we look at for the next year’ — things that can have a high impact while we still make a lot of progress on those longer-term planning and implementation-type projects. So we’re in the process of doing that over the next month or so.”