State of the union

The Varsity recaps some issues likely to be discussed at the Student Societies Summit

Last March, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), Trinity College, and the Engineering Society (EngSoc) initiated independent referenda and voted to sever financial ties with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). In May 2013, U of T vice-president and provost Cheryl Misak issued a letter to student leaders. In the letter, Misak made clear that the remittance of fees from the UTSU to individual colleges or faculties was not possible under the existing university policy. She further encouraged student bodies to negotiate an agreement on outstanding issues related to fee diversion.

Since that time, talks between Trinity, Victoria, the EngSoc, and the UTSU have yielded little progress; the impasse has prompted the university administration to suspend approval of the much-anticipated Student Commons building, pending an resolution.

In September, provost Cheryl Regehr announced a Student Societies Summit in an effort to facilitate discussion and resolve the fee diversion dispute. The summit will take place October 7 from 3 – 5 pm. Highlighted below are a number of topics likely to be discussed.

 

UTSU Electoral Policy

UTSU

Debate over the UTSU’s electoral policy has been fierce. In the past year, it has focused chiefly on online voting and its implementation.

The St. George Round Table, a forum of college and faculty student leaders, backed a “non-partisan declaration” early last year, calling for a clearer UTSU electoral policy. The declaration requested that accessibility of the elections be improved through the implementation of an online voting system, that the accuracy of elections be improved by the implementation of a preferential ballot, and that accountability be strengthened by changing the way that nominations occur and by bolstering oversight of the historically powerful Chief Returning Officer (CRO).

Early last year, amendments were proposed to the UTSU electoral policy in an effort to implement online voting. The amendments failed, however, to make the agenda of the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). The UTSU pointed out that its bylaws made it impossible for it to add the amendments to the agenda at the time they were requested.

At a subsequent Special General Meeting (SGM), a non-binding motion calling for the implementation of online voting was passed. It was not, however, presented thereafter as an electoral policy recommendation to the UTSU Board of Directors. According to UTSU bylaws, the motion came too late to be added by the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) as an amendment to the electoral code for consideration by the UTSU’s board of directors.

The board meeting did, however, see the adoption of clarifications to the UTSU’s electoral policy. These clarifications reflected recommendations from a legal opinion of UTSU electoral procedures, which the union commissioned in the spring.

The UTSU Board of Directors voted this month to offer online voting for its upcoming October byelection. Voting will be conducted through an external online service called Simply Voting, and will be available from 9 am–6 pm. While many are pleased with the development, some leaders remain concerned that the restrictions placed on online voting hours unreasonably limit accessibility.

 

Advocacy

The UTSU is responsible for advocating on behalf of its members to the university’s administration, lobbying provincial and municipal governments, and participating in broader socio-political activism.

Some of the UTSU’s endeavours have garnered praise; in 2008, the union supported a campaign to eliminate bottled water from the university, which was completed in 2011. In 2012, the UTSU organized a rally as part of the National Day of Action, in protest against rising tuition fees. In addition, the UTSU continues to promote consent and equity through the No Means No and Say What You Mean campaigns.

Other initiatives have been met with criticism. The UTSU’s decision to ban men’s issues awareness clubs ignited a debate over the right to free speech on campus. The UTSU’s stance on the Sri Lankan conflict in 2009 sparked questions over whether the UTSU should concentrate on problems it can influence and that pertain specifically to students, or whether it is important for it to take a position on political affairs, engaging students and upholding its mission statement.

Students wishing to propose issues on which they think the UTSU should focus have access to the AGM, their representative on the Board of Directors, and any number of the UTSU’s five commissions (Academic & Student Rights, Campus Life, Community Action, Social Justice & Equity, and Sustainability). Anyone can voice their concerns at commission meetings, which help the UTSU to gauge student interest in any given topic. In spite of this, the UTSU has been accused of ineffectively advertising the dates and times of commission meetings. The Board of Directors meets around once per month. It is the responsibility of individual representatives to encourage submissions from the student body they represent.

 

Money

The UTSU’s budgeting process has eight stages, and is audited externally. In recent years, the UTSU has taken measures to increase transparency; the 2012-2013 revised budget is available online. However, privacy and contractual restrictions prevent the UTSU from disclosing the salaries of its full-time staff. The matter of paid staff and the executive stipend, which combined totalled $335,220 in 2012-2013, has been a point of contention. UTSU executives work up to 16 hours a day, and their stipend is often their sole source of income. Most students recognize the need to compensate the executives, but believe there should be more volunteer positions. Currently, UTSU executives are only permitted to take 1.0 Full Course Equivalent (FCE) per semester, which has caused disputes over both their statuses as students and their eligibility to represent student interests.

In 2010-2011, the UTSU spent $194,486 on clubs and subsidies, while in 2011-2012, this figure was $118,774. With these statistics in mind, the EngSoc, Victoria, and Trinity prepared reports in February 2013, in which they claimed to be able to replicate services, increase funding to clubs, and reduce overhead costs in the event that student fees currently paid to the UTSU were diverted to their respective societies.

Part of the premise behind fee diversion is to give colleges and faculties more control over the services they fund, which could be more specific to their individual needs. Under the current arrangement, all students pay $17.34 per semester, for a total annual levy of approximately $1,350,000, to the UTSU. Had all of the societies that held referenda voted in favour of severing financial ties and left the UTSU, that levy would be reduced by approximately $331,194. Trinity, Victoria, and the EngSoc reported that they would continue to pay the amount of the current levy to all currently funded clubs. Despite the promise of continued funding, some students worry that the support and resources UTSU provides would be lost if fee diversion were to be implemented.

Christian residence only option for some

The Varsity investigates Loretto College, a private residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College

Christian residence only option for some

The year she graduated from high school, Emma Sexton was accepted to Engineering at the University of Toronto with the usual residence guarantee. She grew up in a small town in the Niagara region and knew little about what to expect in terms of university residence or Toronto life. Excited about the prospect of living at her school of choice, Sexton applied to New College and University College, and didn’t think any more about the matter for several months. Sexton received several emails saying she would hear about residency in late June, but the date came and went without a residence offer. Finally, just six days before the payment deadline, she was offered a space at Loretto College, a private, all-female residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College. Sexton says she was “disappointed about being put in Loretto,” but took the spot because she was not offered an alternative.

After moving into Loretto, Sexton quickly learned that it was not like most other residences at U of T. In the Loretto residence agreement, the philosophy statement reads: “Life at Loretto College focuses on participation and involvement in a supportive Christian academic community.” The agreement goes on to state that the College has the right to make policies that “implement the philosophy of the College,” but that discrimination will not be tolerated. Students are required to sign the agreement, agreeing to “adhere” to the college’s philosophy.

Over the past three months, The Varsity spoke with more than fifteen current and former Loretto students; although their experiences differed, many of them expressed discomfort with the college’s unique policies and residence life.

 

Students uncomfortable with “conservative” residence life
Engineering student Emma Sexton took a spot at Loretto after not being offered an alternative. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Engineering student Emma Sexton took a spot at Loretto after not being offered an alternative. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Sexton described an experience when she signed out a male guest 2 minutes after curfew, and the porter said to her: “I signed you out at 10:00 — otherwise they talk.” Sexton recalled that this experience made her feel strange. “I assumed ‘they’ were the staff. It made me uncomfortable that I was going to be perceived differently because of two minutes,” she said.

Many students took issue with the restrictions on when men can be in certain parts of the college. The residence agreement from 2012 states that male visitors are not permitted in residence rooms between Monday and Wednesday and are only allowed during certain hours on other days. The fact that men are restricted to certain hours is publicly available on the U of T Housing website, but is not available on the Loretto webpage.

Caitlin Scinocca, another student who did not apply to live at Loretto, described her discomfort with this policy: “The fact that there were male visiting hours really bothered me,” she explained. “If I’m paying good money for a room, at least let my friends come hang out during frosh week, or let my dad up to the room.” Julia Kemp, an exchange student, said that she felt the policy was far too restrictive. “I understand that U of T needs a space where it is all-girls due to demand and religious reasons. However, if I have a single room I see no reason whatsoever why I should not be allowed a male in my room,” she said, adding that she “felt like she was treated like a girl in a boarding school.”

Another student, who lived in Loretto for two years and requested anonymity, said that these regulations are “ostensibly in accordance with Catholic doctrine to discourage any kind of fornication. Nobody really knows why, and I’ve never gotten a straight answer. That is all fine and dandy — unless of course you aren’t Catholic.”

The same student stated that she felt uncomfortable with what she perceived as a conservative environment maintained by the college administration. “There is a type of conservative personal decorum that students are somewhat implicitly encouraged to maintain,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to receive comments about so-called provocative behaviour or inquiries about your whereabouts at social events.”

 

Some have no other residence option

A number of students reported that, like Sexton, they were offered residence at Loretto without having requested it and were not given an alternate offer. Elizabeth de Roode, a second-year engineering student, chose to decline Loretto’s offer because she felt uncomfortable with the residence agreement. She found off-campus housing on her own, although finding a place in Toronto was “incredibly stressful” as she only had between June and September to find one. “I wanted to live in residence, I just didn’t want to live in a residence so different from my idea of what university should be,” she said. Julia Kemp, a 2012-2013 exchange student, was keen to live in residence but had trouble securing a spot until August. “[Housing Services] told me they could offer me one room in an all girls residence called Loretto. I was so desperate for campus I accepted without much research into it at all,” she said. She added that Loretto’s website does not provide a comprehensive description of its policies. The online descriptions of Loretto — both on its webpage and on the U of T housing site — state that it is an all-female residence, but do not mention the religious philosophy of the college.

U of T guarantees a residence offer to every full-time, first-year undergraduate student. The Varsity asked Michael Kurts, U of T’s assistant vice-president, strategic communications and marketing, whether or not a girl can be placed in Loretto without having requested a spot there. Kurts stated that the university’s housing policy does not guarantee students a place in their first choice of residence. “When we cannot meet a student’s priority choices, Housing Services contacts all colleges who have space available to make an offer. Many students in the residences were offered a place in a residence they might not have applied to.” He insisted that these issues are “a case of supply and demand,” and that Loretto is “no different than any other residence,” in this respect. Kurts added that Loretto welcomes students of every religion, despite what he described as its “religious roots.” Kurts did not answer a number of questions about Loretto, including what ratio of girls who are placed in Loretto actually applied there.  He indicated that he would respond next week.

Angela Convertini, dean of women at Loretto College, was surprised to hear that students were given the choice between a place at Loretto and no spot in residence at all. She claimed that all students are offered a choice between St. Mike’s and Loretto, and that everyone who lives in Loretto does so by choice. All of the girls spoken to for this story who did not apply to Loretto claimed Loretto was presented to them as the only option.

Convertini stated that students apply to live at Loretto, and if there are still spots left after the application process, they inform U of T housing — who then fill the spaces. “We would never think that someone was forced into living at Loretto… We send them the actual residence agreement, they have a choice — they can go to a co-ed, they can go to us, we really believe that the people who come here enjoy themselves,” said Convertini.

Covertini, along with some other members of the Loretto College staff, is a member of the Loretto Sisters — an order of Roman Catholic nuns. According to the Loretto Sisters’ website, the college is owned and operated by the sisters and “affiliated” with U of T through St. Michael’s College. Students told The Varsity that some sisters live in a separate area of the residence.

Kurts also did not comment on the degree to which U of T’s policies apply at Loretto, given that it is a private residence. When asked to comment on whether or not a girl who is uncomfortable with Loretto’s religious policies would be offered an alternate residence, he emphasized that the residence welcomes students of all faiths.

 

Many students enjoy tight-knit community

Shams Al Obaidi, a third-year don at Loretto College, felt that the tight-knit sorority atmosphere was an important part of her university experience. For Al Obaidi, the other residences are too large to be able to connect with other students.

With a community of around 130 students, Loretto allows residents to get to know each other on a much more personal level, according to Al Obaidi. She further stated that international students feel particularly welcome in Loretto. “I came all the way from Qatar, and it was my first year in Canada. It was really nice to come all the way here and feel at home.” Al Obaidi also stated that: “Loretto welcomes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds and religions.” For example, she recalls a time when a sister told her to attend the college’s weekly masses, despite being of a different religion, because “all are welcome.”

Al Obaidi also believes that Loretto College’s male policy is not unduly restrictive. She points out that men are able to visit the main floor and the lower lounge at any time, and that the restrictions on male visitors are “more of a courtesy to others” than anything else.

Convertini stressed that the residence tries to be inclusive of residents from diverse backgrounds. “We like to think that U of T provides a whole continuum of residence experiences for its students and we’re just one of the choices students have,” she explained. “While we’re a traditional Catholic dorm, we’ve had Jewish girls, Protestant girls, Muslim girls — girls from every faith, and it’s a very welcoming environment,” she said.

 

With files from Madeleine Taylor

University of Toronto announces new mental health committee

University of Toronto announces new mental health committee

Following a $27 million commitment to the mental health of post-secondary students by the provincial government in March 2013, the University of Toronto has revealed to The Varsity its intention to develop a campus-wide mental health strategy.

The Provostial Committee on Mental Health — to be chaired by vice-provost, students Jill Matus — was set to be formally announced in November. The Varsity spoke with key university administrators over several weeks to discuss the proposed composition and purpose of the panel.

The committee, created by assistant vice-president, student life, Lucy Fromowitz and Health and Wellness executive director Janine Robb, seeks to establish a framework to “connect the suite of counselling, psychiatric, and health services offered by the university at a tri-campus level.” It is expected to include “faculty deans, senior staff, UTSC and UTM administrators, academic success workers, the university’s psychiatrist-in-chief Andrea Levinson, and members of accessibility services,” in addition to an undergraduate and graduate representative.

Lucy Fromowitz, U of T's assistant vice-president, sudent life. TREVOR KOROLL/THE VARSITY

Lucy Fromowitz, U of T’s assistant vice-president, student life. TREVOR KOROLL/THE VARSITY

Similar frameworks were organized at Queen’s University and Brock University in recent years.

Fromowitz, who is responsible for Hart House and 12 distinct departments under the Student Life umbrella, said that the committee seeks to better evaluate gaps in the current system. “We can establish quantitative metrics to ensure that all students are getting equal access to mental health services and so that we can [address] any needs that aren’t being met,” she said.

Robb, a four-year veteran of Health and Wellness who comes from an extensive public health background at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), outlined the committee’s proposed structure: “We hope to have five working groups that can develop policy proposals to send up to the larger committee for approval. These will focus on selected issue areas like awareness & anti-stigma, education & training, curricula & pedagogy, services & programs, and policies & procedures,” she said. She added that while faculty deans responded optimistically to the proposed committee, not all staff members share this outlook. “This policy development process is also an attempt to break into a group that has been tougher to breach. What we’re talking about here are the staff that are maybe less empathetic towards those with mental illness. Those that think mental illness is best treated by pulling their socks up, or sucking it up. Clearly, [mental illness] is a bigger issue than it was 20 years ago. Our staff and faculty need to know how to work with those who face these challenges,” she said.

Fromowitz pointed out improvements to mental health service delivery over the last five years. “We recognize that it is fundamentally an issue of demand. Students, who certainly deserve to be here but who normally wouldn’t have had the ability to attend university in the past, now have access to the right pharmacology and health services. We as a university have embraced this reality and have attempted to develop a comprehensive plan that puts their needs first,” she said.

Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is a key mental health service at U of T. Part of the goal of the provostial committee will be to assess challenges faced by CAPS and make proposals for its improvement. Student leaders have repeatedly critized CAPS in past years, particulary for long wait times for students who face acute mental health challenges. “Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) used to [work] on a first-come-first-serve basis. This was not a good way to operate because students with acute mental health needs wouldn’t get access to the help they needed. Our drive has been to ensure that every new student who goes through the service gets a triage process so that we can identify the most suitable level of care required,” said Fromowitz.

In response to these concerns, Woodsworth student Tom Gleason worked with Robb and the Health and Wellness Staff to develop Peers are Here, a student group committed to peer mentorship and campus support systems. Fromowitz is encouraged by these student innovations. “This is why we love Peers are Here. We don’t want to medicalize or stigmatize stress and anxiety. It is normal for students to face this at school. Building a community that can normalize it and help teach students to cope with it is essential,” she said.

The university has applied to the aforementioned government innovation fund’s second round of proposals. Robb describes the plan as a collaborative partnership between U of T, Ryerson, OCAD, and Sheridan College to develop an “early alert system.” The goal of this will be to feature “a series of self-report measures which you would score. Providing this individualized feedback package allows the university to catch people who might be sliding and help them build on their strengths for the future,” she said. The government is expected to announce the grants sometime in the coming month.

Fromowitz concludes her interview with a reflection on the nature of mental health on campus. “Too often, I think, the situation is presented as a crisis. Let’s really take a look at this. We need to measure what student needs are and assess where gaps might exist before we feed any more into this rhetoric,” she said.

Ontario considering raising minimum wage

The Varsity interviews Anil Verma, chair of the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel

On May 2, Ontario announced the appointment of a Minimum Wage Advisory Panel to advise on adjustments to Ontario’s minimum wage policy. Ontario is one of three provinces that does not have a formal mechanism for determining minimum wage increases. The panel will examine the current system for increases and recommend a process by which the minimum wage should be determined in the future. The Varsity discussed the panel’s work with panel chair Anil Verma, professor of Human Resource Management at the Rotman School of Management and director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources.

 

min-wage-graphs

 

The Varsity: Different jurisdictions consider different factors in determining the minimum wage. Inflation is one such factor. What are the main factors that the panel is considering? 

Anil Verma: In most other jurisdictions in Canada, inflation is used as a common basis for revising minimum wages. Our panel’s work will go a little bit beyond. Inflation has been, and will continue to be, a basis. In addition to that, the rate at which the economy is growing may be a consideration, or where other rates are. We are inviting people to make submissions online, and we are getting hundreds of submissions every week. Of course, we are also doing some in-house research where we are looking at the experience of other jurisdictions within Canada and overseas. We are looking at developing a system for Ontario that is transparent, predictable, and fair to workers and employers.

 

TV: Fifty-two per cent of minimum wage earners are between the ages of 15 and 24. How can Ontario approach the issue of student (particularly, university student) employment? 

AV: This is a fairly robust finding in research: the most adversely affected are the young people. What happens here is that minimum wage jobs provide a way for young people to enter the job market. Often, your first job is a minimum wage job. We also know that young people are the most likely to move out of minimum wage. They start there, but they don’t stay there. We have to make sure that minimum wages are not so high that they prevent young people from getting their first job, even as we increase the minimum wage for other groups. There are a lot of people who work in offices and factories, and they are older. Many of these people depend on these jobs for their livelihood and these people would be better served if we had a higher minimum wage. The job of our panel is to balance the two interests of the two groups. We have to let the group do its work, and I don’t want to preempt or second-guess where it might come out.

 

TV: Many students in university research positions do not receive any compensation for their work. Will the panel address this issue?

AV: This is a tough one, and one that is not central to our mandate. I think we need a more comprehensive look at this. Certainly, the system is being abused by many employers who, instead of paying their employees, are making them work gratis. The principle, in general, is that if you are contributing, you should be paid. This is partly tied up with the issue of education and the transition from school to work. This is a bigger question, and will touch on the work of the panel, but cannot be addressed on the whole by the work of the panel.

 

TV: It has been three years since a minimum wage increase in Ontario. Does the panel intend to address Ontario’s current ad hoc approach to increases? 

AV: One of the reasons why our panel was appointed is to draw attention to the issue of ad hoc-ism. In one sense, the panel has the opportunity to set the bar for future revisions by recommending a basis for revising, the frequency at which it should be revised, and who should do it. What we hope to recommend for the government is an entire package that creates the basis for improvements in minimum wage in the future. Of course, there are a couple of major steps between our recommendations and what would actually be government policy. The minister has to accept our recommendations, and then the government has to create legislation and put it through the legislature.

 

TV: Some anti-poverty groups in Ontario are calling for $14 an hour minimum wage in Ontario. What would you say to these groups?

AV: As I said before, their interests are also important. But their interests should not dominate the minimum wage decisions of the government. Roughly 20 per cent of the people who work in minimum wage are supporting a household on the minimum wage. 80 per cent of the people are youth or secondary earners within the household. So, this is not to say that the 20 per cent do not deserve consideration — they do. A very robust finding in research is that the effect of increasing minimum wage on poverty is very small. Minimum wage is just one tool to address poverty. There are other tools, like tax rates and income supplements, that address poverty more effectively than minimum wage alone.

 

TV: One problem with minimum wage research is that one can usually find a study that justifies almost any action. How do you propose that the panel combat this issue?

AV: It is not true that you can show anything. In a number of areas, there is some convergence on what we find about minimum wage. For example, in unemployment effects, it is true that there is some variance, but most studies show that when we increase the minimum wage, there is a slight disemployment effect, but it is only in the range of 1-2 per cent for the population as a whole. They do have a bigger impact on the employability of youth. There is also this general agreement that, when we increase minimum wages, they affect wages that are 10-20 per cent higher than minimum wage. This effect dissipates as we go up the wage scale.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Onik Khan sole candidate in UTSU’s vice-president external by-election

Position has been vacant since mid-July

Onik Khan sole candidate in UTSU’s vice-president external by-election

Onik Khan is seeking to transfer from the vice-president, campus life portfolio to the vice-president external in the UTSU’s fall by-elections being held October 15–17.

The list of candidates was announced late Sunday, October 6. Khan, who is running unopposed, was reached by phone shortly after the announcement.

“I enjoyed the experiences I had with campus life — I think the work that I was able to do as campus life, working and making a community at U of T, will serve me well as VP external.” Khan has taken on a number of major projects in his six months with the union. In the summer he organized a day of action protesting sweatshop labour practices: during Orientation Week he spearheaded the Lupe Fiasco concert.

Current vice-president, campus life Onik Khan is the only candidate for the vacant vice-president, external position.

Current VP campus life Onik Khan is the only candidate for the vacant VP external position.

In this new role, Khan intends to continue his work against sweatshops, but also on a food audit of existing options for U of T students, and against unpaid internships — two projects former VP external Andrew Ursel focused on. Ursel was appointed following the resignation of Sana Ali during last year’s general UTSU election. Ali resigned with a highly publicized Facebook letter where she blasted the current executive for their alleged lack of autonomy. Ursel resigned mid-July for personal reasons, and the post has remained vacant ever since. “The idea of moving forward is that each executive would do a little bit of the portfolio” explains Khan.

There are a number of traditional UTSU initiatives Khan hopes to continue, such as pedestrianizing St. George street and working to eliminate flat fees. He also hopes to work with U of T to eliminate interest charges on unpaid tuition.

While there are no other candidates, students will have the option to vote “no” in the upcoming election. If Khan is successful, he intends to resign from his campus life position, at which point the UTSU will hire a new VP, campus life. TheVPp, campus life is appointed by the Board of Directors following an interview process which vice-president, internal Cameron Wathey, president Munib Sajjad, and executive director Sandy Hudson would conduct.

Proposed changes to Theology program cause controversy

New program would replace ThD with more research-intensive PhD

Proposed changes to Theology program cause controversy

A University of Toronto professor is raising objections to proposed changes to the Doctor of Theology (ThD) program. The changes would see the current ThD program replaced by a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Theological Studies, effective in 2015. Current ThD students will not be affected by the change, but some worry that the university’s shift in focus and resources on the new program will negatively affect current students. In a presentation to the Academic Board of the Governing Council on October 3, Donald Wiebe, a professor in the Theological department at Trinity College, asked the board to postpone approval of the changes.

The proposed changes arose out of a review commissioned in October 2012 under the U of T Quality Assurance Process. The review addressed programs jointly offered by the Toronto School of Theology (TST) — a federation of seven Christian theological schools — and U of T. One of the recommendations was “addressing the ‘below standard’ quality of the Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Theology.”

Professor Donald Wiebe presents to the Academic Board of the Governing Council. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Professor Donald Wiebe presents to the Academic Board of the Governing Council. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

According to David Neelands, dean of Divinity at Trinity College, the new PhD will be more research-focused than the current ThD. “PhD is a better title for a research doctorate in Theological Studies than the older [ThD], which suggested a more professionally based degree. The [ThD] degree has already become a high-level research doctorate,” he said.

Wiebe disagrees: “[The ThD] is not a professional degree. That is deliberately misleading,” he said. Wiebe also raised issues with the university’s handling of the proposed changes, saying the “proposal breaches the university’s own ‘New Degree Program Approval Protocol’.” According to that protocol, a new program must have “substantially different program requirements and substantially different learning outcomes from those of any existing approved programs offered by the institution.” Wiebe contends that the new PhD program will be virtually identical to the ThD program in terms of program structure and learning outcomes. Under the current plan, current students will not be able to choose which degree title to graduate with.

A current ThD student, who requested anonymity, asserted that the ThD program was not advertised as a professional degree when students enrolled. The student also said that the university administration has failed to consult with current ThD students. “We have no advocates for us, apart from a few faculty, and we do feel that we have the right to have these issues addressed and not swept under the rug. The emphasis is being placed on the new PhD program, and current ThD students are being sacrificed for it.”

At a meeting of the Academic Board of the Governing Council on October 3, in which the board voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal, provost Cheryl Regehr spoke about the proposed changes to the program. “I believe the changes are so significant we will have to take it through as a new program,” Regehr stated. “It is not uncommon at the University of Toronto that we end one program and begin a new program.”

The proposal will now go to the executive committee of the Governing Council for confirmation.

Rescheduled Trinity College orientation event costs $563 per person

Eleven students attend rescheduled Toronto Island event intended for 475

Trinity College’s Orientation Week event “Island Day!” cost $6200 for a turnout of 11 students. The event was advertised as a fun day to relax on the beach, play games, and go to Centreville, with lunch included. Originally scheduled to take place on the afternoon of Saturday, September 7, Island Day! was rained out and rescheduled for September 27. The event was to provide food, round-trip transportation, and space on the island for 475 attendees. On the rescheduled day, only 11 people showed up. Island Day! was one of the most expensive events of Trinity College’s Orientation Week.

Allison Spiegel, co-chair of Trinity Orientation Week, says that the planning committee had its hands tied with the contract signed with Centre Island. Alyssa Volk, a representative of Centre Island, says that according to the island’s policy, no portion of the deposit is refunded with a cancellation request less than two weeks prior to the event. A full refund is only given when an event is cancelled six weeks prior; Volk adds that the contract signed by Trinity’s Orientation coordinators clearly outlined this policy.

Spiegel says that the committee had explored other options, such as saving the voucher for an end of year party, or using the voucher for next year’s Orientation Week. However, Centre Island’s rain insurance policy does not carry over to the next season. After conferring with administration, Spiegel insists that the best solution was to do a later event. The rescheduled date was decided upon due to its congruence with Trinity College’s social calendar, and an attempt was made to factor in the weather. According to Spiegel, the change of date was advertised through multiple forums, including an email to every Orientation Week registrant and postings on the Trinity College Class of ‘17 Facebook page.

A trip to Centre Island is a regular on the list of Orientation Week activities for many colleges, as it provides an opportunity for students to interact with upper years in an off-campus setting. Benjamin Crase, male head of college at Trinity, defends the choice of event — saying that by voting in favour of the Island Day! event last year, Trinity students made it clear that they were interested. When asked about the low turnout, Crase said that once students are out of “Orientation Week mode,” it is difficult to get large numbers of students to attend off-campus events. Orientation Week leaders, executives, student heads, and dons who would have been at the original event were not obligated to attend, since it was outside of the dates outlined in the original contract.

When asked if she predicts that Trinity will attempt the event for next year’s Orientation Week, Spiegel says that she hopes they will. According to Spiegel, events like Island Day are always a gamble, and there is an inherent risk in planning Orientation Week events of any kind. Spiegel maintains that the originally planned event would have been successful. However, “rolling with the punches” is what Orientation Week is all about, she said. Trinity’s Orientation Week is funded exclusively through participation fees paid separately from student fees.

Professors defend costs of textbooks

Writers and publishers respond to student complaints of high textbook prices

Professors defend costs of textbooks

The cost of textbooks has been a matter of contention for students and faculty for years, especially amidst rising tuition costs in recent years. The Varsity spoke with a number of students and administration members to discuss their takes on textbook prices and less expensive alternatives.

In an interview with The Varsity, biochemistry professor Laurence Moran stated that claims that course material is too expensive are unfounded. “Students seem to think that these publishers are making enormous profits, and that the prices of books are arbitrarily priced. Publishers are in financial difficulty. They’re actually struggling,” he said. Moran helped write Principles of Biochemistry, the book that has been used in his course for the past 20 years; in 20 years, seven revised editions have been released. Moran emphasized the importance of being cognizant of all of the people behind the process of textbook publication, as well as manufacturing and distribution costs. “You go to the bookstore. All of the students that are in there working have to get paid. All of the deliverymen who brought those books to the store have to be paid. The rent has to be paid. All of that factors in, and publishers never see any of that. It is a complicated story,” he said.

John Challice, vice-president of Oxford Publishing, agreed: “I reject the notion that they’re expensive. Let’s use a $120 textbook as an example. Over the course of 30 weeks, that textbook works out to only $4 a week, which approximately amounts to the cost of one Starbucks latte. Textbooks are an important investment: they help you get a better grade, do better on your exams, and ultimately do better in life,” he said.

Moran recently attended an Ontario Ministry of Education conference centred around how to instill a love of learning in today’s students. “It really resonated with me, and led me to thinking: why would you ever give up your textbook? I still have all of my textbooks from university, and I still look at them from time to time. I loved them when I was taking the course then, and I still love them now.”

However, for some students, the privilege of having a textbook in front of you takes a back seat to the cost. “My stats book costs $200 alone,” said Annapurna Kocherlakota, a third-year public health student. Some students expressed their desire for greater availability of online textbooks. “I haven’t had access to any of my books in that format, but my friends at other schools have, and they say it’s really convenient and much cheaper,” said Kocherlakota. The choice between using printed textbooks and having those same books available online is not only a matter of preference, but one of availability. “I do like online textbooks because they save a lot of money, and that way I don’t have to carry a big textbook around. Unfortunately, not that many courses give this option,” said Miruna Chitoi, a third-year european studies student.

Moran, however, is skeptical about the reception that electronic textbooks would receive from students. “There doesn’t seem to be that intermediate market that would really like to have an electronic version,” he said. Challice emphasized that: “it’s hard to replicate the experience of having a textbook with online content. You can’t replicate having a textbook in front of you with a Kindle.”

Professor Avi Cohen teaches economics at U of T and York University, and has helped co-write the textbook for his course, as well as publish eight editions of study guides for economics. His textbook is bundled with the online resource MyEconLab, where students complete online quizzes for 15 per cent of their final grade. While Cohen admits that a student could successfully take the course relying solely on this e-resource, he states that the cost of losing the educational support that a textbook gives is much higher than the cost of the book itself.

Some professors choose to have electronic or hardcover copies of their textbooks available at select libraries on campus, a lesser-known textbook alternative for students. Perry Hall, supervisor of Information Services at Robarts Library, says that use of hard copy reserves has slowed in recent years. The library has recently started making select academic articles available to students on Blackboard, a much more popular option. As of yet, there is no standard for course reserves, and it is entirely up to the professor to decide whether or not to offer that service to his or her students. The ratio of students to course reserve textbooks can be disproportionately large, with some classes of 1,000 students having only one or two textbooks available on reserve, if at all.