Where to de-stress during exams

Campus organizations provide activities to help students cope with exam season

Where to de-stress during exams

Classes officially end on December 4 for University of Toronto students. With final examinations starting on December 9 and ending December 20, students are given five days to prepare for a two-week stretch of intense and stressful studying.

Many on-campus organizations recognize the value of taking breaks to de-stress. Clubs such as the Arts & Science Student Union and University College Literary and Athletic Society are hosting pre-season events for students to relax and prepare themselves before the start of examinations.

Other clubs believe that a change in a student’s study environment can be a great way for them to prepare for their tests and connect with other exhausted peers. Rooms all over campus, ranging from the Innis Residence Events Room to Woodsworth’s Kruger Hall, are being converted into open study spaces in preparation for exam season.

The University of Toronto is offering a wide variety of exam de-stress and test preparation events. These events are free for all U of T students, and are a great way to relax or review for your exams this year.

 

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

Innis Exam Jam

Coordinator: Innis Residence Council

Events

December 1: Innis Residence Council Potluck

5:00 pm, Innis Residence Events Room

December 2: Yoga with Jenny

7:00 pm, Innis Residence Events Room

December 3: Apples to Apples with Fresh Apples

7:00 pm, Innis Residence Fish Bowl

December 4: Video Game Breather Night

9:00 pm, Innis Residence fourth Floor, TV Room

December 5: Skate’n Create

5:00 pm, Varsity Arena

December 6: Post-it Note Art and parfaits

2:00 pm, Innis Residence Events Room

December 11-19: Open Study Space

The Residence Events Room will convert into a 24-hour study space with hot beverages and healthy snacks for all students. This conversion will last the entire exam season.

Goals

The Innis Exam Jam includes a host of recreational activities meant to help all University of Toronto students cope with exams, and opens up Innis Residence as a space for studying.

 

University of Toronto Mississauga Exam Jam

Coordinator: UTM Health & Counselling Faculty Centre

Event

December 4: Exam Jam

University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) will be holding a campus-wide Exam Jam.

The event will feature instructor-led study sessions for subjects including biology, sociology, and linguistics. Seminars that focus on answering multiple-choice questions and writing essays and short answer questions will also be provided.

The classes will be held across Mississauga campus. Class-specific details can be found on UTM Exam Jam’s Facebook page.

Goals

The day-long event combines study-intensive review sessions with engaging activities that aim to maintain students’ mental health throughout the exam period. The faculty hopes that these events will establish healthy exam habits for years to come.

 

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy exam prep

Coordinator: Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy

Event

December 2 & December 11: Exam Season Survival Kits

Dec. 2, 4:00 pm–5:00 pm & Dec. 11,  11:00 am–12:00 pm on the corner of St. George and Hoskin, outside the Newman Centre

The survival kits contain hot chocolate, candy canes, granola bars, pencils, pens, papers, and a few jokes for students.

December 4–19: Open exam prep and study space

10:00 am–6:00 pm, Newman Centre, 89 St. George Street.

The Newman Centre will host additional study spaces with coffee and study snacks for students. These study spaces will be available Monday to Friday until the end of exam season. Exam season survival kits will also be available for pick up during these times.

Goals

The Newman Centre Study Space provides a place where students can relax and spend time with their peers. The food and survival kits are intended to assist students with the pressure of exam season.

 

De-stress at the Office

Coordinator: University of Toronto Muslim Students’ Association (MSA)

Event

December 2–6: De-Stress Hour

12:00 pm-1:00 pm, 21 Sussex Avenue, Room 505.

The MSA is offering drained students a space to enjoy tea, hot chocolate, and board games. The event is a way for Uof Tstudents to connect with the club’s executive members and to foster a closer sense of community in the MSA.

Goals

With a good reception from students, the MSA is planning on making the de-stress hour a regular program throughout the spring semester. The office would be available each day of the week, and students would be able to regularly drop by for a hot drink and board games.

 

exam jam_NJ

The Exam Jam: review, refresh, de-stress!

Coordinator: Arts & Science Student Union (ASSU), other on-campus organizations

Event

December 3 –5: Review Sessions

The review sessions are instructor-led study groups, generally for large first- and second-year courses in the Faculty of Arts & Science. About 20 courses are being including several courses in economics, statistics, chemistry, and biology.

December 4–19: Exam Prep and Open Study Space

The ASSU and other campus organizations are offering open exam prep spaces for students. These spaces are open to all students in all courses. Some study spaces are open at Woodsworth, Innis, and UC throughout the exam period. Over a dozen rooms in Sid Smith are available for studying between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm on Thursday, December 5.

December 5: Sid Smith Activity Day

A plethora of free recreational activities are available for students in Sid Smith including free massages, pet therapy sessions, button making, and various free snacks and hot chocolate.

Goals 

Instructor-led review sessions are a great alternative to office hours for students who are struggling with difficult material.

Relaxing activities provide a much-needed break for tired brains.

 

Yoga, meditation, and art
yoga_NJ

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

Coordinator: University College Literary and Athletic Society (UCLit)

Event

December 5: Yoga, Meditation, and Art

12:15 pm, Hart House East Common Room

This exam de-stressor is intended to provide students with a chance to relax with a free session of yoga and meditation, followed by food and an art session. Students are urged to bring their own yoga mats if they own one, but UCLit will provide a yoga mat for you if you do not. The yoga session will be led by Hayley Lowe, a Toronto based teacher who specializes in working with children.

Goals

Yoga can boost students’ creativity and confidence, and can be a great physical activity during a study break. This free yoga session is designed to give students an opportunity to de-stress during exams.

 

cookie_NJ

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

Cram Jam

Coordinator: Upper-Year and Full-Time Students’ Directors

Event

December 4: Woodsworth College Students’ Association Cram Jam!

10:00 am–5:00 pm, Kruger Hall, Woodsworth College

The Cram Jam will consist of open, quiet study space for all students with free snacks and light refreshments throughout the day. Students are free to study and snack as they wish throughout the day.

Goals

The space provides an open and relaxing environment for students to catch up on their studies in time for the exam season.

Winter residence fees costly and unnecessary, say students

University of Toronto Mississauga Students Union offers alternative to what it sees as limited, unaffordable residences

Winter residence fees costly and unnecessary, say students

Many students living in residence will be required to leave their dorms for the winter break — from December 21 to January 5. Students living in the few residences on campus that allow students to stay during the break will be required to pay around $400. During the break, students planning on returning for the winter semester are permitted to leave all of their items in their dorm rooms, which will remain heated throughout the break. Those who elect to stay in residence will not have access to food or mail services, and often will have restricted porter’s office hours with few or no dons. Residents staying on campus during this time will also not be permitted to bring guests into their residence.

JULIEN BALBONTIN/THE VARSITY

JULIEN BALBONTIN/THE VARSITY

In light of this, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) is offering an alternative. The union contacted local landlords to provide housing for students over the break. Rates range from $300–$400 for the period, and the host will provide two or three meals per day. “UTMSU is against unfair fees. We believe that students should not have to pay for their stay over the winter break, because they are already paying enough,” said Melissa Theodore, vice-president, external of the UTMSU. “With mandatory meal plans, residence fees increasing by 5 per cent, and tuition increasing by 3 per cent, students at UTM are facing a dire situation.”

University College, Trinity College, New College, and St. Michael’s College give students the option to stay on residence during the break. University College residents may pay $25 a day up to a total of $350 to stay during the break. St. Michael’s College also charges $25 a night, up to a total of $375 for the entire stay, with a limited custodial crew working.

Nikki Butler, the coordinator of residence services at New College, says that only the 45 Willcocks residence is open over the winter break, and that an extra $400 is charged to students at the beginning of the semester. As a result, around 75 per cent of students at 45 Wilcocks stay in residence during the break.

For students living on residence at other colleges who cannot find accommodations for the break, the university has released a housing form outlining nearby hostels and hotels ­— ranging from $25 to $150 a night.

Michelle Verbrugghe, a representative for student housing at the Scarborough campus, says that the average cost for winter break residence is $250. Students at UTM face a similar predicament, and have demanded answers from the administration as to the reason behind these extra fees. Nengi Adoki, an international student at UTM, wrote an open letter published in The Medium that outlined her stance towards the extra fees. “As an international student, I pay on average at least $30,000 a year, which includes tuition and housing,” she wrote. Although students have repeatedly expressed their concerns to the UTM administration regarding this issue, winter break residence fees will not be changing this year.

Procedural disputes dominate AGM

Minimal discussion on many motions at UTSU AGM draws criticism

Procedural disputes dominate AGM

Every motion except one passed at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM). While UTSU president Munib Sajjad called for student engagement and campus unity, some members of the union left disaffected when their grievances were not heard.

Engineering society (EngSoc) director Pierre Harfouche motioned to remove items 2 to 10 from the agenda, after the Board of Directors ruled his motions out of order prior to the AGM. This sparked a procedural debate over the necessity of a motion to approve the agenda. “Robert’s Rules state that if an agenda is not approved, members can amend it by a majority,” argued Harfouche, referencing the rules of order to which UTSU AGM’s adhere.

Ashkon Hashemi, the chair, defined the order of proceedings for the meeting as an order of business rather than an agenda — meaning that the motion needed a 2/3 majority motion to pass, rather than a simple majority. “What we have before us is an order of business, as specified by UTSU’s bylaws. If you want to change things, you can, but it’s a 2/3 majority motion,” stated Hashemi. The motion did not pass. The order of proceedings distributed was titled “agenda,” was referred to as an agenda in documents leading up to the meeting, and an approval of the agenda vote has been at the UTSU AGM for at least the last three years.

“What it appeared to be was filibustering,” claimed Sajjad, describing Harfouche’s tactics. “It wasn’t fair to any of the students commuting to campus, or coming from Mississauga, or any other place.”

MASHAL KHAN/THE VARSITY

MASHAL KHAN/THE VARSITY

Harfouche has already submitted a motion for next year’s AGM that would allow a referendum to be held by the Faculty of Engineering to reduce its UTSU membership fee to $0.00.

During question period, student Ryan Gomes asked how a $152,000 surplus became a deficit of $50,000 between the UTSU’s 2012 and 2013 audits. Gordon Lee, representative of Yale and Partners LLP, which conducted the audit, said that organizations like the UTSU should be focused on trying to get to “zero,” rather than turning a profit. “A $52,000 deficit on $13 million in revenue is very close to zero in my books,” said Lee.

Despite students queuing up to discuss the audit, the first speaker called the question, putting it to an immediate vote. There was no discussion of the issue, and 480 members voted in favour of approving the financial statements to 205 opposed.

Sajjad said he voted on the motion to call the question in order to keep the debate moving after earlier delays. “I was worried about people leaving. I wanted to get to the motions that affected the students’ union,” he said.

Many members were dissatisfied with the rapid move to voting, and left the auditorium. Former St. George Round Table chair Scott Dallen was among those leaving the AGM. “They voted to stifle the debate on that issue; it just moved directly to a question. There’s no point in it,” he said.

Nishi Kumar, president of the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UCLit), said that while the debate over procedure was unfortunate, it could improve the AGM in the future. “I hope that having seen this type of procedural understandings, students are better able to work within the system that is presented to them, and that next year’s meeting can be more efficient,” she said.

MASHAL KHAN/THE VARSITY

MASHAL KHAN/THE VARSITY

The motion to reprimand Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) was the only item on the AGM’s agenda to be defeated. Michael Wainberg, who proposed the motion, alleged that the group was discriminatory. Wainberg pointed out that SAIA’s speaking policies prioritize equity-seeking groups, but do not allow speakers to self-identify as such — requiring organizers to decide, for example, whether individuals appear queer or trans. A student opposing the motion said: “SAIA stands in solidity with all oppressed groups, and opposes all forms of discrimination.”

In his opening remarks, Sajjad expressed a desire to engage students, unite them over the goal of affordable education, and avoid alienating the UTSU’s membership. “Tonight, you will have the opportunity to shape the future direction of the UTSU and ask us any questions you may have,” he said.

Aidan Fishman, a student member of U of T’s Governing Council, tested that statement by raising the issue of fee diversion and defederation during the question-and-answer period following Sajjad’s speech. Fishman asked whether there was any circumstance under which the UTSU would amend its bylaws to permit defederation. “Cutting up the students’ union isn’t the way to go,” Sajjad said in response, pointing out that student societies can hold referenda to increase their membership fees if they would like to expand services.

Sajjad’s absence at the Student Societies Summit was also addressed. Mary Stefanidis, president of the Innis College Student Society (ICSS), asked why the UTSU had not sent its president to the summit, and claimed that the UTSU was the only organization not to do so. The ICSS had voiced its concerns in a letter to the summit on November 15, criticizing the current UTSU representatives.

Sajjad said that he was offended by the letter, that his vice-presidents can speak on the Summit’s issues just as well as anyone else at the UTSU, and that Stefanidis’s claims were false. “I don’t look at myself as president and therefore the boss of the UTSU. I am simply the chief spokesperson,” said Sajjad. “I trust my executives that are supposed to be there.”

The motions that were passed included the motion to amend the bylaws to comply with the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act, which will no longer allow voting by proxy at board meetings; a motion to create an online forum for members to report issues and concerns to the UTSU; a motion to investigate the board and commission structure; and a motion endorsing the “Raise the Minimum Wage” campaign.

While a number of colleges’ student representatives attended the AGM, Trinity College chose to abstain. Benjamin Crase, Co-head of College at Trinity, said that his group did not believe that the AGM fostered democratic debate, and encouraged to attend Trinity’s Christmas Dinner, which usually takes place on the last Wednesday of November. “As student leaders, we were not prepared to deceive our membership by telling them their voices would be heard at the AGM,” said Crase.

“I think everyone has a voice at the general meeting,” said Sajjad, highlighting online voting as a reform implemented because of opinions voiced at an AGM.

Ontario Municipal Board hearing on proposed 24-storey residence concludes

Decision to be released in coming weeks

Ontario Municipal Board hearing on proposed 24-storey residence concludes

On Friday, November 28, a hearing involving Knightstone Capital Management, the City of Toronto, and a number of residents’ associations and local residents concluded at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Knightstone, a private development company, appealed the OMB’s rejection of a a new University of Toronto student residence at the corner of College Street and Spadina Avenue. Originally proposed to be 42-storeys, the current residence plan is for 24-storeys.

Concerns raised by the City and residents’ associations include that the building’s proposed size and scale are not appropriate for the area, as well as its relationship to U of T, and the legal rules under which it will operate.

SADIA AWAN/THE VARSITY

SADIA AWAN/THE VARSITY

Unlike U of T’s other off-campus residences, like Chestnut Residence, the proposed residence at 245–255 College Street and 39–40 Glasgow Street would be built by Knightstone and managed by The Scion Group. Scion is a private company based out of the United States that manages student residences.

During the cross-examination of Eric Luskin, the vice-president of Scion, the opposing council raised concerns ranging from how much social space Scion would provide for students to how many loading docks they had in place for delivery trucks. Additional concerns included who is allowed to live in the building and how people can be evicted. Both Knightstone and Scion said that the sole purpose of the building is to house U of T students from a broad range of ages and programs, to accommodate an increasing need for student housing in the downtown core.

However, because the site is off U of T property, U of T does not govern it. The building falls under the jurisdiction of the Residential Tenancies Act. This would make it difficult to evict individuals who are no longer students at the university, since they would be protected under this legislation. Furthermore, because the residence will be privately run, students from other universities may live in the building if there are rooms available. Local residents also asked who will inhabit the building in the summer, and if it will be run as a hotel.

Luskin said that his company has an agreement with U of T to fill the building with U of T students, and to make the terms of the lease last for 12 months to avoid the issue of renting out rooms in the summer. Scion has not signed any contracts with U of T that outline these policies.

Other concerns about the details of the residence — including the number of live-in staff, dons, and the operation of the cafeteria and security — were raised by the city and residents’ associations. Most details were not fully determined at the time of the trial.

The exterior of the building was also discussed, which brought architects and city planners to the stand. They disagreed on whether the residence would fit into its surrounding area, as its location is designated “mixed-use.”  David Bronskill, representative of Knightstone, described other buildings in the area of similar height to the residence, or taller.

Residents expressed concern about the problems that a students residence might create in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, they were skeptical about the fact that a private company runs the project, claiming that its ultimate goal is to meet the company’s bottom line.

Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a representative from the Grange Community Association, said that residents would be okay with something eight to 12 storeys high, but that something of the proposed scale does not fit the area.

During his closing remarks, Ray Kallio, representative of the city, asked the adjudicator to put less weight on the remarks of expert witnesses like Luskin — claiming that they contain inconsistencies. “Tall buildings don’t belong everywhere downtown,” he said, and asked the adjudicator to dismiss the appeal completely.

“[This residence is the] most egregious development I have seen in this neighborhood in the last 40 years,” said Ramkhalawansingh in her closing remarks. “Another way residents have talked about this is this is a form of home-wrecking. To match up 829 students with the 50 Glasgow Street residents is a way of wrecking their homes. We don’t get it.” She urged the adjudicator to refuse the appeal.

In a statement after his closing remarks, Kallio said: “I think the city and the residents put in a strong case to persuade the board not to approve it. We will wait for the decision to come out to see if there are any further steps.” Bronskill did not give any comments after the case.

The decision of this case could set a precedent for other proposed buildings in the area. The final decision will be released within the next few weeks.

CFS ignores defederation petitions, allege student unions

Federation returns or fails to retrieve petitions from member organizations

CFS ignores defederation petitions, allege student unions

Conflict continues to divide a major organization through which universities lobby the provincial and federal governments. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) has made no changes in reaction to protests outside their Annual General Meeting (AGM) by various student unions last week.

Jonathan Mooney, secretary-general of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill, organized the protests. The Concordia Student Union and the Dawson Student Union also participated.

“A couple weeks before the protest, some of the students within Montréal started talking to each other and said: ‘The meeting’s coming up; we’re really discontent; we’re really upset, and they keep refusing to recognize it,’” said Mooney, explaining how the idea for the protest developed. “We’re stuck in court waiting for the judge to rule on the issue. We’re extremely upset because we’re finding that a lot of the money that we would like to spend on important issues for students is being consumed on litigation costs… And so we started talking and saying ‘Maybe we should draw some attention to the issue.’”

The protests are just one episode of what has been a long, complicated conflict between the CFS and the aggrieved student unions. The organizations in question argue that the CFS’s practices are undemocratic, and that it has a history of silencing dissent. Feeling that the federation has not responded adequately to these allegations, the unions have launched efforts to decertify from it.

Prior to the AGM, a number of students at CFS member universities, including the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), had submitted petitions to hold referenda to defederate from the CFS. While some of these petitions were received, others were not claimed upon delivery or were even returned to sender after being signed for.

“One of our objectives was to hold the national executive accountable for this error, no matter how it came about, because it was a very grave error to miss students’ petitions and not deal with this issue,” said Brad Evoy, external commissioner of the GSU. “So we put forward a motion [at the AGM] to unseat the national chairperson.” The motion did not pass, but Evoy emphasizes that it was mainly an effort to get the federation to examine the unions’ grievances more carefully, and to try to push it toward reform.

According to Alastair Woods, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), the CFS explained that the petitions were not received because of a clerical error. He added that the CFS has since received the petition from the Laurentian University Graduate Students’ Association.

Woods argued that organized protests were not the best way for student unions to advance their interests at the AGM: “Those student unions had an opportunity to bring up those concerns as delegates to the meeting,” he stated. “They chose not to be delegates to that meeting and instead chose to protest outside the venue, and that’s a choice they have a right to make, but they could have also participated as delegates and brought their concerns to the plenary and to other students across the country.”

Woods emphasized that students risk their own interests if they seek to leave the CFS. Without the strength of numbers, Woods contended, it would be much more difficult for students to influence government.

“I think that students across this province and across the country are facing a huge crisis — whether it be tuition fees, employment, [or] standards of living — and I think what they need is a united student movement that’s able to move forward and actually affect issues that impact their daily lives,” said Woods. “From my perspective, the best way to do that and to move forward from this situation is to come together and actually tackle the issues that are facing students — tackle the issue of student debt, tackle the issue of rising tuition fees, and ensure that more and more students are being brought into the movement so that they can participate in that and actually be part of that change that we need to see in order to save this generation from being pushed off the brink.”

Woods further argued that conflict between student unions only makes it easier for governments to pass policy that is detrimental to the interests of young people and students.

Guled Arale, vice-president, external of the University of Toronto Scarborough Students’ Union (SCSU), offered a similar perspective: “It’s unfortunate, with so many issues facing students — especially at U of T — like students wanting to leave Access Copyright, tackling flat fees, and a couple other issues that, instead of having conversations to figure out how we can tackle it, there’s talk and time being spent just on things like people wanting to leave [CFS].”

The would-be defederators understand these concerns, but argue that they miss the point. “Students want to work together; we want to be able to advance our common interests,” stated Mooney. “But when there’s an association out there that doesn’t respect basic principles like freedom of association and listening to the democratic will of students, it makes it a lot more difficult and wastes a lot of our resources.”

The GSU held its own AGM on November 25. At the meeting, the union passed motions to call on the CFS to abide by dates to hold referenda set in the petition. The union also passed an amendment to that motion, demanding that the federation replace Katherine Giroux-Bougard as Chief Returning Officer (CRO) for the referendum. Giroux-Bougard was chair of the CFS in 2009, and actively campaigned against defederation during her term.

U of T, the GSU, and the CFS are currently discussing how the university can provide the CFS with student information so that it can verify the names on the defederation petition without compromising the privacy of the individuals on the list of students provided.

Ryerson pays $90,000 to access U of T’s libraries

U of T students get access to other university libraries for free; other schools must pay a fee

Ryerson pays $90,000 to access U of T’s libraries

University of Toronto students have access to libraries across Canada with no extra fee. However, members of other universities must pay a flat fee to be able to borrow books from the U of T system. Under the Canadian University Reciprocal Borrowing Agreement (CURBA) — which was enacted in 2002 — students, faculty, and staff of participating universities are entitled to borrowing privileges at other university libraries. CURBA combines the resources of the four provincial university library councils, comprising 87 Canadian universities from all 10 provinces.

In 2009, U of T introduced fees for direct borrowers, while still benefiting from CURBA. Students, faculty, and staff at all other Canadian universities must pay an annual $300 fee to access and borrow books from U of T libraries. U of T students are required to pay no additional fees to access other universities’ materials.

Larry Alford, chief librarian at the University of Toronto, said that this fee agreement was necessary to maintain the university’s library system: “Our research library is one of the very best in North America, with only Harvard and Yale ranking above it. In order to maintain its quality, we — and that, of course, includes our students, through their fees — spend over $27 million a year on acquisitions alone.” U of T recently aquired the letters of General James Wolfe — a $1.5 million purchase paid for largely by Helmhorst Investments, a Toronto-based company.

For Alford, the asymmetrical access to other libraries for U of T students is not a problem. “Our reciprocal [fee] agreements therefore ensure that students and faculty from other universities can share in our valuable resources, but that U of T students are not subsidizing this access,” he said.

U of T currently has flat-fee agreements with other universities. Ryerson University, for example, currently pays $90,000 that allows its students to access a University of Toronto Libraries card. The card expires after one full year of access.

There are other exceptions to CURBA in Toronto. The Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) allows access to its resources only to Ryerson University and York University, and the libraries at Ryerson and York lend to all other Canadian universities except U of T.

“Our collection is very small and highly specialized,” explained Jill Patrick, the Director of Library Services at OCAD. “Allowing undergraduate students from Canada’s largest university to freely borrow our books would very quickly deplete our shelves and leave our own students, who cannot borrow from U of T [without paying a fee], with no resources to do their work.”

Cecile Farnum, Communications and Liaison Librarian at Ryerson, stated that this exception for U of T students was effective in the original 2002 agreement, even before the fee was charged.

These exceptions do not mean that U of T students are completely unable to borrow books from these universities, or that students from other universities are unable to borrow books from U of T. The Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) is one of the four provincial councils in CURBA, and ensures that all Ontario university students are unhindered by library politics.

Students may request books in OCUL libraries through the Interlibrary Loan (ILL) using the Rapid Access to Collection by Electronic Requesting (RACER) service. These ILL RACER requests, however, take weeks to process and order without a $15 Urgent Request Form, making the loans accessible but untimely for many students.

Instructors argue that often-used “grade calibration” is not the same as prohibited bell curving

Instructors argue that often-used “grade calibration” is not the same as prohibited bell curving

“Bell curving,” a statistical method that lumps student evaluations into pre-determined grade categories, is a common concern among U of T students. Under a bell curving scheme, course instructors choose an average grade, and then distribute class grades to get to that average; this means distributing a certain combination of A B C D and F letter grades. In most classes at U of T, the class average is around a C.

TIMOTHY LAW/THE VARSITY

TIMOTHY LAW/THE VARSITY

University policy technically prohibits course instructors from using bell curve grading schemes — a little known fact among students. According to the University Assessment and Grading Practices Policy: “The distribution of grades in any course, examination or other academic assessment must not be predetermined by any system of quotas that specifies the number or percentage of grades allowable at any grade level.”

However, course instructors are permitted to “calibrate,” or adjust marks. According to the Academic Handbook: “Calibration is a perfectly acceptable — indeed, a responsible — practice… Calibration is the corrective process to ensure fairness in marking.”

If a test is too difficult, or too easy, course instructors are permitted to calibrate class scores. This does not necessarily require a linear manipulation — such as adding the same number to each student’s test score — so calibration can theoretically result in grade distributions that look remarkably similar to a bell curve.

When asked for comment on the calibration process, Althea Blackburn-Evans, the university’s acting director of media relations, said that calibration is necessary to ensure consistent application of grade standards across university units. “Assessments, particularly new or revised assessments, do require calibration and adjustment in terms of validity and reliability,” she said.

To that end, it is not uncommon for course instructors to calibrate class scores that do not reach a certain average. Students in BIO120 had marks adjusted upwards by two per cent on a recent test. This adjusted the mean score from 64 per cent to 66 per cent. In a note posted to the Learning Portal after the test, Spencer Barrett and James Thomson noted that the mark adjustment was made to account for technical issues. “To produce a distribution more consistent with our long-term expectations, and to make some allowance for last-minute glitches with the DynamicBook textbook system and the audio recordings, we have added 2 percentage points to each student’s score,” the note read.

Students in PSY201, a course taught by professor Ashley Waggoner Denton, also had marks adjusted upwards on a recent test. She states that the adjustment was made because the test took students longer to complete than anticipated.

Waggoner Denton, like other professors contacted, brushed off the notion that the adjustments constituted bell curve grading. “Bell curving grades is very different than bumping everyone’s mark up,” she said. “I never bell curve, and never alter marks down.”

Not all professors alter class scores; professor Derek Denis, a course instructor in the department of Linguistics, has not adjusted course grades since his first year of teaching. “Grade adjustments are sometimes necessary when instructors are trying new methods of evaluation or when instructors are new to test design,” said Denis. “Test design is a skill that comes with practice.”

Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) president Shawn Tian echoed Denis’s statement. “When creating examinations, it’s difficult to gauge [precisely] how well a class will do,” said Tian, “so a bell curve after the fact may be inevitable due to some factor beyond the instructor’s control. This is especially likely when a professor needs to assess whether a new format for evaluation will be appropriate or not.” Tian also noted that he has never encountered instances of student grades being lowered after an evaluation.

“I feel students may have misunderstood the university’s stance against grade inflation, which I think is a stance [well] founded on principle, for a stance on grade deflation,” added Tian. “What one struggling student may see as an instructor being unduly difficult is really just an intellectually stimulating challenge to another.”

Mauricio Curbelo, president of the Engineering Society (EngSoc) commented on the reason test scores tend to be calibrated. “I think the biggest issue is evaluations which do not reflect the term work. This is what results in wide distributions of grades, requiring adjustment,” he said. Curbelo suggested that the university should make available to students past problem sets, tests, and exams to help avoid this problem.

According to Blackburn-Evans, the university has a number of mechanisms in place to prevent the need for grade adjustments. She pointed to the university’s Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation as an example. The centre offers workshops on course design and assessment to course instructors. Blackburn-Evans also noted that assessment and grading practices are reviewed under the university’s cyclical eight-year review. The review is reported to the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance, a provincial body responsible for ensuring the quality of all post-secondary educational programs.

 

Correction: Ashely Waggoner Denton teaches PSY201 , not PSY220 as was incorrectly stated.

Toronto public transit prohibitively expensive, say students

GTA’s complex situation makes keeping fares low difficult

Toronto public transit prohibitively expensive, say students

As the board of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) recently approved an increase in fares, the high cost of post-secondary Metropasses is a hot topic yet again. Come January 1, the TTC will raise the price of transit tokens and passes. Monthly passes for Toronto’s post-secondary students, already among the most expensive in Canada, will now cost $108, up $2. Illustrating just how expensive the TTC is, a student in Vancouver could buy three months of their city’s passes for the cost of riding a month on the TTC. Vancouver’s transit system charges post-secondary students $35 for monthly passes; students in Montreal pay only $45. Most other Canadian cities also have significantly cheaper monthly transit passes for students, including Calgary ($57.50), St. John’s ($61.25), and London ($70).

Alastair Woods, president of the Ontario wing of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS-O), is strongly in favour of lower fares: “One of the things we’re seeing is that transit, across the province, actually, is increasingly becoming more and more unaffordable,” he says. “We believe there should be substantial public investment to bring down that cost.” University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) president Munib Sajjad echoed Woods’s views, stressing that “the financial burden of post-secondary education is not just about tuition fees. Students need to commute to campus as well.”

Three years ago, CFS-O, with the help of student unions, launched the Fair Student Fares campaign, which successfully pushed Toronto’s City Council to create a discounted Metropass for post-secondary students. Although the pass is 19 per cent cheaper than an adult Metropass, the reduction pales in comparison to those in Vancouver and Montreal, where student passes are 72 per cent and 42 per cent cheaper, respectively, than their adult counterparts.

The cost of Metropasses hits hard — four in five students at U of T’s St. George campus are commuters. Caitlin Morishita-Miki, of New College, takes the TTC to campus every day from Donlands station. The Metropass is the only option, she says, and without a better discount on post-secondary fares, she feels “backed into a corner.” For Morishita-Miki, like thousands of others, having to spend nearly $850 for eight months of Metropasses is a heavy burden.

Universities in Ottawa have an unusual model. All students at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa receive a monthly transit pass, called the U-Pass. The pass costs $46 a month, and is a mandatory addition to student fees. High rates of participation in the popular program allow it to include greater numbers of students, and it therefore provides more leverage in negotiating with transit authorities.

Despite being Canada’s busiest system, the TTC faces a unique funding challenge. With record ridership, the TTC will still have an operational shortfall of $6 million this year, even with the fare increase. The TTC is the least subsidized transit system in North America, receiving only $0.79 cents per rider from City Hall and nothing from the provincial or federal governments. The much smaller York Region Transit gets a whopping $4.49 per rider in subsidy. Transit systems in Vancouver and Montreal get subsidies of $1.62 and $1.16, respectively. Even New York City’s system receives $1.03 per passenger. Subsidies account for only 27 per cent of the TTC’s operating budget, with the rest collected at the fare box. Every other transit system in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) gets more than half of its funding from government. In both Vancouver and Montreal, subsidies make up 46 per cent of operating budgets.

Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokesman Bob Nichols emphasizes the province’s efforts to lower student fares on GO Transit and build new transit infrastructure in the GTA. However, he stresses that the province “is not involved in the daily operations of municipal transit services. Municipalities are responsible for all aspects of their operations, including the setting of fares.” He does not mention whether the province plans to provide a direct operational subsidy.

Adding to the problem is the fact that students in the GTA often commute using different transit systems. While the TTC is the most popular, students also use the transit systems in Brampton, Mississauga, and York Region, as well as GO Transit. Meanwhile, students in Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa generally use a single transit system, making the process of negotiating discounts much easier.

With an eye toward further enhancing the affordability of transit, CFS-O recently launched a survey, titled “Students for Greater Transit Access,” to determine its next move. Woods calls the survey a “fact-finding mission,” gauging students’ views on the state of transit and expects that “a big piece of that will be talking about affordability issues.” The UTSU is also pursuing what Sajjad calls a “network of discounts” for students commuting from elsewhere in the GTA. While the UTSU is negotiating with provincial transportation authority Metrolinx about the possibility of a larger U-Pass covering all of Southern Ontario, a pass only for the TTC is not on the agenda.

As students expect to pay even more for transit, affordability remains a problem for many of U of T’s commuters, lacking a cohesive solution.