Letter to the editor

Re: Steady but slow

Letter to the editor

In her piece “Steady but slow”, Naomi Stuleanu opines that the university hasn’t done enough to make the committee’s report public. In fact, the report has been posted and disseminated in various ways, including:

  • Prominently featured at safety.utoronto.ca
  • Sent directly to all 45 student societies, including The Varsity
  • Covered at U of T News (which was pitched to The Varsity in order to receive further coverage and dissemination to students – it was great to see that the coverage included the call for feedback), and then linked in the Bulletin (the faculty and staff e-news)
  • Shared through central U of T social media channels (with thousands of student followers), with calls for feedback
  • Shared through the provost’s weekly digest, which makes its way to academic units across the university for further dissemination at the local levels

I realize this is a comment piece and not meant to present hard facts, but it’s unfortunate that the piece is based at least partly on an incomplete understanding of what’s been done.  The university continues to encourage feedback. Feedback may be sent to reportfeedback@utoronto.ca.

Althea Blackburn-Evans is U of T’s Director of News & Media Relations.

Students demand their ‘dû’

Insufficient number of courses, degrees offered in French

Students demand their ‘dû’

Francophone and Francophile students gathered at Queen’s Park for a Day of Action on February 18, in hopes of pressuring the provincial government into establishing a French-language university in Ontario.

Last year, Regroupement étudiant franco-ontarien (RÉFO) submitted a deposition demanding that Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne create a French-language university. The province has yet to take action in response.

The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS-O) expressed support for RÉFO and has prepared a policy outlining their support of increased funding for Francophone and bilingual post-secondary education. The CFS-O policy also stipulates that the creation of the French-language university should be administered by the Francophone and Francophile community in Ontario.

“There is definitely a need for additional institutions providing French-language courses, more specifically in the Greater Toronto Area, but it is important that the current underfunding of post-secondary education as a whole be addressed,” said Gabrielle Ross-Marquette, national executive representative of CFS-O.

“In a climate where satellite campuses are closing their doors as is happening for Laurentian University students in Barrie, we must continue to pressure the government to increase funding to existing French and bilingual institutions in the province,” added Ross-Marquette.

The government of Ontario offers two publicly funded French-language colleges, Collège Boréal and La Cité, in addition to 360 French-language courses listed online under the eCampus Ontario portal. Students can also pursue studies in French at one of Ontario’s nine French language and bilingual schools offering university programming including Glendon Campus at York University, University of Ottawa, and Laurentian University; however, Ross-Marquette suggested that the current system does not meet the needs of students.

“There is a dearth of upper-level French-language courses in bilingual institutions, forcing students to study in their second-language,” said Ross-Marquette. She believes that the lack of advanced French classes poses a particular problem for international students, as bilingual institutions are recruiting Francophone international students who may not speak English.

“The Federation sees the increase in availability of French programs as a positive gain for students in the province, if it is accompanied by sustaining and improving current program delivery in French,” said Ross-Marquette, explaining CFS-O’s stance.

At this time, Bill 104 — a private member’s bill put forth last May by NDP MPP France Gélinas that calls for the creation of a French-language university — has been tabled.

In addition to working with the Francophone post-secondary education communities and student groups such as RÉFO, an Advisory Committee on French Language Postsecondary Education has been established by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities; its purpose is to advise the government on the best models of education for Francophones in central and southwestern Ontario. The committee is expected to present a report on their recommendations to the ministry by the end of March.

Governing Council election results announced

International students and permanent residents eligible for first time

Governing Council election results announced

After nearly four weeks of campaigning, the results of the University of Toronto Governing Council elections are out.

Governing Council is the highest decision-making body at U of T. Of the 50 seats, eight are allocated to students.

A total of 29 candidates ran for the two Constituency I seats, positions reserved for full-time students in the Faculty of Arts & Science, UTM, and UTSC. UTM student Mohammad Amin and New College student Bingchen Tony Shan emerged victorious, receiving 997 votes and 678 votes respectively — well ahead of the other candidates.

Amin proposed increasing student representation on Governing Council and pledged to have monthly meetings at UTM. In addition, Amin wants to bring a co-op program to UTM. Currently, the only campus that offers a co-op program is UTSC.

Shan’s platform consisted of reducing tuition, increasing scholarship opportunities, bringing in more research and other academic activities, and improving the quality of food on campus.

Two Governing Council members represent full-time professional faculty students from Constituency II. Law student Aidan Fishman, who received 142 votes, and Jorge May, who received 93 votes, were elected to fulfill these roles.

Fishman, who won by a margin of seven votes, served on Governing Council for Constituency I during the 2012-2013 year and the 2013-2014 year, when he was an international relations student at Trinity College.

“I feel very happy about my victory,” Fishman told The Varsity.  “It was a close race, and I know that my competitors and I worked hard to get students from faculties that typically are somewhat removed from student politics.”

Fishman wants to reform the constituency system for Governing Council elections, allow students to opt out of Hart House and Athletic Centre ancillary fees, and ensure the recommendations from the Students’ Society Summit be implemented.

May said that he was “ecstatic” at his victory. “It’s high time that someone from a smaller faculty such as Music has the opportunity to represent and advocate for the needs of professional faculty students and push for real change on campus,” he told The Varsity. He plans to advocate for building repair and maintenance and reducing bureaucracy.

“Many students are unhappy with the fact that our university administration [takes] so long to respond to critical issues [affecting] students — I hope to speed the process up,” May said. He is looking forward to representing his constituency and working to bridge the gaps between different areas of the university community.

Trinity College student Susan Froom is returning to Governing Council after she served a term from 2014–2015 as a representative for part-time undergraduates. ECE student Billy Graydon will be joining Froom, while Alex Nyikos from the Munk School of Global Affairs and Christine Moon from the Faculty of Medicine will take over the two seats representing graduate students.

This election was the first in which non-Canadian citizens were eligible to run for Governing Council after the University of Toronto Act was amended by the province. The new governors will assume office on July 1, 2016.

Correction (March 1st, 2016): An earlier version of this article misspelled Mohammad Amin.

Truth and reconciliation grounds Indigenous Education Week

Wab Kinew visits U of T, supports Indigenous course requirement

Truth and reconciliation grounds Indigenous Education Week

Each year, the First Nations House (FNH) hosts a week-long series of events at the University of Toronto for students, staff, faculty, and the community to highlight the contributions of Indigenous peoples to the academy. The week also serves as an opportunity to learn about the diversity of Indigenous peoples, their cultural and religious practices, and their languages.

Running from February 22 to 26, Indigenous Education Week’s (IEW) provided audiences with the chance to take an honest look at Canada’s history of colonization and to reassess the responsibilities Canadians have to advocate for truth and reconciliation

What is truth and reconciliation?

Arthur Manuel, a First Nations political leader and chairman at the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, gave a presentation at the The 150 Years of Canadian Colonization and Our Right to Self-Determination event during IEW. In his presentation, he explained that colonization in Canada is ongoing and that it is still a major problem in the US, New Zealand, and Australia.

Manuel argued that there needs to be more conversation about what colonization is and its implications for Indigenous peoples, especially regarding the dispossession of land, the creation of a culture of dependence, and the oppression of Indigenous peoples.

Manuel believes that dispossession of land is the root of other related struggles: “A lot of people don’t understand how the dispossession happens, how the dependency happens or even how the oppression happens. But it all happens here in Canada and it starts with the constitution, the first constitution of Canada.”

The British North America Act instituted in 1867 was the piece of legislation in Canada that gave land rights to the British. This left Indigenous peoples with only marginal control over their land and resources.

Currently, Indigenous communities comprise 0.2 per cent of territorial Canada, leaving the bulk of the land and resources in the hands of occupiers to decide how it is managed, preserved, and allocated.

“I think most Canadians have some really distorted pictures of Indigenous communities. They know we are poor but they do not understand how systemic impoverishment really works,” Manuel said. “[They] try and say that our poverty is really because our chiefs are paying themselves too much money… That may be the case in a small minority of cases, but we are basically underfunded and we have no land base to solve the problems dispossession has caused us.”

Manuel believes that the current situation cannot and should not be solved without the support of all Canadians. He explained that establishing and maintaining a collaborative relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada is an important step towards reconciliation. 

“It is essential that both the colonizer and the colonized need to decolonize together,” he told The Varsity. “It will require the genius of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to create the massive amounts of pressure needed to make the fundamental change from assimilation to recognition of Aboriginal rights.”

Wab Kinew at U of T

The Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) collaborated with the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the FNH, the Department Of Aboriginal Studies, and the Department of Anthropology to bring Wabanakwut “Wab” Kinew to speak at the Isabel Bader theatre on February 24.

Kinew is a journalist, hip-hop artist, and associate vice president for Indigenous relations at the University of Winnipeg.

Kinew gave an overview of the history of the ongoing colonial project in Canada. “Persuade me how it’s consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that one group of children in this country gets an unequal shot at life because of where they start,” he challenged the audience.

Wab Kinew signs NSA petition to support mandatory indigenous education. Rusaba Alam/THE VARSITY

Wab Kinew signs NSA petition to support mandatory indigenous education. Rusaba Alam/THE VARSITY

“Convince me that it’s consistent with your ideals of what this country stands for — that one group of kids in this country gets a poor quality education, gets less access to health services, and in cases where there’s family breakdown, gets less access to assistance when they’re at their most vulnerable,” Kinew said.

He also spoke about his own family’s experiences with intergenerational trauma resulting from residential schools. These schools were a state-sanctioned system designed to “kill the Indian in the child” and were sites of widespread abuse and human rights violations. “That was not long ago,” Kinew said during his talk. “That’s within living memory.” The provisions in the 1876 Indian Act that created the framework for residential schools were not removed until late 2014.

“Consider what happens after a person leaves residential school… the overall dynamic of how [my father] was being socialized, of how he began to understand how an adult should relate to a child. His whole conception of what a parent should be, of how an adult should relate to a kid, was formed in an environment where he was raised by people who didn’t like him and in many cases, hated him. And then a few cases, were very abusive to him,” Kinew explained. “These model behaviours and these patterns of dysfunction become transmitted down through the generations.”

After his talk, Kinew took questions from the audience. Many people asked how they could better support Indigenous communities. Kinew said that listening to and respecting Indigenous experiences are among the best things that those wishing to help can do.

Activism on campus

The Native Students’ Association (NSA) has been pushing U of T to institute a mandatory Indigenous course credit for all students. They are circulating a petition that has garnered 1,400 online signatures, and roughly 3,000 on paper. Kinew signed the petition, adding his name to a list of prolific figures that also includes Carolyn Bennett, minister for Indigenous and northern affairs.

Speaking on the behalf of the NSA, Bear Clan leader Roy Strebel hopes that Kinew’s signature will increase support for their initiative. “When you have a high-profile Indigenous person like Wab endorsing what we are doing, it can be humbling,” he said. “It was great that he was able to speak about the need for greater content of Indigenous studies at the University of Toronto.”

According to Strebel, the NSA is still discussing a draft proposal on an Indigenous credit mandate to put forward to the university. “[The] response we have been getting is incredible, and our members are doing a great job at getting signatures,” said Strebel. “I think our members are to be commended for their ongoing commitment to what we have proposed, and the ongoing support is overwhelming.”

What can universities do?

Strebel believes the majority of the population is either “unaware, and/or misinformed about the relationship of First Nations, and the government of Canada.”

“Issues such as residential schools is something that all students should be aware of,” he said, adding that educating people on the effect the Indian Act has had on First Nations since its inception in 1876 is also crucial knowledge. “I think that these two issues should be discussed and considered in the university curriculum.”

The NSA is currently petitioning to have an Indigenous credit component as a part of every degree. “[The] NSA envisions U of T to an implement Indigenous content mandate to incoming undergraduate students to complete an Indigenous degree requirement before graduating from any of the Arts & Sciences department,” said Dhanela Paran, Loon Clan leader & CFO of the NSA.

“This does not mean all students would have to complete one newly designed specific course; rather students would take any existing course from any department, as long as there is Indigenous content in it,” Paran explained, adding that it would be best for the Faculty of Arts & Science to design and select the eligible courses for these requirements.

“[This] means putting the right people in place, and providing proper support and resources to implementing a requirement for the long term effectively,” she said.

“I think all universities should follow Murray Sinclair’s call to action he put in the Truth and Reconciliation Report,” Manuel said.

“I think working with Indigenous students and local Indigenous knowledge keepers and elders would help increase our capacity to build a better Canada.  I think the Indigenous Education Week is a really positive step for U of T to take and that more effort needs to be put in these events so they become recognized across Canada,” he said. 

“I think there’s always room for more conversation,” said Strebel.

Music undergraduates to establish independent endowment fund

FMUA hopes to use ethical divestment returns for student projects

Music undergraduates to establish independent endowment fund

The Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) is seeking to establish an endowment fund independent of U of T. The fund is set to launch in September 2016.

The initiative features two main short-term objectives. According to the official proposal for the fund, it was contrived “to improve the co-curricular experience of the Faculty of Music undergraduate students.”

The proposal states that “the principle of the fund can be spent on capital projects such as the construction of student space in the future.”

The plan is for $120,000 to be invested into the fund each year at a rate of $200 per student. The interest rate of six per cent could then help reduce other fees incurred by the FMUA.

According to Mathias Memmel, FMUA co-president, the decision to establish an endowment fund separate from the university is consistent with the society’s mission. “The problem with doing it through the university is that you don’t actually retain the funds, they are no longer the assets of the corporation — really it’s a donation to the university that you have some say over.”

Memmel believes that giving a third-party the final say on where students’ money is invested is inappropriate, noting that “for [the FMUA], we see it as an infringement on our autonomy as a student society and we want to be sure that we are keeping those funds in trust on the behalf of the students.”

The FMUA is striving for complete autonomy with respect to the endowment fund, in order to best serve the interests of students.  “We have to be absolutely accountable to our membership and how we spend the money,” said Memmel.

The FMUA is a supporter of ethical divestment and is looking to create a stock portfolio that reflects this. Memmel goes on to explain that “U of T has an incredible return on its endowment find — upwards of six per cent sometimes — but you have to balance that with your morals.”

“If this money is being used to subsidize our mental health and wellness counselor, our study spaces, or the café — it can’t be on the backs of cultural genocide across the world,” Memmel added.

Future projects

The FMUA hopes to use the returns to power its initiatives aimed at improving student life. This year, a writing centre solely for music students was created and a tutoring program staffed by graduate students was organized to provide extra help with lecture material. Future plans include recruitment of a Mental Health and Wellness Counselor to help cater to the special needs of music students, as well as a student-run café in the lobby of the main building.

“The building is on its last legs,” said Memmel; “it was designed for 400 people and there are about 1,000 people working out of this space right now and so part of it that there is a shortage of some very key things.” Practice rooms, student lounge space, and meeting spaces for smaller clubs are a high priority, with the prospect of a need for a new building in sight.

Currently, these initiatives are funded using the student levy fund which collected nearly $525,000 last year and holds $700,000 with the dean from previous years. Induced by the FMUA, the heavy student levy fees were collected to offset improvement costs, but were never put to use. The endowment fund “is a way of long-term reducing the burden [of the levy fees],” Memmel said.

Exit exams at participating universities to begin in the fall

U of T not among institutions affected

Exit exams at participating universities to begin in the fall

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) is looking for colleges and universities to participate in a pilot project that will test incoming students with a 90-minute online assessment of literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills. They plan to administer the same test to the cohort when they graduate. 

While the test will not be required for admission or graduation from an institution, the Education and Skills Online assessment from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development believes that it will reveal whether students end up building the above skills or not.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations, said that U of T will not be participating in the project. “While U of T is a member of the HEQCO Learning Outcomes Assessment Consortium (along with Queen’s, Guelph, and three colleges), U of T is not currently planning to implement a standardized exit exam. We look forward to reviewing the evidence from the pilot projects at other universities,” Blackburn-Evans explained.

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union, believes that these are skills that students should have upon graduation. “If students do not have these skills after a 4 year degree — that is on the institution for failing to provide a learning environment that can foster those skills and it is good that universities are showing signs of wanting to tackle this problem,” he said. “However, I believe that any move to administering a test should be done carefully and be [thoroughly] scrutinized before being implemented.”

Emma Stairs, a fourth-year student at U of T, thinks the tests are a good idea. “I think it would be really good to have these tests because if that’s what the marketing is demanding we should be teaching, training and guiding our students in that direction.”

Stairs expressed doubts about standardized tests in general, though. “I don’t think this [test] would be able to test people for social skills, emotional control and interaction tendencies, which are also all necessary in the [workplace]. People offer all different sorts of things within the job market and it is everyone’s uniqueness, creativity and selfhood that improve the workplace.”

Shihipar shares a similar opinion on the debate over standardized testing: “I agree that the education we receive in university should be better at providing these essential skills — not just for the marketplace, but for good life skills as well. However, a test (even if it has no impact) administered to measure these skills may not be the solution to combating this problem. Standardized tests are not a very holistic way to measure things especially essential life skills. It is conceivable that any test that is made may not accurately capture the skills students have.”

Shihipar added, “It should also be noted that plenty of students at university have these skills. But with a large [number] of university grads in the marketplace and a bad economy, employment is hard to find. That needs to be acknowledged, [it’s] not that students are just impotent.”

Ryerson University students left without access to International Student Identity Cards

Ryerson Students’ Union unable to provide cards due to miscommunication with the CFS

Ryerson University students left without access to International Student Identity Cards

There has been an enquiry as to whether Ryerson University students have been purchasing International Student Identity Cards (ISIC) from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The Ryerson Student Union (RSU) has allegedly been unable to supply them. 

When asked about the inability to provide ISICs to their students, RSU president Andrea Bartlett explained that they have encountered problems with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).   

Bartlett claims that their membership services coordinator at the membership services office (MSO) has been waiting for the CFS to format and fix the system. “She was in contact with someone last semester, who eventually seemed to lose contact with… but emailed them again before the holiday break, and again in the new year. She never received a reply from any CFS representative who is responsible for maintaining the system,” Bartlett said. 

Bartlet added that “shortly before reading week, someone emailed ​our MSO coordinator from CFS asking what wa​s wrong, and ​she​ explained the above story. They said they would come by this past Friday at 4 to check out our laptop/system. They never came.” 

UTSU president Ben Coleman said that the UTSU “does not have the ability to provide ISICs to Ryerson students.”   

According to the ISIC website, members of the CFS may receive their ISIC for free at select issuing offices across the country, including through the UTSU and RSU respectively. For this reason, Bartlett says that she is “unsure why UTSU would charge Ryerson students for ISICs to begin with.” 

The membership services coordinator at the RSU contacted several nearby institutions and travel agencies asking for assistance in providing Ryerson students with ISICs in urgent circumstances. The RSU had been instructing students to go to Travel Cuts, a Toronto-based travel agency, or to contact OCAD or George Brown’s student unions for assistance.

Bartlett stated that she had not heard of any Ryerson students turning to the UTSU for their ISIC. “Neither myself or our MSO Coordinator have heard of students going to U of T to get an ISIC card currently, but if that’s the case we strongly advise them to first reach out to our MSO office,” she said. 

​“As far as we [the RSU] are concerned, we have done everything in our power given that the CFS has sole capacity to fix this situation, with no cooperation or willingness to resolve the issue from the CFS. It is very disappointing that an organization that our members pay into, are not able to receive the services that they pay for,” Bartlett said.

Rajean Hoilett, Chairperson for CFS Ontario, said that the CFS had visited Ryerson to fix their ISIC system. According to Hoilett , the two groups were supposed to meet over the reading week but could not agree on a time. Hoilett told The Varsity in a phone interview that the CFS had been in “constant communication and very accommodating” with the RSU.

This article has been updated to include a comment from Rajean Hoilett,  CFS Ontario Chairperson.

UniTSC sweeps SCSU elections

Sole slate ready to take office

UniTSC sweeps SCSU elections

Election results for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) executive were announced last week, ending a month-long campaign. All of the victorious candidates belonged to the unopposed UniTSC slate.

Jessica Kirk, who currently serves as vice president, equity for the SCSU, was elected president for the upcoming year.

Kirk told The Varsity that she is excited to continue contributing to a long history of student activism, citing the new Ontario budget, which largely eliminates tuition fees for students from low-income families, as an example. 

“I am excited to work with our members at UTSC and students across the province to continue to make university increasingly accessible,” she said. “[We] are all excited to work together with students on bringing new campaigns, services, and events they would like to see from their student union.”

Kirk also explained that she wants to find new ways to engage members. “One of our goals is to build capacity at UTSC,” said Kirk. “The Scarborough Campus is a commuter school, which makes it difficult for students to get involved on campus or feel like they are a part of a campus community.” 

Sitharsana Srithas was elected vice president, external. Srithas served as the Tamil Students’ Association president for the past two years. 

“I am truly excited to work with students on making UTSC a better campus for all,” said Srithas. Srithas said that she wants to see a shuttle bus connecting the UTSC and UTSG to increase accessibility. She also intends to have more options in terms of mental health resources, for those at the Health & Wellness Centre.

Thomas Wood is the incoming vice president, academics & university affairs after having served as an associate to his predecessor.   

“I am most excited to start working towards a more accessible academic environment at UTSC by opening up spaces where students can come together and constructively talk about our academic experiences, and ways that these experiences can be improved on,” said Wood.

Wood explained that he hopes to see more spaces where students can come together and discuss academic experiences, as well as work to produce more frequent academic fora and exit surveys after dropping courses.

Nafisa Mohamed, who formerly served as a co-president of the African Students’ Association, will be taking over as vice-president equity. Mohamed spent this year as the associate to the current vice president equity. 

Mohamed told The Varsity, “The current and previous vp equities have worked on some amazing campaigns that I hope to continue to work on. I’m very excited to work with the various student groups on social justice issues as well as work toward advocating that the university make more socially responsible investments.”

Correction (February 29, 2016, 8:03 pm): A previous version of this article reported that Nafisa Mohamed is currently the co-president of the African Student Association. In fact, she is the former co-president and served in 2014–2015. The Varsity regrets the error.