Streeters

Do you feel safe on campus?

Streeters

Athina

fourth-year, biology

I feel pretty safe on campus. I do have some evening classes that don’t finish until 9:00 or 10:00 pm, but I always feel okay — even when it’s dark… [T]he emergency telephones around campus do look a bit run down so I don’t know how reliable they would be if I ever needed one.

Seun

Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8958
first-year, chemical engineering
I definitely feel safe on campus. I play on the varsity basketball team and, although our practices end late, I’m not too concerned about walking by myself. I feel comfortable on campus.

Miranda

Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8966
first-year, commerce
I haven’t experienced any problems on campus. I definitely feel safer walking through campus with a friend, and if I’m walking late at night I usually stick to the main roads.

Alexandra

Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8968
fourth-year, neuroscience and pharmacology
I generally feel comfortable and safe on campus. Most of my classes finish late at night, but I’m never worried about walking through campus… I haven’t really seen any difference in the last few years in terms of safety on campus, either.

Abbas

Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8973
fourth-year, global health and immunology
I feel safe on campus, even at night. The recent attack of a professor doesn’t really rattle me too much… I don’t know anyone who’s had problems on campus, really — I haven’t had any in the four years I’ve been here.

Umang

Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8976
first-year, general science
I definitely feel safe, and people are very nice on campus. I have to come through campus after my late classes, but I haven’t had any problems. I usually have someone to walk with, and, compared to other places, I think the campus is very safe.

Lisa

Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8983
third-year, political science
Apart from the racoons late at night, I usually feel safe on campus. I have late classes that don’t finish until 9:00 or 10:00 pm, but I always feel comfortable when I’m walking home. I’m not too worried about the attack on the professor – there will always be crazy people and that kind of attack could really happen anywhere.

Ines

Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8980
third-year, political science
The U of T campus definitely feels safer than my own campus back in Paris — I always feel safe when I’m walking through campus. I don’t know of anyone who has had to contact the authorities about problems concerning their safety on campus.

Fashion on campus: September 25, 2014

U of T students and staff describe what makes their style unique

 

Emily Fitzpatrick

Fashion Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8877

Curatorial assistant at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, U of T alumnus

“I [try] to incorporate vintage pieces as much as I can — I find I dress pretty preppy during the fall.”

Kourosh Houshmand

Fashion Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8898
Second-year student, ethics, society, and law, Trinity College

“I try and add something quirky to what I might consider a mundane look — I would say it’s usually my socks.”

Maggie Cheung

Fashion Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8906
Second-year student, contemporary Asian studies and psychology, University College

“I like to mix functionality with pieces I like visually. I love bright colours and anything with pockets. These shorts are the best because they act as a skirt and they have these pockets.”

Maryama Ahmee

Fashion Streeters_Jay Bawar__IMG_8916
First-year student, thinking about pursuing international relations, New College

“I prepared this outfit the day before, actually. I try to incorporate vintage, which honestly usually means raiding my aunt’s closet.”

Queer Orientation fosters community

Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, student groups hold over 30 events across 10 days

Queer Orientation fosters community

Between September 19 and September 29, Queer Orientation brought new and returning students together through events at all three University of Toronto campuses. Queer Orientation invited students to engage in a variety of events exploring sexual and gender diversity and learn about getting involved on campus. 

This year’s programming included open houses, meet-and-greets, and queer yoga. There were also new, innovative events such as GenderPoo, an art-based exploration of gender. 

A team of staff and students from many on- and off-campus groups, including OUT@UTM, SC:OUT, LGBTOUT, and the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office (SGDO), worked together to organize the events.

“Diverse and inclusive communities”

According to Haley O’Shaughnessy, president of Rainbow Trinity, one of the main goals of Queer Orientation is “[allowing] first-years to become accustomed to the university environment before they get involved with the many queer clubs on campus.” For example, the Campus-to-Village tour and Queer Tea in Public Spaces helped students locate places to hang out and socialize in a safe and supportive environment, as well as learn queer and trans history within the university context.

Allison Burgess, the university’s sexual & gender diversity officer, said that Queer Orientation plays a critical role in building a strong university community. “Queer Orientation is important for students to help build LGTBQ communities across our three campuses and to help foster diverse and inclusive communities,” Burgess said, adding: “There are lots of events on the week’s program where all students can attend and learn something, such as meet-and-greet events and movie nights where anyone can come and listen, learn, and participate in LGTBQ-orientated programming.”

In addition to their support of Queer Orientation, the SGDO offers a number of services for students, faculty, and staff at all three campuses, including the Queer Students of Colour Discussion Group; the LGBTQ Students Group, which brings LGBTQ international students together for monthly social and educational events; and training and educational programs. The SGDO is also involved in the Washroom Inclusivity Project, which aims to provide clear and updated information about the university’s current washroom facilities.

LGBTQ advocacy

Originally founded as the University of Toronto Homophile Association in 1969, LGBTOUT, the oldest LGBTQ student group in Canada, also participated in this year’s events. According to Ben Donato-Woodger, the group’s public relations executive, LGBTOUT aims to be the major unifying queer group on campus. The group runs a drop-in center for LGBTQ students and engages in advocacy and event planning on campus.

Donato-Woodger said that Queer Orientation continues to attract attendees from a variety of backgrounds. “You get everybody. You meet people coming out for the first time in the safety of progressive Toronto. You meet people there to make friends. You meet activists. You meet people wanting to get involved on campus,” he said.

“The university has both a unique responsibility to advance equity as a centre for education, but also because of the opportunity it has to shape students positively at a formative time in their lives. Many people come out for the first time in the safety of progressive Toronto,” he added.

“Advancing equity”

Building an engaging community where experiences and struggles are shared and discussed was a central theme throughout Queer Orientation. 

O’Shaughnessy said that, to overcome systematic forms of oppression, students, staff, and faculty must challenge heteronormative cultures and gender binaries within colleges, classrooms, and social spaces. For example, during Queer Orientation, participants put their preferred pronouns on nametags. 

The Queer Students of Colour discussion also invited students to challenge racism, homophobia, and transphobia through discussions on how sexuality and race affects lives and communities. 

Although pleased with progress made on campus in the past few years, Donato-Woodger said that the university must still actively work towards the development of a more equitable and inclusive atmosphere at U of T by challenging homophobia and transphobia, as well as sexism and racism.

“I hope LGBTOUT can continue growing, bringing students together, and advancing equity,” he added.

With files from Iris Robin

AGM items referred to UTSU board

Legal controversy may prevent motions from reaching UTSU AGM for membership vote

AGM items referred to UTSU board

A number of motions proposed as agenda items for the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) have been referred to the Board of Directors for further discussion. The motions in question are a proposed alternative Board of Directors structure in light of the Articles of Continuance and two amendments to these articles.

There is also a motion on the table to move the AGM from Thursday, October 30 to Wednesday, October 29. If the Board of Directors approves this motion, the AGM date will be changed in accordance with the UTSU’s bylaws, which require that notice of the AGM must be given at least 21 days in advance of the meeting.

Ryan Gomes, vice-president, academic at the Engineering Society (EngSoc) drafted the alternative Board of Directors structure proposal. The proposal keeps the college and faculty definitions as they currently are and requests to enshrine these definitions in the new charter documents, created as per the Articles of Continuance, which govern the UTSU’s transition from the Canada Corporations Act to the new Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. 

Additionally, Gomes’s proposal stipulates the creation of an equity committee, chaired by the UTSU vice-president, equity. This committee would be designed to address the desire for representation of marginalized communities. 

The proposed committee is composed of 12 positions — many of which would represent the same students as the initial board restructuring plan — including a LGBTQ issues committee member and a racialized issues committee member. The committee would be required to provide recommendations on any suggested policy changes that would affect members of that community.

Gomes said that he sought legal counsel to ensure that his motion complied with bylaws and procedures that govern the UTSU. 

“At the July board meeting, the UTSU brought in their legal counsel. They actually stated at that meeting that changes to the Articles of Continuance should go directly to the AGM and should not need any approval. So that was the assumption I worked on, and I just wanted to make sure that the motion that I drafted was not going against any bylaws and that we dotted our Is and crossed our Ts,” said Gomes.

However, according to the minutes of a Policy & Procedures Committee meeting on September 16, 2014, Yolen Bollo-Kamara, UTSU president, claimed that lawyers have stated that Gomes’s proposal is “highly inadvisable.” Bollo-Kamara said that she will recommend that the motion be defeated at the meeting of the board based on the recommendations from legal counsel, as recorded in the minutes of another Policy & Procedures Committee meeting dated September 22, 2014. 

The minutes of both meetings were contained in a UTSU Board of Directors package dated September 29, 2014.

Two motions submitted by UTSU vice-president, university affairs Pierre Harfouche were also referred to the Board of Directors: one that would disallow cross-campaigning between executive candidates and director candidates and another that would forbid anyone who was not a U of T student, alumnus, donor, or staff member from campaigning on behalf of the candidates. 

Harfouche defended the motions, saying that the first motion would make the process more fair for independent director candidates who have limited campaign funds. “This proposal will advantage people who will represent the community, and not people who have more friends U of T–wide who can give them money to run this campaign,” Harfouche said. 

Bollo-Kamara said that she does not agree with the principle to restrict members’ rights to associate with others if they choose to, saying that it helps the membership to understand who would work well together.

“It’s no secret that Ryerson is five steps away. It’s no secret that, yeah, if you brought people from other campuses to help out in the election, you would have a lot more support… It’s just not right for people to come here and pretend they understand the issues on this campus or the complexities of the college system,” said Harfouche of his second motion.

Other motions submitted to the AGM agenda include one moved by Kaleem Hawa, chair of the Trinity College Meeting, Rowan DeBues, president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, and Benjamin Coleman, student governor. 

According to Hawa, the motion proposes that all potential members of the Student Commons Management Committee immediately declare conflicts of interests and club affiliations, meaning that UTSU-appointed candidates will have to declare any connection to campus clubs — in the form of executive membership or endorsements — and recuse themselves from voting on space allocation for those organizations.

“Nobody likes paying money into a project they aren’t seeing progress on,” said DeBues, adding: “However, it is obvious that, given the current political atmosphere, having a student run, multi-million dollar facility could just present another area of disagreement, conflict, and abuse. As such, we wanted to preemptively work to make sure that the management of the building is as transparent and democratic as possible,” he added.

Although the University Affairs Board has approved the operating agreement for the Student Commons, the Executive Committee of the University of Toronto’s Governing Council has postponed approval pending the resolution of the ongoing fee diversion conflict.

Sandra Hudson, UTSU executive director, said that all three motions sent to the Board of Directors were also forwarded to legal counsel for review.

The Board of Directors is scheduled to meet on Monday, September 29 to discuss the motions.

Vying for the student vote

Olivia Chow, Doug Ford, John Tory discuss youth unemployment, public transit, housing

Vying for the student vote

Toronto residents will soon head to the polls to elect a new mayor and city council. Of the 60 prospective candidates, Olivia Chow, Doug Ford, and John Tory are the lead contenders for the city’s top job.

Ford entered the mayoral race on September 12 after his brother, incumbent mayor Rob Ford, was diagnosed with malignant liposarcoma.

The Varsity spoke with Olivia Chow and John Tory to get their perspective on student-related issues, including transit, youth unemployment, and affordable housing. Doug Ford did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

Candidate perspectives

John Tory, a former member of provincial parliament and head of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party from 2004 to 2009, previously ran for mayor of Toronto in 2003 and lost the race to David Miller in a close election. Tory’s private sector experience includes time as a reporter, lawyer, broadcaster, and businessman.

Tory noted that students are critically important to the city of Toronto. “These 300,000 post-secondary students are the future generators of cultural and economic life in this city,” he said. 

Tory also recognized the challenges young people face when looking for a job. “Youth unemployment is at an all-time high, and that’s a massive concern for students,” he said. Tory pledged to double the number of companies in the Partnership to Advance Youth Employment, a joint initiative between private sector employers and the City of Toronto, to create thousands of new jobs for young people and make it easier for them to connect with businesses. He also committed to coordinate and consolidate Toronto’s youth employment services.

A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report found that, in 2013, the unemployment rate for Ontario youth aged 15–24 ranged between 16–17.1 per cent. The national unemployment rate for youth aged 15–24 ranged between 13.5–14.5 per cent over the same time period.

Olivia Chow served as a Toronto city councillor from 1991 to 2005, and New Democratic Party member of parliament for the Trinity-Spadina riding from 2006 to 2014. She resigned her seat last March in order to run for mayor. 

“Students are our current and future leaders,” said Chow. “They are community builders, who hold our future prosperity and quality of life in their hands. I know it’s a difficult market for jobs, and education is expensive,” she added.

Chow emphasized the importance of promoting economic growth in the city. “We have a growing and vital environment for new business and investment. I will support this through revamping Enterprise Toronto to make it easier to find support, multi-lingual services, and mentorship,” she said. 

Chow promised to consolidate Toronto’s economic and non-governmental organizations, such as the Toronto Region Board of Trade and Toronto Financial Services Association, into one body. She also committed to hiring young people directly for certain city intiatives, such as tree-planting, and requiring companies with large city contracts to hire and train young people.
Ford, a former city councillor, has released few details on his campaign platform, but said it will be similar to that of his brother. “Why do I want to be Mayor of Toronto? Simply put, I want to carry forward the agenda that Rob [Ford] and I started together,” Ford said in a fundraising email, as reported in the Toronto Sun.

Ford’s campaign platform centres on keeping taxes low and cutting red tape. He also committed to investing $30 million a year in Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) service improvements, building the Yonge Relief Line, and completing the Sheppard subway line.

On transit

Besides housing, some students also cited transit and bicycles lanes as two of the most crucial election issues. 

The TTC is the third largest transit system in North America, after Mexico City and New York City, with 10,132 service stops served by vehicles in the Greater Toronto Area. TTC ridership has increased yearly for the past decade.

“Residents in this city note that many cities — ones far bigger and more populated than Toronto — have more efficient transit models and wonder why Toronto can’t get with it,” said Aliya Bhatia, a third-year international relations student who has volunteered for the Olivia Chow campaign.

Luis Lopez, a second-year political science and economics student, agreed. “I use the TTC often, and I am constantly disappointed with the service. As a young person, the most valuable resource I have is time, and the TTC is making me lose that resource,” Lopez said.

Mrinalini Dayal, a recent graduate, also called on mayoral candidates to expand PRESTO card service throughout the city’s transit network. PRESTO, an electronic fare payment system, is only available in 14 subway stations.

Chow has outlined a number of transit plans that specifically address Toronto students. “I will invest in bus services to help get students to York [University] faster. I’ll invest in track signal renovations to make Line 1 run more efficiently for Ryerson [University], University of Toronto, and OCAD [University] students. And I am the only candidate with a plan to provide a dedicated above-ground rail stop for the 12,000 full-time and 28,000 part-time students at Centennial College,” Chow said.

Chow also hopes to streamline the process for obtaining a student TTC pass. “I will give campuses the ability to sell all fare media and print TTC Post-Secondary Student IDs. Rather than having to go to Sherbourne station, you’ll be able to get your ID on campus,” she said.

Chow has also promised to expand Toronto’s cycling infrastructure, planning to build 200 kilometres of new bike lanes across the city. “Whether by foot, by car, by transit, or by bike — I support making it easier for you to get where you want to,” Chow stated.

Tory echoed the importance of bicycle lane expansion. “Toronto’s cycling infrastructure needs a boost. The number of cyclists in the city has grown, but infrastructure has not kept pace,” he said.

Tory’s expansion plan consists of a network of separated bike lanes in the city. “I support the Adelaide and Richmond pilot project to get a better understanding of how additional bike lanes changes [sic] to the flow of traffic,” Tory added.

Many of Toronto’s post-secondary institutions are located downtown, which Tory said poses a problem to students who have to balance affordable living with accessibility to their place of study. “SmartTrack will connect Toronto’s many surrounding areas to the city’s center, thereby making our city more functional and affordable for students,” Tory said of his transit plan.

According to Tory, his SmartTrack transit plan is a surface subway that utilizes existing GO Transit tracks. It includes 22 stations, spans 53 kilometers, and is designed to be completed in seven years.

“SmartTrack will be built on 90 per cent existing track, and provide all day, two-way, rapid-transit service across the city, not just the downtown, ” he said.

Basil Southey, a first-year student, also called on candidates to address the issue of affordable housing.

Covenant House, Canada’s largest homeless youth agency, estimates that there are at least 10,000 homeless youth in Toronto during any given year. Estimates also peg the mortality rate of homeless youth at up to 40 times the mortality rate of housed youth.

“Transit and affordable housing are the two most important factors to look at to give youth a chance to live and work in Toronto,” Southey said.

Student skepticism

Emily Tsui, president of the Association of Political Science Students, expressed concern with the various transit promises of the candidates. “Even if the political will is there, funding concerns need to be further addressed in a more direct and realistic manner,” Tsui said.

Tsui also expressed concern with the ability of candidates to deal with what she called the “political stagnation of city council,” which she said has let “gridlock and commute times accumulate over the years.” 

However, Tsui was optimistic about the impact the election could have on voter engagement in Toronto. “Rob Ford’s term in office has undoubtedly prompted political opinions from individuals who previously did not have one, and those who had not seen a reason to be involved with politics are now getting involved. If anything, I think there is hope that the voter turnout will increase, and new and upcoming voters will be excited from this election to continue their engagement with democracy,” she added.

Bhatia said she was unsure whether the increased interest in the election would affect youth voters. “I find that with youth, there is often less tendency to vote, or more jaded behavior despite how active and engaged we are in the communities we belong to — whether that be campus clubs [or] colleges,” Bhatia said, adding: “It’s important to note that — despite your thoughts or indifference or belief towards the democratic system — that your vote is your voice.

The municipal election is scheduled for October 27.

Plebiscite, election amendments on the table

Amendments at UTSU board meeting include power to override the EPC, mandatory CRO approval of endorsements

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has sent two sweeping amendments to the Elections Procedure Code (EPC) to the Board of Directors for ratification. The amendments, if passed, will give the Elections & Referenda Committee absolute discretion to override the EPC in circumstances beyond the UTSU’s control, in order to uphold the spirit and principles of the elections. 

Additionally, the amendments will require all candidate endorsements to be approved by the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) before being made known to the public.

Kaleem Hawa, chair of the Trinity College Meeting, expressed concern with the amendments. “You will be, in essence, providing broad and wide-reaching authority over the outcome of elections in times of stress and confusion to the very people who have enjoyed near-complete incumbency for the last decade of student politics,” Hawa said.

Hawa also expressed concern with potential for abuse of the system, citing allegedly unclear wording and lack of explanation as to when the CRO may block an endorsement or use it as grounds for a penalty. 

“Given that CROs in the past have been known to show bias in favour of the UTSU with their distribution of demerit points, this provides yet another avenue to entrench the UTSU’s incumbency and limit democracy at U of T,” he added.

The amendments were contained in the Board of Directors package for Monday, September 29. The 197-page document was sent out four days before the Board of Directors meeting, with the minutes of the ERC meeting among its contents. The package is dated Friday, September 22, although September 22 was a Monday.

Teresa Nguyen, president of the Engineering Society, expressed her frustration at the short time frame between the meeting date and when the package was sent out. 

“To be quite frank, with the engineering schedule, we have a lot of classes. I think it’s actually unacceptable that the UTSU think it’s appropriate to release the package the Friday before a Monday meeting,” Nguyen said, adding: “It gives students no time to adequately look anything over. It’s inadequate.”

The package also included 16 questions for a plebiscite on the proposed Board of Directors structure to be held in advance of the Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, October 29. The questions are structured as follows: “Do you believe that international students should have direct representation to the University of Toronto Students’ Union board of directors through an individual who is elected specifically to work on issues affecting international students?” This question is repeated 12 times, with “international” replaced by each one of the 12 groups on the proposed Board of Directors.

The question pertaining to college and professional faculty–based student society representation is structured as follows: “Do you believe that college-based student societies should represent themselves to the University of Toronto Students’ Union through a committee?” The proposed board of directors structure does not include representation for individual colleges and allocates three seats for professional faculties. The UTSU did not respond to requests for comment.

Student Commons approval may soon be put to Governing Council

Project previously postponed pending ongoing fee diversion controversy

Student Commons approval may soon be put to Governing Council

Approval of the proposed Student Commons may soon be put to Governing Council.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, said that provost Cheryl Regehr will “be recommending to the Executive Committee that it consider whether the time has come to put the Student Commons Agreement on the agenda for consideration by Governing Council this fall.”

The Student Commons is a planned student-run building that would be home to campus clubs, eateries, multi-faith spaces, and work and meeting spaces. The building, which will be located at 230 College Street, was originally slated to open in fall 2015.

St. George students currently pay construction costs for the space as part of their annual fees. The $8.20 fee was approved in a referendum held in 2007. According to Pierre Harfouche, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) vice-president, university affairs, the universiy holds all funds for the building.

However, final approval by Governing Council, which is required for construction to commence, was postponed in June 2013. Blackburn-Evans said that this was motivated by the need for the UTSU and various divisional student societies to resolve outstanding disputes.

The disputes revolve around what Misak referred to in a 2013 report as “an ongoing series of complaints and frustrations on the part of some divisional student societies towards the University of Toronto Students’ Union.”  

Three of these societies, the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), and the Engineering Society (EngSoc) previously held referenda among their membership that supported no longer paying fees to the UTSU.  

Concerns with progress

Student societies have already raised a number of concerns with the project, including the planned allocation of space within the commons.

“The main concern is that of neutrality,” said VUSAC resident Rowan DeBues, adding: “Given how negative relationships have been with the UTSU, I see the Student Commons as another potential area of conflict if it is mishandled.”

Representatives of the UTSU expressed optimism that the Student Commons would be completed. 

“The Commons will be built due to obligations that both the university and the students’ union must uphold,” said Cameron Wathey, vice-president, internal and services, adding:  “At this point, we have been discussing with clubs what the plans currently are, and ensuring that they have an opportunity to voice their concerns about the lack of space on campus.”

Representatives from various divisional societies were less optimistic. “The issue is far from being sorted out,” said Kaleem Hawa, chair of the TCM.

“The UTSU’s drive to remove college and professional faculty representation from their Board of Directors and to potentially remove online voting from the upcoming election is a signal that they don’t take their responsibilities as our student union seriously,” he added.

Hawa also criticized the UTSU for its “unwillingness to act in an accountable and democratic fashion.”

EngSoc president Teresa Nguyen echoed Hawa’s sentiment, saying that the UTSU has “still made no efforts to acknowledge EngSoc’s requests for more transparent operations back in 2010.” 

DeBues said that the Student Commons fee is especially frustrating for Victoria College students, who also still pay towards the college’s Goldring Student Centre as well.

“Progress is being made, though not through the UTSU… We have talked with the vice-provost, Jill Matus, and Governing Council in trying to improve the situation,” DeBues said.

The path forward

Some students have taken steps to help expedite the planning process. For example, Hawa submitted a motion to the UTSU Annual General Meeting (AGM) that would require all potential members of the Student Commons management committee to declare conflicts of interest, including club affiliations.

“This would mean that UTSU-appointed candidates will have to declare any connection to campus clubs — in the form of executive membership or endorsements — and recuse themselves from voting on space allocation for those organizations. This should make space allocation fair and representative,” he said.

DeBues and Harfouche also called for more student engagement to resolve outstanding issues. “It is your money, and you have every right to see returns on your investment,” DeBues said.

“Students looking at moving this project forward should get informed on the root causes of the issues behind the approval of the student commons,” Harfouche added, calling on students to attend the UTSU AGM.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to provost Cheryl Regehr as provost Cheryl Misak.

UTAM’s hedge fund investments under scrutiny

Around 255.8 million dollars of the university’s money invested through hedge funds

UTAM’s hedge fund investments under scrutiny

Recently, a woman ate her fiancé’s last ice cream bar in Orillia, Ontario. When she returned to the convenience store to replace it, she picked up a Lotto Max ticket and went on to become a multimillionaire.

George Luste, former president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association, describes success with hedge funds as likely as “winning the lotto.”

For him, the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM), a wholly owned subsidiary that actively manages the university’s pension funds, endowment, and other short- and long-term investments, is taking a risky bet by putting their faith in hedge funds. 

Previously, the university’s investments were passively managed by the university’s treasury department and supervised by a volunteer committee.

The University of Toronto’s latest annual financial statement points out that UTAM has around $255.8 million invested in or through hedge funds, mainly in government and corporate bonds and emerging markets equities.

Hedge funds — investment vehicles that pool capital from a number of investors — bet on and against bonds, securities, and other investment instruments, but are extremely complex.

“Hedge funds cannot guarantee returns and are like buying a lotto ticket and hoping to win. But someone loses money always, and, really, how many winners do we have? In such investments, the only people that make money are the managers,” said Luste.

Luste is not the only one who feels that way.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS) recently decided to divest the  $4 billion that it has invested in hedge funds. Ted Eliopoulos, interim chief investment officer of CALPERS, said the decision to eliminate 24 hedge funds and six hedge fund-of-funds wasn’t related to investment performance. 

According to CALPERS figures, CALPERS paid $135 million in fees in the fiscal year ended June 30 for hedge fund investments that earned a 7.1 per cent return, contributing 0.4 per cent to its total return.

“Hedge funds are very volatile and don’t have any government regulation since it’s a commercial contract between two parties. But who will hedge against these hedge funds?” said Bharat Singh, a certified financial planner in Toronto.

Still, UTAM is confident of its investment strategy, with the Long-Term Capital Appreciation Pool (LTCAP) posting a net return of 14.6 per cent last year. The LTCAP posted just a one per cent return two years back.

William Moriarty, UTAM president and CEO, said that UTAM managers are taking a strategic call on investments, and hedge funds are one option for them.

“We haven’t made specific allocations for hedge funds, but it depends on manager to manager — they decide on what basis investment is to be done,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty was the fourth-highest paid public servant in Ontario in 2013, earning a salary of $772,547. David Naylor, U of T’s former president, earned $388,401 in 2013.

A comparison of U of T’s endowment plan return with its American counterparts reveals relatively significant differences in returns. For example, the Yale University endowment fund reported a 20.2 per cent investment return for the last fiscal year. Harvard University’s endowment reported a 15.4 per cent gain for fiscal 2014, while the University of Pennsylvania was up 17.5 per cent.  

Luste also critcized the university for the fees that it pays to fund managers. UTAM paid out over $14 million in investment-related management fees to external managers in 2014.

Recently, UTAM has also increased its emphasis on investments in emerging markets. According to a recent report to the university’s Business Board, LTCAP invested around 10 per cent of its total funds — over $178 million — in emerging markets last year, but has lost over 1.8 per cent this year.   

A recent research paper from the International Monetary Fund points to a slowdown in the emerging markets, saying that the weakness could be a “prelude for more modest growth rates in the years to come.” 

A comparison in the research paper notes that economic expansion rates in more than 90 per cent of emerging markets are lower than before the 2008 turmoil. As a group, the emerging markets are growing at just five per cent, compared to about seven per cent before the financial crisis struck in 2008. 

Nonetheless, Moriarty is confident of his strategy thus far.

“We are looking at higher returns from the emerging markets and will increase our investment around 10 per cent there,” he said.