Tuition without representation

International students protest inability to run for Governing Council

Tuition without representation

Yelize Beygo knew that her Governing Council nomination would be rejected instantly. Nonetheless, the second-year student filled in the required form and went through the process to protest the fact that those without Canadian citizenship are barred from serving on the University of Toronto’s highest decision-making body.

“I think the question is, why should I not be able to serve on the Governing Council?” says Beygo, who has Swiss and Turkish citizenship and is a vice president of the International Students Association (iNSA).

“I pay my fees as any other student in the university, and the duties of the Governing Council are not things I cannot do,” she explains.

The U of T Governing Council manages most of the university’s affairs from budgets and academic programs to student life and tuition fees. However, it is the Ontario government, not the university, which sets the rules that prevent Beygo and other non-citizens from serving.

The Varsity spoke with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, which provided information on how any changes to the governance structure could be made, but did not say whether they would make such changes.

“The administration agrees with the merits of pursuing this important issue, and has begun to consult with legal counsel and with relevant staff within the Ontario Government to do so,” says Louis Charpentier, secretary of the Governing Council. “The question of such restrictions — not just for international students but for all governors — is a complex one and the University is actively engaged in exploring options to respond to it.”

Beygo met the rule with surprise. “I just found it unreal that in a country like Canada (regarded as a leader in human rights) and an institution like the University of Toronto (claiming to have the biggest international student body of the country), students were still excepted from running at the university’s highest democratic decision-making body based on their citizenship,” she says.

She describes her past experience in Turkey going to a school where students had no say, adding, “I think taking part in the decision-making process of any institution is one of the greatest chance people have here.”


There are 50 voting members of the Governing Council, with eight seats reserved for students. Nazar says that this figure represents one of the highest proportions of students on a governing council among Ontario’s publicly assisted universities.

While the 50 voting members comprise the highest decision-making body at the university, much of the day-to-day policymaking is handled by the various Governing Council boards and committees, for which non-citizens are eligible. Charpentier says that these can be an alternative avenue for non-citizens to participate in U of T governance.

“It is also essential to note that there are more than 70 seats on the Governing Council’s boards and committees for students. None of these requires that the member be a Canadian citizen,” he says.


There are over 10,000 international students at U of T and their undergraduate tuition can range from over $32,000 to nearly $36,000 per year. The Governing Council sets the Tuition Fee Policy, which covers advocacy, fee revenue, fee differentiation, fee level commitment, and monitoring. Permanent residents, who pay domestic tuition, are also barred from serving on the Governing Council.

International tuition fees are not specifically addressed in the policy. Instead, the fee differentiation section pertains to variations between programmes and faculties.

Cameron Wathey, vice-president, internal and services with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), names tuition fees as a key reason why non-Canadian citizens should be given space on Governing Council. “[We] are also students at U of T and are not able to run for the highest decision making body which regulates our tuition fees,” Wathey says. “As of right now they are unregulated, so they could increase every single year, and we would just like to have a say in that body.”

Though Wathey is confident that the university administration is doing what they can to get the law changed, he also thinks students should continue to take action. “[I]t will only help if we as students ourselves take a stand and do what we can to pressure the government to make a change,” says Wathey.

He adds that there will be a motion for the UTSU to take an official position on the issue at a board of directors meeting at the end of this month.

Ujwal Ganguly, a second-year U of T international student from India, says that he would not run for a Governing Council position himself, but would like the option to do so. “I’m a bit perturbed that they do make decisions that affect us, and I’d like to know that I can run if I want to,” Ganguly says. “I honestly think there should be at least one person representing international students on Governing Council.”

Eleanor Laffling, a third-year U of T student and permanent resident, finds it odd that permanent residents cannot serve on the Governing Council, even though they pay domestic tuition fees.

“I just don’t understand how I can be considered a domestic student like a Canadian citizen, but then when it comes to [the Governing Council], I am no longer treated like a citizen,” she says.

Mary Githumbi, president and founder of iNSA, says that changing this rule is an important step toward making the university accountable to the international students it works so hard to recruit.

“We’d want to bring up the topic of healthcare and de-regulated school fees [at Governing Council] because these are the main issues that affect international students,” says Githumbi, continuing, “[T]herefore, the International Student’s Association is backing Yeliz.”


The Governing Council is regulated by the University of Toronto Act of 1971, a piece of Ontario Government legislation. Section 2, part 4 of the Act states that “[n]o person shall serve as a member of the Governing Council unless he is a Canadian citizen.”

According to May Nazar, a spokesperson with Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, a change to the act would require that a bill be proposed by a member of the provincial legislature and be voted on.

While private entities like U of T can typically propose legislation, in this case the university administration can do no more than lobby the government on the issue. Susan Froom, vice-president of the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students and a member of the Governing Council, says that any changes to the law could involve a very lengthy process.

“International students, understandably wishing to hasten this change, have applied to run for Governing Council,” says Froom, adding that their nominations being declined is simply the university following the law.

According to Susan Froom, U of T is one of only five post-secondary institutions in the province which is prohibited by law from having non-Canadian citizens sit on its governing body. (The others are Western, Ryerson, Wilfred Laurier, and McMaster.) 

Nazar states that the various university acts, which determine students’ eligibility for Governing Council positions, were passed at different times. Therefore, Nazar says, the act in question is a product of the time in which it was passed and reflects the political concerns of that time.

“The last major changes to the University of Toronto Act occurred in the early seventies, when Canadian nationalism was prominent,” Nazar says.

Where the university meets the hospital

U of T, Toronto teaching hospitals maintain unique relationship in teaching, learning

Where the university meets the hospital

Last year, the average admission GPA of students in the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine was 3.94. Two-hundred and fifty-nine students enrolled in the first-year MD program.

There are nine teaching hospitals that are fully affiliated with the university, five of which are within one kilometre of the Faculty of Medicine, which is also the largest medical school in Canada.

All of this can paint an intimidating picture for prospective medical students, a sentiment that Ali Damji, a second-year student at the medical school and vice-president, external affairs of the Medical Society, says is very common.

“It seems very overwhelming when you encounter U of T and you see how vast its networks are,” says Damji.

Yet the “vast networks” Damji describes may be the most distinctive aspect of medical education in Toronto, while also having a profound impact on patient care and research advancements.

To Damji, it is a major incentive to attend U of T medical school in the first place. “I think it’s an enormous strength of the program,” he says.

An integrated system

The Medical Sciences Building on the southeast side of King’s College Circle is just the tip of the iceberg in the University of Toronto’s health web. The university is an integral member in a network of institutions called Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network (TAHSN), which includes all of the university’s affiliated hospitals as full members, in addition to four associate level institutions.

According to TAHSN’s website, members of the network participate in healthcare and biomedical research and teach undergraduate and post-graduate medical and healthcare professional students.

While the network may seem straightforward, the dynamic relationships between U of T and the academic hospitals represented by TAHSN are unique.

Dr. Brian Hodges, vice-president of education at the University Health Network (UHN), works at the intersection of the hospital and the university. He describes TAHSN as a consortium of independent institutions that are highly supportive of one another and share a common goal.

“It’s a bit like a federation that brings together successful but fairly independent provinces that share ideas and work together,” says Hodges. “It’s inclusive — we make an effort to bring everyone to the table.”

One result of this collaborative system is Hodges’ position itself, which he describes as a Toronto invention that is, in many ways, unique to this city.

In other jurisdictions such as the US, Hodges expects that his responsibilities are most likely managed on the university side in a dean’s role.

“The difference in Toronto is that the hospitals have chosen to really strongly support [the role] so it’s created as a [vice-president] on the hospitals side instead of a decanal role on the universities side,” says Hodges.

Education based on integration

Prior to attending medical school, Damji had completed two internships at Toronto General Hospital. Here, he observed the inner workings of a “world-class” hospital and was motivated to attend U of T to have the opportunity to work in the same setting.

Damji explains that all medical students are sorted into one of four academies, each consisting of some of U of T’s teaching hospitals. Most of the in-hospital teaching that the medical students complete is within their own academy.

The academy placements are most pertinent in third and fourth years, the so-called “clerkship” years, in which medical students work alongside physicians in a hospital setting as part of a care team.

Damji says that one of the challenges of such an extensive network is that it can sometimes be difficult for students to transfer between hospitals as part of their experience, especially if they hope to learn in a hospital outside of their academy. “If I wanted to shadow at St. Mike’s, there is some additional paperwork that I would have to do,” he says.

However, Damji maintains that there is ample support staff to help with these challenges, including a student liaison at every hospital.

Hodges says that reducing these sorts of barriers is an ongoing priority for him at the UHN, which represents multiple sites on its own, including the Princess Margaret and Toronto General Hospitals. “We are working hard to integrate that so that when somebody registers, it’s good across all the sites,” Hodges says.

Another aspect of medical education at U of T is the opportunity for students to learn first-hand from physicians. Damji says that physician lecturers are common in second year. “Now that we’ve learned the basic science, they are now trying to teach us the clinical medicine,” he says. “I think they bring a valuable perspective.”

Trevor Young, the dean of the Faculty of Medicine and vice-provost, relations with healthcare institutions, explains that physicians at any of U of T’s teaching hospitals also take on a university appointment. Each physician has a practice plan, which determines what proportion of their time is spent teaching or conducting research.

Cross-appointed teaching has some disadvantages. Damji notes that physician lecturers are “pulled from both sides” and are consequently harder to get into contact with to discuss content.

Overall though, Damji says that the level of support for medical students is high. “We do have access to course directors, tutors and academic counselors to help us,” he says.

Healthcare Model

Young is acutely aware of the learning advantages available to students because of the integrated TAHSN network. “[W]e are uniquely positioned in Canada — and maybe even the world — in terms of the resources and partners that are available to us. And, in turn, our partners have us — the largest medical school in the country and one of the top medical schools in the world — right outside their doorstep,” Young says.

To Hodges, this advantage extends beyond face value. He describes Toronto’s health system as a way of fusing education and research with practice.

Hodges says that, on one side, it is advantageous to try innovative practices as soon as possible, and on the other, to generate data from hospitals that can be fed back into research and education methods.

“We have a lot of information that we generate according to how people are doing, what they’re learning, what their quality of care is, and we can feed that back into the education system. So having the two working closer together I think is a big advantage for everybody,” he says.

Hodges recently discovered that other jurisdictions are replicating aspects of this model. The Ottawa Hospital recently hired its own vice-president of education, a graduate from the Toronto system named Dr. Viren Naik.

Ultimately, Hodges says, cross-institutional networks benefit patients and families.

Hodges cites alliances that have come to fruition because of the Toronto system, including the Medical Psychiatry Alliance and the Toronto Dementia Research Alliance.

The strong institutional relationships realized through TAHSN give Hodges reason to rethink education as a collective responsibility. “I’m most proud of the fact the hospitals are starting to see themselves as educational institutions that have responsibility for the best training of everyone who’s inside the walls,” he says.

UTM students condemn recommended fee hike

Proposed operating plan to cover cost of ancillary fees, reserves

UTM students condemn recommended fee hike

Living, eating, and parking at UTM is on the verge of becoming more expensive. The University of Toronto Mississauga Campus Affairs Committee has recommended approval of the 2015–2016 operating plans for all UTM service ancillaries, which includes a rise in residential rates, parking, meal plans, and the price of food sold on campus.

Under the operating plans, residence fees will increase by 5.5 per cent, the price of parking permits will rise by three per cent, and meal plan rates will increase by 1.5 per cent on average. Retail food on the campus is predicted to increase by 2.76 per cent in accordance with inflation.

The operating plans will be sent to the UTM Campus Council for approval on February 5.


According to Paul Donoghue, chief administrative officer of UTM, the fee increases are necessary to cover ancillary expenses and “required reserves.” Ancillary expenses refer to all expenses including the cost of replacing equipment and furniture, maintenance, loan and interest payments, cost of supplies, and other expenses. Reserves are funds that are held in case of unforeseen or emergency expenditure.

University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) president Hassan Havili says that the union has been trying to fight the rise in ancillary fees. He calls them “a major source of pain for a lot of students.”

Some of the increased expense is accounted for by recent projects to improve food and parking services at the Mississauga campus. Over the past year, the UTM Food Service Department has opened the North Side Bistro and Innovation Centre Café, and renovated the Colman Commons. While this has broadened food options for students, it has also resulted in increased expenditure due to furniture and equipment depreciation. UTM also recently created a new job, the casual communications person who, according to Donoghue, works to better engage the UTM community by liaising with food service providers on advertising and marketing.

The UTM Food Service Department also requires investment for several construction projects including the Davis Building Permanent Food Court and a food service in the North Building Phase II project. Even with the increased rates students will have to pay, the Food Service is still expecting to have a budget deficit from 2016 to 2019.

Havili says these changes are not enough to warrant an increase in fees. “We want improvements to the services on campus but we do not want that to be at the expense of food prices and therefore student pockets,” says Havili.

For Rachel Currie, a first-year life sciences major, these changes have made a major impact on her experience. “As a celiac, I’m in love with the new tea bar in [Oscar Peterson Hall] and the huge steps they’ve made in expanding good food options,” says Currie, adding that her optimism is somewhat curbed by the negative feedback she’s heard from upper year students.

The parking fee increase is partly due to a new initiative by UTM Parking & Transportation Services to expand parking on campus. The proposal is intended to address the reduction of parking space availability due to construction projects on campus and the increasing student population.

The parking deck will be built on top of the parking lot that sits across from the Recreation, Athletics and Wellness Centre in order to avoid encroaching into the green spaces surrounding the campus and will add 300 new spaces. Parking & Transportation Services will be taking a loan of $6.235 million from the UTM operating budget to realize the project.


To Stephanie Chen, a fouth-year interactive digital media specialist at UTM, the more burdensome increase will be the cost of residence accomodations. First-year accomodation in traditional residence at Oscar Peterson hall cost students $7,424 for the 2014–2015 year. With a 5.5 per cent increase, the same space would cost $408 more next year.

Chen notes that residence rates create an accessibility issue for some.

“In the past two years, I haven’t been able to stick with the same roommate because they decided to live off campus due to the high cost of living on campus,” says Chen.

Including the fee increase, net income for residence is predicted to increase by 137 per cent before transfers for the 2015–2016 financial year. Though this is the highest budgeted increase in net income, students have not noticed the same increase in residence services.  Chen notes that in the older residence buildings especially, the condition of the furniture and ceilings is below par.  Havili agrees, saying that “the cost of living on residence can be costly relative to service and space.”

In fact, the main cost for residence services is loan and interest payments, which take up 40 per cent of total expenditure. These loans were made due to the financial strain that residence services faced as a result of the building expansion between 1997 to 2007. The remaining loan balance is forecast to be at $42.4 million by the end of the 2014–2015 financial year.

Havili says that the UTMSU has been lobbying the university to look for other options to fund capital projects, such as the expansion of the deck.

“We would love to see money come from the [university’s] operating budget as opposed to the pockets of individual students that are required to attend classes, office hours, tutorials and all other campus activities,” he says. “We highly encourage student representatives…to engage and empower the council representatives to discuss alternative options to the development of our campus capital projects instead of knocking on the doors of students that receive minimal incomes based off minimum wage salaries.”

Goods, money stolen in Sandford Fleming

Culprits return most stolen goods; EngSoc executives say act may have been targeted

Goods, money stolen in Sandford Fleming

On January 11, a break-in occurred in the Engineering Society’s (EngSoc) Blue and Gold Room in the Sandford Fleming Building. Personal items belonging to EngSoc members, items related to the group’s heritage, and $800 of student-raised money set to be donated to the Daily Bread Food Bank were reportedly stolen in the incident.

The break-in also resulted in damage to EngSoc property totalling over $400.

According to a breach of security statement released by members of the Blue and Gold Committee, which is in charge of many of the society’s activities and events, the room was opened using blunt instruments. Once the perpetrators entered the Blue and Gold Room, they reportedly used tools taken from the room to enter several other rooms in the vicinity.

Teresa Nguyen, EngSoc president, and Alejandro Mejia and Aidan Solala, co-chairs of the Blue and Gold Committee, released their own statement on January 12, in which they speculated that that the incident may have been a “targeted act” carried out as a result of a “malicious” inter-school — or inter-college — “rivalry”.

The break-in occurred at the close of Godiva Week, an annual back-to-school series of events held for engineering students. Like many aspects of engineering culture at the University of Toronto, Godiva Week has deep historical roots, with events such as Ye Grande Olde Chariot Race dating back over 100 years.

Godiva Week is named for Lady Godiva, an eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, who is known for placing the welfare of other people before her own.

“[I]t was turning out to be another fantastic week, but ended on a not so great note with the break in,” said Nguyen when asked about the tone of Godiva Week this year.

The majority of items stolen have since been returned.

On January 13, the Blue and Gold Committee reportedly received an anonymous email taking responsibility for the break-in. The email claimed that the intention of the break-in was not to take extremely valuable items, but only to take school banners as a prank. The email’s author promised to return the items as soon as possible.

“We feel extremely guilty and ashamed to have brought U of T this sort of shame and disappointed so many students. We have all decided to contribute money to pay for damages and we are deeply, deeply sorry,” reads a portion of the email.

A caretaker at the Gailbraith Building later found the items, “including the full amount of cash that was taken.” Some of the personal items recovered had been damaged.

Others, including a trophy and computer monitor, have not yet been returned.

Although the email indicated intent to pay for the $400 in property damages, which included a broken lock and door frame, the Blue and Gold committee has not yet received monetary supplementation.

Members of the Blue and Gold Committee believe that the uproar following the event and the involvement of both Campus Police and Toronto Police Services compelled the culprits to return the items.

Former PM John Turner draws large crowd at Hart House event

Panel addresses politics, trade deals, and the state of democracy in Canada

Former PM John Turner draws large crowd at Hart House event

Last Wednesday, in the packed Hart House Music Room, former Prime Minister John Turner held court, joined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development trade and agriculture director Ken Ash.

Simone Chambers, director of the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto, moderated the event, which drew over 200 people. The Hart House Debates Committee organized the event.

Turner was Liberal prime minister for three months in 1984, having held many cabinet posts under  prior Prime Ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau.

Turner began the evening by expressing concerns about the political process under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“Democracy does not happen by accident. We Canadians are taking it for granted… Parliament today is neutralized and powerless by the prime minister’s office and party discipline, all around,” he said.

Citing his work on the John A. Macdonald bicentenary campaign, Turner said he was looking forward to the eight-hundredth anniversary of the Magna Carta, a thirteenth century English charter — the principles of which he hopes will help correct political ambivalence.

“Let’s go back to Magna Carta, [and] start where democracy starts — namely, at the grassroots… We Canadians have got to get off our butts and restore democracy,” he said.

In the course of the discussion, the panelists commented on many past and current issues.

Turner expressed skepticism of the new Canada-EU deal, saying that he would have gone back to the drawing board on the North American Free Trade Agreement, an agreement signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, had he won the premiership in 1988.

“I actually read the agreement, which was an advantage over Mulroney, who hadn’t read it,” he said.

Income inequality was also among the subjects raised, with Ash coming out strongly favouring progressive taxes.

“You want to redistribute income from those that have it to those that don’t? You tax them,” Ash said. 

Ash and Turner also discussed foreign policy, economic diversification, Canada-US relations, and the Keystone XL pipeline.

“[Y]ou’ve got to find a good job that’s fun, as well as being rewarding. You’ve got to work hard at it. You’ve got to get along with everyone you’re working with and for and make it happen,” Turner said when the panelists were asked to give advice to the young people present.

For his part, Ash cited the job growth in smaller startups as an indication of where students might look to find employment. “Don’t rule out at all the possibility of working for yourself,” he said.

Kaleem Hawa, president of the Hart House Debates Committee, said that the event was a major success.

“That is the most packed I’ve seen a room at Hart House in my three years at university,” Hawa said.

Turner said that he spoke at Hart House to reach out to the younger generation about his political experience.

“I believe in education. I believe that it’s important that I share some of my experience with the next generation as to why they ought to become involved in public life, and ensure that democracy is restored in Canada,” he said.

League of Legends fever hits U of T

E-sports gain support, recognition on campus as UTSU holds popular video game tournament

League of Legends fever hits U of T

“It’s melon time!”

The crowd cheered on Friday as MorningMelon — the avatar of Daniel Yun — charged into battle. This was the scene in the auditorium at the Earth Sciences Building as two teams clashed in a best of five game of League of Legends, the popular multiplayer battle arena online video game where two teams of player-controlled champions and AI minions duke it out on a map.

The tournament was jointly organized by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the University of Toronto League Association (UTLA) as part of Frost Week 2015.

Preliminaries and semi-finals took place from December 16 to January 14.



The finals were screened live in-person at the Earth Sciences Building and online through, a video game streaming website. The stream garnered over 13,000 views during its nearly five-hour run.

The tournament is the brainchild of Zijian Yang, UTSU vice-president, campus life.

“I wanted to bring e-sports in general to campus,” Yang says when asked about why he wanted to organize the tournament. 

He notes that, so far, there have been smaller e-sports events hosted by clubs at the university, but he hopes they will gain a higher profile.

Lawrence Zhang, UTLA vice-president, says that Yang approached him during a campus life commission meeting with the idea of hosting the tournament. They managed to secure Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, as well as ASUS and Red Bull as sponsors for the event.

The tournament saw 14 teams compete against each other, leaving UofT Azure and UofT Frost as the final two.



Both teams are considered to be the strongest in the university, and they have both competed in the North American Collegiate Championships, as well as against professional players.

Team Azure emerged as the victor of the match.

“It’s very interesting to see people get really excited,” says Enrico Baculinao, a third-year student in Cognitive Science and Linguistics who came to watch the finals.

LoLtournament-Jennifer Su-IMG_3187The players themselves can be devoted to their avatars. For example, Yun says he stays true to his avatar’s name by eating a melon on the day of a match.

“It can be any variation of [a] melon,” he says. “I have [one] before the game.”

Yun said that teamwork is critical in this type of competition. “Before any game, we have a ‘washroom break’ — we go to the washroom as a group to discuss strategy,” he says.

Kevin Ma, a player from the winning team who goes by the avatar name ACEYY, echoes that teamwork is the key to success. “We practice for four hours, twice a week, and we need the whole team,” Ma says.

Yun believes that e-sports can no longer be ignored. “It’s not just a hobby anymore. It’s a lifestyle and even a career choice,” he says.

Ma agrees, calling it “a growing sport.”

“Insensitive” University College fundraiser draws criticism

UC Lit changes charity for Date Auction in response to student concerns

“Insensitive” University College fundraiser draws criticism

The University College Literary and Athletic Association (UC Lit) Equity & Outreach Commission received complaints for its third annual Date Auction, which features bidding for a date with a University College (UC) student to raise money for charity.

This year, the chosen charity was Walk With Me Canada Victim Services, a survivor-lead initiative that provides comprehensive services in Ontario and across Canada to victims of human trafficking.

After some UC students expressed concern, the UC Lit responded by agreeing to change the charity, for which UC students can now vote.

Candi (Kimberly) Chin-Sang, a UC student, expressed concern that the nature of the event was insensitive and trivialized the experiences of human trafficking survivors. “I think [UC’s] Equity Commission… did not completely think through or try to problematize linking a date auction to human trafficking,” she says.

Chin-Sang believes that the UC Lit Equity & Outreach Commission intended to promote bodily autonomy and agency through selling dates with students, but says that the nature of the event was disrespectful towards the charity’s cause.

“[Throwing] our agency and autonomy to choose to go on a date is insensitive,” Chin-Sang says, adding, “[A] date auction may be triggering to survivors of human trafficking….  I believe that linking human trafficking to a date auction is problematic for the date auctionees themselves, as it makes it seem as if the Equity [& Outreach] Commission is selling bodies rather than dates with students.” Chin-Sang raised similar sentiments on a post to the event’s public Facebook page.

In principle, Eric Schwenger, UC Lit president, says that he does not have any concerns with the concept of a date auction. “We definitely appreciate, however, the need for care and hesitancy when approaching an event of this nature due to the necessary connotations that come associated with it and the sensitivity of the larger issues that can find themselves affiliated with these issues,” he adds.

According to Schwenger, the purpose of the event is to raise money for a good cause. “[If] our students have a specific preference of what that cause is, we’re more than happy to listen and ensure our constituents know that their voices are being heard,” Schwenger says.

To Chin-Sang, the decision to change the charity is indicative of the UC Lit’s willingness to address criticism. “They are not afraid to admit when they are wrong or that there was an issue,” Chin-Sang says.

Although Chin-Sang was concerned about potential backlash for criticizing the Equity & Outreach Commission, she says she has received support and understanding from Schwenger and Munira Lila, UC Lit vice-president.

Schwenger believes that that the event is an honourable project and would like to see it continue for future years. “If we can keep this thing going and continue to raise tons of money for great local charitable enterprises, while continuing to make sure our students are behind us and that their interests are put first, I think it’s a great event that has a huge potential for good among the student population here at UC,” he says.

The auction is scheduled for January 21.

“We don’t want to strike, but we will if we have to”

CUPE 3902 members begin preparations for potential strike as bargaining continues

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902 has begun preparing for a potential strike.

The union represents some 7,000 teaching assistants (TAs), sessional instructors, and other staff at the University of Toronto.

In a frequently asked questions page on their website, CUPE 3902 say that they had been “stonewalled” in their attempts to bargain with university administration.

“Our message throughout has been: we don’t want to strike, but we will if we have to,” says Thomas Laughlin, a CUPE bargaining steward.

Such strike action could have dramatic effects. All TAs, course instructors, and even sessional instructors may walk out and join picket lines around campus. Classes could be cancelled and buildings could be closed.

In 2008, York University experienced a strike that lasted 11 weeks, effectively shutting down the school for half the year. Classes were instead extended into the summer months.

The union is encouraging students to speak to their TAs and ask questions.  “Certainly, students have a right to disagree with their TAs on any of these issues without being punished or penalized in any way, so I hope [undergraduate students] will not hesitate to talk to us about their questions and concerns,” says Mike Ruecker, also a bargaining steward.


Due to the current funding package, many CUPE members are living below the poverty line, Laughlin says.

“The highest priorities for the members are financial, since our current funding levels are well below the poverty line,” Ruecker explains.

It is part of CUPE 3902’s mandate to seek financial improvements for its members, including increases in wages and benefits.

Laughlin claims that U of T is following an Ontario government policy of “net-zero compensation increase,” that wages have been frozen, and that the administration is refusing to consider any increase at all.

In the meantime, union members are standing strongly together on the matter. “There is currently a lot of solidarity around our financial proposal,” Laughlin says. “We have spent months surveying and meeting with members in different departments around the university and there is a shared sense that student-workers at Toronto need better support.”

“We haven’t been on strike since 2000. We are not a strike-happy union,” says Ryan Culpepper, vice-chair of CUPE Units 1 and 2. “It’s not a good thing for anyone, but we can’t go on with no contract or allow cuts to wages.”

According to Culpepper, there has been “no movement on major issues” from the university. In the next round of bargaining, the union wants to see that change.


Negotiations have been ongoing since April 2014, when the contract for CUPE 3902 expired. U of T administrators have been meeting with union officials on a monthly basis, but that has not provided enough time to settle any bargains, according to Culpepper.

CUPE 3902 is organized into five different units. Unit 1, which represents TAs and course instructors, held a vote in November where over 90 per cent of the union voted yes to granting union leadership a strike mandate.

On January 26, members of Unit 1 will meet and vote on a strike deadline.

Unit 3 represents sessional instructors and will hold its strike mandate vote from January 20 to 23.

Just before the winter break, Unit 5, representing post-doctoral fellows, reached a tentative settlement with the university.

After voting from January 8 to 12, 72 per cent of the union voted to ratify the agreement with U of T’s Governing Council.

Provincial Conciliation was filed for on December 12.

The conciliation process involves bringing in a conciliation officer appointed by the Ontario government.

While the conciliation officer’s decisions are not binding, such meetings are a legal requirement before either side can initiate labour action.

The first conciliation meeting is scheduled for January 27 with negotiations between the union and Governing Council expected to last for the next month. The university has scheduled dates to meet with both Units 1 and 3 and is remaining optimistic.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s director of news and media relations, says that the university’s goal is to work towards renewal collective agreements that are mutually acceptable.

“The University continues to be engaged in CUPE 3902 Units 1 and 3 and dates are scheduled to meet with both bargaining units over the next several weeks,” she says.