U of T building beyond its means

University lacks infrastructure roadmap

U of T building beyond its means

New University of Toronto president Meric Gertler wasted little time expressing the university’s dissatisfaction with provincial levels of funding for post-secondary education, citing funding pressures as a key challenge for the university in his installation address. The Varsity has recently highlighted the alarming growth of deferred maintenance at U of T, as well as the interaction of provincial funding structures and donor priorities with what gets built and fixed at the university. Despite the constant talk of funding levels and priorities, questions around deferred maintenance are still rarely discussed.

For many students, the first of these questions will be: What is deferred maintenance? Deferred maintenance occurs when the university spends less on maintaining its buildings in a given year than it thinks it should. The Facilities & Services department monitors how much upkeep has been delayed until future years in this manner, and their reports make alarming reading.

As of 2012, the university has some $484 million in deferred maintenance. If U of T were to decide to do all that work today, it would cost them one quarter of the university’s endowment. Amazingly, that’s not the alarming part of the problem; even if U of T were to spend that money catching up on maintenance this year, we would still have significant levels of maintenance necessary next year.

It is not difficult to see how the university has arrived at this point, and U of T’s administration is not doing anything that other large Canadian institutions have not done. Every year, U of T has to spend more than it earns — something that it cannot do. Many public institutions — including the ttc, school boards, and the provincial government itself — face this yearly dilemma. The province makes ends meet primarily by incurring debt, but other institutions often make up the funding gap by deferring spending on maintenance. If U of T were to defer other expenses — such as salaries, heating, or financial aid — people would notice. However, the university can easily get by unnoticed without spending millions on removing the asbestos from Sidney Smith, or other projects that are advisable in the long term but not immediately necessary.

It is important to note that deferred maintenance does not pose any immediate danger to the people using these buildings. Facilities & Services monitors the university’s infrastructure, and urgent repairs are carried out before they become a hazard. The problem, however, is that while the asbestos in Sid Smith can be safely contained for now, it will eventually have to go. The same is true for every job that can, for the time being, be safely put off until next year. Deferring maintenance also provides short-term savings at the expense of long-term costs, since labour, material, and evaluation costs increase every year.

Until 2008, U of T was slowly improving the situation; from 2005–2008, the amount of deferred maintenance decreased from about $300 million to less than $200 million, as U of T actually spent more on maintenance than the annual requirement. Since 2008, however, the trend has reversed. Both the rate of increase and the amount of deferred maintenance are now growing every year. Even though U of T’s contribution to maintenance has actually increased steadily since 2008, provincial funding has been declining, and total funding is not keeping pace with need.

This problem of ever-increasing deferred maintenance is compounded by the fact that donors and politicians alike want to fund exciting new projects, particularly innovative or glamorous new buildings. By going along with these plans U of T maximizes the total amount of grant and donation money it receives, and continues to grow its infrastructure and enhance its reputation. All of these are positive developments, and they often lead to tangible benefits for students. The downside is that the university can’t quite afford to maintain the buildings it already has. While some donations fund renovations, which include maintenance or revival funding, new building is almost always part of the deal, leading to even more maintenance cost as those buildings age.

Administrators have argued that U of T can neither tell donors what to fund nor change the government’s mind, and that it has to take advantage of these opportunities or risk falling behind its global competitors. This argument ignores the reality that, eventually, deferred maintenance will catch up with us. The university can devote more money to innovation and growth today by deferring maintenance spending. By doing so, however, administrators ensure that at some point in the future, U of T will have less to spend less on these goals as it is forced to divert funds to urgent up-keep spending.

Allowing donors and capricious provincial grants to set the university’s agenda for growth also puts decision-making in the wrong hands. The university certainly benefits from exciting new buildings, but it needs money for maintenance, as well as more classrooms, residences, and student space. We expect that the provincial government will spend money where it is needed, whether it is glamorous or not. The university and its students — who donors always express a willingness to listen to — must ask that donors provide money for what faculty and students are really asking for, rather than what benefits their reputations or desires for legacy projects. Gertler is a world-renowed urban geographer, and we hope that his academic background will inform a more comprehensive and thoughtful plan for the university’s development.

The Goldring family’s support for the Goldring Student Centre is an excellent example of donor funding for student space. This kind of support is very rare, and has been totally absent from the Student Commons fundraising process, which places the whole burden of funding on students.

The question of deferred maintenance is a question of leadership. The university is sabotaging its long-term growth to further its short-term growth. By incurring an enormous and growing amount of deferred maintenance, and by allowing donors and grants to set a haphazard course for growth, we are undermining the university’s future. University and provincial leaders are taking credit for the university’s current strength and growth, while ensuring a weaker future.

A tale of two presidents

U of T's presidential transition provides opportunity for further growth

A tale of two presidents

David Naylor stepped down as U of T president on Friday, ending eight years in the university’s most important office. For almost a decade, Naylor has filled the president’s office with remarkable energy and has often been in the public eye. It is hard to assess Naylor’s personal legacy, but the university has certainly benefitted from his efforts.



At the time of his appointment, Naylor’s successor, Meric Gertler, emphasized Naylor’s achievements in raising U of T’s international reputation: “I am following in the footsteps of President Naylor — a leader who has combined vision, hard work, and dedication to propel the University to compete with the best institutions in the world.” Under Naylor, U of T has placed among the world’s top 20 universities in both the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Although Naylor himself has questioned the accuracy and significance of university rankings, they are just one indication of U of T’s growing international standing. Naylor can claim a great deal of credit for this achievement. The “Boundless” fundraising campaign, launched in Naylor’s second term, is the largest in Canadian academic history and has bolstered the university’s global connections. Again, Naylor’s personal involvement has been substantial.

Although Naylor has been good for U of T’s public image abroad, he has been less successful closer to home. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the proposed student residence that was to be built by Knightstone Capital Management Inc. on College Street. The university’s negotiations with Toronto City Council and with community groups opposed to the proposals were less than cordial. The university released an unsigned statement accusing city councillor Adam Vaughan of “uncharacteristically threaten[ing] to use his office to damage the University’s interests in various ways,” while Harbord Village Residents’ president Rory (Gus) Sinclair threatened to “[go] to war” with the university. The incendiary back-and-forth over the residence contributed to Toronto City Council’s rejection of the proposal. It would be unfair to lay the blame for this fiasco on Naylor alone, but as president, community and public relations were part of his responsibility.

It seems fortunate, then, that incoming president Gertler’s academic background is in urban geography and economics. Gertler seems well-suited to ameliorate the often-strained relationship between the university and surrounding communities. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Gertler stated that he sees “a real opportunity for the U of T to play an expanded role in city-building, and working with civic leaders.” If U of T is to continue to expand, particularly if it is to finally build new residences, effective communication and compromise with its neighbours must be a priority. This is one promising area where Gertler has the opportunity to make his mark.

There are also areas where Gertler seems poised to build on Naylor’s successes. Gertler has already helped raise $175 million towards the Boundless campaign. He seems eager to pick up where Naylor left off in the university’s fundraising efforts, saying in one interview that he enjoys fundraising. Private donations have met or exceeded expectations for several years, but this is not the only funding question that the new president will have to manage. As president, Naylor repeatedly stated that government funding is unsustainably low. In addition to expanding and improving community relations, Gertler should focus on continuing to persuade governmental bodies to invest in the university. One of Naylor’s approaches to this issue has been to emphasize entrepreneurship at the university. Gertler may well continue this, but should be cautious to prevent excessive commercialization of research and ideas.

Gertler’s history as dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science means he does not assume the presidency with an entirely clean slate. The controversial 2010 review of the faculty, which proposed major budget cuts that included the termination of the university’s Centre for Comparative Literature, drew outcry from students and faculty alike. Gertler also played a major role in implementing the university’s unpopular flat fee policy, which has been a major student grievance since it was introduced. Some tension between the university’s students and its president seems inevitable. Yet these high-profile and unpopular decisions mean Gertler could have an uphill battle to convince skeptical students of his good intentions. This should not, however, preclude constructive dialogue between the new president and student leaders.

The impact of the president on the university is difficult to measure. Like any leader, the tone a president strikes and the example they offer can be as important as specific policies and initiatives. Gertler should model transparency and willingness to consult and compromise in the many challenging situations he will undoubtedly face. The university has, on the whole, been well-served by Naylor, but there is always more work to be done.

University of Toronto athletics should consider redistributing sports funding

Playing fair with intercollegiate athletes

University of Toronto athletics should consider redistributing sports funding

For the first time in 20 years, the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues football team managed to finish its season with a 4–4 record. While the team has still not achieved a winning season for many years, there are now signs that the organization is well on its way to a successful revival. The changes in the win column have largely been brought about by University of Toronto Athletics, which is working to improve the program by hiring a savvy and accomplished coaching staff and striving for stronger player recruitment. That impending success story is balanced by less well-funded programs, whose lack of success is set to result not in increased assistance and effort from the university, but in the loss of intercollegiate status and the Varsity Blues name.

The review of the university’s sports model that is accompanying the ongoing review of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education will affect any program that falls under the faculty, not just intercollegiate sports. The criteria to be used for the revision of the current sports model was made public last year. At that time, affected teams and individuals were offered the opportunity to meet with Beth Ali, director of intercollegiate sport, for a 90-minute consultation to react to and express concerns about the remodel.

The remodel is multifaceted and addresses 14 areas within the faculty. It proposes to make substantive changes, ranging from the manner in which sporting organizations such as the Canadian Intercollegiate Sport (CIS) and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) rank the sports in question, and the financial costs incurred by the athletes, to the frequency and severity of injury to players in the sport, and the success of individual athletes on provincial, national, and international scales.

There is a sound basis for each of these criteria, but affected athletes have objected to the way they are being applied to various teams and groups. As The Varsity reported last year, the women’s rugby team has expressed concern about a lack of training facilities available to them on campus. Rather than providing the team with the facilities they need to be competitive, or the time to use other facilities on campus, the administration is considering reclassifying the team as an intramural sport. The remodel seems to be penalizing teams that the university currently does not provide sufficient support for, rather than attempting to rectify the problems that these teams are facing.

Ali has said that “U of T used to have many, many examples [of top athletes competing at U of T], and our lack of success has diminished our ability to produce athletes like that in all of our sports.” Ali and the Varsity Blues’ office seem to be ignorant to the fact that students are attracted to U of T for its academic reputation, rather than its athletic one. A student whose criteria in choosing a university include its athletic programs would be better served applying to almost any American university; even if they were to stay in Canada, U of T is hardly an athletic powerhouse.

There is an inherent contradiction in the current plan for U of T’s athletic programs. The impending remodel evidently places a premium on a team or individual athlete’s successes if it is looking to demote varsity programs that are struggling to compete — except in the case of the football team, which has been a perennial disappointment for the past two decades, where the department seems willing to spare no expense to help the team get its head above water. Only now, after 20 years of continued focus and effort, is the football team showing signs of life. One is left to wonder: Why would U of T choose to focus on a select few teams, rather than invest in programs that are struggling without necessary resources? Teams like women’s rugby have trouble competing because they cannot attract, retain, or develop top-tier talent without the resources or facilities they need. Rather than reclassifying programs that cannot reach their full potential without investment, U of T Athletics should consider redistributing sports funding.

Football is not the only sport likely to score poorly in a number of categories on the model that will not face demotion. Men’s hockey requires a large medical, equipment, and event staff; players have a high injury rate, both in terms of frequency and severity; the team has not seen significant success for several years, and has had few or no provincially or nationally ranked players on its roster in that time. Nevertheless, the chances that the team will face damaging changes under the new model are slim, due no doubt to the prominence of the sport in this country.

The remodel seems to give preference to the “big” sports — football, hockey, soccer, field hockey, volleyball, basketball, track and field, and swimming. Meanwhile, the women’s golf and men’s baseball teams have both won back-to-back OUA championships, and the badminton teams are consistently very successful, yet receive little attention and funding in comparison to those with bigger public profiles.

Many varsity teams are completely self-funded and self-driven, meaning that they have to do a significant portion of their administrative work themselves; these are the teams being threatened with a downgrade by the sports remodel. Meanwhile, sports that receive a high level of attention do not always perform in a way that reflects the time, money, and effort put into them.

U of T should try to mould its system such that it does not punish teams that already function without much assistance from athletics staff. If, as it claims, the university hopes to attract a range of strong student-athletes who are both academically and athletically gifted, the solution is to provide a range of teams that are properly funded and supported on a relatively equally footing. The currently proposed sports remodel does not meet these goals.

Change to residence guarantee needed in light of Loretto

U of T needs to acknowledge Loretto's religious character

Change to residence guarantee needed in light of Loretto

Earlier this month, The Varsity published an investigative story about Loretto College, a private, all-female, religious residence on campus associated with St. Michael’s College (SMC). The piece (“Christian residence only option for some,” October 7) sheds some light on an otherwise little-known residence on campus and the significant problems its policies are causing for some students. Most alarmingly, U of T’s policies seem to be forcing some students to choose between living in an actively Christian residence and not living in residence at all.

To live in Loretto, students must agree to follow policies that “foster participation and involvement in a supportive Christian academic community,” the mandate set out in the “philosophy statement” of Loretto College’s residence agreement. The agreement goes on to specify a number of policies that are explicitly intended to create a religiously-oriented community.

Former Loretto residents told The Varsity that college staff promoted what one student described as, “a type of conservative personal decorum.” While the residence agreement also prohibits discrimination, it is not surprising that many students were uncomfortable living in an overtly religious residence.

Loretto is owned and staffed in part by the Loretto Sisters, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. U of T has yet to clarify the arrangement between the sisters, SMC, and the university. In its response to the details in the story, the university characterized Loretto as having “religious roots,” a point reiterated in subsequent comments from the administration. This is an accurate way to describe several of U of T’s college residences, but unacceptably understates the role of religion at Loretto. SMC, for example, has religious roots — it was founded as a religious institution and retains some religious affiliation and traditions.

Loretto College, on the other hand, is owned and operated by a religious order. Its students must agree to “adhere” to Christian values. Residents must follow policies that are overtly intended to promote a religious lifestyle, if not the actual practice of religion. Loretto does not simply have “religious roots,” it is an actively religious institution, making it very different from every other residence affiliated with U of T. Accordingly, U of T’s residence policies should not treat it like any other residence, especially when this places students in very difficult situations.

U of T widely advertises its residence guarantee program, and many students accept offers of enrolment at the university on the understanding that they will be able to live in residence in their first year. U of T does not, of course, guarantee students a place in their preferred residence. Students can be placed in Loretto, as they can be placed in any residence, without requesting to live there. Under the program, students who turn down their first offer are not guaranteed a second one.

It is understandable that U of T cannot accommodate every incoming student’s personal preferences about residences. There is, however, a difference between preferences based on location or style and an aversion to living in a religious institution. The Varsity spoke to several students who faced a choice between living in a religious residence they were uncomfortable with and trying to find off-campus housing in a new city months before the start of term. It is unacceptable that U of T would put incoming students, many of whom are living on their own for the first time, in such a dilemma.

Information about Loretto’s strict and unusual residence policies is not easy to find. While many other residences on campus make their rules clear on their website, Loretto does not. Where a comprehensive description of expected behaviour should be, Loretto only describes itself as an all-female residence, with no mention of its religious character.

While it is perhaps unfair to criticize Loretto’s residence policies for trying to establish and protect a religious community on campus, the grievances raised by students who were not aware of the extra requirements to living there must be addressed. All the residences at U of T have policies and agreements that students are required to follow. These account for things like the presence of hotplates and other dangerous items in rooms, quiet hours for study, and, in some buildings and colleges, mandatory meal plans and hours. The difference in Loretto’s case is that the residence’s policies are not transparent and that they are religiously inspired.

The Varsity does not question whether or not Loretto — or any other institution on campus — should be free to express its religious affiliation or enforce rules that are informed by its philosophy. Rather, we question whether or not university administrators are doing all that they can to accommodate incoming students looking for residence placements.

The residence guarantee policy is undoubtedly a good one; it provides for students coming from outside the city who would otherwise be forced to find a place to live off-campus. However, it is obvious that U of T should reexamine the program in light of the fact that some students are being placed in environments in which they are not comfortable, without the opportunity to make informed choices. Many students interviewed for our story indicated that Loretto was the only option offered to them, and many said that they were largely unaware of what living there entailed. It is also disconcerting that the university was either unable or unwilling to relocate students with substantive concerns about their treatment at Loretto. It is clear that in many ways Loretto is fundamentally different than other residence options on campus; so far, the university has refused to see this difference.

Does Loretto need to reexamine its policies? No; as a private residence, administrators are entitled to foster any community they like based on whatever philosophical mandate they choose. Does U of T need to do more to help the students relying on the residence guarantee when they find themselves in a difficult situation? Absolutely. U of T must acknowledge that many students may be deeply uncomfortable in a residence run according to Christian values. It must be forthcoming with incoming students about the unusual aspects of Loretto, or any other residence with unusual policies, and it must offer residence alternatives to students who do not want to live in a religious community.

Of course, many of Loretto College’s residents are happy to be there and are thriving in the unique community the residence offers. Loretto accommodates female students of all faiths and backgrounds quite happily and with mostly positive reviews, as was clear in The Varsity’s original article. For the small, unhappy, minority of students, however, more needs to be done.

Where is the Liberals’ PSE plan?

Wynne government lacks clear policy despite eight months in office

Where is the Liberals’ PSE plan?

Last summer, the Ontario Liberal government released a widely criticized discussion paper addressing the future of post-secondary education (PSE) in the province. Almost a year ago — in a rare show of campus unity — faculty, administration, and student leaders came together to critique the proposal at a town hall organized by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).

The Varsity was among those criticizing the lack of foresight and blatant financial motives of the discussion paper entitled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation, and Knowledge.”



In the year that has passed since that town hall, the discussion paper has mercifully faded from the scene — while the faces involved in the discussion of provincial PSE have changed. Premier Kathleen Wynne, a former minister of education, has replaced Dalton McGuinty. University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) alumnus Brad Duguid has taken over for Glen Murray as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU). Cheryl Misak, who spoke for the administration at the town hall, has been succeeded as U of T’s provost by former vice-provost, academic, Cheryl Regehr. U of T president David Naylor, who presented the university’s strongly worded response arguing for U of T’s special place in Ontario’s PSE landscape, is set to give way to Meric Gertler, former dean of Arts & Science.

New faces have not, however, brought with them a new plan. One of Duguid’s first acts as TCU minister was to meet with the St. George Round Table, a group composed of the heads of various college governments at U of T. In a candid moment, Duguid admitted that the Wynne government had not yet decided what form PSE policy would take. There would be a policy, he promised — it would just take time.

Duguid and the Wynne government have now had eight months to formulate their PSE strategy, but students and university administrators across the province have yet to hear it. In the meantime, the Progressive Conservative (PC) opposition under Tim Hudak has released its own white paper, an ideological polemic that would remove tuition limits from elite research universities and tie financial aid to academic performance. While the PC’s plan may be even worse than the Liberal’s last attempt, the lack of a counter-proposal from the new Liberal government is worrying.

The academic landscape has not waited for Duguid and his ministry to make up their minds. Access Copyright, ancillary fees, academic freedom and research funding, flat fees, online education — all are more prominent issues now than they were when Duguid took over from Murray in February of this year.

Unfortunately, in the eight months since the government promised a plan, little has been accomplished. Duguid announced that tuition increases would be capped at three per cent, a compromise between universities’ demands for a five per cent limit and calls from student leaders to halt further increases. While that move came as a disappointment to many, it was more conciliatory than might have been expected. At least the minister showed that he understands the need to balance the high cost of an education with the need of universities to fund themselves. At the time, Duguid also promised to change tuition payment timelines to ensure that students who receive OSAP or other forms of financial aid would no longer be forced to pay interest on late tuition payments simply because their assistance did not arrive in time. The minister repeated on Thursday that he thinks the interest is unfair, after UTSU director Ben Coleman’s recent research showed that U of T students continue to pay those penalties. This time, Duguid told us to expect policy change by December, which may sound familiar to those who remember last April.

In an interview with The Varsity last month, the minister also promised to look into the issue of flat fees, a controversial policy under which U of T charges students for five full-course equivalent (FCE) credits if they take any more than two FCEs in a given academic year. Duguid said he was convinced that flat fees should be reviewed after meeting with representatives of the UTSU and Canadian Federation of Students. While welcome, Duguid’s announcement was decidedly short on specifics. It also failed to address the reality that students in certain professional programs actually benefit from a flat-fee system, as student leaders from the Faculty of Engineering have often pointed out.

Last February, student leaders revealed that U of T had charged ancillary fees that violated the province’s regulations. While U of T conceded on some points and discontinued a few fees, the bulk of the issue has not been settled. U of T and several students’ unions are still at odds over whether a long list of fees are legal. U of T has not offered to refund students, even for the fees that it admits should not have been charged. The number of ancillary fees has actually increased, most notably in the Faculty of Music. Meanwhile, the ministry in charge of regulating these fees has had almost nothing to say.

On a number of other PSE issues that require government action, Wynne’s Liberals have stayed frustratingly quiet. U of T’s arrangement with Coursera, an educational technology company offering open online courses, has produced decidedly mixed results. Provincial research funding has been falling for years, while the federal government has started offering grants with strings attached. Issues created by previous Liberal governments, like the gutting of the work-study program and the limited eligibility for McGuinty’s 30 per cent tuition grant, have also gone unconsidered.

Consultation, we are told, is the key to Wynne’s political style, and Duguid has implemented his boss’ mantra to good effect. As minister, he has met with student groups and representatives across the province and on multiple campuses. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and the urge to consult with everyone has turned into a shield for the Liberals to hide behind. The party’s new “Common Ground” website campaign seeks to crowdsource ideas from Ontarians in developing its policy platform, with the promise that suggestions from the public will be considered for an impending election. If the Liberals are hoping to gain support by saying the right things and doing nothing, we hope that students will prove their strategy wrong. Students may be convinced to vote for a party which does good things for PSE, but not for a party that promises good things and fails to deliver.

Duguid recently took to Twitter to declare his pride that U of T is number one in Canada on the QS world university rankings. If the minister and the Wynne government want this university, and Ontario’s other post-secondary institutions, to maintain their reputations, they need to address these issues. Talk is cheap, and we are tired of waiting.

Conditional funding censors scientists

"Stand Up for Science" rallies highlight federal government's dubious attitude towards academic freedom

Conditional funding censors scientists

On Monday, September 16, protestors filled the south side of Queen’s Park to petition the Canadian government for evidence-based decision making on scientific research funding. Similar “Stand up For Science” rallies, organized by a group called Evidence for Democracy, took place in 17 cities across Canada this past week.

The rallies aim to bring attention to both the federal government’s policies concerning scientific research funding as well as the alleged censorship of scientists working in areas of research that conflict with the government’s political priorities. Evidence for Democracy argues that the government’s actions are holding Canadian science, and therefore the public, back.

The Stand Up for Science campaign has particular relevance for the University of Toronto, beyond the geographical proximity of the rallies’ Toronto chapter to the St. George campus. U of T is Canada’s largest research university, and receives hundreds of millions of dollars every year in research funding from various levels of government.



U of T is so committed to its reputation for research that some students have argued in recent years that faculty members unduly focus on their own areas of study at the expense of teaching and student interaction. U of T president David Naylor has called for government funding to be tied to the university’s research output instead of its enrolment numbers — a move that would make research key to the university’s financial future and even more central to its purpose.

Evidence for Democracy “advocates for the transparent use of science and evidence in public policy and government decision-making” at a time when “governments can be tempted to make decisions based on ideology or political convenience.” Students — and, more generally, the Canadian public — should be concerned that their elected representatives are putting ideological or political concerns before the well-being and prosperity of the people.

The federal government is shifting funding priorities for scientific research away from successful, evidence-based projects that contribute to our health and safety, and diverting that money into industry partnerships. Last year, the government announced its intention to shift from its traditional scientific funding mechanism, the National Research Council, toward a new initiative called the Engage Grants Program. This transition takes grant money that had previously been earmarked for “basic research and discovery science” and allocates it towards research and development projects operating through industry in partnership with the government.

The government has defunded projects like the Experimental Lakes Area in Kenora District, Ontario — which contributes important research to the study of freshwater ecosystems — much to the disappointment of the international scientific community. Other research programs committed to crime prevention, public health, and the environment have also had their funding revoked in favour of more profitable and commercially viable disciplines like petroleum engineering.

Research capitalization — the commercialization of discoveries and technologies for profit — has been an increasing focus of Canadian universities as government funding has been cut, particularly in Ontario. New initiatives from U of T programs like the Institute of Optical Science, the Impact Centre, and TechnoLABS focus on converting ideas into businesses.

While economic successes have often been a side-benefit of outstanding research, focusing every penny of Canada’s research funding on industry partnerships that have clear economic objectives is deeply misguided. First, some research does not and should not serve the immediate interest of industry. Most pertinently, research into the effects of industry on our environment and global climate is vitally important to Canada’s public interest, but would never come from an industry partnership.

Moreover, the premise of industry-driven research is different from the premise of scientific research. Industry invests money in projects that have a perceptible, profitable objective. Scientists, on the other hand, see knowledge as an end in itself, while focusing on investigations that are likely to benefit the public. The wisdom of this approach has been proved time and time again as countless discoveries of great importance have resulted from simply inquiring into the unknown. By choosing to restrict all publicly funded research in this country to projects where an economic goal is in sight, the government has stifled all research that doesn’t serve an economic purpose and given up on real science altogether. This approach is shortsighted, narrow-minded, self-serving, and dangerous.

Industry-focused funding is not, however, the only concerning trend. Evidence for Democracy is also protesting against what they have called “government muzzling” of scientists. They are rightly concerned that the government is enforcing silence on scientists who receive funding for their projects. Researchers whose projects are funded through government grants are restricted from speaking to the press and public regarding the details of their work, and run the risk of losing their funding if they transgress.

By preventing scientists from discussing their research, the Canadian government is shaping science in this country along ideological lines. Ottawa’s recent decision-making reveals a strong preference for economic interests over the public interest. International investment in Canadian science will now be based on our ability to troubleshoot industry rather than on our capacity to solve problems that the whole world is facing, such as climate change.

It is bad enough that Ottawa is shepherding Canadian scientists away from projects whose value is supported by evidence; to also limit the amount of information these researchers can share with the public is censorship, and should not be acceptable in a modern democratic society. A well-educated and well-informed electorate is vital to a healthy democracy. This makes institutions like U of T critically important, but they can only fulfill their roles when researchers can tell the facts as they see them, both in classrooms and in public. The party in power censoring science that does not support its policies should be a nightmare to all Canadians.

U of T’s scientific community has historically been the site of life-saving and world-changing discoveries: Best and Banting were the first to extract insulin, making life with diabetes a possibility for future generations. The world’s first artificial pacemaker was created by scientists at the institute named for Banting. Canada has helped stretch the understanding of our universe by contributing the Canadarm to the International Space Station project. We must not allow this legacy to falter, with our best and brightest forced to serve industrial interests, and to serve in silence. To be of any value, research funding in our university and across the country must come with no strings attached.

Comprehensive approach needed to ensure safe learning environment

Recent allegations of sex crimes call admin policy into question

Comprehensive approach needed to ensure safe learning environment

In the wake of two unconnected instances of alleged sexual misconduct against faculty members at the University of Toronto it has become prudent to re-examine the university’s current stance on the unique relationship between students and faculty, and its approach to these kinds of accusations.

Ten days ago, the Toronto Star reported that James Andrew Payne, an instructor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, has been accused of a second count of sexual assault against a young woman. Payne is currently on trial for another sexual assault charge, relating to events which allegedly took place in 2011. Disturbingly, the university first learned of the charges against Payne this August, after a concerned friend of the alleged victim came forward to ask why he was still teaching while under investigation.

Adding to the weight of this most recent scandal is the story of professor Benjamin Levin who was arrested in July on charges of making and possessing child pornography. Levin, an eminent education scholar — who was recently a member of Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s transition team — has been released on bail.

In handling these two controversies, the university is in the unenviable position of trying to balance several important principles. On one hand, the university must respect the rights of its employees and treat them as innocent until they are proven guilty. Yet on the other, the university has a responsibility to its students to guarantee that their educational experience will take place in a safe environment.

While the university employs many people and these events can be characterized as anomalies among a predominantly respectful group of people, they cannot be ignored. Nor should the university ignore that, in their relations with students, faculty occupy a position of trust and authority.

The university’s current policy on sexual harassment is narrow and outdated. This policy has not been updated since 1997, and is only useful if the alleged misconduct took place on campus or while the student was engaged in a university activity. This policy does not do enough to protect students in the modern university setting.

The inadequacy of this policy is evident from recent events. After the charges against Payne became public, the university announced that, by mutual agreement, he would no longer be teaching. Similarly, in the case of Levin, the university announced some time after the affair became public that Levin had “ceased all university activities.” The university’s approach to these cases shows that, in practice, it deems it inappropriate for faculty charged with serious, sexual misconduct to continue teaching. So the university’s policies should acknowledge that charges of this kind compromise a safe learning environment.

It is also unacceptable that the university first heard of the outstanding charges against Payne months after the charge was made. Again, the policy does not recognize that events outside the course of university business and beyond the boundaries of campus can still affect students and staff in their on-campus roles. While some may argue that there is little the university can do once a criminal investigation has begun, or that relations with the faculty union complicate these matters, they cannot deny that the university has tried to abdicate its responsibility to protect students, and has used piecemeal solutions when faced with public pressure.

In an effort to protect students, the university should take a clearer stance on these events and keep the community informed when they occur. The current policy demands absolute confidentiality in the publication of the identities of either the complainant or respondent should a complaint of harassment proceed to a formal hearing, unless there is a risk of serious bodily harm to others. This is manifestly the case in Payne’s situation; he was accused of committing sexual assault in a private residence off campus. Because the incident took place off campus however, there was no disclosure. A new, more comprehensive strategy should be considered given that this policy has failed to fulfill its mandate twice in such a short period of time.

Students are constantly reminded to be responsible and respectful in their interactions with their peers. Many programs and resources are available to students on how to avoid, prevent, report, and seek help with issues of sexual harassment and misconduct. Orientation leaders are required to complete anti-sexual assault training. Incoming students are asked to attend seminars on sexual assault. What training are faculty and staff required to complete? What information is available to the community about appropriate and inappropriate interactions between faculty and students? What reporting and monitoring measures are in place to ensure a safe environment? Policies and programs related to these questions should be re-examined in light of their recent failure. Greater transparency on these matters is also required, so that when misconduct occurs members of the university community know what do and what to expect. The ongoing conversation on respectful and responsible interactions on campus must be expanded to include staff and faculty.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about The Varsity’s editorial policy, please email comment@thevarsity.ca.

Legal infighting serves no one

An editorial on the implications of fee diversion referenda

Legal infighting serves no one

In the last few weeks, the pages of this newspaper have been filled with talk of ‘defederation,’ a colloquial way of referring to the attempts by the Engineering Society (EngSoc), St. Michael’s College Students’ Union (SMCSU), the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) and Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) to divert their students’ fees from the UTSU to their respective councils. As you can see above, there are a number of ways in which those attempts could lead to court battles.

It is difficult to predict what form a possible legal action could take. If the referenda proceed, and their results are accepted by the university, it is unclear what legal precedents would apply if the case goes to court. The case being cited by both sides, APUS vs. UTMSU and EPUS (Erindale Part-Time Undergraduate Students’ Association), does not seem to be a clear precedent. According to those involved in the case, the principle that the judge seemingly upheld is that one organization cannot interfere with the internal workings — membership, for example — of another organization.

As the UTSU has pointed out repeatedly, under its bylaws, every full-time undergraduate at the U of T is individually a member of the union. The UTSU seems to implicitly recognize the faculty and college structure in the makeup of its Board of Directors, but there is no formal recognition in the bylaws. The APUS case seems to be based on a federation structure, so it is not immediately obvious that it applies to the present case.

With both sides displaying confidence in their legal position, any court case will likely be prolonged and expensive. Attempts by various student councils and unions to defederate from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) have resulted in huge legal fees — over $407,000 in the case of the University of Guelph Central Student Union. There are significant differences between the CFS defederation cases and the present situation. The CFS is a federated body; the UTSU is not. The CFS also has a record of litigation, with long legal battles employed to wear down the unions attempting to defederate and run up huge legal costs; the UTSU has no such record. But the ‘war chests’ being assembled by some of the divisions clearly suggest they fear a legal contest.

In November, the EngSoc hired Heenan Blaikie LLP (the firm that represented Guelph in the above-mentioned CFS case) on a $10,000 retainer, and has a $67,000 legal fund in place. The tcm has retained Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP with a budget of at least $100,000. Although the UTSU does not list legal costs explicitly in its year-end financial statements, it retains legal counsel and has the money to sustain a long legal battle.

But where does all of that money come from? It comes from your student fees. The college and faculty councils, and the UTSU, receive a portion of the student fees you pay every year. It is possible that in the battle to divert or retain the UTSU portion of your fees, those same fees will be spent on litigation. These fees would be better spent serving members, rather than on legal infighting among students.

There could also be broader consequences to a legal fight. Any fee diversion would have to be approved by U of T’s University Affairs Board (UAB), a committee of Governing Council. If faced with referendum results calling for fee diversion, it is unclear what the uab will do. But if the UAB does approve fee diversion, it is possible that the UTSU could take legal action against the university itself. That action could call into question the university’s right to make decisions on student societies’ fee changes, upending the way incidental fees are organized and controlled at U of T. This means thats legal action could do more than cost you money — it could fundamentally alter how students and the administration interact.

The U of T faculty and colleges attempting to divert fees at U of T are each at different stages of the process. VUSAC, TCM, and EngSoc have issued reports detailing how fee diversion would work; SMCSU has yet to publish a report. Some students have criticized these reports as inconclusive or under-researched, an understandable critique considering their short time frame. Discontent has been brewing for some time, but fee diversion is a fairly recent phenomenon. Its current iteration has only been in existence since last month’s UTSU Special General Meeting. Six weeks is not enough time to educate affected students about the potential financial and structural implications of fee diversion. Considering that it also takes time to plan, publicize, and run the referenda, it is questionable whether there has been enough time to run an effective campaign that benefits students.

The UTSU, for its part, has failed to head off the attempts at fee diversion. The union provided a response to the TCM report, and has been in correspondence with the various units planning referenda, but it has not taken sufficient public action to inform students about the consequences of fee diversion. Nor has it acknowledged that some of the student grievances driving the movement may be legitimate. Successful fee diversion would have enormous financial consequences for the union, and would seriously undermine the UTSU’s claims to speak for all U of T students. President-elect Munib Sajjad’s decision not to answer questions about litigation may have been legally prudent, but he and his team have done little to inform students about the implications of a court battle and to bridge the gap in campus politics. Meanwhile, the recent electoral withdrawal of executive candidate Sana Ali and her criticism of the Renew slate suggest that there is a divide even among the union’s supporters.

Both sides justify their actions by claiming they represent the will of students on campus, but a large number of students, perhaps even a majority, are unaware of most campus politics, let alone the recent battles between the union and its divisional opponents. These students are also unaware that the ill-considered decisions both sides are making could lead to a legal battle, the result of which is uncertain except for an unnecessary financial burden on students.

Both sides have repeatedly offered to settle their differences through consultation and compromise, yet no solution has been achieved; each side blames the other for this dispute. The best and least expensive way of obtaining a solution is through outside mediation — an objective, professional third party who could resolve the disputes between the union and their divisional opponents, and ensure that much-needed structural reforms are made within the UTSU. This method of resolution could usher in a new era of mature, conscionable governance. The mediator would basically reboot union and student relations, and lessen the probability of a legal battle.

Student leaders on both sides of the fee diversion battle must back up their rhetoric with a willingness to make substantive concessions in the presence of a third-party mediator. This is the best way to avoid a protracted, expensive, and risky legal battle, which is the worst possible outcome for students.