UTMSU exits Student Societies Summit

Argues UTM students treated as "second-class students" in letter to summit

UTMSU exits Student Societies Summit

On February 10, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) sent a letter to participants in the Student Societies Summit stating that it would not be attending future meetings, citing both petitions from its members objecting to its participation, as well as concerns of its own. The letter was written by the UTMSU’s vice-president, external, Melissa Theodore.

“We believe further participation and implicit consent of the Summit will have a negative impact on our membership, and the student body as a whole,” reads the letter, “As a result, we also encourage other student groups to cease participation in the summit.” The union named a number of its objections to the summit: The summit represents a breach of the autonomy of students’ unions, fails to include a number of student groups who ought to have a part in the proceedings, has never had its scope or terms of reference clearly defined, and has encouraged the UTMSU and UTSU University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) to violate contract law. UTMSU also argues that the Summit is undemocratic, seeks to negotiate from an unequal footing, and has not addressed issue of bullying and intimidation tactics.

Additionally, the letter stated that representatives of other divisional student groups at the summit have treated UTM students as “second-class students.” “We have been referred to as though we are not made up of individual, responsible, intelligent adults and as though we are not to have the same rights conferred to us as members of the UTSU as other students,” says Theodore.

“We have to question why this perception exists,” she continued, “On the face of it, the only things that are apparently different about our society and the others that exist at the Student Society Summit are that we are located farther away from the UTSU than most other societies and that we have a much higher proportion of racialized students on our campus and so tend to be represented by racialized members.” The letter notes that extremely few representatives at summit meetings have been women, mature students, people of colour, people with disabilities, international students, or trans students.

Theodore also notes that revealing the contract that delineates the UTMSU’s relationship with the UTSU would constitute a violation of contract law, as divulging the contents of the contract is against the provisions of the contract. Participants at summit meetings have nonetheless repeatedly requested that the contract be revealed. The UTMSU contends that doing so would open it up to litigation.

The reaction of other Summit participants to UTMSU’s withdrawal has been mixed. “It is disappointing that the UTMSU will not participate in future Summit meetings,” said Nishi Kumar, president of the University College Literary and Athletic Society,  “I am also confused about their allegations of racism and sexism during meetings. I personally have not encountered any of the “aggression” from summit attendees that their statement describes, nor have my three female colleagues from SGRT. We are a diverse group, representing students from all backgrounds and experiences, and the Summit has encouraged active participation from all of us.”

Mauricio Curbelo, president of the Engineering Society, argued that the UTMSU’s decision to exit the Summit was motivated by a desire not to disclose their financial arrangement with the UTSU. “Their non-participation is proof that they are unable to defend the fee transfer in a public forum. The administration should ignore the UTMSU’s baseless grandstanding and continue with the Summit process,” he said.

The UTSU has not yet decided on a course of action in response to the UTMSU’s decision. “We have not yet had time to digest this ourselves, but it certainly gives us quite a bit to consider,” said Munib Sajjad, president of the UTSU.

Also on February 10, the leaders of a number of divisional student societies sent their own letter to faculty representatives at the summit. The letter states that the outcome of the summit must be a recommendation to change university policy, that the fee arrangement between the UTSU and UTMSU must be terminated or offered to every other divisional student society that requests it, and that constituencies must be allowed to cease their affiliation with campus- or university-wide student societies if they wish.

These divisional leaders further contend that the university’s Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees ought to be changed. Their recommended changes include allowing every student society to have mechanisms by which it may change its constitutions, bylaws, and policies without Executive or Board consideration of their proposals, based solely on the decisions of its membership. They recommend also that non-U of T students must be banned from formally or informally participating as campaign volunteers in U of T student society elections.

The divisional leaders who signed this letter include Curbelo; Kumar; Jelena Savic, president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council; Ben Crase and Maha Naqi, heads of Trinity College; Mary Stefanidis, president of the Innis College Student Society; Ashkan Azimi, president of New College Student Council; Alex Zappone, president of the St. Michael’s College Student Union; and Anthony O’Brien, president of the Kinesiology and Physical Education Undergraduate Association.

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

Outgoing U of T president discusses flat fees, fee diversion, favourite books, and his final thoughts as he says farewell

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

It has been eight years since David Naylor became president of U of T. He’s led the university in the midst of provincial funding cuts, a global recession, and seemingly endless battles with the students’ union. He will step down on October 31, and former Arts & Science dean Meric Gertler will take his place. I sat down with Naylor one more time for a 45-minute interview that lasted nearly an hour and a half, not counting the responses he emailed for the questions we didn’t have time to get to.


The Varsity: I know that provincial and federal funding is something that you’ve talked about for a long time, in terms of the university wanting more of it. If you could have any system you wanted right now, what would it look like?

David Naylor: We would be at the national average for student funding, at the minimum, and that alone would see probably on the order of $300 million of additional base funding; that’s how big the gap has become.


TV: And why are we below the average?

DN: This is a very challenging question to ever answer definitively. If you go back twenty years, you’ll find the province was already lagging in terms of post-secondary funding and, despite some positive steps in the early days of the Reaching Higher program the province adopted, there has been no real progress. It’s particularly puzzling because we are the national average on spending K-12 education, and the national average in terms of spending on health care. Yet we seem to have decided, somehow, that it’s okay to have a situation in which universities and colleges receive relatively less per student from other provinces. Indeed, so much less that if I were to move the University of Toronto’s operations to Edmonton or Calgary tomorrow, we would double our funding from the province, even after they’ve had their cuts.


TV: The province is considering amending the flat-fees structure, the proposal is, as of next year students taking 3.5 courses will be considered full-time, and as of 2015 students taking four courses or 80 per cent will be considered full-time. Do you think that these changes are positive? If so, why, and if not, what would be a better system?

DN: I think the changes are not evidence-based…what has not been established is that there are any ill effects from this approach, and by established I mean good strong evidence rather than the usual anecdote that carries the day in newspapers. When you look at the studies that were done by the Faculty of Arts & Science, with student representatives on those committees, we see quantitative evidence that shows the following:

We see faster times to completion, which is good for everybody. We see the funds that have been generated from the program fee approach have been redirected to improve student aid, which is also a good thing net and net no one ends up paying more as a result, when you consider both intensification and the additional student aid.

You see that extracurricular participation has not fallen one bit. You see that grade distribution, so far from going in the wrong direction, is actually showing positive changes. When you put all the evidence together, there’s really not a lot to say that program fees have had an adverse effect.

Would you advocate for the status quo? Do you think that there should be any change at the provincial level?

DN: Do I think the threshold should be four? No, I do not think that threshold is appropriate. Do I think the threshold could be 3 or 3.5? You can argue it either way, but to me if you’re going to do it, what I really would want to see from the standpoint of fairness is get the evidence as you proceed, step by step, to show that adverse effects are not occurring.


TV: U of T consistently ranks poorly on Maclean’s and other surveys that rank student life on campus. Do you think U of T has as strong a student life or sense of identity as Queen’s or Western? If so, why? If not, why not? 

DN: I take some consolation on these surveys from the reality that we have a more critically minded, and I think very smart, audience that may be more inclined to take a skeptical view than those who are happier to paint themselves purple or participate in rowdy Homecoming institutions.




TV: Can it all be attributed to that?

DN: No, of course not. I just wanted to get in that preliminary caveat before I answered your question. The surveys that I look at that give me some sense of encouragement are the NSSE [National Survey of Student Engagement] surveys. On NSSE, we’re up meaningfully over the last few years on five of the seven big domains, and stable on two others. So there’s no question that student life and student engagement are improving. The reality is that this is a major urban centre. We have a lot of students who commute and we know in all these surveys that commuting poses challenges in terms of spirit and solidarity. I do think that the continued improvement in athletics helps. I think that having a Student Commons will help.

I do think that U of T students are simply more academic and have a stronger orientation to a life of the mind than students at some other campuses. And we get accordingly a group who may be less inclined to go out and whoop it up at an athletic event or hang out at a local bar and have fun and who may be a little more likely to be hitting the books in a pretty demanding school and tending to focus on their academics a little more heavily — and I frankly get that and I admire it.


TV: Yes. Now you said the words ‘‘student commons,’’ so I have to ask: On the one hand you have Trinity, Engineering, and Victoria who want to leave. On the other hand you have the students’ union who doesn’t want them to leave. What is a potential compromise?

DN: I think that one has to ask what are some of the services that are sufficiently common across the campus that they might be provided by an umbrella entity and which are division specific to the extent that one might want to see them devolved and that thinking around functionality is one starting point. Another starting point for a compromise is to think about how good governance occurs and that means there has to be some sense that there is an umbrella body like UTSU, that it is responsive to the component divisions in a way that gives them a real sense of full participation in decisions that are made, and both those principles become a starting point for some intelligent compromises. Where this will end up is going to depend upon whether people are willing to find compromises in both directions.

It is the formal position at Victoria, Engineering, and Trinity that they feel there is no room to compromise and they want out. And a few weeks ago the St. George Round Table passed a motion endorsing the principle that if students have voted to leave in a fair referendum then they should be allowed to leave. And, as you know, the union is not responsive to these things. Online voting only got implemented in this election because Cheryl Misak basically threatened to cut off funding. How do you work with the union under these circumstances?

DN: I think it is fair to say that the administration is very unlikely to be comfortable with anything that doesn’t involve some sensible compromises on all sides and if there is no appetite for compromise then there will have to be some decision made by governance on the advice of the administration as to what a sensible and fair dispensation would be. There is no question we have heard very quickly the unhappiness of at least three major student groups on this campus. There is also no question, that we have watched years of challenges to electoral results and have had more than one student group through the years have similar concerns to those that have crystallized and been voted on now. All that is to say that no one should underestimate the resolve of the administration to see a fair resolution.

So I think you will find that we will be moderately patient, perhaps frustratingly so for those that want a fast resolution, and we are going to try and keep the conversation going and if at some juncture there is no resolution, we will act.


TV: The Varsity recently wrote a story about interest fees the university charges. U of T collects about $1.76 million dollars in interest fees from the St. George campus undergraduate students. I don’t think that’s much money for the administration, but I do think that’s a lot of money for your average student. Students get osap money twice during the year, but they have to pay their fees once during the year. So bearing in mind the different OSAP timelines and the pressure from the students’ union, do you think the current model needs to be altered, and if not, why? 

DN: First off, whatever the number is, any money in base that recurs is important to the institution. This is not a one-time amount of money, it’s a recurring amount of money, but much more important than the actual amount brought in on interest charges is the fact that if fees are not paid on a timely basis, there is a loss on the part of the institution. Like any other enterprise we have to continue to make payroll, deal with our expenses, and manage cash flow.


TV: Are there ways to do that without charging interest?

DN: Well it’s pretty hard not to charge interest because if the money isn’t in our hands we can’t put whatever money has been banked out to collect interest out from the banks. Remember that our money comes in in a couple of tranches, just like the money comes in from OSAP in a couple of tranches. We have to manage cash flow for the year. If we don’t invest the money that comes in we’re guilty of dereliction of the appropriate use of capital in our hands and that would be inappropriate and wasteful. One of the reasons interest is charged on these accounts is not some desire to gouge or to make a lot of money out of the interest per se, but rather to make sure we actually have people paying on a timely basis.


TV: Could U of T operate on a model where students pay once per semester? Other universities do.

DN: You have to look at each institution’s model to look at what works. As I see it, most institutions have some interest charges simply to ensure fees are paid on a timely basis. As I see it when a newspaper reports that this amounts to 19 per cent they are misrepresenting the reality and that no one is going to go a full year without paying their fees. When we have claims that these fees are a great burden when in fact they’re OSAP-eligible expenses, we also have some misperception.


TV: If I may though, the data does show that most people are sitting with it between OSAP disbursement periods.  

DN: So in that period they will see this as an expense and they will wait to be paid back, and I understand that that is something that rankles, I get it. It also rankles when anyone else gets a bill with an interest charge on it, which is why we pay them. I would love to see some sensible compromise that found everyone happy our fees are paid on a timely basis and students feeling as though they are also incentivized to do their share to pay.


TV: What is next?

DN: I will go back to the ranks and I will try to be helpful to the institution in any way I can. I will do some private sector work and I will do some non profit and charitable work and try to stay out of the way.


TV: Will you teach?

DN: I hope so. I love teaching, and I really enjoyed research. I would like to live that life again, but I will have to take a little time to see how feasible that is. I mean, I’ve been at it 14 years as a full-time academic administrator as dean of Medicine and president and the jury is out as to whether I can retool and be effective as a researcher again. I’d like to give that a try, but it may be too late — the neurons may have gone to sleep permanently.


TV: What is your favourite book?

DN: Mr Bumbletoes of Bimbleton… That’s a sentimental choice.  My grandparents on both sides were immigrants with limited education.  My mother was a gifted student, but neither she nor her three brothers attended university. My father was determined to be a medical researcher, and was the only one of six children in his family to attend university.  He arrived here at University College during the Depression without any family financial backing, and worked more or less full-time to support himself.  There was no student aid.  He made it as far as first-year Medicine, but couldn’t manage and dropped out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my parents gave their four children a house full of books and a strong sense that we should all pursue higher education as far as it would take us. Among those books, Mr Bumbletoes was my childhood favourite. I am sorry that my father did not live to see his old oak desk in the office of the dean of Medicine at U of T.


TV: Let me ask you one last question. If you came back to U of T 10 years from now, what would you hope the campus would look like?

DN: I would hope they were still amazingly diverse, with the fabulous mix of students we have here from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures. I think one of the things that I feel best about is that we’ve had huge numbers of people over the last number of years work hard to promote a uniquely Canadian brand of accessible excellence here at U of T. I think it distinguishes us hugely from some of the Ivy League institutions with which we compete otherwise on the academic level, and I also think in the quality of our graduates — so I would want to see that same wonderful level of diversity. I would hope that we might on this campus have finally figured out a way to close down some of the traffic around King’s College Circle, so that this can be even more of a pedestrian space.

I’d love to see some of the new buildings that are planned up and thriving and full of terrific students and faculty and staff, and I’ll be watching all of those developments with great interest. East and West, I would be really excited to see more of a sense of research buildings that enable more graduate students and graduate studies to thrive as per the 2030 plan as well as the outworking of some of the great plans they have underway. For example, in Scarborough the development of the North campus with the remediated land around the Pan Am Centre is going to be incredibly exciting, and I think they will have made big progress a decade from now.

To the West, there’s infinite potential at the Mississauga campus and I can see any number of new programs emerging there that would again represent a change. They have an academcy of Medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Missisauga and Scarborough with academies of engineering or similar professional programs that are tied to St. George at some later date. I think the sense of a blend of all the historic architecture and all the facilities and greenspace is something that I hope will remain forever. It will always be a place I come back to with a sense of coming home.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Overwhelming support for colleges at Hart House Debate

Judges, audience, UTSU praise college system

Overwhelming support for colleges at Hart House Debate

The Opposition claimed victory at the Hart House Intercollegiate Debate on Wednesday.

The motion “This House would abolish the college system at the University of Toronto” was defeated after the Opposition (the negating side in the British Parliamentary format of debate) impressed all five judges and the audience voted in a 2:1 ratio for them over the Government (the affirming side). The event attracted around 40 people.

Louis Tsilivis, the Hart House Debates Committee (HHDC) secretary said that: “The issue of colleges resorting to secession in the face of obstinacy from the student government definitely played into” the choice of motion for the debate, referencing the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) fee diversion conflict. An article written in The Newspaper by last year’s UTSU president Shaun Shepherd, which questioned the value of the college system, also prompted Tsilvis to organize the debate.


The UTSU declined the HHDC’s invitation to send a debater and a judge. UTSU vice-president, internal, Cameron Wathey, who declined on behalf of the union, explained that he is a strong supporter of the college system and that “no member of the executive committee thinks that abolishing the college system is a good idea.” In an email to Tsilivlis he said: “I’m sorry but we don’t feel as though engaging in this debate will help our efforts on collaboration and work with colleges on campus.”

The Government’s arguments centred around equal funding, interactions with student government, provision of adequate services, and the adversarial relationship between the different colleges. In a comment on college pride set against university spirit, debater Veenu Goswani said: “The University of Toronto (U of T) consistently generates some of the lowest numbers in terms of how attached people feel towards their university.” On intercollegiate rivalry, Goswani said “All colleges build their sense of being special, or different from the others, on the sense that they are the best college.”

Kathleen Elhatton-Lake, also debating for the Government, spoke about the issues faced by non-resident students. “They feel like they’re missing out on the normal college experience and they feel financially pressured to actually live in residence,” she argued. Elhatton-Lake went on to mention the value of negotiating power in one unified student body, and used the example of transportation costs included in tuition fees as something that individual colleges will not be able to negotiate.

The Opposition spoke to the benefits of U of T’s unique college system: academic dons, registrar’s offices, writing centres, and interaction with a diverse body of students across every faculty. Kaleem Hawa of the Opposition pointed out that “A lot of students seek guidance [at their college] instead of going to counselling and psychological services, or the UTSU.” Deirdre Casey from the Opposition challenged the idea that commuters are excluded under the collegiate structure. “The reason why commuters would feel isolated without a college is because they would not be tied to a specific residence building,” she claimed.

None of the debaters were actually of the opinion that the colleges should be abolished. Goswani stated afterwards: “I personally think that the college system is a great idea and the real take-away is how colleges can best try and move away from some the problems that we just discussed, like being too adversarial to each other.”

Tsilivis was pleased with the discussion generated by the debate and said that it “made the college issue a very live one.” Although Tsilivis himself supports the college system, he believes that “thinking about college abolition can help get you in the headspace where you can think about those other issues.”

Homecoming 2013

Homecoming 2013

Frosh in photos

A visual recap of some of the highlights from #startUofT 2013

Frosh in photos

Frosh in photos
























U of T Libraries 101

The definitive guide to the St. George campus library system

Looking for a place to study during midterm season? Here’s the definitive guide to the St. George campus library system:

Robarts Library | “The Beast”

It’s 24 hours before an exam, or an essay is due at midnight and it’s half an hour before the deadline; at the height of desperation, students shut themselves in Robarts Library. Many call this concrete monstrosity home — especially during night hours, when tired souls take to the first three floors for serious napping. Robarts is U of T’s largest library, and is fondly known as Fort Book, because of its imposing concrete stature and seemingly endless collection of books. Although you’ll meet some intense researchers and crazed insomniacs at Robarts, it also serves as a social hub for students across all three campuses, housing the largest number of books in the university and a cafeteria with a Starbucks line that is almost always out the door.

Theme Song: “The Final Countdown” by Europe

Snack of choice: 12” Meatball Sub from the cafeteria


Gerstein Science Library | “The Hopeful Pre-Med”

Gerstein is home to U of T’s life science students. Here, you’ll find first-years commiserating over Biology textbooks and Chemistry labs, as medical students pass by with their matching backpacks (yep, that’s a thing). Unlike the gloomy interiors of Robarts, Gerstein boasts plenty of windows to make even the most dreary of study days just a tad brighter.

Theme Song: “The Scientist” by Coldplay

Snack of choice: Pizza (brain food) from the downstairs café


E.J. Pratt | “The Hipster”

Home to Victoria College students, expect to see the artsy folk on campus getting their work done in Pratt library. Pratt offers optimal private space, with long mini-cubicles for individual students lining one side and a bar of window seats facing the scenic Victoria College residences on the other. The bottom floor contains some overflow stacks, as well as couch seating and vending machines for social interaction after hours of solitary study.

Theme song: You’ve probably never heard of it

Snack of choice: Sushi from Wymilwood Café in the Goldring Centre


Graham Library | “The Next Rhodes Scholar”

The Grahman Library takes up the centre wing of the beautiful Munk School building. Its popular reading rooms play host to lounging students who spend large portions of their days in the soft, welcoming Morris chairs — especially during colder months. Meanwhile serious studiers situate themselves in the surprisingly comfortable wooden chairs in front of the spacious individually-lit desks. Many windows boast beatiful views of Trinity College or of the gardens on Devonshire Place.

Theme song: “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Snack of choice: Lunch from The Buttery

A Guide to Arts at U of T

Find the perfect outlet for your creative expression

Welcome to U of T, a school with a diversity of students who, in turn, have a broad range of interests. That may seem like a cookie-cutter statement, but the endless list of Arts and Culture (A&C) clubs and societies at our university certainly does the cliché some justice. The A&C clubs and events at U of T range from college-specific to campus-wide. Each college has at least two of the following: a dramatic society, a newspaper, or an Arts Review. This guide highlights just some of the many artsy clubs and groups at U of T, some college-related and some not. There are way too many groups to list them all here, so explore the clubs fairs and Ulife to find even more.

Hint: Often, students can join college-specific groups or attend college events even if they aren’t part of the college itself.


Campus-Wide Must-Knows


Hart House


This student life hub houses the historic and cozy Hart House Theatre which stages both student and professional plays and musicals year-round. Hart House also holds classes in dance, photography, filmmaking and theatre.


University of Toronto Arts Centre

The University of Toronto Art Centre (UTAC) and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery are the campus’ two galleries, both of which offer a breadth of material ­— from artwork that dates to the Middle Ages to that of contemporary visual artists. Located in the centre of campus, it doesn’t hurt those seeking a quick foray into the art world between classes that these two galleries are closer than the AGO or the Gallery District.


Victoria College 


Motion Victures

This club began with a group of friends with a comedic bent, an improvisational tendency, and the good judgment to film and upload their performances to YouTube. Since its modest beginnings, Motion Victures has written and performed advertisements for the Bob — Vic’s comedy revue — and has created a feature film, all of which are on its YouTube account. (Email)


Acta Victoriana

Vic’s annual literary journal, which has included the works of now-famous Canadians Margaret Atwood and Lester B. Pearson. (Website)


Woodsworth College


22 Pages

A comic book club that allows students to team up with their peers to publish collaborative works.  The club also gathers to discuss comic books and comic book culture, rendering it ideal for aspiring comic writers and artists. (WebsiteEmail)


The Art Society

A forum for students engaging in artistic endeavors to meet, discuss their work, and share ideas. (Email)


Trinity College


Trinity College Literary Institute

Also called “The Lit,” the Trinity College Literary Institute has been one of Trinity College’s most deeply-rooted traditions for nearly 200 years. Although it was originally a forum for serious debate surrounding current issues, it has now adopted a more satirical format — where the object of debate is often a joke and the objective is to make the audience laugh. (Email | Email)


Trinity College Theological Society

The society meets weekly to discuss and debate theological and academic topics. The TCTS also hosts guest speakers and occasional outings. (Email)


Innis College


Free Friday Films

As a reward for those tough weeks at school, enjoy a free film at the Innis Town Hall. The event, hosted by the Cinema Studies Student Union (CINSSU), features a diverse array of film styles — from French New Wave to
Hollywood blockbuster. (Email)


Innis Jamz

A bi-monthly music session for both experienced and novice instrumentalists. Check out their Facebook page for more details.


New College


Caribbean Film Festival

Besides the proverbial “sun and sand,” the Caribbean provides great fodder for documentaries and dramas. The festival is free and includes discussions with filmmakers, whose films shed light on Caribbean politics and culture. Although it is not formally a part of New College, the festival is sponsored by the Caribbean Studies Students Union (CARSSU), housed at the college, and the CINSSU. (Email)


New Faces

Check out New Faces’ Facebook group for updates on events and auditions around campus.


St. Michael’s College


Kelly’s Korner

Held on the last Wednesday of every month by the St Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), Kelly’s Korner is an open mic night that allows students to showcase their artistic talents. Finger-snapping might not be mandatory, but St. Mike’s monthly coffee house certainly warrants it.


Annual Musical

A surefire way to make new friends and sing off midterm stress. Past shows include Sweeney Todd and Hairspray. Auditions begin just after frosh week.


University College


UC Review

A collection of students’ short fiction, poetry, and visual art. Aside from being a great forum to have creative work published, the Review also allows students to get involved in other capacities, such as graphic design and editorial positions. (Email)


The Gargoyle

FORSH by ucgargoyle

In the editor’s own words, “The Gargoyle glides past the drudgery of report journalism in favour of a sometimes farcical, sometimes serious consideration of things similar to art, politics, and sharks. In order to facilitate a tasteful and truthful conversation of the world we all tenuously occupy, The Gargoyle is accepting of made-up words, meta-isms and smartassery, and averse to poor writing, meta-meta-isms and dolphins.” (Email)


Whose frosh week is it anyway?

Students’ union, divisions clash over frosh kits and orientation planning

Whose frosh week is it anyway?

Disputes between the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and divisional student councils have affected the planning of U of T’s orientation weeks for years. This year, the conflicts over frosh week are in part a continuation of disputes from throughout last year, which culminated in the Engineering Society (EngSoc) and Trinity College voting to divert all fees from the student union. Victoria College held a similar vote, in which students supported diverting fees, but the vote fell short of the required voter turnout.

Frosh weeks at U of T are organized by each individual division however, traditionally divisions will cooperate to buy in bulk for items like frosh kits. In the past, the UTSU has often provided frosh kits to all divisions.

This year, four colleges — Trinity, St. Michael’s, Woodsworth, and New — join the EngSoc in refusing to purchase their frosh kits from the union; all other divisions are getting their frosh kits through the union.


Three years of disputes over kits

This is not the first year in which colleges decided to opt out of UTSU kits. Two years ago, the EngSoc was joined by St. Michael’s, Trinity, Innis, Woodsworth and University Colleges in opting out of the kits. Last year, even with a full subsidy, most college councils opted out of union kits.

In past years, orientation coordinators have cited politically motivated material in kits as a reason not to purchase them. Two years ago, material that seemed to pit the union against U of T —  most notably, that which negatively portrayed U of T President David Naylor — was of particular concern to orientation leaders who opted out of the kits. Multiple leaders also cited complaints from previous freshmen that the frosh kits did not promote unified school spirit. In Trinity’s “Advisory Report on the Proposed UTSU Referendum,” published in March of last year, it was explained that past frosh executives had not purchased kits in part because of a number of requirements imposed on colleges by the union. Requirements included that colleges guarantee their programming would not overlap with union programming and commit not to remove any items the union placed in the kits. Jonathan Warda, an orientation coordinator from Woodsworth, summed up the concerns of many colleges about the way information is presented in the kits: “We find it to be more beneficial to include Woodsworth College branded items rather than UTSU or CFS branded items as frosh week is meant to orient students first and foremost with their home college.”


Divisions make different plans

This year, Mauricio Curbelo, president of EngSoc, told The Varsity that the decision to opt out this year reflects the society’s wider issues with the union. The core of the dispute, he said, is that EngSoc can provide better services for its students without the involvement of the union. Vivek Kesarwani, orientation chair for EngSoc echoed the sentiment, saying simply: “We wanted to see if we could run frosh week without the UTSU.”

Trinity College and St. Michael’s college would not say whether their decision to opt out of union kits was politically motivated. Both colleges expressed that, at this time, they have no intention of including union materials — such as the planner, water bottle, or flyers — in their kits.

Meanwhile, Ryan Lamers, orientation coordinator for Innis College, which is using some union materials, said that his team had come to an agreement with the union that their kits would not include any politically motivated material that Innis deems not beneficial to its student base.

Jenny Pazio, orientation coordinator for Victoria, denied that any of their decisions are politically motivated. “We’re not going to do anything for political reasons. We want students to form their own opinions; any issues we have with the student union are being put aside for the interest of our students,” she said.

Liz Wong, an orientation coordinator for University college, said that her team’s decision to purchase union kits has to do in large part with the fact that they are ethically produced.

Craig Maniscalco, orientation coordinator for New, asserted that New has a good working relationship with the Union. He said that the decision to opt out of using their kits was purely in the interest of finding the most cost effective option.


Some students will pay twice for kits

Innis, Victoria, University, and the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) are contributing to the cost of their kits, while the remainder of the divisions will receive fully subsidized kits.

UTSU president Munib Sajjad stated that this model is a way to accommodate each division according to its needs, since smaller divisions have fewer resources.

Lamers disagrees, arguing that some students end up paying for their kits twice — once through the UTSU levy, which each member pays with their tuition, and again directly to the union. He argues that while smaller divisions have a smaller number of students, everyone pays the same fees, so there should be no difference in how much each division contributes to the cost of their kits.


Several changes of plan during the summer

Originally, the union was not going to provide kits for any divisions this year, and was set to reallocate money saved on subsidizing kits towards getting a better artist for the concert. “Due to lack of demand, the UTSU [had] decided to invest more money into other areas of Orientation,” said Sajjad. In addition, early in the planning stages of frosh week, EngSoc offered to bulk-purchase frosh materials for interested divisions through an alternate provider.

Sajjad said that, to the union’s surprise, several smaller colleges and faculties expressed interest in their kits. Lamers was among the representatives who spoke up and argued that smaller divisions rely on union kits for financial reasons. Lamers added that he and a number of other representatives were concerned with where the money saved on kits would go if the union was not able to book a better artist, saying that they had failed to clarify where excess funds would be used. Sajjad claimed that $60,000 was spent on orientation kits last year, and approximately the same amount has been sent due to the “unforeseen interest.” In response to affordability concerns, the union made arrangements with Innis, Victoria, University, and the Faculties of Music, Architecture, Pharmacy, and Physical Education and Kinesiology, to subsidize and assemble their kits.


EngSoc booked parade permit before the UTSU

Orientation coordinators also cited the annual orientation parade as a source of controversy this year. Normally, the parade is entitled “UTSU Parade” and led by the union. This year, EngSoc attempted to book the permit for the parade before the union did.

The confusion with the parade permit resulted in the establishment of a parade committee. Olivia Birch, a trained mediator, and an orientation coordinator for New College, chairs the committee. It consists of a team of parade marshals — one from each college and faculty. The parade is now to be called the “U of T Parade.”

Birch said that the planning for the parade is now going smoothly, with all divisions working together cooperatively towards the goal of a spirited, inclusive event. Birch hopes future years will use the parade committee model. Curbelo believes the booking of the parade route has led to a more cooperative planning process for frosh week then in previous years. “I highly doubt the UTSU would have been willing to modify any of their programming or allow it to be run collaboratively without some sort of external coercion.”

Curbelo added that the way the union is managing Homecoming parallels his original concerns about the parade. “I attended the first homecoming planning meeting to find out that the UTSU has already decided on the date and the programming, and has already been approaching the university and making logistical arrangements. It does not appear there is a place for divisional student societies to meaningfully contribute, other than just to promote the event,” he said.

Earlier this summer, student representatives from Engineering, Trinity and Victoria held a seven-hour negotiation session with the UTSU, facilitated by law professor Brian Langille. No public change in bargaining position arose from the meeting, and outgoing provost Cheryl Misak is planning a follow up meeting in the late summer.

While most of the conflicts around frosh week are unlikely to be noticed by incoming students, some orientation coordinators are worried that the political turmoil will have practical effects for newcomers.  “We all just want a safe orientation, and politics can make things difficult,” said Liz Wong of University College.