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.”

U of T responds to Loretto investigation

Following two weeks of silence, U of T answers some questions on controversial all-women’s residence

U of T responds to Loretto investigation

Earlier this month, in an investigation by The Varsity, former residents at Loretto College raised concerns about the college’s policies and its residence atmosphere. Loretto is a private, all-female residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College (SMC). The Varsity spoke to former residents who were uncomfortable with the conservative policies and tone of the residence and the requirement that they formally agree to live in a “Christian academic community.” Under the University of Toronto’s residence guarantee policy, some students also faced a choice between living in Loretto and not living in residence at all. The university has now clarified its position on some of the questions raised by the investigation, although significant questions remain unanswered.

Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of strategic communications, was asked whether women could have been placed in Loretto without requesting it in the first place. Kurts explained that there are higher demands for particular residences than can be met. When this is the case, Housing Services identifies other residences that have open spaces, and offers students a place within these alternative residences. “This means that any student may be offered a space in a residence that they did not select as their choice. This would be as true for Loretto as any other U of T residence,” he said. If a student chooses to decline this offer, they are placed on a waitlist for their first choice residence. Kurts acknowledged that the likelihood of getting a spot in one’s first choice residence after being placed on a waitlist was “very low.” A number of the girls interviewed during The Varsity’s investigation said they felt uncomfortable signing the residence agreement but were told that no other option was available. Some elected not to sign the residence agreement and found off-campus housing.

Kurts further clarified that all U of T policies are in effect at Loretto College, as it is affiliated with the university, and that while they do not have an exact number of girls who did not select Loretto as their first choice, “the number is small, and likely fewer than five.” The Varsity interviewed more than a dozen girls, who entered across multiple years, and indicated that they did not select Loretto as a first choice.

The SMC residence office said that all Arts & Science students who are a part of SMC are offered both a spot in Loretto and a spot in SMC proper, but the same does not seem to be true for professional faculty students, who are dealt with separately. Many of the engineering students interviewed during the course of the investigation claimed they were told they would be offered spots in both Loretto and SMC. However, when they were offered spots in Loretto and inquired about the alternate offer,  they were told none was available.

When asked what would happen if a student was uncomfortable with the religious aspects of living at Loretto, Kurts said that an attempt would be made to find another space. However, he warned: “Most often than ever, our residences are full to capacity and there may be no other spaces available.”

Meanwhile, Angela Convertini, dean of residence at Loretto College, said she felt that no students were forced into Loretto. When asked about why the residence agreement was not made available online, Convertini explained that as a  smaller residence, Loretto does not have access to a webmaster and therefore is unable to maintain a separate website containing its residence agreement.

Convertini claimed women have as much knowledge about Loretto as any other residence: “We have people come by and tour the residence, look over the residence agreement, and understand what they’re getting into. Many of the women quoted in the article never came to us with any problems…they were made fully aware of the nature of the residence and the environment in which they were choosing to live.”

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.

Christian residence only option for some

The Varsity investigates Loretto College, a private residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College

Christian residence only option for some

The year she graduated from high school, Emma Sexton was accepted to Engineering at the University of Toronto with the usual residence guarantee. She grew up in a small town in the Niagara region and knew little about what to expect in terms of university residence or Toronto life. Excited about the prospect of living at her school of choice, Sexton applied to New College and University College, and didn’t think any more about the matter for several months. Sexton received several emails saying she would hear about residency in late June, but the date came and went without a residence offer. Finally, just six days before the payment deadline, she was offered a space at Loretto College, a private, all-female residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College. Sexton says she was “disappointed about being put in Loretto,” but took the spot because she was not offered an alternative.

After moving into Loretto, Sexton quickly learned that it was not like most other residences at U of T. In the Loretto residence agreement, the philosophy statement reads: “Life at Loretto College focuses on participation and involvement in a supportive Christian academic community.” The agreement goes on to state that the College has the right to make policies that “implement the philosophy of the College,” but that discrimination will not be tolerated. Students are required to sign the agreement, agreeing to “adhere” to the college’s philosophy.

Over the past three months, The Varsity spoke with more than fifteen current and former Loretto students; although their experiences differed, many of them expressed discomfort with the college’s unique policies and residence life.


Students uncomfortable with “conservative” residence life
Engineering student Emma Sexton took a spot at Loretto after not being offered an alternative. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Engineering student Emma Sexton took a spot at Loretto after not being offered an alternative. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Sexton described an experience when she signed out a male guest 2 minutes after curfew, and the porter said to her: “I signed you out at 10:00 — otherwise they talk.” Sexton recalled that this experience made her feel strange. “I assumed ‘they’ were the staff. It made me uncomfortable that I was going to be perceived differently because of two minutes,” she said.

Many students took issue with the restrictions on when men can be in certain parts of the college. The residence agreement from 2012 states that male visitors are not permitted in residence rooms between Monday and Wednesday and are only allowed during certain hours on other days. The fact that men are restricted to certain hours is publicly available on the U of T Housing website, but is not available on the Loretto webpage.

Caitlin Scinocca, another student who did not apply to live at Loretto, described her discomfort with this policy: “The fact that there were male visiting hours really bothered me,” she explained. “If I’m paying good money for a room, at least let my friends come hang out during frosh week, or let my dad up to the room.” Julia Kemp, an exchange student, said that she felt the policy was far too restrictive. “I understand that U of T needs a space where it is all-girls due to demand and religious reasons. However, if I have a single room I see no reason whatsoever why I should not be allowed a male in my room,” she said, adding that she “felt like she was treated like a girl in a boarding school.”

Another student, who lived in Loretto for two years and requested anonymity, said that these regulations are “ostensibly in accordance with Catholic doctrine to discourage any kind of fornication. Nobody really knows why, and I’ve never gotten a straight answer. That is all fine and dandy — unless of course you aren’t Catholic.”

The same student stated that she felt uncomfortable with what she perceived as a conservative environment maintained by the college administration. “There is a type of conservative personal decorum that students are somewhat implicitly encouraged to maintain,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to receive comments about so-called provocative behaviour or inquiries about your whereabouts at social events.”


Some have no other residence option

A number of students reported that, like Sexton, they were offered residence at Loretto without having requested it and were not given an alternate offer. Elizabeth de Roode, a second-year engineering student, chose to decline Loretto’s offer because she felt uncomfortable with the residence agreement. She found off-campus housing on her own, although finding a place in Toronto was “incredibly stressful” as she only had between June and September to find one. “I wanted to live in residence, I just didn’t want to live in a residence so different from my idea of what university should be,” she said. Julia Kemp, a 2012-2013 exchange student, was keen to live in residence but had trouble securing a spot until August. “[Housing Services] told me they could offer me one room in an all girls residence called Loretto. I was so desperate for campus I accepted without much research into it at all,” she said. She added that Loretto’s website does not provide a comprehensive description of its policies. The online descriptions of Loretto — both on its webpage and on the U of T housing site — state that it is an all-female residence, but do not mention the religious philosophy of the college.

U of T guarantees a residence offer to every full-time, first-year undergraduate student. The Varsity asked Michael Kurts, U of T’s assistant vice-president, strategic communications and marketing, whether or not a girl can be placed in Loretto without having requested a spot there. Kurts stated that the university’s housing policy does not guarantee students a place in their first choice of residence. “When we cannot meet a student’s priority choices, Housing Services contacts all colleges who have space available to make an offer. Many students in the residences were offered a place in a residence they might not have applied to.” He insisted that these issues are “a case of supply and demand,” and that Loretto is “no different than any other residence,” in this respect. Kurts added that Loretto welcomes students of every religion, despite what he described as its “religious roots.” Kurts did not answer a number of questions about Loretto, including what ratio of girls who are placed in Loretto actually applied there.  He indicated that he would respond next week.

Angela Convertini, dean of women at Loretto College, was surprised to hear that students were given the choice between a place at Loretto and no spot in residence at all. She claimed that all students are offered a choice between St. Mike’s and Loretto, and that everyone who lives in Loretto does so by choice. All of the girls spoken to for this story who did not apply to Loretto claimed Loretto was presented to them as the only option.

Convertini stated that students apply to live at Loretto, and if there are still spots left after the application process, they inform U of T housing — who then fill the spaces. “We would never think that someone was forced into living at Loretto… We send them the actual residence agreement, they have a choice — they can go to a co-ed, they can go to us, we really believe that the people who come here enjoy themselves,” said Convertini.

Covertini, along with some other members of the Loretto College staff, is a member of the Loretto Sisters — an order of Roman Catholic nuns. According to the Loretto Sisters’ website, the college is owned and operated by the sisters and “affiliated” with U of T through St. Michael’s College. Students told The Varsity that some sisters live in a separate area of the residence.

Kurts also did not comment on the degree to which U of T’s policies apply at Loretto, given that it is a private residence. When asked to comment on whether or not a girl who is uncomfortable with Loretto’s religious policies would be offered an alternate residence, he emphasized that the residence welcomes students of all faiths.


Many students enjoy tight-knit community

Shams Al Obaidi, a third-year don at Loretto College, felt that the tight-knit sorority atmosphere was an important part of her university experience. For Al Obaidi, the other residences are too large to be able to connect with other students.

With a community of around 130 students, Loretto allows residents to get to know each other on a much more personal level, according to Al Obaidi. She further stated that international students feel particularly welcome in Loretto. “I came all the way from Qatar, and it was my first year in Canada. It was really nice to come all the way here and feel at home.” Al Obaidi also stated that: “Loretto welcomes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds and religions.” For example, she recalls a time when a sister told her to attend the college’s weekly masses, despite being of a different religion, because “all are welcome.”

Al Obaidi also believes that Loretto College’s male policy is not unduly restrictive. She points out that men are able to visit the main floor and the lower lounge at any time, and that the restrictions on male visitors are “more of a courtesy to others” than anything else.

Convertini stressed that the residence tries to be inclusive of residents from diverse backgrounds. “We like to think that U of T provides a whole continuum of residence experiences for its students and we’re just one of the choices students have,” she explained. “While we’re a traditional Catholic dorm, we’ve had Jewish girls, Protestant girls, Muslim girls — girls from every faith, and it’s a very welcoming environment,” she said.


With files from Madeleine Taylor

Dissatisfied divisions cite Scarborough leaving UTSU as precedent for fee diversion

Trinity, VUSAC and EngSoc send joint letter to attendees of summit

On the evening of the Student Societies Summit, the student divisions seeking to divert fees from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), have written a joint letter outlining their position.

Benjamin Crase and Maha Naqi, co-heads of Trinity College; Jelena Savic, president of Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC); and Mauricio Curbelo, president of the Engineering Society (EngSoc) have submitted a joint letter outlining their position on the matter of defederation from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The letter, along with any other written submissions, will  be shared with all attendees of Monday’s summit.

The three groups cite the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) campus’ ceasing fee payment to the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC,UTSU’s predecessor) in 2004 as precedent for their request. UTSC’s referendum garnered 62.2 per cent support for cessation of membership with eight per cent voter turnout. The EngSoc referendum had 95 per cent support with 30 per cent voter turnout; the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) referendum, 72 per cent support with 33 per cent turnout; and the VUSAC referendum, 61 per cent support with 12 per cent turnout. Sarah Worku, president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), does not feel this is a reasonable comparison. Worku believes that the separation of the sac and the SCSU was primarily because the St. George and Scarborough campuses are inconveniently geographically distant from each other. “The separation of the SCSU from sac is different and unique because this was a mutual decision between both organizations,” she says “The separation of the SCSU was utilized as a tool to outreach to our members more efficiently and to better administer our services.”

The letter centres around two policies the three organizations propose for the summit: first, the university ought to give “recognized constituencies” (faculties, colleges, or the Mississauga campus) the right to end fee payment to the UTSU through a referendum process involving only students who are members of the constituency in question. Second, the UTSU, must retroactively recognize the 2013 referenda by the TCM, VUSAC, and the EngSoc to divert fees from the UTSU to their own administrations. “The guiding principle behind these two proposals is that natural constituencies within the UTSU should have a right to self-determination regarding their governance, and fees that are collected on their behalf,” reads the letter, “It is undemocratic for the UTSU to maintain a constitution and bylaws that prohibit such a right to self-determination when large numbers of students have clearly indicated dissatisfaction with the UTSU’s current model.”

Three reasons supporting these policy changes follow the proposals. The parties who wish to divert fees argue that constituencies within the UTSU must have a mechanism by which they can choose whether to pay fees to the union. Absent such a mechanism, they argue, the UTSU could be free to ignore the interests of certain minority groups or constituencies. Furthermore, they contend that instituting this mechanism would increase solidarity in student government, as smaller organizations would be more likely to cooperate with the UTSU if their democratic rights are recognized — either because they decide to cease fee payment to the union because they object to its performance, or because they take comfort in having the option to do so.

The UTSU’s position going into the summit remains the same. UTSU president Munib Sajjad indicated his optimism about the summit, and his deisre to: “strengthen our relationships and build to serve our collective membership better.” Sajjad remains concerned about who is invited to the summit: “We are disappointed that many of the Union’s stakeholders are not able to participate. These include the UTSU-recognized clubs and service groups. We feel that the accounts from the groups will provide a perspective that has been sidelined in these discussions.”

Sajjad will not represent the UTSU at the summit. Agnes So, vice-president, university affairs and Yollen Bollo-Kamara, vice-president, equity – will attend on behalf of the union.


With files from Jelena Djuric, Teodora Avramov & Trevor Koroll

Student Societies Summit scheduled for October 7

The upcoming Student Societies Summit is causing increased tension among the parties concerned. Student representatives, including the heads of student government from each college and the Engineering Society (EngSoc), have been invited to discuss referenda by the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), and EngSoc, among other topics. The referenda called for the diversion of student fees, currently being paid to UTSU, to their respective student societies. The UTSU considers the referenda illegitimate.

Announced on September 12,  the summit will bring together representatives from over 20 student groups, as well as those from the factulty and administration. Student leaders have expressed varying degrees of confidence in the summit’s potential.

UTSU president Munib Sajjad is concerned about those student groups who were not invited to attend, including clubs who would be directly affected by fee diversion, and campus-wide unions such as the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students’ Union (APUS). Although those groups will have the opportunity to make written submissions, Sajjad feels their absence will have a real impact: “Statements only go so far” he said, adding: “I feel there’s real value in having everyone in the room.” Of those student groups who will have an in person presence on October 7, many remain skeptical of the summit’s ability to affect change.

Mauricio Curbelo, president of EngSoc, holds the same position he has held since the referendum: he wants the UTSU fees diverted. Among numerous complaints, Curbelo is concerned about the significant cost that the UTSU maintains by having a salaried staff. “Engineering students made their wish clear in our referendum,” he said, “They would rather have services and representation provided by a more local organization that doesn’t spend 50 percent of its budget on salaries — one that is made up of actual students who understand what their life is like, rather than paid staffers and lifetime professional activists.”

Ashkan Azimi, President of New College Student Council (NCSC), on the other hand, finds the notion of college governments wanting to take on the UTSU’s job problematic. He understands the concerns of the various student societies who want to defederate due to endemic complaints about the union. However, he points out that UTSU staff are full time employees who have copious resources at their disposal. It would be misguided, he argues, for any organization to try to take on the union’s responsibilities without an analogous infrastructure.

“UTSU is composed of many full time employees, as well as a slew of volunteers,” he says. “They have all these resources at their disposal, and for these student societies, such as the NCSC, for us to want to tackle such tasks without having that administrative and financial backbone is very naive to me.”

At least some of the defederating colleges do not seem to have a clear idea of what sort of changes they would effect if the UTSU’s funds were redirected to them. “What we have decided to do is to take this year as a reflection and planning period,” said Zack Medow, vice-president, external, when asked what VUSAC’s policy plans are in the event that defederation is approved. “Those sorts of questions are going to be asked over the course of the year,” said Medow, adding that he would submit any final plan to the students of Victoria College at the end of this year.

Trinity and the EngSoc have more definite plans for this year. The EngSoc compiled a comprehensive report detailing the UTSU’s services and explaining for each one either how the EngSoc could provide it or why it is unnecessary. The document is similar to one prepared at Trinity. It revolves mainly around the contention that defederation could save engineering students the fees currently being paid to UTSU’s salaried employees, as EngSoc is staffed entirely by student volunteers.

Benjamin Crase, co-head of Trinity College, agrees. “Trinity students understand that they see a terrible return for the fees they pay the UTSU,” he said. “Since the majority of student fees go towards paying their salaries and overhead costs, such dissatisfaction is not surprising. At Trinity, we believe that student volunteers, who have a vested interest in their fellow students, should run our
student government.”

Some student governments have taken a decidedly ambivalent stance on the issue. The St. Michael’s College Student Union, (SMCSU), for instance, has weighed the potential advantages and disadvantages of diverting fees from the UTSU. Alex Zappone, president of the SMCSU, acknowledges that some criticisms of the union may be  valid. “I can say on behalf of SMCSU, most bodies would of course have issues with the UTSU, but are largely concerned with developing St. Mikes and haven’t spend too much time on it,” he says. He added that he is curious to see what the results of the summit will be, and that while St. Mikes’ has considered fee diversion, no final decision, one way or the other, has been made.

Professor Joe Desloges, who will serve as chair of the summit, expressed hope that all parties will enter discussions with an open mind, willing to seek a possible middle ground. However, the issue of whether or not paid staff are a wasted expense or a necessary resource for providing student services seems to be one on which student leaders disagree.

The first meeting of the Summit will take place on October 7 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm in Simcoe Hall in the Governing Council chambers.