“Boundless” U of T campaign misrepresents the realities of university life

University advertisements misrepresent the constraints on student life

“Boundless” U of T campaign misrepresents the realities of university life

I own this shirt. It is navy blue with a white trim, a nice looking shirt. Perhaps you’ve seen this shirt. I wear it to the gym sometimes, especially the one back home where I show it off as if to say: why yes, I do attend university. Maybe you even own it too, I got mine for free and I know I’m not the only one. What really draws attention to the shirt is the message written across the chest: “I am Boundless.”

Now I’ll admit it’s a great slogan. The first thing you can say about “Boundless” is that it fits all the criteria you would expect from a university slogan. Ambiguity? Check. Opportunity? Check. Infinite horizons? Check.

From a marketing standpoint, the obscurity of this term is what makes it so effective. It carries the idea that school is what you make of it, putting you in the driver’s seat. What’s boundless? Is it the diverse mix of research programs, exchanges, clubs, teams and all manner of opportunities that are readily available at U of T? No. It is you. You are boundless.

“Boundless,” perhaps more than anything else, denotes freedom. One could argue that this is exactly what potential students are looking for. The meaning of the slogan is twofold. It first posits that the university will help provide the necessary environment for you to explore your freedom, while at the same time, the slogan suggests that this environment will not restrict or bind you in any way.

On an academic level, this slogan seems to fit well with U of T’s culture. After all, this school offers some outstanding opportunities. Ironically — perhaps intentionally — this motto runs contrary to some of the popular beliefs about this university. Barring any outside criticism, many students at this school report that the academic demands on their time are too strenuous, and that they invade too deeply into their social lives. This is of course merely the price one pays for attending a top school. Still, the fact that our slogan seems to run contrary to what many of us believe about this university is somewhat troublesome.

If this slogan only meant that we are boundless in the academic sphere then perhaps there would be no issue. However, the various ways in which this slogan is delivered play up both the academic and social advantages of the school.

In one sense, this is a must for the university’s advertising. In an age where the value of any given university degree has shrunk, social networks are becoming increasingly important for many prospective students.

Accordingly, university ads seem to be advancing the social merits of their schools more than ever. In these ads, the message that the social value of the degree is tantamount to academics is not only promoted, it’s unequivocal. After all, how do you think alumni get to the top? When you play Frisbee in the shade of the campus quad with women in sundresses and men in Oxford shirts, yes there is great fun, but there is also an opportunity to make profitable connections.

The reality for many students is that the academic rigors of this school overshadow the social benefits of university. In this sense, our slogan is contradictory. We are not boundless, but heavily bound. We can only hope, then, that this hindrance to social freedom will be worth it in the long run.

 

Breen Wilkinson is a second-year student studying English, history, and American studies.

Sikh Canadian soldier remembered

Canada's history is rich with immigrant stories

Sikh Canadian soldier remembered

This summer, when Brigitte Frot, director-general of the Quebec Soccer Federation, said: “[Sikh children wearing turbans] can play in their backyard. But not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer. They have no choice.” She portrayed the Sikh Canadian community as outsiders, inspite of its proud and tireless contribution to this great nation for the past century. But this mindless statement was not the end of this controversy — soon came Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’s Charter of Values, which seeks to ban all public servants from wearing religious clothing — including hijabs, turbans, and kippas. If the bill is passed, many Quebecers, including Sikh public servants, will have to make an unfortunate choice between their work and their religion.

Stories like those of Buckam Singh reflect Canada's rich immigrant history. PHOTO COURTEST: U OF T SIKH STUDENTS' ASSOCIATION

Stories like those of Buckam Singh reflect Canada’s rich immigrant history. PHOTO COURTEST: U OF T SIKH STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION

In times like this, it becomes crucial for communities to seek stories that provide inspiration to move forward and attempt to find commonalities in our history. One such story is that of Private Buckam Singh, a Sikh pioneer who fought for Canada in World War I. Singh emigrated from Punjab at age 14 in 1907, and worked on farms in British Columbia and Ontario. This was a time when anti-immigration groups rioted throughout Canada, beating and looting immigrants. The government soon after effectively banned all immigration from India. Sikh immigrants were not allowed to bring their families along, were unable to vote, and were only allowed to work low-skill manual labour jobs, regardless of their work experience or educational background.

Despite not being treated as an ordinary Canadian citizen, Singh saw much hope in his adopted country. Thankful for all that Canada had given him, he enlisted in the twentieth Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. Like the thousands of Sikhs from India fighting on behalf of the British Empire, he soon found himself fighting in France. He received severe wounds to the head in June 1916 during the Battle of Mont Sorrel. Recovering in three weeks, Singh joined the war effort again. Less than a month later, however, he was wounded in combat again and sent to No. 3 Canadian General Hospital. The hospital was run by none other than University of Toronto graduate and poet, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields.

In England, after recovering from his injuries,  Singh contracted tuberculosis and was sent back to Canada. He spent a year in Kitchener’s Freeport Hospital and died on August 27, 1919. He was buried in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery by the military, without any family around him. The recent discovery of his Victoria Medal by historian Sandeep Singh Brar has provided the Sikh Canadian community an incredible hero to be proud of.

Buckam Singh’s story has helped Sikh Canadians unite two seemingly distinct histories and be proud of their contribution to protecting the freedom of this country. Attending the Remembrance Day Ceremony in Kitchener with the Sikh Students Association this weekend, it was heartwarming to see young Sikh boys and girls drawing inspiration from Buckam Singh’s story, ready to fight against injustice and inequality in the world. When they read In Flanders Fields, they are reminded of not only the Canadian contribution to the war, but also that of Singh: a proud immigrant.

Singh set the ball rolling for a multicultural society that celebrates its differences. Canada has changed immensely for the better since 1907, a time when Sikh immigrants were not even considered to be citizens to a country where Sikhs pride themselves in wearing the turban while serving in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan, among other peacekeeping missions.

As Canadians, we are at an important juncture where we must reflect on our accomplishments and move forward to a country that continues to be equitable for all. Québec’s new Charter of Values does little more than institutionalize prejudice by ostracizing minority groups, and is a direct insult to the decades of contributions from immigrant communities to Canada. This is not the time to move backwards and undo the great battles that our ancestors have fought to make our great society the envy of every nation in the world.

 

Anamjit Singh Sivia is a second-year student studying engineering, as well as the Global Affairs Coordinator for the University of Toronto’s Sikh Student Association.

SAUIS seeks changes to unpaid internship framework

New campaign advocates for government intervention over unpaid internships in Ontario

On Tuesday, Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams (SAUIS), an advocacy group, launched a campaign that urges provincial government reform on unpaid internships. Unpaid interns are currently not covered under the Employment Standards Act (ESA), Ontario’s cornerstone legislation overseeing employment.

At the press conference announcing the new campaign, SAUIS listed three recommendations for Ontario’s Ministry of Labour — include proactive enforcement of existing employment regulations, a public education campaign on unpaid internships, and a comprehensive government review of the laws governing unpaid internships.

“There is a growing push to address unpaid internships in Ontario,” according to Josh Mandryk, a spokesperson for SAUIS and third-year student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law In Canada, unpaid internships are a murky field with little government oversight. Although an estimated 200,000 postsecondary students undertake in unpaid internships each year, no provincial or federal agency keeps data on interns.

At the University of Toronto, decisions concerning proposed unpaid internships are made at the department or faculty level. According to Michael Kurts, associate vice-president of strategic communications, this makes the prevalence of unpaid internships “difficult to determine, due both to the decentralized nature of the University and to the various ways that internships are defined.”

“The university supports educational opportunities for students that prepare them well for the careers they plan to follow,” Kurts said. “That might include a service learning component, an international placement, a co-op opportunity, a paid internship or an unpaid internship.”

A number of campus organizations have expressed concern over Ontario’s unpaid internship framework. “Unpaid internships exploit students and young graduates,” said Munib Sajjad, president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). “For-profit companies benefit from free labour, while young people contend with the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen since the Great Depression.”

In an email to The Varsity, Sajjad stated that the UTSU is currently working on a campaign that calls on the federal government to create a “National Youth Unemployment Strategy.” He also stated that UTSU is working on initiatives to enhance regulation of the existing ESA.

Shawn Tian, president of the Arts and Science Students’ Union, also expressed concerns over unpaid internships. “Wasted hours running petty errands which [do] nothing to bolster our resumes is about as bad as it gets,” Tian noted. Tian believes that shorter, more intensive internships would allow students to get valuable experience while not putting a large financial burden on employers.

“It’s important for [students] to realize our own worth as potential interns,” Tian asserted. “There are plenty of internships that offer solid learning opportunities and [students] should not settle if it means wasted hours with little experiential learning.”

Some U of T students, like third-year molecular genetics and microbiology major Monica, have had positive experiences with unpaid internships. Monica works as a student researcher in a campus lab. She claims her internship has been instrumental in kindling her interest in scientific research. “I never really had much ambition before I worked in this lab,” she explained, “but now that I’ve found something I love doing, I feel much more motivated to do well in my classes.”

Monica does see problems with the current system for unpaid internships. Most importantly, she believes that unpaid internships exclude disadvantaged students. “I understand the argument that experience gained is worth more than a salary, but I think the obvious problem is that most people can’t afford to work for free,” she acknowledged. “This means that entire fields where unpaid internships are the expected entry point become almost entirely inaccessible to people who don’t have enough money.”

“I’d like to see it become easier to get a research position in the context of a paying job,” Monica sad. “I’d like to see more official job postings, with stipends listed. Instead of having to email professors with interesting research at random, why not make it more obvious who’s looking for students and who isn’t?”

U of T’s Career Centre does list some paid and unpaid research opportunities, but the majority of positions go unlisted. A recent search for “research positions” on the U of T Career Centre’s website yielded no results.

“It’s time for action on unpaid internships,” Mandryk said. “We hope to see to all three parties coming together to protect young workers from abuse.” SAUIS plans to advance the group’s message to every Member of Provincial Parliament in the coming weeks.

U of T St. George defends two-day fall break

Policy maintained in spite of increasing number of Ontario schools implementing week-long breaks

U of T St. George defends two-day fall break

This year marks the first year that Carleton University, Brock University, MacMaster University, and Western University will be providing their students with a fall break. The trend of introducing a second break in the school year comes in part from student leaders demanding an additional period of mental rest, similar to the reading week that already exists in the winter term for undergraduate students.

WILLIAM AHN/THE VARSITY

WILLIAM AHN/THE VARSITY

These four universities contribute to a total of 11 out of Ontario’s 20 publicly funded universities that now have the second break. Within the city of Toronto, York University provides three days, and Ryerson University provides a full week . While an increasing number of schools seem to be adopting the concept, the lengths of the breaks vary between universities, and even within U of T’s own three campuses. U of T Mississauga (UTM) has no designated break at all, whereas U of T St. George (UTSG) has a two-day break, and U of T Scarborough (UTSC) receives a four-day break following Thanksgiving Monday.

According to both the University of Toronto administration and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), many studies have shown that a fall reading week boosts the morale of students and offers relief from the “pressure cooker” environment of university. For this reason, an increasing number of universities are implementing a fall break. But why not five days instead of just two?

Ali says that the two-day break was created to enhance the student experience, and that two days is enough to achieve a boost in student morale. The two-day fall break originated in 2009, when the university’s administration reformed its previous five-day policy. Dominic Ali, a media representative for the university, stated: “The changes that took place in 2009 allowed students to better prepare for their exams by having more time to meet with professors, review material, or hold study groups. These changes also allowed the summer session to have the same number of instruction weeks as the fall and winter session.” In essence, the university’s argument is that the two-day break is a compromise to allow for mental reprieve and time to catch up on work while aligning the summer, fall, and winter sessions to the same time frame.

The UTSU disagrees with this position, saying that if some schools can reasonably have five-day breaks, so too should the St. George campus. UTSU president Munib Sajjad noted that the university used to have a five-day fall break, but this was changed to a two-day break in 2009, around the same time that many other schools instituted the break in the first place. Sajjad explained that the UTSU believes that: “Part of the reason for this trend is that institutions are realizing how important it is to address mental health issues proactively.”

The UTSU also cites studies that show that a five-day fall reading week would be particularly effective in improving students’ mental health and general happiness. It was, however, unable to provide the specific studies in question.

When asked why UTSG does not have a five-day, Ali did not give a reason, but cited the changes that occurred over the years, saying: “In 2009, a two-day fall break and a two-day December study period were introduced that parallel the breaks in second term, plus a commitment to end the fall/winter session by April 30. Consequently, the April study week has been reduced to a two-day study break.” By implementing a two-day fall break, the administration has therefore cut down the amount of study time available for students in the winter term between the end of classes and the beginning of exams. Ali did not comment on why it was deemed necessary to have a full week break in the winter, but not one for the fall term.

Ali further stated that the Scarborough campus has a longer break because “Academic schedules [sessional dates] are set independently by division, since different departments have different needs and conditions. A few years ago, few schools had fall breaks at all. Schools with longer breaks tend to start earlier or have more compressed exam schedules.”

Representatives of the UTSU find this response inadequate, and feel that it is not unreasonable to expect a five-day reading week for all three campuses at U of T. The union has met with the university this year about the issue, but did not receive a positive response. “The university administrators seem reluctant to consider this option,” stated Sajjad. “If the administration can see how important this is for students on one campus, we are confident we can show them that it is equally important for the other two.”

 

Streeters

Question: How do you feel about the length of U of T’s mid-term break this year?

IMG_4320

Jaskaran | First-year, University College

“We only have two days! I mean, that’s horrible.”

 

IMG_4323

Albert | First-year, St. Michael’s College

“That’s horrible! I have two mid terms right after”

 

IMG_4322

Jo Anne | Grad Student, OISE

 

“I think it should be at least a week (because) we have a week in the spring.”

 

IMG_4326

Chris | First-year, University College

“I’m satisfied with a two-day break, maybe three days.”

$484 million needed in building repairs

Maintenance deferral could cost U of T much more in long term

$484 million needed in building repairs

Brad Evoy stepped out of the office to get lunch on August 1, 2012. When he got back, he found that part of the ceiling in the main lobby of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) building on Bancroft Avenue had fallen in.

“We weren’t expecting it — no one had noticed there was an issue with the ceiling at the time, from our side or the university’s,” explained Evoy, the internal commissioner for the GSU.

There are over a hundred buildings on U of T’s three campuses, and many are in need of significant maintenance and renovation work. The 2012 Deferred Maintenance report estimated the university’s total deferred maintenance liability at $484 million. The report also estimated that U of T must spend $19 million a year to maintain the current conditions of its buildings. Last year, the Ontario government provided $3.2 million through its Facilities Renewal Program (FRP).

1Graph

Deferring maintenance is simply not a good idea, said Tamer El-Diraby, an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Civil Engineering. “This is maintenance that is needed. If you do it early, that means it’s going to be a small job. If you do it late, it’s going to be a bigger job and it will cost more.”

Evoy said the university’s Facilities & Services responded to the problem swiftly. “They jumped on it quite quickly; they checked it for asbestos, sealed off the area, and dealt with it.”

Deferred maintenance involves postponing maintenance activities because of a shortage of funds, and several organizations in the post-secondary education sector believe that funding pressures on universities are causing that gap to grow. “There’s been an endless cat-and-mouse game about deferred maintenance; the cat-and-mouse game is universities and colleges trying to get across to the government that if we don’t pay to keep these buildings up, it costs more for the taxpayers and the students and families in the long run,” said U of T president David Naylor in a recent interview with The Varsity.

Brad Duguid, minister of training, colleges, and universities, said that the province has funded universities at record levels since the Liberals took power in 2003. “Nobody can suggest for a second that this government hasn’t been there for the post-secondary education system when it comes to capital funding. I think we’ve got very significant results out of the investments that we’re making in post-secondary education.”

 

Why defer maintenance?

2Graph

Ron Swail, U of T’s assistant vice-president of facilities services, said that there are a number of factors that determine whether a maintenance job is performed immediately or put off until later. “Immediate repairs would routinely be conducted if there is a risk to occupant or staff members’ health and safety,” said Swail, citing building accessibility and usability for teaching as other important factors.

U of T’s total assessed deferred maintenance and score on the Facilities Condition Index, a measure of building condition, have both increased significantly over the last few years — from a recent low of $257 million and 8.5 per cent respectively in 2007 to 14.3 per cent in 2012 (see graph 2 above). Deferred maintenance calculations do not include the federated colleges — Victoria, Trinity and St. Michael’s Colleges — which conduct their own maintenance.

Graeme Stewart, communications manager at the Ontario Confederation of University Associations (OCUFA), said that underfunding is affecting the quality of education and research at Ontario universities. “I think the bottom line is as these buildings age, and as they are not renewed, essentially everything that goes on in those buildings comes under threat.”

OCUFA’s 2012 Ontario Budget Brief called on the provincial government to raise direct maintenance funding to Ontario universities via the FRP from the current level of $17 million a year to an annual $200 million by 2015–2016. It also cited estimates from the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) that suggest that maintaining facilities in their current condition would require $380 million in funding per year over the next decade.

Duguid said those demands are unrealistic. “I think it’s a little fanciful to suggest that somehow the province can just wave a magic wand and come up with hundreds of billions of more dollars every year.”

 

Is there a funding problem?

Michael Kennedy, a media officer for U of T, said that the university acknowledges the funding pressures on the government. However, “the low level of funding for maintenance is an ongoing issue for the University and one that is regularly raised with the provincial government.”

Naylor said that what matters is not necessarily the dollar value of deferred maintenance, but “do we have a lot of deferred maintenance that is reasonably pressing, and what are prudent and sensible responses to get it fixed to avoid a crisis that affects student, faculty, and staff, or avoids needless expenditure? The answer is, we have a lot, we know how big the level is, but for many years it has been almost impossible to get the province to engage in a serious discussion about putting in play the funds to fix those problems.”
3Graph
The university’s deferred maintenance reports suggest FRP funding has fallen, from a high of $4.7 million in 2010 (see graph 3 above). Jelena Damjanovic, a media relations assistant at the university, indicated that FRP funding fell because “the entire program was reduced by the province.  That is why the dollar share allocated to the University of Toronto fell.”

Duguid said that’s not necessarily the case. “The funding levels haven’t changed. Different institutions will get different amounts every year, based on their project submissions. So that’s a number that will fluctuate a little over time, but the Facilities Renewal Program, it fluctuates just based on projects that are submitted.”

The COU is an umbrella organization that links Ontario’s publicly funded universities and advocates on their behalf. COU president Bonnie Patterson is registered to lobby the provincial government on several subjects, including infrastructure, and the organization also retains Toronto firm Counsel Public Affairs Inc. The COU declined to make anyone available to comment for this story. Bob Lopinski, a principal at Counsel and a former senior official in the McGuinty government, said the firm does not discuss client matters publicly.

Duguid maintained that the government has shown its commitment to funding the province’s universities. “In all, since 2003, we’ve invested $3.1 billion in capital funding, and one-third of that, a billion dollars, was specifically targeted to renewal, repair, and modernization across the sector. U of T got a good share of the funding for much of that capital funding,” he said.

 

Can it be fixed?

4Graph
The province has announced $800 million in capital funding for the next three years, though the ministry could not provide an estimate of how much of that money would be put towards new projects, and how much to maintenance spending.

Duguid said there are currently no plans for more capital spending once that money runs out. “In the near future, as we’re working to balance our books in the province over the next number of years, there is no plan at this point for additional new capital dollars,” he said. However, he emphasized that the province has already made significant improvements in funding for Ontario’s post-secondary universities.

U of T’s administration stressed that while funding pressures are a problem, the situation is under control. “While we are advocating for more funding, we are managing the situation,” said Damjanovic.

Swail acknowledged that this year’s report is likely to see a further rise in total deferred maintenance, although he emphasized that the university has made significant progress in tackling the most urgent projects. According to Swail, the total amount of “priority one” deferred maintenance items have decreased steadily for the past seven years, from approximately $76 million to just over $18 million (see graph 5 below).
5Graph
With new construction projects underway on all three campuses, Evoy said the university needs to concentrate on fixing its existing structures. “It’s extremely worrying; I think that as a university we should be trying to not just build outwards and seem impressive, but maintain the structures and capacities that we have,” he said.

The next deferred maintenance report will be discussed at the Business Board meeting on January 27, 2014.

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.


TV:
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.

 

AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

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.


TV:
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. 

Meet the Honourable Hal Jackman

Former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario has donated over $40 million to U of T

Meet the Honourable Hal Jackman

This is the first in a multi-week series of profiles introducing donors who have given more than $25 million to the University of Toronto’s “Boundless” Campaign.

The Honourable Henry Newton Rowell “Hal” Jackman welcomes me into his vast, elegant 10th floor office. It is lavishly and tastefully appointed, with gorgeous landscape art; hardwood floors; and rich, intricate Persian rugs. The former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario is as well known for his philanthropy as for his success in business. A patron of the arts and humanities, as well as a U of T alumnus, Jackman has given more than $40 million to the university since 1998.

AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

“I’m a Torontonian, born and brought up here. I’m a graduate of U of T, from Arts and then from Law. Both my parents are graduates of U of T. Where else would I give? It’s the natural place for me to be interested in, and I think the best university in the country,” he says. Thirty million dollars of his donation went to the Jackman Humanities Institute and the Jackman Humanities Building, $11 million to the law school, $2 million to Victoria College for its Vic One program, and $500,000 to the Centre for Medieval Studies’ 2012 fundraising effort for the Dictionary of Old English, among others.

“The humanities are broadening to the mind, whereas a lot of professional courses tend to be narrowing. You go into dentistry, and what do you learn? You learn about teeth! I think the humanities are deserving of support,” says Jackman. His wife, Maruja Jackman, was a professor in the humanities, and all five of his children have post-graduate degrees in the humanities.

Jackman credits his upbringing as the foundation of his philanthropic spirit. Born in 1932 to Henry Jackman, Member of Parliament, and Mary Rowell Jackman, Jackman says that his family did not believe in frivolous spending. “My mother and father were very generous. We came from what we would call a Methodist background, where we don’t believe in ostentatious display of wealth.” He gets more of a kick, he says, out of contributing to the university than buying expensive properties or luxury goods. “I don’t have a yacht, or a big house in Florida, or the south of France, or anything like that. I guess it’s tradition,” he says.

As far as U of T’s policies, Jackman says that he does not know enough to comment on specific ways in which the university can improve. He did say that he thinks the university should focus its resources on professors at the entry level, rather than going after established, senior professors from other institutions. “I have the opinion that if you’re building for longer term, you’re better to spend the money at the lower levels, on entry-level positions, which are very good for post-docs or assistant professors. Because if they’re really really good, they’ll get acclimatized, make friends, meet people, get married, have children, have a house. They build themselves into the community, and then it takes a hell of a lot to get them to leave.”

Despite holding this opinion, Jackman says that he is rather hands-off when it comes to the specifics of where his donations go, leaving the details up to the university. “Because the university needs the money, the university has to cut donors a lot of slack for a lot of them to sound off. I didn’t try to dictate what they should do. I talked about the general area I wanted to donate to, I agreed it was for the humanities, but I’m not saying whether we need more professors, or we need more post-docs, or scholarship money.”

Weighing in on tuition fees, Jackman says that he thinks that, aside from government subsidies, tuition should not be free. Someone has to pay for it, he says, and the cost of university should be borne by those who benefit from it — the students.

He seems to hold a positive opinion of millennials in general. Jackman claims that students coming out of U of T today are of much better quality than in his time as a student. “Maybe the sense of entitlement has gone up, but certainly the students are very good. I’m the visitor at Massey College, and I see very bright, very good kids. I think they’re exceptionally gifted people. Certainly the calibre and the quality of our graduates now compared to my day is way, way up.” He credits stricter admission standards as the main reason for this improvement.

Looking back on his experience as an undergraduate, Jackman admits that he was not a diligent student in those years, saying that he appreciates the university more in retrospect. “I remember the hijinks more than I do the academic studies as an undergraduate. I did an awful lot of theatre. Robert Gill was the head of Hart House Theatre in those days, and I spent a lot of time in the plays there. I probably spent more time in the theatre than I did in my studies,” he says.

On the topic of those hijinks, he has more than a couple of stories to tell. “We did all kinds of crazy things. We did what we call panty raids, our ‘50s expression, and all this kind of stuff. I don’t know whether that was very constructive, but it filled in the time.” Smiling, he recalls taking the sheets off the bed of a senior tutor with a few friends, and hoisting them up on the flagpole over Victoria College. “We were called in before the dean, and the dean said: ‘Why would two young fellows like you, intelligent, rational people, do a thing like that?’ I looked at my friend, and he looked at me. We both shrugged our shoulders, and mumbled ‘well, if you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.’” Things changed in law school, he says, where the disciplinary standards and work load increased.

“My best educational experience was at the law school,” says Jackman. Even today, he occasionally attends law and business lectures at the university. He says that he loves to watch the seasons change on campus on his walk from his south Rosedale home to work in the financial district. “I certainly enjoyed the University of Toronto, so I owe something to it, I guess. You have to give back if you can,” he concludes.

Making ends meet

Six students in downtown Toronto share how they pay, or don’t pay, the bills

The University of Toronto’s tuition fees are among the highest of any Canadian post-secondary institution. When high rent prices, expensive food, and a costly transit system are factored into the equation, one thing becomes quite clear: living on a student budget anywhere can be hard, but students at the University of Toronto have it especially difficult. In spite of this, young people in North America have increasingly been considered poor managers of money, as well as generally shiftless. So how do students at U of T manage to overcome their financial obstacles and get their degrees? Here are snapshots of how six U of T students budget their money.

 

Emma, 19, undeclared ­

emmaFINALYear of Study: Second

Course Load: Five

Annual Income: $2,500

Monthly Income: $100, I referee varsity sporting events.

Monthly Parental Contribution: $0

Monthly Expenses: I spend $325 on rent by sharing my room with my sister. I have a tight budget of $100 for groceries. I bike or walk everywhere I go, so my transportation costs are $5 a month, if anything. I don’t contribute to savings during the school year; however, I do have a sponsor child who I support with $31 monthly.

Are you on OSAP? Do you have personal debt? I don’t qualify for OSAP, but I am not financially supported by my parents. I have about $985 dollars right now in personal debt.

What do you like to splurge on? Candy.

What financial advice do you have for U of T students? Don’t ever get a credit card! The small purchases will add up.

 

Ryan, 22, studying philosophy

ryanFINALYear of Study: Fourth

Course Load: Four

Annual Income: $9,400

Monthly Income: $650, I work at a nightclub.

Monthly Parental Contribution: $550 for rent, $150 grocery card

Monthly Expenses:  My rent is $550 and my parents help me with that. I spend $350 on food, but I usually go over that budget since I like to go out rather than cook. I don’t need more than $60 a month for transportation. I’ll spend $200 on recreational activities and then save the rest.

Are you on OSAP? Do you have personal debt? I received $6,000 in osap funding this year. I currently have about $400 dollars in credit card debt.

What do you like to splurge on? It’s important to me to have up-to-date technology, so I recently bought a new computer for the school year.

What financial advice do you have for U of T students? Make a budget at the beginning of the year and stick to it.

 

Rebecca, 20, studying philosophy and religion

 rebeccaFINALYear of Study: Second

Course Load: Three

Annual Income: $6,000

Monthly Income: $500, I work part time at a fish and chips restaurant.

Monthly Parental contribution: $750 for rent

Monthly Expenses: My rent is $750 a month, which my parents cover. I usually spend $250 on groceries. I take the TTC to get to and from work, so I end up spending $96 on transportation. I aim to save $100 per month, and I usually spend $250 on recreational use. I do not donate to any charities at the moment.

Are you on OSAP? Do you have any personal debt? I am not on OSAP and I do not have any personal debt.

What do you like to splurge on? I love to eat out! And I could spend thousands at the drug store.

What financial advice do you have for students? Do your grocery shopping in Chinatown — it’s half the price. Also, try to avoid going out to eat when you can cook instead!

 

Hana, 19, studying classics and classical civilizations

hanafinalYear of Study: Second

Course Load: Five

Annual Income: $7,000

Monthly Income: $300, although it varies. I work occasionally as a sample food stand operator.

Monthly Parental Contribution: $725

Monthly Expenses: I live on residence — where the cost of food is incorporated into my annual fee — so together food and rent work out to be $1450 a month. I spend $15 on transportation. I allocate $100 to savings, and spend about $200 on miscellaneous spending. Instead of donating money to a charity, I volunteer at a soup kitchen.

Are you on OSAP? Do you have personal debt? I received a $4,000 loan from OSAP these years, as well as a $1,800 grant. I also received a $2,700 bursary from U of T.

What do you like to splurge on? I like to splurge on books and movies, and I recently treated myself to a new pair of boots!

What financial advice do you have for students? My best advice would be to work hard during the summer, and to look for scholarships and bursaries. There is money out there, but it’s not for everyone.

 

Amir, 21, studying human biology

amirFINALYear of Study: Fourth

Course Load: Five

Annual Income: $5,500

Monthly Income: During the school year I don’t work, as it would interfere with my studies.

Monthly Parental Contribution: $325 for rent

Monthly Expenses: I recently moved downtown after commuting for three years. My current rent is $650. I spend about $300 on food. Most places I can access by walking, so I rarely spend more than $20 on transportation. $100 goes towards recreational activities. I am not earning money while I’m in school, so I am not currently saving. I choose not to donate money to charity, but I volunteer at a hospital nearby.

Are you on OSAP? Do you have any personal debt? I don’t have any personal debt; however I received a little over $9,000 from OSAP this year.

What do you like to splurge on? I like to buy new clothes when my budget allows it.

What financial advice do you have for students? Be very careful when choosing telephone and internet plans. Make sure you shop around before you commit and compare different companies to get the best deal.

 

Thomas, 25, studying history and political science

thomasFINALYear of Study: Third

Course Load: Four

Annual Income: $12,000

Monthly Income: $900, I’m currently coaching kids’ hockey.

Monthly Parental Contribution: $0

Monthly Expenses: I live at home and commute from Oakville, so my rent and food are covered while I’m focusing on getting my degree. I spend around $195 per month on the go train, and then an additional $72 on the TTC just to get to class. I’ll spend around $350 a month on recreational activities and try and save the rest, which works out to a little over $250 a month.

Are you on OSAP? Do you have any personal debt? I am not on OSAP. I took time after graduating high school to work, so I also do not have any personal debt.

What do you like to splurge on? I am currently saving up to buy a vehicle.

What financial advice do you have for students? Live within your means. Don’t buy things you can’t afford. And budget yourself for what’s really important.