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.

Meet Judy Goldring

Family of Governing Council chair has donated over $10 million to U of T

Meet Judy Goldring

Judy Goldring, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at AGF Management, had a special reason to spend time in the library during her undergraduate career at the University of Toronto. “I loved hanging out at Emmanuel College,” she says. “This will really date me, but Tears for Fears did a video at Emmanuel College, and I loved going into Emmanuel College and saying ‘This is where the video was done.’”

Four generations of the Goldring family have attended U of T, including Judy and her brother Blake, both of whom graduated from Victoria University, and both of whom have individually donated over $1 million to the university. The Goldring family has made numerous donations to the university. The most visible signs of its generosity are the recently opened Goldring Student Centre at Victoria University and the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, currently under construction on Devonshire. “One of our family principles is to give back to your alma mater,” Goldring explains.

Goldring’s experience as a commuter student informed the decision to contribute to the Victoria student centre. “We’re really so honoured and proud and humbled to be able to put a building that we think will help integrate the commuter students, to have a place for not just commuter students but also [residence] students, and it’s a place of meeting.”

Goldring believes that the development of projects like the two Goldring centres must involve consultation and dialogue between donors and the administration. The student centre at Victoria created some controversy when it was first proposed in 2008, with students voting in a referendum that approved a $100 ancillary fee to pay for one-third of the $21 million building. Goldring says the decision of students to support the project at the time was inspiring. “I think that’s exactly what donations are all about; that’s exactly why if there’s a vote and people will support it, it’s because they want to make sure they’re improving the time for the student experience after they’re gone, and that’s exactly what we wanted to see happen with the Goldring Student Centre.”

The connection to Victoria is obvious, but why high performance sport? Goldring says her father, the late C. Warren Goldring, co-founder of financial firm AGF Management, believed in a well-balanced life. “I did joke with him, ‘There are no Olympians in my side of the family,’” she remembers, “but he was a firm believer about having that element of your life fulfilled, and it is about having all parts of your life in a positive way, and that’s what the Goldring Centre for High Performance does.”

Health is a particular topic of interest for Goldring; her husband has Type 1 diabetes, and she has previously co-chaired the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Ride for Research charity event. According to Goldring, the quality of research being conducted at institutions like U of T is particularly important: “In terms of the research excellence that’s done here, you do see organizations like JDRF benefitting from phenomenal research, and research does make a difference in managing diseases like diabetes.”

Goldring believes that it is important for students to take care of their health. “You’ve got a lot of pressure; students today are under a lot of stress, and the pressure to perform and succeed in a very competitive environment is a challenge,” she admits. “But it is a good message to get out — to get out and do that, keep active, keep healthy, eat right.”

Goldring’s contributions to U of T go beyond the remarkable sums she has donated. She has been a member of the University of Toronto’s Governing Council for four years, serving as its vice-chair for two years before being elected to the role of chair on July 1, 2013. “We’ve spoken about my love of this institution, my fond memories of it,” she says. “My family connection has afforded me the opportunity to get involved, and when the opportunity came around for me to get involved with the council, I was excited to be able to give back.”

As Meric Gertler takes over as U of T’s new president, Goldring is leading Governing Council during a period of change for the school, and she looks forward to the work. “Certainly governance, I think, can be helpful in the transition, assuring a smooth transition to support the president and the provost,” she says. “We’re also looking to support, where appropriate, on key defined advocacy issues as the president might define or the administration might define.” Goldring emphasizes that a current key policy initiative for the Governing Council is the implementation of campus councils on the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, an effort to respond to their growth by increasing decision-making at the local level.

Goldring balances her position at the university with what she drily calls her “day job” as COO of AGF Management, a $38 billion asset management company that invests money for clients without the expertise or inclination to do so themselves. Portfolio managers at the company construct investment packages in which individuals and institutions can then choose to participate. U of T itself employs AGF’s services through the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation. “So it keeps me busy,” Goldring says of her multitude of responsibilities with a smile.

“Some would argue there’s no such thing as balance,” Goldring notes, when asked how she manages to keep her complex life in order. “It’s just a very busy time on campus right now, which is great. So right now, the balance is a little imbalanced, but it’s okay. It’s all good.”

The discussion eventually turns back to the business of U of T. Goldring shares what she sees as the most significant challenge for universities in Canada. “Broadly speaking, I think for all universities it’s government policy around post-secondary education and sustainability of the framework that we’re operating in,” she says. “It’s one of the more pressing issues; it’s not a new issue, and it’s not going to be solved in a day either.” Still, Goldring is excited about the opportunities for dialogue for the schools leaders going forward, and particularly expressed great confidence in president Gertler.

Perhaps she is remembering her days making friends in The Buttery, or reading in her favourite quiet spaces around Vic, or being awestruck by the building in which Tears for Fears filmed a video (yesterday’s Mean Girls and Convocation Hall, one might say). At any rate, there is context that makes the words Goldring utters in conclusion just a little more meaningful. “Enjoy your time here,” she says. “It goes by quickly.”

Build new structures, or renovate?

Maintenance on existing infrastructure neglected as donors choose to contribute to new projects

Build new structures, or renovate?

The parking lot on St. George Street behind Convocation Hall will soon be covered in scaffolding, with work on the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering’s Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CEIE) scheduled to be completed in late 2016.

U of T’s $2 billion Boundless campaign aims to fund a large number of new buildings and capital projects, including building the Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the expansion and renovation of the Faculty of Law, and the renovation of the north building at UTM. Some university figures, however, have suggested that the way the university tries to attract donor contributions and provincial funding structures for capital projects incentivize building new over maintaining the infrastructure the university already has. This could be problematic, as buildings in need of repair go ignored while funds are diverted to new construction.

The Engineering Society (EngSoc) has contributed $1 million towards the costs of the building. Rishi Maharaj, former president of EngSoc, says the money came from the Skule Endowment Fund, set up in 2010 to establish a permanent endowment for the society, with the aim of eventually replacing the society’s annual fee and the student contribution to the faculty’s operating maintenance budget. Engineering students contribute $100 a year to the fund. “One of the provisions was that the capital could potentially be spent for something major like a new building,” he explained.

Infra Graphs

Maharaj said that initial plans for the CEIE did not include any student space, and that EngSoc’s donation to the project, an initiative begun last year, is partly an attempt to remedy that situation. “What eventually emerged during my time, was that we would be much more likely to be able to get not all the things we wanted, but a substantial number of them, if we were willing to come up with some money. That was the genesis of the idea to give the university some money.”

Direct student contributions to capital projects like new buildings show a sense of ownership and an acknowledgement that students benefit from these projects, said David Palmer, U of T’s vice-president, advancement and the person behind Boundless. Palmer said that voluntary one-time donations — as opposed to the referendum-supported levy, used to partly fund the Goldring Student Centre at Victoria University, for example — are also a great motivating tool for donors. “That type of student giving is one of the most powerful incentives for donors and alumni to give,” he explained.

 

Build new or renovate?

Tamer El-Diraby, an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Civil Engineering, says that the university’s focus on new building is partly pragmatic. “There is no politician that I am aware of that wants to cut the ribbon for the renovation of a building instead of placing the foundation stone for a new building,” he said.

Many of the capital projects currently underway at the university include significant renovation or maintenance components, including the north building and 1 Spadina projects. Palmer says that donors do not express a preference for new buildings at the expense of renovating the university’s existing infrastructure. “I’ve never had a donor express to me a preference for new versus renovated [buildings],” he said. “In fact many of the biggest capital projects that we’ve had donors give money to are a combination of both.’

The provincial government has provided $417 million in capital funding to U of T since 2003, according to figures provided by the ministry of training, colleges, and universities (TCU) (see graph above). New buildings and construction accounted for $224 million of those funds. Universities need to consider the maintenance costs associated with new buildings when they apply for funding said Brad Duguid, minister of TCU. “[When] we invest in a new capital project for a university or college, the expectation is that the maintenance of that facility will be covered under the operating budgets of the institution,” he explained. “If an institution doesn’t have the capability of maintaining a facility, they ought to not be applying for funding for us to build it.”

Palmer admitted that donors often have a similar attitude. “Deferred maintenance is often seen by people as the responsibility of the system, of the university, to maintain things correctly,” he explained. “I have never had much success in going to a donor with a pitch to have their funds allocated towards deferred maintenance.” Last week, in responding to questions about deferred maintenance, the university administration indicated that it believes provincial funding levels are currently insufficient, and that it is lobbying the Ontario government on the matter.

 

Why are we expanding?

Duguid says new infrastructure is key to maintaining the reputation and ranking of Ontario’s universities. “There’s no question that the deferred maintenance issue is a pressure,” he admitted. “At the same time, we also have the pressure of ensuring that we’re continuing to provide a globally-competitive education experience to our students.”

Infra Graphs2

Enrollment at the university has increased significantly in recent decades, with the total number of full-time students at U of T growing from 55,127 in 2000–2001 to 80,899 in 2012–2013. Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of strategic communications and marketing, said in an email that “demand for PSE has increased due to population increases combined with increasing participation rates,” leading to a growth in enrollment.

These new students need new space, faculty and infrastructure. “U of T cannot say to students, ‘We will not have classrooms for you.’ We cannot say to a chair of a department, ‘We cannot have a secretary for you.’ We cannot tell students, ‘We will not have professors to teach you,’” said El-Diraby. The result, he said, is that maintenance gets deferred because it is the only cost that can be delayed.

Palmer emphasized that the Boundless campaign reflects the priorities set by academic units within the university. “All the priorities for the campaigns begin with academic priorities, that are approved in academic plans by the divisions, and they have to be approved by the provost.”

The ability of a project to attract funding does play a significant role in the planning process, however. Maharaj said that during the initial planning stage for the CEIE, the faculty created a document detailing how the building’s space would be used, broken up into four or five blocks. “Each one of those blocks was based on some type of concept of some type of donor that they would be able to reach with the idea for that space.”

The university has repeatedly emphasized that donors do not try to interfere with the academic priorities or planning of faculties or departments. Brad Evoy, external commissioner of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), however, says that donor participation affects what the university is able to fund. “It’s much more about building a new program, building a new thing — something that seems cutting-edge,” he argued. “But it’s not so much about the bread-and-butter basics of the university.”

Palmer said attracting and retaining donors is dependent on their willingness to give to specific areas of the university’s need. “It is almost impossible to steer a donor to an area of interest where they have no interest,” he said. “It essentially is not sensible to even try, because donors — it’s their money, they can give it to whatever worthy charitable cause they wish, and there’s plenty of competition out there.”

 

What are the implications of this system?

The current system of donor contributions and government funding could lead to unforeseen problems in the future, according to Maharaj. “Over the long term you won’t have a master-planned university, you won’t have a university that evolves according to academic or educational goals — you’ll have a university that evolves towards what people are willing to pay for.”

The university’s Governing Council and Business Board approves capital projects, including new buildings and renovations. The Business Board meeting on Monday, November 4, will include the university advancement division’s quarterly report on gifts and pledges above $250,000.

UTSU Board of Directors rules fee-diversion motions out of order

Some directors express concerns over transparency

UTSU Board of Directors rules fee-diversion motions out of order

Engineering director Pierre Harfouche’s three motions were not approved at Tuesday’s University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors meeting, effectively removing opposition motions from the agenda of the upcoming Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The first of Harfouche’s motions called on the UTSU to support the stance of fee-diversion-seeking divisions at the Student Societies Summit. The third was a charter amendment that would allow a division within the university to decide by an intra-division referendum to divert fees from the UTSU.

Both Harfouche’s first and third motions were ruled out of order by the Board of Directors as bylaw amendments would be needed before their submission. Though Harfouche aimed, in the phrasing of his motions, to avoid making bylaw amendments, the UTSU considers it an atttempt to work around the established procedure. “In conversation, Mr. Harfouche admitted that he phrased the motions in the way that he did in an attempt to avoid having to make bylaw amendments, which must be approved by the Board of Directors according to the Corporations Act,” commented UTSU president Munib Sajjad, adding that “This doesn’t stop the fact that his motions require bylaw amendments.”

Harfouche’s second motion called for the appointment of new representatives from the union to the Student Societies Summit, the focus of which is the questions around fee diversion. This motion was similarly ruled out of order on the principle that it seeks to undermine the university administration’s stance against the changing of Summit members. This position has been acknowledged by other members of the Board of Directors, though Yolen Bollo-Kamara, vice-president, equity, and one of the UTSU’s representatives at the Summit, was unavailable for comment.

Harfouche said he was happy to be present at Tuesday’s meeting. According to Harfouche, the last occasion when his motions were discussed, he was not informed of the location, time, or even that his emails had been received by the union until after the meeting had taken place. Harfouche outlined the timeline of his exchanges, saying; “On Monday, I submitted the motions, on Wednesday, I emailed the UTSU asking them to confirm again, and on Friday I finally got a response that they had seen them. What they didn’t tell me was that a day earlier at 9:00 am they had already had a meeting and already ruled them all out of order.” He says he was told after the fact by the UTSU that he would have had to ask to get details of the meeting, “and I was like, ‘well why didn’t you tell me about it,’ and they said ‘oh you’d just have to ask’ and I was like ‘well, how am I supposed to know?’” The UTSU commented that since Harfouche attended the Policy Town Hall, where procedures for submitting motions were outlined, it was expected that he would be aware of the union’s policies.

Harfouche’s concerns about communication are echoed by Aimee Quenneville, who represents University College on the board. Quenneville said that in order to gain any information about the Student Societies Summit at any point so far, she has had to ask the executives directly. “We have not been informed at all,” she remarked. “I didn’t even know that the Student Societies Summit was taking place at all, and I was informed by the vice president of the University College Literary and Athletic Society. That’s how little we were told.” Quenneville also gave credit to the executives who have been trying to make the UTSU more transparent and accessible, but added that information has not always been forthcoming, especially considering the comparatively small number of members of the Board of Directors.

Some members of the Board of Directors are more concerned about the exclusion of these motions from the UTSU’s November 27 AGM. UTSU director Ben Coleman was one of the few who challenged the ruling. For him, it was a question of principle that motions for the AGM be as inclusive and representative as possible. In an email to The Varsity, he said: “If I were Pierre, I would have taken a different approach. However, I challenged the chair’s ruling because I believe we have a duty to consider motions from our members as fully as possible, regardless of whether or not we agree with them.”

Similarly, while recognizing that the motions contravened standing bylaws, Quenneville expressed measured support for their inclusion in the AGM: “I think that because this discussion is so important to students right now, it is something that should be brought to students for their own understanding and their own interpretation.” Benjamin Crase, also a director, and one of Trinity’s Heads of College, challenged the rulling as well, going so far as to say that Harfouche was “stonewalled.”

Even so, Crase does not see the AGM as the setting for questions of fee diversion. “It is a question that should be answered by an open and democratic referendum process held by the constituency in question, recognized by the University as outlined in University policy,” he wrote to The Varsity. The UTSU was pleased with the outcomes of Tuesday’s meeting, and said that the executive is looking forward to the AGM.

Little movement at third Student Societies Summit meeting

Divisions maintain stances on fractioning of student government

After what was described by the Summit Chair Joe Desloges as two meetings of “hard work, articulate, open, and creative discussion,” the Student Societies Summit reconvened for its third meeting on November 1 for further discussion, mediated by the U of T administration.

The agenda for the third meeting was set to discuss two main questions: “What would be at stake if the current structure of government became fractioned into separate entities” and, “How can the structure between U of T’s student governments be modified to prevent these possible issues from occurring?”

Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) president Jelena Savic stated that the discussions resulted in a consensus that a division of responsibilities between the various governments is necessary, stressing that they are dealing with a “slightly archaic structure that needs to be brought up to speed with the current needs and demands of students.”

Regarding the negative effects of a fractioned student government, Engineering Society (EngSoc) president Mauricio Curbelo added that the fractured nature of the governments would have little impact. Feasibility reports issued by the EngSoc and the Trinity College Meeting have claimed that they could easily replicate the the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) current services.

Benjamin Crase, Male Head of College at Trinity, expressed his disappointment with the current system, saying that the “ongoing Summit has highlighted the impossibility of suggesting compromise.” He was, however, optimistic that the prompts given at this meeting highlight the university’s attempt to resolve these discussions with a positive outcome.

When asked about the third meeting, UTSU president Munib Sajjad, who was not in attendance, stated that the UTSU remains committed to communicating with students while “maintaining the concern of excluding the UTSU clubs and service groups from the summit as an issue.”

More meetings are to follow in the near future.

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. 

UTSU’s Policy and Procedures Committee blocks opposition motions

Fee diversion proposals would have permitted vote at AGM, final decision to be made Tuesday by UTSU Board

For the second year in a row, opposition-driven proposals may not appear on the agenda of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). Newly elected engineering director Pierre Harfouche submitted three motions to the UTSU’s Policy and Procedures Committee (P&P) intended to encourage the union to permit those student divisions who want to leave the UTSU to do so. All three motions have been ruled out of order by the P&P. The UTSU’s Board of Directors, which is meeting on Tuesday, has the ultimate decision as to whether or not to allow the motions. It is unusual for the board to overrule the P&P.

Harfouche’s first motion called on the UTSU to support in principle the stances of Trinity College, the Engineering Society (EngSoc), and Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) with respect to fee diversion referenda, as outlined in a letter co-authored by those groups and addressed to the Student Societies Summit. Harfouche likened this to the stance taken by the UTSU in support of online voting and opposition to unpaid internships at the two-part Special General Meeting last year.

The second motion Harfouche submitted called for the appointment of two UTSU representatives to the Student Societies Summit. The third called on the union to support an amendment to its Charter for Referenda that would enable colleges and professional faculties to hold fee diversion referenda. The current structure requires all students to vote on any issue. The proposed changes would allow a single division to vote on a question that exclusively pertains to it, such as whether it wants to remain a part of the union. Harfouche believes that a student vote on these issues would “ensure that the union is something that students are willingly a part of and can contribute to in a way that isn’t forced.”

The P&P has reviewed the motions and ruled them out of order. As outlined in a recent UTSU report to its Board of Directors, motions one and three were rejected because they attempt to “circumvent existing union bylaws.” The second was ruled out of order because “the university administration has made it clear that Student Society Summit members cannot be changed.” UTSU president Munib Sajjad characterized the motions in general as being “in bad faith, given that there is a whole process set up by the administration to deal with all of this and these motions are an attempt to avoid that process,” noting further that “[Harfouche was told that] this kind of thing was against the bylaws at the policy townhall.”

Harfouche believes that no legitimate basis exists for the exclusion of at least his first and second motions: “These are not policy changes and there is no bylaw I know of that could prevent [the motions’] inclusion on the AGM agenda,” he said, adding: “I was told at the Policy Townhall that motions which contravene the bylaws would be ruled out of order, but these motions do not, and I did not at that time present these motions specifically.”

Meanwhile, UTSU director Ben Coleman argued that notwithstanding technical problems with the motions, their handling by the UTSU executive represents a “broader communication problem,” wherein, “the [UTSU] executive fails to explain to students what they are doing and why they are doing it.” Trinity’s Heads of College Ben Crase and Maha Naqi expressed support for Harfouche’s proposals, noting that, “We are always in favour of student efforts to reform the UTSU to better represent those they claim to represent.” The pair are concerned that “motions not made in accordance with the UTSU’s status-quo agenda confront logistical speed bumps that prevent their enactment.”

The rejection of Harfouche’s motions raises the question of whether organized support and opposition to the union will coalesce in advance of the AGM. Last autumn, students forced an early end to the meeting, voting not to approve its agenda. At that time, opposition centered on the exclusion of motions calling for electoral reform submitted by then co-head of Trinity College Sam Greene.

In a Facebook post, Harfouche makes clear that he is “not trying to start a proxy war,” although Aimee Quenneville, the seconder of Harfouche’s motions and one of the University College representatives on the UTSU Board of Directors, sees the possibility for a struggle for votes in light of the motions’ rejection.

Reached by phone, Quenneville stated that, “It could happen… Rejecting an agenda that deliberately denies students the right to discuss this issue would be a legitimate course of action.” For Coleman, the outcome is uncertain. “The UTSU board of directors is meeting on Tuesday. If they create an agenda that allows students to talk about these issues, I think [a fight for proxy votes] is much less likely to happen,” he said.

Also discussed and passed at the P&P meeting was a motion banning proxy voting at UTSU Board of Directors meetings to conform with new federal law, as well as a motion to investigate new possibilities for the structure of the UTSU Board of Directors. Harfouche will ask the board to accept his motions on Tuesday.

Correction Monday October 28: A previous version of this article referred to a motion that would ban proxy voting as designed to comply with new provincial law. It is designed to comply with new federal law.

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.

Debate-3rdchoice-byShijieZhou

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.”