The Faculty of Arts and Science Council passed the flat fees proposal Monday, requiring all incoming students to pay a flat fee irrespective of their course load. Before it can be adopted, the proposal has to be voted on by the Business Board on April 27, and then by Governing Council.

Starting September 2011, all Arts & Science students taking three courses or more would pay for five. Students taking less than three would pay by the course. Currently, the average full-time student takes 4.5 courses.

ASSU president Colum Grove-White circulated a six-point document criticizing the proposal, which he said was fundamentally flawed.

Dean Meric Gertler cited the faculty’s projected $5- to $7-million deficit this year, due to the suspension of endowment payouts during the ongoing recession, and a near-$40 million cumulative deficit. “FAS is actually the last undergraduate division on the St. George campus to adopt a program fee,” said Gertler. “So this is not radical. There are many other universities in Ontario that charge their students on a program fee basis as well.”

Critics fear that the move will hurt low-income students and academia at U of T.

“I was unhappy with the proposal to charge students a flat fee, especially those taking three,” said St. Mike’s registrar Damon Chevrier. “I’ve worked directly with students since 1968. Pay-as-you-go has been a feature of life at Arts & Science since probably 1969 or 1970, and it has been what I would consider one of the strengths of the faculty.”

Gustavo Indart, an economics professor on the council, said it would be more fair to raise tuition than to implement flat fees. “What they’re doing now is penalizing students who are not taking a full load, who are going to be paying for something they’re not receiving. It’s a short-term solution–the solution should come from the main source of funding for universities, which is the government,” Indart said.

Students and professors have said that a threshold of three full courses is much too stringent, and one of the harshest in Ontario. Gertler said he expected that most students will step up to a higher course load, and complete their degrees faster, if they have to pay for five courses anyway.

Biology professor Mounir Abouhaidar said at the council meeting that his students often take a reduced course load to improve their academic performance. Scott Mabury, chair of the Program Fee Implementation Committee, admitted that the committee had done no quantitative analysis to investigate the relationship between higher course loads and GPA.

“The research that we have been able to find indicates that there is no systematic statistical relation between the number of courses a student takes and their GPA,” Gertler later said to The Varsity. “We used three because this is how we define part-time and full-time. It is consistent with how other faculties define full-time,” said Gertler. He said the PFIC had found that at the 10 Ontario universities which have a flat fee, the threshold ranges from three to four courses.

To qualify for OSAP, students have to take a full-time course load—and would have to pay for five courses.

Gertler said the proposal addressed financial concerns in two ways. The faculty will add $1.5 million in grants, and flat fees will be phased in, starting with a threshold of four full credits and dropping down to three in 2011.

Critics say the gradual implementation will only delay the disaster.

ASSU and U of T Student Union leaders at the meeting pointed out that while aid money is directed at the poorest of the students, those ineligible for these grants will fall through the gaps in the system.

“We will keep the PFIC in place for as long as the implementation takes. We will be planning to add more students, more college registrars, more undergraduate coordinators into the committee,” Gertler said.

At the moment, the FPIC is a closed committee with only one student, ASSU president Colum Grove-White, Mabury, who is the only faculty member as chair of chemistry, will begin as vice-provost of academic operation July 1.

The committee will monitor how long students take to complete degrees, enrolment in courses, changes in financial aid applications, class sizes, student engagement ratings, and TA hours and faculty/staff appointments,. They report directly to Arts & Science administration.

Gertler could not say how the student body or the faculty at large might be able to participate in the monitoring process.

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