The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Not enough space

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

A Governing Council meeting last October had to be briefly adjourned after several student protesters staged a protest inside Council chambers.

The upheaval was caused by the Policy on the Temporary Use of Space — administrative lingo for space booking — a two-page document outlining a new university policy on campus space. The document aimed to put current space bookings practice in print by updating the last policy, which was implemented in 1988 and only applied to the St. George campus.

The policy met controversy over a paragraph stating that “the university may, as a condition of booking, require that authorized security be made available during the use of the space […] at the cost of the user and to be arranged by the university.” In addition, it says that “the university at its discretion may assess additional security requirements and require that campus police be present at any event.”

Clubs lobbied student representatives to vote against the policy while students protested outside Simcoe Hall. The policy passed, accompanied with a set of procedures outlining how it should be implemented, to be determined by a nominated committee.

Student groups alleged that the security cost provision smacked of censorship, allowing the university to financially penalize groups who hold controversial events.

In 2006 and 2007, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group held two on-campus talks related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In both cases, campus police determined the event to be a security risk, sent police officers, and later billed the group hundreds of dollars for security.

“I cannot recall the last time a campus group was, without requesting campus police to be present, forced to pay for the costs of campus police to be at an event,” said Jim Delaney, director of the office of the Vice-Provost Students. He added that unlocking a building after hours is sometimes annotated as a security cost.

Despite student skepticism, the policy stresses that fees should remain a rare occurrence.

“We normally do not charge recognized campus groups and student societies at all, except for reasonable cost recovery for additional services beyond making the space available (such as post-event cleaning),” it reads.

Provost Cheryl Misak told The Varsity that, although student groups could be charged if any event’s security costs were unusually high, the situation would be exceptionally rare.

“We’re working very, very hard to not charge student groups with security costs,” she said.

Established by the provost’s office in January, the Advisory Committee on the Temporary Use of Space is a group of student and administration representatives from all three campuses. They review and make recommendations on the procedures outlined for the newly approved policy, and examine how student activity space should and can be allocated.

The committee is being facilitated by Delaney, and its second meeting is next Monday. Here’s a breakdown of what it will be dealing with.

St. George campus

alt text
The Office of Space Management oversees most room bookings on campus. Almost all OSM spaces are classrooms and seminar rooms, which are booked through its online booking service.

Many spaces on campus don’t fall under the authority of the OSM. While some rooms in the constituent colleges (Innis, New, University, and Woodsworth) are bookable through OSM, others are entirely managed by the colleges that own them. The federated colleges (St. Michael’s, Trinity, and Victoria) as well as the Faculty of Music, and Wycliffe and Knox colleges have wholly separate booking procedures. Colleges often give preferential treatment to their own clubs; some spaces are effectively barred from out-of-college clubs.

The OSM doesn’t charge recognized campus groups for space usage.

“One of the main issues we’re hearing from student groups is that they cannot always get bookings for space in the exact spaces they seek without incurring additional costs because the building needs to be opened up or because there are some additional costs that are connected to using certain types of space (e.g. caretaking costs),” Delaney said. “The question for us to explore is how we can make more desirable space available at a lower cost.”

“The office isn’t funded as well as it should be,” said UTSU VP Campus Life Corey Scott, noting that all campus group booking requests go through one OSM staff member. “I just don’t think U of T sees it as a priority, really.”

Groups can make reservations at a maximum of four weeks beforehand — a limit that doesn’t exist for external groups.

“In terms of what club executives are saying when they come to me — trying to find shortcuts or ways to get through a bunch of these policies — is that it’s incredibly frustrating,” said Scott.

The issue isn’t just indoors. Last October, the World Cup of Clubs soccer tournament, a day-long event organized by multiple cultural groups, was denied its request to use the King’s College Circle field for the full day. OSM cited office policy and students’ need to cross the field. Event organizers said the number of participants had to be limited and criticized OSM for what it deemed unwritten rules.

Hart House offers most of its rooms to students for free, with certain exceptions for larger venues.

Satellite campuses

Both UTM and UTSC have student centres, opened in 1999 and 2004 respectively, that serve as hubs of campus life. Both buildings are partially autonomous, with the local student union designating space usage. They contain offices of the campus’ student union, radio station, newspaper, pub, and sexual health centre, and also have multipurpose rooms for club meetings and events.

Although the UTSC student centre has club lockers, it has no office space to offer.

“We’re in a really tight squeeze when it comes to campus space,” said SCSU VP Campus Life Matthew Zajch, who compares the rapidly growing campus to “a kid who’s outgrown his clothes; it’s uncomfortable and you know there’s easy ways to fix it.”

With an athletic centre and a slew of campus buildings expected for the 2015 Pan Am Games, Zajch hopes university administration will offer some newly vacant space to students.

UTSC has a dance group culture, with more than a handful competing in monthly events. But with no designated dance studio and overused athletic facilities, many rehearse after-hours in open spaces across campus.

Booking space outside the student centres also seems easier at the satellite campuses. At UTSC the Campus Life Fund assists recognized groups with university-administered event costs, such as rental and clean-up fees. At UTM, clubs organize audiovisual needs for a fee with the campus’ technology department, but other fees are highly uncommon.

Student commons

St. George campus doesn’t have a student centre. Its closest match, the Sussex Clubhouse, houses over 50 campus groups in only three floors. It has limited rooms for clubs to meet in, although they are free to book, even in the evening. The building itself has finicky plumbing, cracking paint, and multiple asbestos warnings.

Both York and Ryerson universities have student centres, with club offices and multipurpose spaces.

Plans for a similar building for St. George campus have been kicking around for nearly six decades, repeatedly falling victim to competing visions and funding shortfalls.

A 2007 UTSU referendum approved a $20 million levy to pay two-thirds of the cost of a new Student Commons. UTSU collects a five-dollar levy each semester, which will rise to $14.25 when the centre opens. U of T administration will pay the remaining third.

Last November, the UTSU board of directors voted to resituate the project to 230 College St., current site of the Faculty of Architecture Landscape and Design building.

“I know the student commons will be a huge asset for clubs that need space on campus but don’t want to go through the hassle of OSM,” said Scott.

The project, still in the planning stage, aims to offer boardrooms, kitchens, office space, multipurpose rooms, and lecture halls, ostensibly by mid-2012.

Who signs it anyway?

One of the biggest points of contention among campus clubs is signing authority. At the moment, each club can use one signing officer. Requiring all events go through one single executive, combined with only being able to book events four weeks ahead, means clubs have a difficult time booking space in a speedy manner. Some groups have cancelled events after finding no compatible time.

A 2006 provost-authored report recommended that “campus groups be permitted to identify up to two contact people who are authorized to reserve space” and references a similar 1999 recommendation.

“At the time, there were some technical issues associated with the recommended change that made it difficult to implement,” said Delaney, adding that he expects a change “in the near future.”

When told that Ulife, U of T’s student life repository, allows upwards of four signing officers on its clubs recognition application, Delaney said it was a database issue.

“If I recall correctly, the issue was specific to the way the campus groups database was designed at the time and how it delivered information,” he said.