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Provost stirs frustration at Towards 2030 town hall

Audience troubled about University governance and student fees
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Graduate students raise concerns about Towards 2030 plan to Provost Cheryl Misak.
Graduate students raise concerns about Towards 2030 plan to Provost Cheryl Misak.

A town hall addressing U of T’s Towards 2030 plan left many audience members frustrated as Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Misak remained tight-lipped over issues like governance and student funding.

Called “The View From 2012,” the town hall was held on November 4 at the Bahen Centre. It took issue with the plan, which, according to U of T, envisions that by 2030, the University will be globally recognized in graduate research, have extended more autonomy to its satellite campuses, and have forged partnerships with more corporations that will provide further research funding.

James Nugent, a graduate student from the Department of Geography, began the discussion by questioning why the “desperately needed” Doctoral Completion Grant was “unilaterally cancelled without any consultation with chairs or students.”

Under U of T’s graduate funding structure, students, over the course of their doctoral years, were eligible for a funding package that “consists of an amount equal to the cost of academic tuition fees plus $15,000.”

Nugent said that the average completion time of a U of T doctorate is around five to six years. With funding now only available for four years, however, domestic and international students have to pay tuition fees without the $15,000 grant once their funding has expired. To compensate for the loss, the University now offers a Doctoral Completion Award.

With the award funds going directly to departments, he said that department heads are left to decide how to distribute the funds.

“The award is a competitive one… The problem with that is if a department gets $90,000, they can give that all to one person, but nobody knows how much each department gets,” Nugent said.

Misak replied, saying that the decision to switch from a grant to an award was made with “a huge amount of consultation” because funding students beyond four years was unsustainable.

Blaming the University’s limited pool of money to the 2008 financial crisis, when hiring was frozen and faculties had to “cope with their loss of endowment” — around the time Towards 2030 was compiled — Misak said that the award is necessary for some departments because “it is very hard to have a one-size-fits-all model.”

She gave the example that some students in the Department of Classics usually require extra years in order to fully learn Latin.

Ashleigh Ingle, another PhD student in the Department of Physics, said that in order to guarantee graduate funding, graduate students are “expected” to work as teaching assistants, placing PhD students in a disadvantaged employee-employer relationship with the University. “Even when we are no longer guaranteed our poverty-level funding, have no guaranteed TA

A Towards 2030 primer

Higher tuition fees

U of T says: Increased tuition fees will improve the undergraduate experience by creating a larger fund dedicated to students. The university plans to keep the university accessible to marginalized students by offering more bursaries and scholarships.

Critics say: Higher tuition rates will make U of T even more inaccessible, and added financial aid will not be able to bridge the financial gap, putting students in more debt. Marginalized students will be discouraged from coming to U of T and the student population will become less economically diverse.

Corporate partnerships

U of T says: The university will forge more partnerships with corporations in order to bring in more funding for cutting-edge research.

Critics say: Corporate partnerships will divert attention from less profitable projects to those prioritized by corporations. In fear of losing their funding, possible whistleblowers might be forced to keep quiet.

Graduate students

U of T says: 35 per cent of St. George’s population will be made up of graduate students. This move promises to elevate the university’s research reputation while still focusing on quality education for undergraduates, the bulk of which is expected to study in UTM and UTSC.

Critics say: Some are concerned that lower undergrad presence at St. George means undergraduate education will become less of a priority.