There’s a line of thinking amongst international students at U of T that seems to run something like this: “I’m paying an awful lot of money to go here. I should be studying. Everything else is optional.” Every part of that could be conceived of as correct.
Students attending the University of Toronto pay some of the highest fees in Canada, an issue the UTSU isn’t shy about raising. International students pay between three and four times as much as their domestic fellows, according to the Tuition Fee Schedule for Domestic and International Students published by the university. When you’re paying that kind of money, it’s fair to expect a focus on academic success.
Opportunities for involvement in university life offered to U of T students in the field of leadership include the student positions on the university’s Governing Council. Eight student governors — four full-time undergraduates, two part-time undergraduates, and two graduate students — are elected by students to serve on the 50-member council. International students constitute 12 per cent of the student population of this university, yet not one of those eight student positions is open to international students.
Why this restriction? Louis Charpentier, Secretary of the Governing Council, explains that the restriction stems from the University of Toronto Act of 1971 under which the university exists.
“The provision to be a Canadian citizen is actually applicable to all members of the Governing Council and it is a requirement that is in the provincial legislation that creates us — the University of Toronto Act,” Charpentier says. “Section 2.4 [quoting] ‘No person shall serve as a member of the Governing Council unless he is a Canadian citizen.’ So as long as this legislation remains in place, that is what we have to work with.”
The university can attempt to remove the citizenship requirement, however, by modifying the University of Toronto Act. Charpentier points out that the Governing Council has recently undergone a governance review. “The advice that the taskforce received was that at this stage in our evolution there’s no compelling combination of reasons to open the act,” he said. “In future, that may change.”
Not a good start: international students cannot partake in what the Governing Council’s call for nominations calls “one of the most effective and stimulating ways to enhance your overall student experience” at U of T.
But while the highest institutional student leadership positions at the university may be inaccessible to international students, that doesn’t mean there are no opportunities for involvement.
“Governing Council is the senior body, but it has three boards and several committees” notes Charpentier. “One can be a member of the boards or the committees, without being a governor. There is no citizenship requirement for those positions.
“And so, to actually participate in the governance conversations that really are substantive, for instance, one could serve on the Academic Board or the University Affairs board, or the committees of those boards.”
Those aren’t the only positions available either; international students can (and often do) play major roles — whether institutional or otherwise — in a number of student organizations, including the UTSU, clubs, and student publications. Lack of opportunity isn’t necessarily what holds international students back.
Fear of distraction may play a big part. Extracurricular activities can look like time-sinks and needless wastes of focus and effort. That’s not true generally.
While an emphasis on studying to succeed is not (I think) misplaced, that shouldn’t exclude participation outside of academic life. An alternative way to look at things is “I’m paying an awful lot of money to go here. I should take advantage of every opportunity I have access to.”
There’s a role for international students in student government and advocacy. Fairly or not (a whole other debate in itself), international students contribute a larger portion of the university’s per-student income than domestic students. All the more reason to get informed and involved with issues such as flat fees, student services, and the like.
In the absence of a place on Governing Council or an undergraduate international student caucus to be a part of, I’ll settle for more involvement on campus. Where do I sign up?