On August 24, Toronto City Council voted unanimously to reject a proposal to construct a privately owned and operated condo-style student residence at 245 College St. The proposed building, which would have been built on land owned by the university, attracted significant opposition from local residents’ associations and the Ward 20 city councilor, Adam Vaughan. Opponents argued that the development was a poor fit for the neighborhood.
Knightstone Capital Management Inc., a Toronto-based developer who would have owned and operated the residence, proposed the building. In 2010, the Governing Council approved Knightstone’s request, leasing the relevant land. The original proposal was to construct a 42-storey building. In response to negative feedback from the community, Knightstone’s final proposal was for a 24-storey building.
Currently, U of T only has the capacity to house a quarter of its student population. The College Street residence was intended to address the lack of available housing on the St. George campus with a specific emphasis on accommodating graduate and international students.
Provincial Post-Secondary Policy
The UTSU held an emergency town hall on education in October in response to the Ontario government’s discussion paper “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge.” The purpose of the paper, released by then Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Glen Murray in June, was to solicit feedback regarding a series of potential reforms to the province’s post-secondary system.
The document’s controversial proposals include the creation of three-year degrees with yearlong courses divided across three semesters, standardized and transferable first- and second-year courses, and a shift towards hosting up to 60 per cent of courses online.
Murray cancelled his plans to attend the meeting after being told by the UTSU that he would not appear on a panel alongside union president Shaun Shepherd, U of T provost Cheryl Misak, and University of Toronto Faculty Association president Scott Prudham. According to Shepherd, Murray was invited as a “guest” rather than a speaker because he was the last potential panelist to confirm his participation. The minister later criticized the town hall on Twitter, calling it a “festival of misinformation.”
The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s annual general meeting ended abruptly when the proposed agenda was defeated. The agenda included several bylaw amendments and administrative tasks, which may be addressed during the upcoming general meeting as “old business.” (see “Reforms Set for UTSU Agenda,” pg 3)
The rejected agenda did not include a series of proposed amendments that were submitted collaboratively by leaders from Trinity College, University College and the Faculty of Engineering. Amongst the proposed reforms were changes to the union’s electoral policy, and a rule prohibiting proxy voting at union board meetings. The amendments never made it onto the agenda because they weren’t received in time to be vetted by the Policy and Procedures Committee and the Board of Directors.
Sam Greene, co-Head of Trinity College, believes that the union “deliberately attempted to stifle proposals and amendments.” According to Greene, Corey Scott, the UTSU’s VP internal & services, was not “forthcoming” when asked for the proposal submission deadline.
Access Copyright Agreement
In January 2012, the university became one of only two academic institutions in Canada to sign a controversial deal with Access Copyright, a non-profit organization that specializes in licensing and royalty collection and distribution. The agreement replaced the existing $0.10 per page policy for course packs by raising the annual royalty for digital copyrighted material from $3.38 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student to $27.50, an increase of over 700 per cent. Additional provisions within the agreement also include limitations on sending links to copyrighted material within emails, an extension of the definition of “copy” to encompass digital copying, and indemnity provisions meant to protect the university against copyright infringement.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Union, and the University of Toronto Faculty Association have criticized the “cost, process, content, scope, and timing” of the deal. In a joint letter to the Governing Council, they charged the university with hurrying the approval process and failing to conduct adequate community-wide consultations.
30 per cent Tuition Grant
The Ontario government implemented an important campaign promise by announcing a 30 per cent tuition grant for college and university students. In order to qualify for the deduction, students must be enrolled full-time in programs that can be entered directly after high school. They must also have a family income of less than $160,000, and have graduated high school in the past four years.
Based on calculations made by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), only one third of Ontario’s students will meet the grant’s eligibility requirements. The CFS presented Glen Murray, then Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, with a petition consisting of over 40,000 signatures challenging the grant’s narrow eligibility requirements.
The grant was also accompanied by a series of cuts to existing government programs for post secondary students, such as study-abroad scholarships, the Ontario Textbook and Technology Grant, and the Ontario Trust for Student Support.