Was U of T trying to pass an unfair financial burden off to students through ancillary fees? Ancillary fees are imposed by each of U of T’s many departments, who seem to have been ignorant of the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities’ (MTCU) regulations. Yet, the central U of T administration has an obligation to ensure compliance across the whole university. The vastness and complexity of the organization is not a valid excuse for their obvious failure.
Based on the available evidence, we can come to one of three conclusions: the university was either ignorant of, willfully blind to, or deliberately allowed departments to continue violating the MTCU’s rules on ancillary fees. In any case, students have good reason for serious concern and harsh criticism.
If U of T’s administration were ignorant of the rules on ancillary fees, or failed to ensure compliance, it points to a shocking level of ineptitude on its part. It seems inconceivable that administrators simply missed the memo on ancillary fees. It’s more likely that the university simply allowed its departments to exploit a loophole and shift costs onto already cash-strapped students.
The university has already admitted that some fees violated the MTCU’s regulations, and that others were wrongly categorized or poorly explained. U of T has acted appropriately in admitting and remedying some of its faults in this area. There are, however, unresolved disputes over many fees, and even where the university acknowledges its mistake, its attempts at a remedy do not go far enough.
When a student is caught cheating on an exam, they cannot simply promise not to cheat again and by so doing, retain the grades they have unfairly earned. Instead, unfair gains are stripped away and punishments imposed. U of T admits that it cheated on ancillary fees, but claims the right to keep thousands of dollars it collected from students through these unfair fees.
So far, U of T has promised to stop cheating in the future, but not to rectify past abuses. U of T rightly holds its students to a high standard of academic honesty — why does it hold itself to a different standard in legal and financial matters? If a department had no right to impose the fee in the first place then it has no right to keep the money earned from that fee.
The UTSU, GSU, SCSU, and other student unions involved in the Ancillary Fee Review process deserve the sincere thanks of every student for highlighting this abuse of the fees system and for fighting to get a fair deal for their members. This is an example of one of the best roles students’ unions can play: an astute watchdog, carefully ensuring that the university, armed as it is with significant resources and staff, does not infringe on the rights of students. In this instance, student leaders met the university on its own turf and proved more effective at, or more willing to, ensure compliance than U of T’s central administration — an achievement that cannot be ignored.
Yet, reading the university’s fee review, there are a striking number of cases in which the university and the UTSU have different interpretations of how the regulations apply to particular fees. The UTSU claims that a number of fees are tuition-related and therefore unjust, while the university claims that the services named are optional and that the fee is therefore justified. Combined, these fees add up to a significant amount of money. Clearly, further action is needed to resolve this dispute and this is an opportunity for the MTCU and provincial government to intervene.
The MTCU shares responsibility for these unfair fees, since it has obviously failed to enforce its own regulations. Like the university, the ministry was either complicit or incompetent in this failure. Ontario now has a new premier, and Kathleen Wynne and Brad Duguid, her Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, could not make a better first move than to intervene on ancillary fees on the side of fairness and on the side of students.
Action by the MTCU to clarify that any service or resource necessary for a complete educational experience must be covered under tuition, not squeezed out of students through extra fees, would help compensate for past failings. It would also be a gesture of good faith and set the tone for a more productive dialogue between student leaders and the government.
U of T’s administration should be ashamed of its serious failure of oversight. Meanwhile, U of T’s students should be proud of the dedicated student leaders who succeeded in protecting the current and future student body from exploitation. The controversy over ancillary fees demonstrates that we have the power to hold U of T’s administration to account and to effect change at our university.