For the first time in 35 years, UTM held two sets of competing orientation week events: one hosted by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the other by the UTM Office of Student Transition (OST).
The two weeks conflicted, with the OST’s Eagles Take Off week starting one day after the UTMSU’s Space Jam-themed week. Eagles Take Off had no registration fee, while attending Space Jam cost between $105 and $140. “[Eagles Take Off] was created as a free orientation run entirely at UTM that was introduced to help meet the needs of incoming students based on feedback received in past years,” said Jessica Silver, student development officer of orientation and transition programs at the OST.
Lack of collaboration
According to Silver, Eagles Take Off was the result of an extensive research project that took place last year and was designed to contain more academic-oriented programming than the usual UTMSU frosh week.
“We so desired make sure all aspects of a constructive and successful orientation were offered to students this year,” said Silver, reassuring UTM students that they could attend both Space Jam events and Eagles Take Off events if they wanted to. According to Silver, campus resources, academics, and other constructive social aspects were considered in the creation of their orientation schedule in the hopes of enhancing students’ transition to university.
UTMSU president Ebi Agbeyegbe said that the UTMSU has always had academic programming as part of its orientation week in the form of workshops about academic rights and what students can expect during their first year at UTM.
Agbeyegbe also said that the OST did not engage in “meaningful consultation” with the UTMSU regarding the creation of Eagles Take Off as an alternative to the UTMSU’s events. He noted this is the first time UTM has had a non-student-organized orientation in their 35-year history.
The UTMSU said that they did not directly collaborate with the Department of Student Affairs and Student Life, beyond informing incoming students of both orientations and admitting students registered for Eagles Take Off to their carnival event on Tuesday, September 1.
Competition and “wasteful” spending
Agbeyegbe emphasized the importance of the union’s partnership with UTM administration in order for them to provide incoming students with a mixture of social and academic events throughout the orientation week. Even so, he found the creation of Eagles Take Off to be problematic.
“This has also lead to an unhealthy competitive atmosphere between UTMSU orientation staff and leaders with student staff working for the Department of Student Affairs/Student Life. An atmosphere that we would prefer is based on cooperation and respect by coordinating our activities and jointly promoting orientation week programming,” he said.
Agbeyegbe also highlighted that competing orientation events is not cost-effective. “Unfortunately, from the evidence we have collected so far, the participation at the Eagles Take Off programming has been low and inconsistent,” he said, adding that the UTMSU is looking to find out how much the UTM administration spent on Eagles Take Off. “The duplication of programming for orientation week by university administrators is wasteful and not in the best interest of student who struggle with debt while our universities struggle to balance their budgets.”
For Agbeyegbe, the spending evoked the $1 million “University of Toronto Mississauga” sign that was erected in 2013 to wide criticism.
For her part, Jessica Silver hopes to continue the programming in the future, pending on student feedback and their assessment of this year’s Eagles Take Off. On the other hand, the UTMSU hopes that they can work with UTM administration to prevent conflicts with their orientation week in the future.