Not all students at U of T are aware of the history of its founding. It all started with University College (UC) — the sole secular educational institute amongst a plethora of independent, religion-based institutions. The unification of UC, Victoria College, Trinity College, and St. Michael’s College (SMC) established the basis for the university system we have now become familiar with. In 1853, U of T established the modern collegiate system, and over the next 150 years, it would amass the colleges that make up its system today.
The decision to implement a federated college system was a conscious choice made by the university and the province, hoping to encourage a closer affiliation with U of T. Federation allowed religious institutions like SMC, Trinity, and Victoria to combine with UC without giving up their traditional values.
Today, this collegiate structure allows these historically independent colleges to retain an aspect of individual identity and tradition. While this autonomy allows these colleges to follow the traditional values in their history, it has also distanced them from accountability and synchronicity with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Office of the President of U of T. Meanwhile, the continued emphasis on colleges as primary administrative hubs for students seeking help may create the impression that further resources are not available outside of the colleges themselves.
Over the past two years, U of T has been shaken by allegations of administrative misconduct. Whether it be SMC President David Mulroney’s public mischaracterizations of SMC students, or the recent vote of no-confidence in Trinity’s Office of the Dean of Students, problems seem to be rooted in the administration’s failure to connect with students in a genuine, sympathetic way.
In 2016, leaked Snapchat videos of former and then-current St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) leaders making allegedly Islamophobic jokes were publicized online.
In response to the scandal, Mulroney lambasted SMC, distancing himself and the college from its students. Given this, it is to an extent understandable that these students confidently broadcasted offensive content. The lack of accountability within administrations also bleeds into student-run societies, creating a positive feedback loop of apathy and neglect.
The faculty’s response to Mulroney’s comments demonstrates the lack of cohesion within SMC. Many faculty and staff have expressed disappointment that the college’s president has chosen to generalize all SMC students as party animals and Islamophobes, in effect shaming even those who have nothing to do with both labels. While the actions of the SMCSU representatives who participated in the video at the party are inexcusable, it is also wrong that Mulroney has chosen to shame the entire student body of about 5,000 undergraduate students and 200 graduate students.
Meanwhile, Trinity College has long prided itself on individualism, excellence, and tradition. But where some students see opportunity, others see neglect and elitism. The Trinity College Meeting’s recent vote of no-confidence reflects a belief among students that the administration has ignored their concerns. The Office of the Dean of Students has been accused of alleged complicity in situations that have caused students harm, as well as active mishandling of certain situations.
Tamsyn Riddle filed a human rights application against Trinity College and U of T for allegedly doing nothing to stop her rapist from remaining on campus. Additionally, in 2008, a student suffered serious head injuries during a hazing ritual for Episkopon, an unofficial secret society at Trinity. The college laid no charges in response to this incident.
Finally, at Victoria last year, Vikileaks became an anonymous platform for students to voice their dissatisfaction with alleged discriminatory behaviour of Victoria’s Office of the Dean of Students. Though its claims have not been confirmed, the very existence of this page points to the fact that some Victoria students believe there are issues with the administration.
Because they are federated colleges, SMC, Trinity, and Victoria are all allowed to operate under their own constitutions with their own presidents and governing bodies. Consequently, there is less of an ability to rein in their actions despite the issues that have plagued their administrations — a problem that does not exist to such a great extent at the other colleges on campus. Given their track records, it is evident that these colleges can fail to provide appropriate support to their students. Federated colleges owe it to their students to pursue internal reform, and submitting themselves to greater compliance to U of T’s governing bodies may be the best way to ensure accountability for their actions.
Every decade, U of T reviews its relations with the three federated colleges. It is due time we revisit this agreement, which was last modified in 2008. Students from these colleges should be able to reach out to U of T when they feel their college administrations are failing them, and this process needs to be explicitly established. Students should not be left feeling disconnected and abandoned by institutions that are not incentivized to account for their needs.
Angela Feng is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying History and Cinema Studies. She is The Varsity’s Campus Politics Columnist.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Trinity College did not disassociate from Episkopon until 2010. Trinity disassociated from Episkopon in 1992.