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Sessional lecturers, U of T admin reach “tentative agreement”

Agreement comes shortly after 91 per cent of CUPE 3902 Unit 3 vote in favour of strike mandate

Sessional lecturers, U of T admin reach “tentative agreement”

Sessional lecturers at U of T reached a “tentative agreement” with the U of T administration shortly after 91 per cent of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902 Unit 3 members voted in favour of a strike mandate. The agreement is labelled “tentative” until it is ratified by the membership of CUPE 3902 Unit 3, the union which represents the sessional instructors.

CUPE 3902 announced on its website and social media that after 24 hours of negotiations, the agreement with the university came with the help of a Conciliation Officer, a service offered by the Ontario Ministry of Labour to settle disputes between workers and employers.

CUPE 3902 Unit 1, which represents teaching assistants at U of T, is holding a strike mandate vote on December 5. In 2015, Unit 1 went on strike throughout the month of March, and came to a final agreement in June 2015.

This comes on the heels of a five-week strike by faculty members at Ontario’s 24 public colleges, including Sheridan College and Centennial College, which have joint programs with UTM and UTSC, respectively.

U of T professor wins prestigious Women in Science award

Dr. Janet Rossant is recognized for her contributions to embryonic stem cell research

U of T professor wins prestigious Women in Science award

For her pioneering efforts in understanding early embryonic development, University of Toronto professor Dr. Janet Rossant has been named the 2018 North American Laureate of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards. Rossant is among five global recipients, and she will receive a €100,000 award for her contributions to the life sciences.

Since 1998, the award program has recognized leading female scientists in either the life or physical sciences from five regions around the world. The initiative aims to inspire young women to pursue careers in the sciences — a field where only 28 per cent of researchers are women — and does so by supporting prominent female scientists as role models for future generations.

Rossant’s career path is certainly inspiring. Originally from the UK, Rossant trained at Oxford and Cambridge before coming to Canada in 1977. She is currently a senior scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children, a professor in the Departments of Molecular Genetics, and Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and the president and scientific director of the Gairdner Foundation.

The focus of Rossant’s research uses the mouse embryo as a model system to study early embryonic and stem cell development. One cell type she is particularly interested in investigating is the pluripotent stem cell (PSC). PSCs have the ability to differentiate into any of the three basic germ layers of the body — the ectoderm, the endoderm, and the mesoderm. As a result, PSCs are thought to have a number of applications in disease treatment.

“We can alter a mouse genome at will,” said Rossant. “So we can study normal development, but we can also model human disease by making human disease mutations in mice.”

Modelling a disease not only allows researchers to study the way a disease progresses, but also provides a chance to examine how that particular disease will respond to various treatments. Rossant’s lab is currently focusing on lung development from early embryonic stem cells with hopes to eventually use their findings to treat various lung diseases.

The next steps for her research involve the integration of a number of newly available genetic tools. Rossant is currently investigating the use of fluorescent gene tags, which can be used to produce multicoloured embryos, with different colours representing different genes affecting cell lineages. The technique was developed using CRISPR-Cas9, a novel genome editing tool that will have a number of applications in Rossant’s future research.

“Tools of imaging, the tools of CRISPR gene editing, and the mouse embryo are coming back together in exciting ways,” she said.

When asked what advice she would give to early-career scientists, Rossant cites passion and curiosity as two of the main factors that have contributed to her present-day success.

“Ask any of the awardees, myself included, that when we started in science, did we know we were going to carry on and be successful scientists? No. But did we have passion to explore these intriguing questions? Did we want to find out answers? Did our curiosity drive us forward, and did we feel that the science and scientific approach [were] going to be something that kept us going? The answer is, yes.”

She also stressed the importance of the role of international, interdisciplinary programs like the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards in contributing to the diversity of future generations of scientists.

“The future of science is going to be interdisciplinary,” added Rossant, “and women are part of that future.”

Researchers discover eight new epilepsy genes

Team is first to use whole-genome sequencing for epileptic encephalopathy gene discovery

Researchers discover eight new epilepsy genes

A research team led by Jacques Michaud, a Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience at the Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Montréal, discovered eight new genes involved in childhood epileptic encephalopathy.

Until now, targeting the genetic mutations involved in epilepsy has been a challenge for researchers.

Epileptic encephalopathy is a disease involving the co-occurrence of epilepsy and intellectual or developmental disabilities. In most cases, the cause of the disease is unknown, though it is hypothesized to sometimes be due to the deterioration of the brain following uncontrollable epileptic seizures or singular genetic or environmental processes that induce seizures and brain destruction.

The associated developmental disabilities may emerge before or during epileptic episodes. Intellectual disabilities accompany epilepsy in 25 per cent of children with epilepsy.

Michaud’s team was the first to use whole-genome sequencing, a technique that determines the complete DNA sequence of the genome on such a large-scale epileptic study.

In their study, the researchers, including U of T researcher Berge Minassian, used whole-genome sequencing on 197 individuals with epileptic encephalopathy and their unaffected parents.

By comparing the rare alleles they found in regions of the 197 individuals’ genomes to associated gene descriptions, they were able to identify eight genes involved in the development of epilepsy and similar neurodevelopmental disorders. Based on the comparisons, the researchers found that epileptic encephalopathy is caused primarily by spontaneous genetic mutations. In other words, it is not inherited from the parents for the most part, though it could be passed on.

In a collaboration with other scientists around the world, the researchers found the same eight faulty genes caused epileptic encephalopathy in 30 other children.

Whole-genome rather than exome sequencing the technique traditionally used to approach genetics analyses on individuals with epilepsy will allow for the identification of many more potential mutations at any one time and may minimize the number of diagnostic tests children undergo.

The discovery could aid in the development of more effective treatments for patients with epileptic encephalopathy through therapies that directly target the eight genes and their pathways.

Bylaw amendments take centre stage at UTMSU AGM

Signature threshold to hold general meetings raised, grievance policy adopted

Bylaw amendments take centre stage at UTMSU AGM

Bylaw amendments were the main topics of discussion at the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM), held on November 23 in the William G. Davis Building at UTM. Major changes included an increase to the number of signatures needed for calling a general meeting, as well as a new policy for how students can bring forward grievances they have against the union.

At the start of bylaw amendment discussions, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President External Anne Boucher motioned to externalize four of the proposed amendments, including the two mentioned above. The motion passed, which required those four to be discussed and voted on separately from other amendments. These discussions represented the bulk of the yearly meeting.

Signatures for general meetings

One of the amendments put forward increased the number of signatures required to call general meetings to five per cent of the UTMSU membership, which currently consists of over 13,000 students, making the new quorum approximately 650 students. The previous requirement was 250 students, and the original raise proposed in the amendment was 10 per cent of the membership, or 1,300 students.

During the discussions, Boucher voiced concerns that 10 per cent was too high, suggesting the number be changed instead to 500 signatures, or approximately four per cent of the membership.

After extensive debate, UTMSU President Salma Fakhry was the one to propose the successful motion of the number being lowered to 5 per cent as a compromise to the 10 per cent that was originally suggested, which she called a “standard” number.

Boucher responded by saying, “I just wanted to let the room know that the UTSU’s is only one per cent, so it’s not actually standard.”

Grievance policy

A new bylaw was passed detailing how members can bring to attention grievances that they may have against the UTSMU. According to the bylaw, this is to ensure that the union can “make itself an open and accessible space to all members.”

The bylaw states that “any such Grievance shall be put in writing and addressed to the Grievance Officer, who shall be the President of the Union.” The officer will meet with the concerned parties and, depending on the grievance, may direct the complaint to a relevant committee. The resolution will be decided by a majority vote of committee members present at the meeting.

Boucher proposed an amendment to the bylaw, saying that there should be more than one Grievance Officer, and that they should “function as an impartial appellate board.”

“The reason why I am proposing this change is just in the case [of] a grievance against an executive member or the president themselves. It’s very hard to be impartial and non-biased in this position,” said Boucher.

Fakhry spoke against Boucher’s proposal, saying, “We’d rather very much keep it to the decision making of the board to compile the Executive Review Committee if such an occurrence or such a grievance were to come against the executive.”


Other notable AGM events included the approval of the financial statements of the UTMSU and of The Blind Duck pub, a division of the student union. UTMSU Vice President Internal Vikko Qu explained that the World University Service of Canada program ran a $24,000 deficit to financially support an additional refugee student whom “the administration refused to support” aside from registration.

In addition, Qu said that The Blind Duck is running a deficit, which UTMSU Executive Director Munib Sajjad clarified was due to the executive’s decision to not increase the price of food despite the increase in cost of sales.

Qu also mentioned that club expenditures went down because some clubs did not collect their funding cheques or pass audited financial statements, and that Student Centre expenditures were diminished because there were fewer events held on campus this year.

The UTMSU also voted to switch auditors of the financial statements from Charles Havill, CPA to Glenn Graydon Wright LLP, as Fakhry said the former no longer exists.

UTSU appoints new VP University Affairs

November Board of Directors meeting fills position, addresses Landmark Project

UTSU appoints new VP University Affairs

Adrian Huntelar was appointed Vice-President University Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) at its Board of Directors meeting on November 25. The meeting also addressed the Landmark Project and reviewed executive reports.

Vice-President University Affairs

The Vice-President University Affairs position had been vacant since the resignation of Carina Zhang on September 3. The Board of Directors appointed Huntelar, previously one of seven General Equity Directors, to fill the vacancy.

Huntelar, a third-year Political Science and Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies student, said that he has “a tangible plan of action” and “a track record of stabilizing turbulent positions” as well as making progress for students — characteristics he said were important for the position.

His blueprint for the rest of the academic year includes improving food security on campus.

“It’s way too hard to find healthy, affordable food that also accommodates dietary restrictions, and is also accessible to commuter students,” he said. “Forty per cent of students in Canada are food insecure; I think that’s unacceptable.”

With regard to dealing with the university administration as part of his portfolio, Huntelar emphasized his “strong working relationship” with the Vice-Provost Students and the Vice-Provost International Student Experience.

“On a number of issues, if the student community moves first and we do the work to improve the situation on campus, and then we challenge the administration to do the same, we’ll create a race to the top,” he said. “We do better, they do better, we do better, they do better. The result is a better campus for everybody.”

The deliberation process, which included a presentation and questioning period, was conducted in camera.

Huntelar’s appointment comes after last month’s failed motion to consolidate the posts of Vice-President University Affairs and Vice-President External into one Vice-President Advocacy position.

The consolidation was intended to cut salary expenses in view of the union’s structural deficit from the Student Commons project. At the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), Anne Boucher, Vice-President External, argued that given the long hours she puts into her work, advocacy would be severely undercut by combining the two positions.

Huntelar himself argued in favour of keeping the position, saying that “frivolous” expenses like miscellaneous spending, transportation, and executive phone plans were the problem, not salaries.

Daman Singh, Vice-President Internal, said during the AGM discussion that students should not oppose the elimination of old positions just because “they want to run for it.” After this remark was met by audible objections, Singh apologized for the comment.

Landmark Project

Donald Ainslie, Principal of University College (UC), also gave a presentation on the proposed Landmark Project. The project is a plan by administrators to pedestrianize and beautify four core areas of the St. George campus, including King’s College Circle, the Sir Daniel Wilson quadrangle at UC, the area around back campus, and Hart House Circle.

Although cars will have limited access to King’s College Circle, Ainslie emphasized that pedestrians will have priority. The project aims to raise $20 million, $2 million of which has already been gifted by the University of Toronto Alumni Association and the University of Toronto.

Executive reports

The board also discussed the reports from members of the executive. Boucher did not submit her report on time, so it will be taken up at the December meeting.

The executive reports generated a significant amount of review from the members. Kassandra Neranjan, Academic Director for Humanities, brought up the issue that, while some individual board directors did not agree with the university-mandated leave of absence policy, Memmel had called it a “positive development” in his report.

Another contentious report came from Chimwemwe Alao, Vice-President Equity, whose report addressed the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and U of T professor Jordan Peterson.

“A group of graduate students associated with the Women and Gender Studies Institute reached out to me in order to discuss ways that I can support their organizing against Jordan Peterson,” said Alao in his report. “They had expressed interest in getting the CFS and member locals to also publicly condemn Peterson and show solidarity in their organizing.”

Alao brought forward an emergency motion on behalf of the graduate students at the November 17 to November 20 CFS National General Meeting. It passed unanimously, calling on all CFS-member unions to publicly condemn Peterson.

Referendum for OPIRG-Toronto levy fails to meet quorum

Less than four per cent of eligible voters turn out to vote

Referendum for OPIRG-Toronto levy fails to meet quorum

The Toronto chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), based at U of T, will continue to receive its optional $0.50 levy from full-time undergraduates after the referendum to remove its funding failed to meet quorum.

On November 23, the results of the OPIRG referendum were released, showing that of the total electors, 1.6 per cent abstained. Of those who did not abstain, 40.1 per cent voted ‘yes’ to remove the levy, and 59.9 per cent voted ‘no.’ Only 3.1 per cent of students, or 1,165, who were eligible to vote participated. A quorum of 7.5 per cent was needed to make the results binding.

Daman Singh, Vice-President Internal of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), stated that “an inquorate referendum is effectively a survey.”

In an email, Chris Dryden, the head of the committee that campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote, mentioned that he “could foresee that there was [going to be] a very low chance of reaching quorum.” He added, “Considering this was a referendum with no adjunct election it was an average turnout.”

Dryden had previously expressed concern that a UTSU error resulted in a delayed voting period for the referendum, describing the situation as a “double-edged sword.”

Before the voting period, Dyrden said he knew “that [the UTSU] wanted to be able to bring forward the petition.” He conceded that students at UTSG are generally apathetic toward elections, which may explain the inquorate results.

“The majority of people vote only when it’s election season,” said Dryden. “So, if a petition is set during an election season, I think that there would be a much greater turnout.” The turnout at the most recent UTSU election this past spring was 11.8 per cent of the membership, which is relatively high. Dryden said that previous records indicate “the only way to reach quorum is to have a referendum in the spring.”

“Three percent of people voting isn’t very indicative of the overall student view of campus,” said Dryden. According to him, this poses a conundrum because students who “are the most apathetic to voting are less likely to know that they are paying these fees.”

Nevertheless, Dryden believes that, regardless of the referendum results, “considering that levy [groups] do not often have their funding questioned, it will put more pressure on funding groups to have more accountability with their spending.”

OPIRG did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment on the results of the referendum.

University Ombudsperson reflects on role as three-year term nears end

Community feedback being sought on status, progress of Ombudsperson

University Ombudsperson reflects on role as three-year term nears end


Professor Emeritus Ellen Hodnett’s three-year term as University Ombudsperson is coming to a close. Hodnett has served as a faculty member in the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing for 39 years and as an elected member of Governing Council for nine years.

Established in 1975, the Office of the University Ombudsperson is an independent body designed to provide confidential and impartial advice to students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Based on these observations, the office publishes an annual report to inform Governing Council of the systemic issues that merit review.

Hodnett stressed that the role of the office is not for advocacy, but rather to ensure fair application of policy. She said that the office has a “great deal of informal power” with the publication of their reports. “I really like that it keeps everyone honest since our assessment of policy is open to the public.”

The Review Committee has been established to assess the role of the Ombudsperson, whose findings Governing Council must review and approve. Following this, the Search Committee will be established to find a successor. According to the terms of reference for the Office of the Ombudsperson, this is conventional practice.

Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans said that no speculation can be made as to whether changes will be implemented as the review is still underway.

Hodnett remains concerned about the low number of people seeking support from the Ombudsperson’s office, especially from UTM and UTSC. According to the Ombudsperson’s 2016–2017 Annual Report, the office handled 339 cases, relatively similar to the numbers in 2015–2016 and 2014–2015, which respectively handled 316 and 314.

Hodnett said the office does not have the data to explain why so few members from each campus are using the office for support. “For all we know it could [be] because the policies in place are effective and people don’t have to reach us with their issues.” Hodnett suggested that the Review Committee consider having an Ombudsperson for each campus.

Hodnett plans to address this concern with the Review Committee, but she recognizes this is just one possible model. She emphasized the need for careful consultation and other ideas to increase accessibility and stimulate a productive dialogue.

University of Toronto Students’ Union President Mathias Memmel suggested that the Office of the University Ombudsperson focus beyond systemic issues. Further, he recommended a “greater emphasis on a timeline for implementation,” due to Governing Council’s slow responses to the Ombudsperson’s reports.

In addition, Memmel claimed the reports “tend to highlight one or two issues… excluding some simply because they don’t fit priority one or two.”

To assist in the assessment process, the Review Committee invites members of U of T to share their thoughts and feedback regarding the Office of the University Ombudsperson and submit nominations for the next Ombudsperson.

McGill’s freedom of student press called into question in recent levy referendum

Levy for publisher of  The McGill Daily Le Délit  ultimately renewed

McGill’s freedom of student press called into question in recent levy referendum

When the Legislative Council of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) — the university’s students’ union — didn’t pass a motion endorsing a ‘yes’ vote for the Daily Publications Society’s (DPS) existence on November 2, many voiced concerns that free press on campus was in jeopardy.

The referendum, held every five years, concerned the renewal of a mandatory $6 fee per undergraduate student per semester that supports the DPS, a not-for-profit, student-run organization that publishes The McGill Daily and Le Délit, two independent student newspapers at McGill.

This year, the referendum took place between November 13 and November 17, and it resulted in the DPS winning the vote with 65 per cent of students voting ‘yes’ to the continuation of the $6 fee, despite an active ‘no’ campaign and the Legislative Council’s lack of support.

“I feel relieved that the DPS will be around for at least another five years, and that in the meantime, we’ll have the chance to spread the word about the importance of campus journalism,” said Marc Cataford, the Chair of the DPS.

According to Cataford, the referendum had a 20.7 per cent turnout — much larger than a typical SSMU voter turnout — which “renewed” his belief “that student press is deemed important by our campus population.”

According to an editorial from The McGill Tribune, some Legislative Council members who did not support the motion were concerned that supporting a ‘yes’ vote would look like an endorsement of The McGill Daily and its editorial pieces in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Some members did not want to bias their peers, and others disagreed with the student fees used to fund the paper, especially since the students paying these fees might disagree with the political views published in the paper.

Cataford mentioned that other SSMU Legislative Council members who did not endorse a ‘yes’ vote were worried they would create a “conflict of interest” between the council and the paper, and that the papers would not “hold [the council] accountable.”

“I found it alarming to see that support in the form of a public endorsement of a wording of their choice was described as something that could influence the attitude of the press toward the SSMU or that it would unfairly affect students’ votes,” said Cataford.

By declining to support the DPS, Cataford believes that the union’s Legislative Council sent “a pretty clear message that the presence of free speech outlets isn’t a priority” and that it “failed to uphold free speech and free press on campus.”

Mahaut Engérant, the Editor-in-Chief of Le Délit, McGill’s only francophone paper, said she was “disappointed” when the council decided not to endorse the DPS. “A SSMU endorsement did not mean an endorsement of all our articles or our editorial line, but rather it was meant to be a way for SSMU to recognize the value of an institution such as the free presse [sic].”

On November 15, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), an organization that “works to defend and protect the right to free expression in Canada and around the world,” published an article written by Jacqueline Houston, Opinion Editor at The McGill Tribune and former CJFE Communications and Research Assistant, criticizing the SSMU for failing to “recognize the value of a free and varied campus press.”

“Endorsing a diverse, free press isn’t a political view. It’s a principle, one that elected representatives at any level ought to uphold, and that needs to be funded,” reads Houston’s article. “McGill undergraduate students pay mandatory fees for a range of clubs and services—because they accept that it is in the student body’s collective interest to have a range of clubs and services available on campus, even if each student doesn’t directly engage or agree with all of them.”

Houston told The Varsity that the DPS winning the vote was a “win for campus free press” but still considers the events leading up to the vote “alarming,” because the ‘no’ campaign “also politicized and qualified the principle of a diverse and free campus press.”

“Student representatives should be the first to defend the very student papers that hold them accountable,” said Houston.

The SSMU did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.