Student jobs, emergency housing, and the mandated leave policy took centre stage at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors meeting on June 11. The board pledged to create student jobs with the opening of the Student Commons in the upcoming academic year, begin a campaign to increase access to emergency housing for students affected by domestic violence, and plan action against the upcoming vote on the university-mandated leave of absence policy.
The planned opening of the Student Commons building has been delayed from the coming fall to early 2019. The UTSU is currently aiming to keep the Student Commons open from 8:00 am to 2:00 am, although “nothing is concrete” at this point, said Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Grondin. The location will include study spaces, rooms for events, and a cafeteria. These services will require staffing, so the UTSU plans to prioritize students to fill these work positions.
Grondin presented a plan to increase access to emergency housing, which resulted from earlier student union discussions on how to best support students affected by sexual assault or domestic violence. It leverages the existing emergency housing program, run by Housing Services and funded by UTSG colleges, which provide short-term accommodations for students in precarious housing situations, including domestic violence, financial difficulty, eviction, and house fire.
U of T Student Life advises students “fleeing an abuse situation” to either go to the Community Safety Office during office hours, or to Campus Police outside of office hours to request urgent accommodation. However, Grondin believes that the UTSU can broaden access to this program through a public awareness campaign and by advocating for the administration to authorize staff to refer students affected by domestic abuse to additional locations.
Grondin also presented the UTSU’s plans on the proposed university-mandated leave of absence policy, which, if passed, would allow U of T to place students on a leave from their studies for reasons of mental health if their behaviour “poses a risk of serious harm to themselves or others, or significantly impairs the educational experience of other students, or the student is unable to engage in the essential activities required to pursue an education,” according to the draft policy.
The proposal is slated to be voted on by Governing Council on June 27 for final approval. At the board meeting, Grondin spoke on the UTSU’s advocacy efforts thus far, which included speaking at the University Affairs Board meeting on May 24 and the Academic Board on May 31. There, Grondin argued that the policy would discourage students from seeking help for mental afflictions, and that it would fail to guarantee access to support systems for students who do seek help and are placed on an involuntary leave of absence. He also argued that there are “restrictive and inadequate timelines of appeal,” leaving an affected student only 10 business days to appeal a decision to place the student on involuntary leave, with no guarantee that the Provost would extend this deadline if requested.
Grondin also announced his intention to speak against the policy at the June 27 Governing Council meeting, although he noted that the policy has been recommended by every board in the governance process thus far.
Despite unified opposition by the UTSU, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, and the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, Grondin said it seems likely that the policy will pass. He also added that the UTSU is working on creating documents and resources to better inform students of their rights regarding this policy, if the policy passes.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect accurate potential hours for the Student Commons. The Varsity regrets the error.