Toronto emergency services respond to death at Bahen Centre

Students evacuated, Campus Police declined to comment

Toronto emergency services respond to death at Bahen Centre

Toronto Fire was dispatched to the Bahen Centre for Information Technology at 8:40 pm in response to a death on the first floor. Around half an hour after the call, there were around 10 police cruisers and multiple Campus Police officers on the scene.

Students who were studying at Bahen told The Varsity that they were asked to evacuate the building by police. Both Toronto Police and Campus Police were on the scene. Campus Police declined to comment on the matter.

 

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

The Varsity has reached out to U of T Media Relations for comment.

— With files from Adam A. Lam and Ilya Bañares

SMC student union reviews finances, new student improvement fund at Annual General Meeting

SMCSU to create a list of ‘essential costs’ as mandated by provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative

SMC student union reviews finances, new student improvement fund at Annual General Meeting

Finance reviews took centre stage at the St. Michael’s College Student Union’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on March 15. The union gave an extensive review of its 2018–2019 annual budget, projected revenue for the upcoming academic year, and presented portfolios from each office.

Vice-President Finance Jason Gardner presented a budget report regarding finances for each office from last May to this April.

The projected 2018–2019 revenue of $120,571.90 was reported as an actual revenue of $65,155.30, constituting an over $50,000 shortfall.

There was also a large gap between projected and actual spending. Community life, for example, has only spent $10,342.28 of its $41,967 budget.

Gardner explained that the reasons for the difference lie in an overestimation when budgeting, as well as reimbursements that have not come in yet for upcoming and recent events.

The union also moved to change its reimbursement system from physical to digital in an effort to encourage sustainability. The motion passed.

The union projects an estimated $102,801.78 in spending for 2019–2020. Less money will be allotted to clubs at just $12,733.08 and formal at $27,606, compared to last year’s allotments of $20,905.80 and $31,250 respectively.

This year, both arts and community life had the largest budgeted amounts at $33,440 and $41,967 respectively, accounting for major events such as formal and the annual musical.

The union also introduced a new Student Improvement Fund, which would go toward physical changes on St. Michael’s campus to benefit campus life. Funds will be used to renovate common spaces, which in the past has included the ‘coop’ in Brennan Hall and the ice rink in the college quad.

Expenses are calculated at $330,000, with the skating rink costing roughly $30,000 and the Brennan Hall renovation estimated at $300,000.

On the Student Choice Initiative, the provincial government’s plan to mandate an opt-out option for certain incidental fees, the union is collectively working on a list of essential costs according to provincial guidelines highlighted by the initiative.

Architecture student union town hall sees student complaints about grading discrepancies, heating

Voting rights granted to some commissioners, new representative position added at Annual General Meeting

Architecture student union town hall sees student complaints about grading discrepancies, heating

Undergraduates of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design were given a forum to voice their concerns and become involved in governance at the Architecture and Visual Studies Student Union’s (AVSSU) Winter Town Hall and Annual General Meeting (AGM) on March 14.

The AGM is AVSSU’s yearly governance meeting that is open to its general membership. Members voted on amendments to the union’s bylaws and constitution, which concerned the structure and function of student governance positions.

Grading discrepancy, heating issues

During the town hall, a Daniels student brought up a concern about a grading discrepancy for students in ARC382: Structures, Building Systems, and Environments in the fall. She said that she and other students have found grading discrepancies between marks recorded on returned paper assignments and marks recorded electronically on Quercus, which has affected final grades.

Professor Jeannie Kim acknowledged the issue, but said that “even though they potentially affect a large scale of students, they are in most case, from what I understand, relatively minor discrepancies.” She confirmed that faculty are working on resolving the issue.

Andrea McGee, Registrar & Assistant Dean, recommended that affected students submit a regrade request for the final mark to the registrar’s office with supporting documentation, after which her office would examine the case in consultation with the professor.

A second major concern from students was “very inconsistent” heating in a new part of One Spadina, causing high temperatures. McGee confirmed that the faculty is aware and affected by the issue. She noted that her office is directly affected by high heat, and that faculty have been working on a solution.

Complaint about attendance grades

A third Daniels student reported a controversial decision by Professor Petros Babasikas to begin grading students based on attendance in ARC354: History of Housing. According to the student, the professor sent an email announcement that “attendance was now mandatory” in both lectures and tutorials, partway through the semester.

She continued by saying that this would constitute a change in the syllabus’ grading scheme, which could not be done without a vote involving students.

In response, Kim acknowledged that “the wording [of the professor’s email] may have been stronger than it was intended to be.” From her understanding, the professor intended the email to act as “an incentive” to attend lecture.

McGee added that it “doesn’t sound like an actual syllabus change or grading practices violation took place,” as it is in the professor’s rights to use attendance to grade students based on the existing participation mark within the syllabus, but added that she would be in touch with the professor.

In an email to The Varsity after the meeting, Babasikas clarified that the taking of attendance has been a new practice in the past two lectures as a way to encourage students to show up to lecture.

“As I already explained to the students, the record of this attendance does not factor into their grade… So the attendance is indeed an incentive and in no way a change in grading policies.”

Unanimous vote passes amendments to constitution and bylaws

AVSSU followed the town hall with its AGM, which passed amendments concerning the structure of AVSSU’s governance, as well as the role of its executives.

The bylaw amendments granted voting rights to the Vice-President Academic, Health & Wellness Commissioner, Sustainability Commissioner, and Equity Commissioner, and adjusted the roles of several executive positions. They also clearly defined the roles of AVSSU representatives.

Additionally, the constitutional amendment involved the addition of “a second Architectural Studies: Comprehensive Stream Representative” to better reflect the large number of students in that program.

The AGM concluded with the general members present unanimously voting to approve all changes.

U of T starting work on online portal for Student Choice Initiative

ACORN Advisory Team being consulted as U of T waits for final framework from province

U of T starting work on online portal for Student Choice Initiative

In preparation for the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) — the Ontario government’s plans to mandate an opt-out option for certain incidental fees — the university is using the ACORN Advisory Team to test user experience for what will become the online portal through which students will be able to opt out of incidental fees. The team is made up of 150 students who give input on ACORN applications.

The SCI is part of larger changes to postsecondary funding in Ontario, announced earlier this year alongside a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition and changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

In an email to Advisory Team members, the ACORN Experience & Process Design Team asked for volunteers to test one-on-one research sessions for feedback on “initial collection of [the team’s] design work.”

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church wrote that the university is still in “very preliminary design tests” for the SCI online portal, awaiting final guidelines from the province.

The lack of clear and final guidelines from the province has been brought to the attention of Governing Council numerous times in board meetings, as the fall semester deadline to implement the system looms.

Church went on to say that the Office of the Vice-Provost Students has been meeting with all 45 student societies directly and reviewing the fees for student societies and student services.

UC administration under fire for scheduling convocation on a religious holiday

Convocation scheduled for June 10

UC administration under fire for scheduling convocation on a religious holiday

University College is under fire after scheduling its convocation on a Jewish religious holiday. Set for June 10, the ceremony conflicts with the Jewish holiday Shavuot, which stretches from June 8–10. Students of Jewish faith are frustrated and are calling upon university administration to make reasonable arrangements and prevent similar conflicts from happening in the future.

Hillel U of T, a chapter of the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, told The Varsity that the conflict is disappointing for the university’s Jewish community and for graduating students.

“Hillel is troubled by this scheduling conflict. Unfortunately, this means that Jewish students will be forced to choose between attending their convocation and observing an integral Jewish holiday,” wrote Director of Advocacy for Hillel Ontario Ilan Orzy to The Varsity.

“We have raised this concern with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students and have asked them to consider rescheduling the convocation to a different date.”

According to university spokesperson Elizabeth Church, further accommodations will be made for students who are impacted by the scheduling conflict.

“We do our best to avoid conflicts with all dates of religious observance when planning convocation ceremonies,” she wrote in a statement to The Varsity.

Due to tight scheduling, the university will be holding 31 ceremonies over 15 days. Students have the option to attend a separate convocation ceremony due to religious observance.

“Graduates who choose to attend another ceremony because of religious observance are placed with others graduating with their degree, and they are presented, walk across the stage and collect their diploma in the same manner as other attending graduates,” wrote Church.

Under Governing Council’s Policy on Scheduling of Classes and Examinations and Other Accommodations for Religious Observances, the university acknowledges that a student should not be disadvantaged for observing religious holidays.

“It is the policy of the University of Toronto to arrange reasonable accommodation of the needs of students who observe religious holy days other than those already accommodated by ordinary scheduling and statutory holidays,” it reads.

Students, however, have the responsibility of informing administration in a timely fashion of any upcoming religious observances that may be in conflict.

The Vice-President & Provost is responsible for handling such policy, as well as for publishing information regarding anticipated annual religious holidays. However, there is no guarantee that there will not be important academic dates scheduled on those dates.

Orzy assures that any students who are negatively affected by the scheduling conflict can contact Hillel U of T to express any concerns to the administration there. University College has historically had a large Jewish community, since it was the only U of T college that was openly accepting of Jewish students until the late 1970s. Victoria College’s convocation is also scheduled for June 10.

The Varsity has reached out to Victoria College for comment.

The future of the Faculty of Arts & Science: report raises questions of budget cuts, diversity

Dean confirms reduced financial aid, “more international students”

The future of the Faculty of Arts & Science: report raises questions of budget cuts, diversity

There are many changes on the horizon for the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS) this year, including a new dean, cuts to the budget and financial aid based on the Ontario government’s changes to postsecondary education, and recommendations from an external report released on January assessing the faculty’s growth.

Recommendations for the future of U of T’s largest faculty included establishing a lottery system for college admissions and increasing representation of women and racialized groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In response to this report, The Varsity spoke to outgoing dean David Cameron on increasing support for Indigenous studies, declining resources for the humanities, and a reliance on international student enrolment to make up for the budget cuts.

Report findings and recommendations

The external review report was conducted by a committee of deans from the University of California Berkeley, the University of California San Diego, and McGill University over a two-day period in October. Committee members spoke to various faculty members, including Cameron, as well as undergraduate and graduate student representatives.

Overall, the review committee noted the promising evolution of the FAS from a period of prolonged budgetary restraint, as it had accumulated a deficit of $51.2 million in 2009–2010.

However, the report also made note of issues surrounding inclusivity and interdisciplinary education that it suggested should be addressed in the future.

For example, in the STEM fields the report noted that there is the tendency for the self-segregation of women and racialized groups, leading to their underrepresentation.

To combat this, the committee suggested creating a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences to help diversify STEM fields by giving them a more humanistic appeal.

The report also identified a significant difference between the desired and actual enrolment ratios of domestic students to international students in certain programs.

For example, the desired enrolment ratio is 70 per cent domestic to 30 per cent international, yet in the computer science program, the applications ratio is currently 55 per cent domestic to 45 per cent international.

Comments were also made about U of T’s commitment to supporting the Indigenous community by both creating an Indigenous College and advancing the conditions of the Centre for Indigenous Studies (CIS).

In September 2018, an FAS committee formally proposed the creation of an Indigenous college and residence. In the case of the CIS, cramped space given current and projected staffing levels have restricted its success in educating students, with one student reportedly having been unable to pursue Indigenous languages studies because the instructor of a key course had retired without an immediate replacement.

The college system was also a focus in the report. The committee proposed that the college system be used more effectively by the FAS in promoting interdisciplinary cooperation and education among students.

However, the committee saw the different admissions standards of each college as “contra-inclusive” as it allowed students to informally rank the colleges. They proposed that an alternative process such as a lottery system be employed.

Budget reductions

The 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition and changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) mandated by the provincial government will slash an estimated $20 million from the FAS budget. When asked about what impact this will have for implementing the recommendations, Cameron said that the effects of OSAP changes are most concentrated in the amount of aid given to students by U of T.

“[The cut] has this impact on our aggregate aid budget, but it doesn’t have as much of an effect directly on the budget of Arts and Science,” Cameron said. “It cramps our style, but it’s not a dramatic hit.”

This comes in contrast with the 2018 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review, which Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr had cited in a previous meeting: “The fiscal hole is deep. The road ahead is not an easy one, and it will require difficult decisions. Everyone in Ontario will be required to make sacrifices, without exception.”

Departmentally, Cameron said that no field would find its budget slashed, although Vice-President Operations Scott Mabury previously said that divisions predominantly relying on domestic tuition would see the biggest hits.

As shown in the report, quantitative science programs like computer science have a significant international population, while programs like the humanities have a declining international population.

“The international students are less likely to go into humanities, as compared to the sciences,” Cameron said.

However, since all disciplines are internalized by the FAS, Cameron said that departments that struggle with lower undergraduate enrolment are subsidized by the FAS and protected from major budget reductions.

According to Cameron, this same situation happened when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s, reducing demand for degrees in computer science, which the FAS subsidized until enrolment grew again.

“What happens is when it comes to allocating new resources like new appointments, new positions, those that are declining in numbers are less likely to get appointments than those that are increasing,” Cameron said.

“So we’ve been putting a lot of resources into statistics and into computer science to some extent, perhaps. And not putting as many new resources into humanities.”

To compensate for the budget reductions, however, Cameron said that the FAS can adjust the intake of undergraduate students to generate more revenue. When asked if this entailed increasing the proportion of international students, Cameron confirmed this.

“More international students,” he repeated. “So we have this capacity to ensure we can maintain the resources we need to provide the education that we’re trying to achieve here.”

Reaction to recommendations

Haseeb Hassaan, President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), agreed with the suggestions the report made about constructing more student-run spaces and adding more students in working groups. However, Hassaan was disappointed by the exclusion of certain ideas voiced by ASSU.

“We are [disappointed] however, that our ask for a more accessible education that included having more lectures recorded [was] not being taken seriously enough by the external reviewers,” Hassaan wrote.

For Cameron, his objectives and the FAS’ new objectives generally matched the report’s findings, which included broadening undergraduate experience through internship opportunities.

According to the A&S Priorities Discussion Paper 2018, which will inform the development of a new five-year academic plan for the FAS, furthering inclusivity and diversity are also major goals for both the undergraduate body and the faculty members.

On the specific points on diversity, like building an Indigenous College, Cameron voiced support for furthering Indigenous studies.

“I think, frankly, we as a faculty have — until recently — not been placing a priority that we should’ve on this issue,” he said.

However, Cameron did not definitively say if the college would be built.

“I think we’ll be looking at that proposal in the context of what we’re trying to do overall about Indigenous studies,” he said. “You don’t produce a new institution like that overnight.”

On the issue of using a lottery system for college admissions, Cameron said it was unlikely, emphasizing that St. Michael’s College, Victoria College, and Trinity College are federated with the university and have a significant degree of autonomy.

“On the lottery front, the colleges are fairly jealous of their right to actually assess who might actually become members of their community,” Cameron said. “[Federated colleges], to a substantial degree, are managing some of their affairs themselves, autonomously, so [the FAS] can try to influence [them], but we don’t have direct management control.”

What the Soar Youth Indigenous program adds to KPE

Annual program gives Indigenous youth a U of T experience

What the Soar Youth Indigenous program adds to KPE

To help increase enrolment and engagement with postsecondary education among Indigenous communities, the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education initiated the Soar Indigenous Youth Gathering program. Soar, which was launched in 2009, is a week-long program held during March break that exposes a group of Indigenous youth to university life.

The program requires that applicants be Indigenous youth aged 14–17, residents of Ontario, and committed to participating in the full week of events. Participants stay at the Chelsea Hotel and may receive up to $400 for travel expenses. Information regarding Soar is communicated through postcards sent out to Indigenous communities, while coordinators visit local Indigenous events and communities in addition to sending emails to the Toronto District School Board.

“Each year, we introduce high school students to Indigenous role models — faculty and students — so they can see themselves in a few years coming to higher education,” Susan Lee, who manages co-curricular diversity and equity programs within the faculty, said to U of T News in 2017.

The program is meant to increase awareness of postsecondary education opportunities among Indigenous youth, as well as engage them in leadership opportunities. “It’s just opening up the doors for them to say, ‘here’s an opportunity for you,’” Lee added.

Soar offers an exciting opportunity for Indigenous students to gain an idea of what university life has to offer, and to bring together Indigenous youth with similar desires. By playing games, touring campus, attending workshops, and learning about the school’s many different programs, Indigenous students in the Soar program are made to feel welcome at U of T.

Programs such as Soar provide Indigenous students with a fun and exciting March break while also showing them that U of T is excited to have them. 

The individual must commit to reconciliation

On the importance of cultural competency and the Indigenous value of connectedness

The individual must commit to reconciliation

What reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples might look like on campus, and how it might be achieved, is no settled question. Last fall, for example, a Varsity editorial demanded that U of T move past words and conversation and “implement tangible changes” to make good on the university’s commitment to reconciliation.

Earlier this year, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council proposed to change the names of a residence building and Vic One stream named after Egerton Ryerson, who helped design the residential school system. Debate ensued about whether such a proposal was a first step toward meaningful reconciliation, a merely symbolic gesture, or an erasure of a dark history that we ought not to forget.

Whatever the case, it would be naïve to think that true reconciliation is just a matter of time. It is also insincere to put the onus of reconciliation onto governments even student governments — as others have suggested.
Amid all this debate, my view as a first-generation Canadian is that our attitude toward reconciliation should be inspired by the adage “be the change that you want to see in the world.” As individuals, we can and must be proactive and take the initiative to listen, learn, and understand the issues still confounding Canadian identity and society.

The sustained and pervasive societal ignorance toward Indigenous cultures and history remains one of the biggest challenges facing Canada’s attempt at reconciliation. It is what inspired John Croutch from U of T’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives to begin delivering day-long cultural competency training workshops to the university community.

In an interview with U of T News, Croutch noted that the purpose of the initiative is for each one of us to learn the truth about settler-Canada’s relationship to its Indigenous populations. In doing so, it hopes to reshape attitudes and institutions that continue to marginalize them. Opening ourselves to a diversity of perspectives, as any Torontonian knows, only enriches us as a society.

Croutch was alarmed by people’s limited understanding of Indigenous communities. In another interview with U of T’s Office of Indigenous Medical Education, he shared his experience with medical and health care professionals to show how this ignorance extends to even the so-called educated and skilled workers of society.

For this reason, it is important that the university support, encourage, and promote such cultural competency trainings. They are freely available to all members of the U of T community and can accommodate student groups. Through such training, individuals can take a proactive approach to learning about, listening to, and understanding Indigenous communities.

I can relate to this approach because of a personal experience that helped me appreciate just how delicate the issue of reconciliation is. Last summer, I had the privilege to attend a Master Naturalist course offered by Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. I learned about plants, insects, geology, ecology, and the natural history of Northern Ontario.

At the end of the course, representatives of the Fort Williams First Nation shared their perspectives and knowledge about these issues. Interested in learning from other cultures, I asked them to share something from their culture, which, if everyone were to learn, would help to make the world a better place.

They gave me an answer that I had never heard before: the importance of connections. They explained that Indigenous cultures are deeply connected and rooted to this land. For example, when you see a mining operation, it should not only be understood as a consumption of natural resources that may serve our materialistic needs, but as a severance of Indigenous peoples’ cultural connection with the land.

Upon completion of the course, our instructor, Bob Bowles, gave us a parting gift: a reusable straw to replace the single-use plastic straws that pollute the environment. I realize now that understanding the environment through the lens of connections is crucial. We all depend on each other and the land. Our survival, as people affected by environmental changes, is connected to the survival of Indigenous peoples and cultures.

For reconciliation on the individual level, whether as new or long-time Canadians, we should honour and recognize the thousands of years that this land has supported human life and cultural flourishing. Indigenous cultures are not just another piece of the greater mosaic of Canadian society and identity. Rather, they are more importantly the glue that connects all the other pieces to this land underneath our feet and from which we subsist. Canada will only truly flourish when we recognize this connection.

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.