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

Dean confirms reduced financial aid, “more international students”

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.”

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