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University action plan on student mental health presented at University Affairs Board

Tri-campus review, incidental fees report among discussion items
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NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

U of T’s University Affairs Board (UAB) met on January 27 to address a three-fold agenda: the final report of the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, an update on the tri-campus review, and a report on the compulsory non-academic incidental fees.

Recommendations implemented

The meeting was led by Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr as she presented the university’s action plan for implementing the recommendations made by the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health.

The university’s response to a number of student deaths on campus was centred around the formation of the task force. After a months-long consultation process, the task force released its final report on January 15.

In accordance with its recommendations, the university has put forward a multi-pronged approach to address and improve mental health services, partnerships, physical spaces, campus culture, and financial resources to combat the perceived mental health crisis.

The university has created the Mental Health Services Redesign Team, which will direct the overhaul of U of T’s mental health services. It will be led by former Principal of Woodsworth College, Professor Joseph Desloges, as well as two experts from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH): Dr. Alexia Jaouich, Director of Implementation and Innovation, Provincial System Support Program; and Dr. Sean Kidd, Senior Scientist and Division Chief, Psychology.

The Redesign Team’s mandate is to “create an integrated tri-campus system with one Clinical Director, one website, one consistent approach to wayfinding, one online booking system, one electronic records system, and one institutional letter for accessibility services.” The aim of harmonizing services across campuses and colleges is to ensure a more efficient and accessible system for students to navigate.

On partnerships, the university will build a new partnership with CAMH in order to create “integrated care pathways” for students that use campus-based and CAMH’s services, provide professional development and clinical programs in student mental health for both staff and students, and establish a new initiative to encourage research- and evidence-based solutions for the student mental health crisis.

On physical spaces, the university is committed to review mental health-devoted facilities at the UTM and UTSC campuses. At UTSG, the report notes that, “Planning is already underway to modernize the Health and Wellness Centre in the Koffler building… to keep pace with demand and to provide space better suited to the delivery of services.”

On campus culture, the university found “no conflict between a culture of academic excellence and a culture of caring” — however, it recognized the importance of strengthening the latter. To achieve this, U of T will undertake a “revision of academic programs on best practices in assessment, academic support services and mental health accommodations.” Its goal is to relieve student stress that arises as a result of institutional policies, in recognition of the fact that they act as a barrier to mental wellness. The administration will also ramp up communications with student leaders to promote health literacy and improve student perception of the University Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP). Despite calls to repeal the policy, U of T remains committed to communicating its “compassionate intent” to students. The policy allows the university to place students on mandated leave from their studies if their mental health is determined to pose a threat to themselves or others, and sparked protests before its establishment in 2018.

A new Centre for Graduate Mentorship and Supervision will also be established for the School of Graduate Studies.

On financial resources, the university will collaborate with the Division of University Advancement to devote further resources for mental health services and facilities. Mental health and wellness will also be a key priority in the forthcoming 2020–2021 budget.

Both Regehr and President Meric Gertler expressed their gratitude to the task force, faculty, and students who led the way in advancing the discussion on student mental health.

Tri-campus review

Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh presented an update on the tri-campus review. The current tri-campus structure was created by the Tri-Campus Framework in 2002. Since then, the current system has been subject to review.

Towards 2030, a university initiative to ensure long-term institutional success, expressed U of T’s ambition to “create a regional ‘University of Toronto system,’ characterized by three campuses with increasingly strong individual campus identities.” In April 2018, Gertler and Regehr commenced a review process of this system in view of new challenges faced by the tri-campus structure, and also explored how the university can best take advantage of emerging opportunities.

The Tri-Campus Review Steering Committee includes five working groups that have submitted final recommendations as part of the review process: Academic Planning and Academic Change, Graduate Units, Student Services, Administrative Structure, and Budget Relationships. The steering committee will take these recommendations and create a final report of suggestions for consideration by university governance.

Incidental fees reinstated

Welsh also presented the Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees Report for 2019–2020, which lists all of the mandatory student fees for this academic year.

Due to the Student Choice Initiative — the now-quashed provincial directive allowing students to opt out of fees deemed “non-essential” by the province — the fall semester incidental fees were divided between optional and mandatory categories.

The winter semester fees show a return to the status quo, currently listed “as they were prior to the Student Choice Initiative,” wrote Welsh in her report to the UAB.