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Sustainability, mental health discussed at first UTM Campus Affairs Committee meeting

Planned academic initiatives include robotics program, diverse hiring, programming
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The UTM Campus Affairs Committee held its first meeting of the year. HAYDEN MAK/THE VARSITY
The UTM Campus Affairs Committee held its first meeting of the year. HAYDEN MAK/THE VARSITY

The UTM Campus Affairs Committee held its first meeting of the 2020–2021 academic year on September 14 to discuss campus-related initiatives, including sustainability at UTM and mental health and wellness for the student body.

Sustainability

The meeting began with Amrita Daniere, Vice-Principal Academic and Dean, discussing the committee’s academic plan’s sustainability initiatives. The plan highlights sustainability with regard to intellectual endeavours, especially the incorporation of sustainability into academic programs and courses.

It also recommends hiring faculty who are interested in sustainability research and will seek to bridge the academic and practical side of sustainability efforts. For example, Daniere described how the plan seeks to address “the way we advance sustainability as a community” with regard to issues like waste recycling, water use, and energy reliance on campus.

Daniere also made mention of an advisory committee that she has been co-chairing with Chief Administrative Officer Saher Fazilat to the principal for the past year. The advisory committee will bring forward a drafted strategic plan for sustainability that will be posted to the UTM sustainability office website and available for comment and feedback.

The hope is that the plan be implemented alongside a set of recommendations, which — according to Daniere — the committee believes will “bring UTM to the forefront of campuses and universities in Canada in terms of its sustainability commitments and intellectual reputation.”

Academic initiatives

Daniere moved on to discuss plans surrounding academic initiatives and program and faculty additions. Several new programs are up for approval, such as a social coding program, a robotics program, and a graduate program in urban innovation.

Robotics at UTM is currently categorized under computer science, but the program is looking to hire at least three additional professors to add to its existing four, and is working on building a laboratory. Eventually, students will be able to take a robotics program and pursue a holistic study of the field. A number of courses have already been approved, and plans are in the works to approve the curriculum and program.

Daniere said that the academic plan and the Office of the Dean want to enhance the diversity of the faculty and staff, and, according to her, “in the past three years, UTM [has] gone from having zero Indigenous faculty to six Indigenous faculty.”

Currently, discussions are being had surrounding a potential minor program in Indigenous studies at UTM, and, as Daniere said, UTM would like to “enhance and support Black faculty who are already here” as well as increase hires in the future.

Mental health

Andrea Carter, UTM’s Assistant Dean Student Wellness, Support and Success, spoke about mental health services for students. Carter discussed how the Health and Counselling unit at UTM remains open and operational and that physicians and nurses are available on site for students who may require in-person appointments.

Otherwise, the majority of appointments are now available virtually, including all counselling appointments. Carter noted an uptake in this virtual engagement, as well as fewer “no-show” appointments, with more students following through with their online meetings.

Carter discussed plans to provide crisis support 24 hours a day and seven days a week and check-in support services through the U of T My Student Support Program. She also plans to launch a mental health website, as part of the Mental Health Task Force suggestions, and a UTM-specific mental health website to provide students with support resources.

Carter mentioned plans to launch a portal through Quercus to better assist faculty in maintaining a safe and respectful online environment.

Construction

Fazilat discussed the Capital Construction Project, which involves the Art, Culture and Technology building, which is “well under design right now,” with the expectation that construction will begin in 12–18 months. It also included the aforementioned robotics lab environment, as well as the science building, currently under construction and expected to be completed in the next two and a half years.

The new residence building, which is currently at the phase of narrowing down on a potential architectural firm with the hopes of selecting one by the end of the year, is expected to be designed in eight to 10 months after the firm is selected.