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Governing Council approves two-year extension of President Meric Gertler’s second term

The PEARS Project founder’s request to speak at the council meeting was declined
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SHANNA HUNTER; THE VARSITY
SHANNA HUNTER; THE VARSITY

In a meeting on May 19, the Governing Council approved a two-year extension of President Meric Gertler’s second term as president of U of T. Gertler’s current term was originally set to end on June 23, 2023. Under the extension, he will remain president until June 30, 2025.

Micah Kalisch — founder of the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response, for Survivors (PEARS) — had requested to speak at the meeting to address the council on the lack of focus on the culture of sexual harassment at the Faculty of Music in a recently completed external review of the faculty and its programs. Kalisch’s request was denied. The Varsity spoke with Kalisch on being denied the chance to speak at the meeting and the problems they observed in the external review. 

The PEARS Project is a U of T-based organization providing trauma-informed support for sexual violence survivors.

In the same meeting, council members heard from Gertler on the university’s efforts to support students from Ukraine, as well as from Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr, who presented a report on U of T’s performance indicators from 2021. 

Gertler’s term extended

In an in-camera session, the council voted to extend Gertler’s term as president of U of T for another two years. 

Gertler was first appointed as president of U of T for a five-year term in November 2013. The Governing Council approved Gertler’s second term in May 2017; the second term would have been in effect from July 1, 2018 until June 30, 2023. 

The decision to extend Gertler’s second term followed confidential consultations with U of T leadership. 

In a memo to the U of T community, Brian Lawson, chair of the Governing Council, wrote, “[A]n extension [of Gertler’s term] was in the best interests of the University as it provides important continuity and stability in leadership and momentum as the University emerges from the pandemic.”

Gertler’s second term will now extend until June 30, 2025.

Review of the Faculty of Music 

Under U of T’s Policy for Approval and Review of Academic Programs and Units, the university must allow external reviews of existing programs on a cyclical basis to ensure consistency in academic quality. 

These reviews must follow the University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process, which consists of five steps. First, the department must complete a self-study, which should involve faculty, staff, and students. Next, an external review will be conducted by a separate committee. 

The university will then formulate a formal report outlining specific recommendations as informed by the self-study and the external review. Before implementing the recommendations, a procedure for implementation and subsequent monitoring will be devised. 

The university is obligated to complete a review of each department and faculty every eight years. 

A review of the Faculty of Music and its programs across all three U of T campuses was completed between October 2021 and April 2022. 

In an interview with The Varsity, Kalisch shared their disappointment with the limited attention paid to the culture of sexual violence at the Faculty of Music in the review. 

Students and student groups have been demanding that the faculty address its community’s prevailing culture of sexual harassment and misconduct, particularly after allegations of sexual harassment within the faculty circulated on social media.

To address the limitations of the review, Kalisch wished to speak at the Governing Council meeting on May 19, but they were informed by Anwar Kazimi, deputy secretary of the Governing Council, that their request had been declined. 

Kalisch was told that their request had been declined because, generally, only individuals speaking on behalf of student governments are allowed to address the council at these meetings.  

Furthermore, Kalisch was unable to speak at the meeting because the review was listed in the consent agenda; items in the consent agenda are not considered separately at a meeting unless a member of the council requests for an item to be moved into the regular agenda. 

Kalisch said, “I wanted to speak because… I was really disappointed to see how little the focus was on sexual violence, particularly when they were speaking to the greater culture of the music faculty.”

Kalisch believes that the diagnosed concerns within the culture of the faculty can only be addressed if one considers everything that contributes to the culture: “You have to acknowledge rape culture, and patriarchy, and misogyny, and violence…You can’t look at these things in isolation; they’re all intersectional. It’s all going to contribute to one another.”

The external review committee listed the lack of robust policies that address incidents of sexual harassment as a concern, and the committee recommended the formulation and implementation of policies that efficiently address this concern. 

However, Kalisch worries that, without a concrete plan outlined in the review, there is no guarantee for this change. 

Support for Ukrainian students

Gertler spoke on U of T’s efforts to support its students from Ukraine. He announced that U of T has expanded the Scholars-at-Risk program, which provides financial support for graduate students who have or had asylum or refugee status in the past five years, to cover students whose studies may have been disrupted by political conflicts. 

In this way, the program allows the university to support students not only from Ukraine, but also students from Syria and Afghanistan.

Gertler added, “The Emergency Grants Program is available to support the urgent needs of current students whose financial circumstances have been affected by unforeseeable emergencies.” 

In addition to financial assistance, the university will also offer tuition deferrals for affected students for the summer and fall semesters. 

Gertler emphasized that these supports are not just for students from Ukraine: “Again, this support is available not just to Ukrainian students, but also to Syrian students, and Afghan students, as well as to students from other countries in the region who have been impacted by these hostilities who are currently studying here at U of T.”

Performance indicators

Presenting the performance indicators report, Regehr explained that U of T measures performance on nine metrics. These include community impact, graduation rate, graduate earnings, research revenue, institutional focus, economic impact, experiential learning, share of research funding, and graduate employment in related fields. 

In the 2021–2022 academic year, U of T surpassed its targets for each of the nine metrics. 

Regehr discussed international student enrollment as part of U of T’s performance indicators; international student enrollment increased by two per cent between the 2020–2021 academic year and the 2021–2022 academic year. International students made up 28.8 per cent of total undergraduate and graduate enrolment in the 2021–2022 academic year. 

A council member asked Regehr to clarify whether the increasing international student enrollment limits the spots available for domestic students. 

In response, Regehr said, “We have, from the provincial government, a fixed number of domestic spots.” 

The university is obligated to fill these spots, and if it does not, the provincial government cuts its funding to the university. Accordingly, increases in international enrollment do not decrease the spots available for domestic students.

With files from Alyanna Denise Chua

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence or harassment at U of T:

  • Visit svpscentre.utoronto.ca for information, contact details, and hours of operation for the tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre. Centre staff can be reached by phone at 416-978-2266 or by email at [email protected].
  • Call Campus Safety Special Constable Service to make a report at 416-978-2222 (for U of T St. George and U of T Scarborough) or 905-569-4333 (for U of T Mississauga)
  • Call the Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre at 416-323-6040
  • Call the Scarborough Grace Sexual Assault Care Centre at 416-495-2555
  • Call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 866-863-0511