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Governing Council holds final meeting of 2021–2022 academic year

Gertler announces committee to guide commemoration, naming practices at U of T
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STEVEN LEE; THE VARSITY
STEVEN LEE; THE VARSITY

The Governing Council held its final meeting of the 2021–2022 academic year on June 28. President Meric Gertler informed council members of the recent establishment of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Principles to Guide Recognition and Commemoration. Members also received a presentation on U of T’s International Strategic Plan. 

Other topics covered were the UTM Strategic Framework, U of T’s audited financial statements from the fiscal year from May 2021 to April 2022, proposals to establish two new Extra Departmental Units (EDU), and renewal of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between U of T and the Toronto School of Theology (TST).

Announcement of advisory committee

Gertler announced the Presidential Advisory Committee on Principles to Guide Recognition and Commemoration at the meeting. 

On the purpose of the committee, Gertler said, “Universities across Canada and around the world have been facing complex and often controversial issues pertaining to their historical legacy, often embodied in the names of their academic units [and] their buildings… Effective resolution of such issues depends, quite logically, on the articulation of principles to guide decisions about potential denamings or renamings.”

Under the leadership of former Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Misak, the committee is tasked with formulating principles for denaming or renaming buildings, academic programs, and any initiatives associated with the university. 

This announcement follows the recent decision to change Ryerson University’s name to Toronto Metropolitan University; the university was previously named after Egerton Ryerson, who developed the outline for residential schools in Canada. 

From the 1880s to the late 1990s, the federal government of Canada forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families and relocated them to various residential schools across Canada. More than 150,000 children were taken from their families during this period, and the mortality rate of children at some residential schools was between 40 and 60 per cent. Indigenous communities continue to experience the legacies of the residential system today: compared to the general population, Indigenous people have higher rates of poverty, mental health difficulties, and suicide. 

The government of Canada issued an official apology in June 2008, more than a decade after the last residential school in Canada shut down in 1996.

U of T has previously taken action to remove the names of contentious historical figures from its activities and campus. In 2021, Victoria College at U of T announced that it was suspending any use of Ryerson’s name and renamed “Ryerson House” to “First House.” Two years prior, in 2019, the college had also renamed its “Ryerson Stream” program to “Education Stream.”

The advisory committee will submit its final report to Gertler in early 2023.

Gertler’s report

As part of his report, Gertler invited Andrea Caceres to deliver a presentation on the AWA Project, a non-government organization that works internationally to address water scarcity. Caceres is a fourth-year student, studying human geography and diaspora and transnational studies, and she serves as the chief executive officer and community outreach director at the AWA. 

In her presentation, Caceres discussed the AWA’s recent efforts in Peru to secure water sources for vulnerable communities. “I want to be a voice for those people who have not been able to tell their truth yet… [and] I want to continue engaging in relationships that will help me create transnational solidarity,” said Caceres. 

Gertler also provided council members with a summary of the in-person graduation ceremonies in June. There were 32 ceremonies held between June 2 and June 24, with approximately 15,300 students graduating. 

Although graduating students were required to wear masks and the traditional handshake onstage was forgone to maintain physical distancing, Gertler assured the council members that the students “still found many ways to express their sheer glee in the moment.”

Gertler also shared details of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent address at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy via live video that took place on June 22. Students attending in-person at the Munk School, as well as students attending virtually from 11 other Canadian universities, had the opportunity to ask Zelenskyy questions. 

“I can certainly confirm what a special moment it was for many of us in the room to be able to take part in this unusual encounter with a very significant figure in [the] world events today,” remarked Gertler.

International Strategic Plan 

Vice-President, International Joseph Wong presented the International Strategic Plan for 2022–2027. 

According to Wong, the previous framework led to an “increase in global mobility for students [and]… extraordinary diversification and recruitment of international students.” 

The university devised the plan for 2022–2027, with hopes to build on previous developments as well as consider current global conflicts, post-pandemic effects on international students, and the growing need for climate action. 

Wong explained that under the first pillar of the International Strategic Plan — Global Learning — the university aims to “facilitate global learning experiences for all students both here and abroad.” This would include initiatives such as global classrooms, allowing students to connect regardless of distance, and additional learning abroad opportunities.

The second pillar — Global Reach — outlines initiatives to foster collaboration with peer institutions and to expand U of T’s global research alliances, specifically in low- and middle- income regions. 

The final pillar — Global Impact — is concerned with developing and sustaining an international network of partnerships for the university. 

Other reports 

UTM Vice President & Principal Alexandra Gillespie highlighted the campus’ priorities in her presentation of the UTM Strategic Framework.

Gillespie noted that the framework outlines five priorities, all of which encourage student success, research innovation and support, collaboration, and sustainability. Each priority connects to the framework’s core themes of truth, openness, and reciprocity.

Additionally, the council approved the university’s audited financial statements for the fiscal year which ended on April 30, 2022. The statements revealed $8.5 billion in net assets, an increase of $429 million from 2021.

Council members also approved proposals to establish two new EDUs — the Centre for Caribbean Studies and the Centre for Indigenous Studies — at the Faculty of Arts & Science. 

The university and the TST have collaboratively offered various degree programs in theology since 1978. Both institutions have signed an MOA that outlines the conditions of their arrangement; the current MOA was due to expire on June 30, 2022. 

Council members voted to approve an amended MOA that will remain in effect for five years rather than the previously stipulated seven years. 

A review of the Policy on Sexual Violence and Harassment was also presented at the meeting.

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