On October 27, 2022, the Governing Council voted to reappoint UTSC Vice-President and Principal Wisdom Tettey for another five-year term, from July 1, 2023 to December 31, 2028.
Tettey was first appointed to the role in 2018. During his tenure, he launched UTSC’s five-year strategic plan, Inspiring Inclusive Excellence. Based on this plan, UTSC conducted a campus curriculum review that recommended 56 actions to diversify the curriculum and began construction on several capital projects, including Indigenous House, a medical school, a 750-bed student residence, and a new student services building.
Tettey also led the adoption of the Scarborough Charter, which is a national action plan that seeks to foster Black inclusion and address anti-Black racism in higher education structures, policies, and procedures.
The Varsity spoke with Tettey to discuss his vision for UTSC in the next five years and how he intends to address some of the key issues that UTSC faces.
The Varsity: U of T News states that you intend to continue raising UTSC’s “national and international profile for research and scholarly prominence,” as well as its reputation as “a destination of choice for student experience.” What concrete steps will you take in order to achieve this goal?
Wisdom Tettey: The key here is to continue to do what we’ve already been doing. For one, we will continue to elevate the core academic mission of the campus. Over the last several years, we have improved the research infrastructure that faculty, staff, and students have access to and opened up opportunities for students to become research assistants.
We have also put a lot of resources into enhancing the student experience. The upcoming student residence will address the issue of affordable housing for UTSC students. It will also be a learning community where people from around the world will be able to build networks, engage with one another, and learn from one another.
Our strategic plan provides us with a roadmap for what we will do over the long term at UTSC. Our plan is very explicit that students are partners, and my commitment is to continue to work with our community here. U of T is already globally prominent, but we want to make sure that that prominence begins to shine on this side of the tri-campus as well.
TV: U of T’s tuition fees are some of the highest among Canadian universities. Out of the three U of T campuses, UTSC has the highest percentage of undergraduates who receive help from OSAP. So why are tuition fees at UTSC so high, and what is the administration doing in order to mitigate these costs for students?
WT: According to U of T’s Policy on Student Financial Support, nobody who qualifies to come to U of T will be denied the opportunity to have an education here because of a lack of means. So we offer significant amounts of scholarships and bursaries to students based on need and academic achievement. U of T’s financial support to students far exceeds the provincial average.
Unfortunately, we still have students in dire straits, so we support the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s food centre to make sure that students are able to avail affordable food. We also reach out to donors. We do everything we can to make sure that students are supported.
On the international student front, the annual growth in international tuition fees has been reduced because we recognize that there’s a limit to what students and parents can afford. But the reality is that it’s expensive to run this program, and we need to make sure that we’re able to have the resources that we need in light of how much it costs to educate our international students.
TV: The high tuition fees are partly due to government defunding. What is the administration doing to raise provincial funding for UTSC and U of T more broadly?
WT: Ontario has the lowest per-student government funding across Canada, so it’s challenging for us to be able to do what we do. The president is advocating for the kind of support that would be necessary to sustain our operations at various tables. We let the government know what the challenges are and what the impact is on education.
However, some of these things are outside of our control. The best we can do is continue to raise these issues to relevant tables and hope that the decision-makers at those tables take up the cause.
TV: UTSC recently received a historic $25 million donation from Orlando Corporation, the largest privately-owned industrial real estate developer and landlord in Canada. Given that U of T’s Faculty of Law faced a hiring scandal in 2020 due to alleged donor interference, which in turn led to the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ censure, what is UTSC doing to ensure that its academic freedom won’t be compromised by donors?
WT: There’s absolutely no question that U of T does not allow donors to influence the academic mission. Each division, campus, and faculty establishes a set of academic priorities, which in turn determines where we seek support. So, our eye is always on the question: to what extent is this support going to advance the academic mission?
The issue you’re referring to is an unfortunate thing. It wasn’t a case where the university was not committed to the integrity of the process. Certain things obviously fell through the cracks. Those things were identified, and the university moved really quickly to address those. It’s also important to note that, since then, the process has been made even more rigorous.
TV: UTSC has a lot of community partners in Scarborough. What responsibility do you believe UTSC has in giving back to the Scarborough community?
WT: It’s always important to remember that we don’t just see ourselves as ‘in this place’; rather, we are ‘of this place,’ which means that our state is inextricably linked with our community. So it’s in our interest to make sure we’re able to contribute to the community in a way that lifts it up. We want students from UTSC to be conscientious citizens, which means they’re connecting to the community in ways that awaken them to their responsibility as citizens. We do the same thing with our faculty and staff.
In September, for example, we had UTSC’s first annual Homecoming, which was open to folks around the community. That was a way to demonstrate that the institution is an extension of the community, and we see the community as an extension of the institution.
At the end of the day, we want our community to see us as partners, working together to advance our collective well-being and to ensure that we all thrive.
TV: You are about to finish your first term as UTSC’s vice-president and principal. I was wondering if there’s one thing you’ve personally learned about the university or education over the course of your first term?
WT: If you create space for [people] and bring them in as partners, then you will benefit from the richness they bring to the table. This continues to be a guiding principle for me because there’s just such an enormous pool of talent here.
I’ll leave you with an African proverb from my place [in Ghana]. In the African savanna, you’ve got these [massive] Baobab trees. You can’t wrap your arms around them alone; you have to depend on other people. So, you’re not omniscient, you don’t know it all. You have to be able to tap into what other people bring in order to be able to accomplish collectively what you seek to do. Anchoring your leadership in this principle opens a whole lot of doors.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.