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Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association undergoes major levy restructuring

Two new funds established, fees reduced by $300 annually

Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association undergoes major levy restructuring

Members of the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) have voted to approve the creation of an Endowment Fund and a Special Projects Fund. The referendum was held between November 23 and 27 and was intended to change the FMUA’s levy structure and to evaluate student support for a fall reading week.

The vote resulted in a $300 yearly reduction of the student fees paid to the FMUA.  “As per our bylaws, all the levies have [met] the 60 percent threshold. As such, student fees paid to the FMUA will drop from $600 per semester to $450, resulting in a $300 yearly reduction per student,” read part of an email circulated to all FMUA members at the end of the referendum.

A proposal for the FMUA to lobby for a fall reading week also passed, with 205 votes in favour and 16 opposed. Mathias Memmel, FMUA co-president, stated that one of the issues with the old levy structure lay in “a discrepancy between the FMUA’s budget planning process… and the faculty budget planing process with the provost’s office. These schedule differences resulted in the Faculty Admin [sic] implicitly allocating funds before consultation was had with the FMUA. While I don’t think this was done maliciously, it put the FMUA in a situation where it was not completely autonomous in its budgeting process,” explained Memmel. According to Memmel, the goal was to put the control of the funds back into the hands of the students.

“The previous levy structure essentially gave all our union fees directly to the faculty. The [FMUA] had no control over the money,” said Jacob Abrahamse, a U of T music student, regarding the old levy structure. Abrahamse believes that the referendum results are a positive change from the old system. “[The changes allow our] money to be managed by our own union and not the faculty,” she said, lauding the allocation of funding towards mental health and a student resource centre. Memmel said that the province’s definition of co-curricular services and spaces was also an issue. 

“For the Faculty of Music, co-curricular spaces include the theatres and performance venues. This is… inherent mislabeling, one that plagues all music institutions across the province, that we don’t want to reinforce,” Memmel explained.

While he acknowledges that such venues are necessary to the operation of an applied music program, he commented that labelling them as ‘co-curricular’ is comparable to “slapping co-curricular labels on the applied components of other programs [such as] dental chairs at the Faculty of Dentistry, gymnasiums and pools at [the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education], labs at Engineering etc.”

Under the new levy structure, students no longer fund theatres and music venues. Instead they must seek funding from the province, reducing the amount that students have to pay.

“Correctly labelled or not, these facilities are clearly curricular in nature and since they can’t be run in the [current] budget model, the funding has to come from the province. By no longer funding performance spaces, we were able to reduce the overall amount [paid] by students to the association by 25 percent,”  Memmel explained. He believes that this new system contains a higher level of transparency and allows for a more efficient allocation of funds towards student projects. “In terms of the funds from the Special Projects Fund and the interest gained from the endowment they will be allocated to member and faculty submitted projects,” he stated. Memmel added that the FMUA now holds the ability to approve projects conditionally, solving a previous problem regarding the group’s control over their budget. 

Abrahamse still supports the complete elimination of the student levy. “[As]it stands, little of the money was and will [sic] benefit all students equally,” he said, referring to the allocation of $224,409 in the 2014–2015 academic year towards the production and staging of opera.  “However, the Opera is primarily for graduate students and a small number of third-year and fourth-year vocal majors.”

Students rally for pro-choice

New group holds first demonstration on campus

Students rally for pro-choice

On a quiet Friday afternoon, drivers on St. George street honked in support of the pro-choice view as they read a sign asking them to “honk for choice.” A pro-choice demonstration on December 4 garnered much attention from passers-by, including honks, cheers, and stares.

Despite the chilly weather, participants showed their support for bodily autonomy by peacefully protesting against anti-choicers with self-made signs in addition to signs provided by Planned Parenthood. The demonstration began at noon with approximately nine participants, eventually growing to 15, with individuals coming and going as time passed.

Some of the signs read “choice is ours,” “choice is yours,” “freedom is choice,” and “information not sensation.” Demonstrators also brought information on sexual education, the truth about abortion myths, where to get free condoms, and how to contact Planned Parenthood.

Teodora Pasca, a second-year criminology and ethics, society and law student, and Emily Posteraro, a third-year biodiversity and conservation biology student, are co-founders of Students For Choice, organized the protest.

“I personally noticed frequent pro-life protests on campus this year, and was surprised that there was no collective effort to counterprotest,” said Pasca. “I think it’s extremely important to speak up against anti-choice dialogue, given that many women under a variety of circumstances are still fighting for reproductive rights, including access to abortion services. We also wanted to express support and compassion for women who, having undergone difficult experiences, may have felt shamed or degraded walking by anti-choice protests on campus,” she added.

At around 2:00 pm, pro-life campaigners assembled a line along St. George street, holding large signs approximately three feet in height. These signs were graphic and depicted a mutilated fetus within the womb, an aborted fetus in a gloved hand, and an ultrasound of a fetus at 10 weeks.

Posteraro said that she felt that the pro-life demonstrators employed shock tactics when promoting their views on campus and held up a sign saying, “Dear Students For Life: SHAME on your SHOCK TACTICS.” Students For Life did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

The two groups eventually interacted. Although Pasca did not personally engage with the pro-life protesters, she said that she had spoken with them in the past. “[The] dialogue has for the most part been respectful,” she said. Pasca however, also said that the two sides may have irreconcilable differences. “I feel it is extremely difficult for two groups who feel so strongly on either side of this issue to really come to any sort of agreement.”

Pasca explained that she was pleased with the demonstration and that it engaged students whom she had never met before. “[Individuals] were encouraged to participate in any way they wanted to or felt comfortable. As a result, quite a few students who I had never personally met showed up to help, which I was very grateful for,” she said.

“When dealing with such a sensitive issue, I think it is important to make a statement of solidarity that comes directly from the community, which includes involving students of all genders and backgrounds, and encouraging dialogue and sharing if they feel safe doing so,” she stated.

Pasca said that she would encourage any students who are pro-choice to come out to future demonstrations. “[This] is an extremely important issue that we can no longer keep quiet about,” she said.

Disclosure: Teodora Pasca is an associate comment editor for The Varsity.

With files from Iris Robin

“Trust no one”

The Citizen Lab’s Ronald Deibert and the biggest machine ever built

“Trust no one”

Spanning a series of glass-doored rooms in the spire of the Munk School of Global Affairs’ location at the former Dominion Meteorological Building, Ron Deibert’s Citizen Lab bears a tongue-in-cheek resemblance to images of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The irony is not lost on Deibert; as he is quick to remind us that the building is at least architecturally, if not practically, an observatory.

As the culture wars rage against a backdrop of classified information leaks — brought to light courtesy of the Internet and insiders-turned-whistle-blowers — the work done by Deibert and his lab ranks among the most important currently conducted at the University of Toronto.

The hothouse

The Citizen Lab, according to its website, is a “‘hothouse’ that combines political  science, sociology, computer science, engineering, and graphic design.” This Swiss Army knife of a research group has tasked itself with the tall order of monitoring, analyzing, and ultimately, affecting how political power is exercised in cyber-space.  The nature of the lab’s work is multifaceted and draws from a variety of resources. Their goal is to redefine “interdisciplinary” research, which as far as Deibert is concerned, is largely misappropriated as an educational buzzword. “I see what we’re doing as ‘field building’” Deibert suggests. “There is a problem, in my opinion, with the way that universities are structured around disciplinary silos, and you often hear a lot about interdisciplinary research, but usually that means little more than there is an office with a sociologist next to a computer scientist. But here, there is truly interdisciplinary research going on; the way we approach the topics, the methods we employ, it’s all a mixture, it’s like alchemy,” he says.

Risky business

This kind of work does not come without risk; we need look no further than Edward Snowden’s forced relocation to Moscow, or the subsequent maltreatment of the journalists who abetted him, to see that. Deibert perceives the risks of the Citizen Lab’s work fitting into two categories; the first of which is what Deibert terms the “obvious physical risks that we face that have to do with the fact that we are pulling back thick drapes around agencies who would rather stay behind those curtains.”  These investigations, says Deibert, are a particularly “dangerous thing when you’re dealing with some nasty countries.”

The second category is legal liability. On that note, Deibert’s primary concern is focused on the companies that are the subject of the lab’s research. He sees Canada as being a particularly “plaintive friendly environment” for defamation and libel suits, which only reinforces the importance of making sure the work is as “rigorous, transparent, and peer reviewed as possible.” 

That looming threat of litigation was realized in the aftermath of the lab’s report on the breach of an Italian company called Hacking Team.

Hacking Team first drew the Citizen Lab’s interest as a developer of “offensive security” technologies. Earlier this year, hackers breached the firm’s protective measures and released a trove of documents that confirmed suspicions about how the firm produced software and sold it “to several governments with repressive human rights records, such as Ethiopia.” This software was being used to spy on journalists in, “Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and more,” Deibert explains. “All of [Hacking Team’s] corporate data was put on the public domain after the breach, and in the correspondences of the company executives they actually contracted a company to silence us through litigation. They actually say, ‘how do we shut the Citizen Lab down?’” 


Much of the reporting the Citizen Lab does is on “nasty countries,” at least insofar as freedom of information is considered. Some of the most recent reports — “almost all of [which]” are available on the lab’s website — bear titles such as “Iraq Information Controls Update: Analyzing Internet Filtering and Mobile Apps,” “China’s Great Cannon,” and “The Blocking of Vimeo in Indonesia.”

Deibert states that the Citizen Lab takes the safety of their researchers, many of whom are working abroad and in conflict areas, very seriously. “We have a whole protocol that we think through very carefully that deals with security in risky environments,” he says. In order to manage that risk, the lab contracts the services of Morgan Marquis-Boire, one of their fellows.

Marquis-Boire, a former Google security researcher, hacker, and journalist, is the director of security at First Look Media and publisher of The Intercept, the post-Snowden online home of journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Marquis-Boire’s added value is significant, considering that he was the one who “actually came up with the protocol of how to actually secure the [Snowden documents].”

It is no surprise that Marquis-Boire found a place for himself at the Citizen Lab, or that he and Deibert became acquainted; after all, Deibert is a member of a very exclusive club with access to the complete Canadian archive of the Snowden leaks. Regarding the responsibility that accompanies that access, Deibert distinguishes between two considerations, although he is quick to qualify that they “aren’t ranked.”  He adds, “so you’re thinking of the public interest, first and foremost, so, what in here is critical for the public to know and needs to be in the public domain?” Deibert continues, “then, secondly… is there information in here, that if it were published, would put somebody’s life at risk, or do harm?”  Upon further consideration, he concludes that “around protection of the source, Edward Snowden put out certain obligations to the journalists and that extends to the people who consult on it, how to treat the material and report on it.” 


Among the chief concerns of those who study the Internet is the relative lag in consumer awareness. Deibert points out that, “for most people, the beginning and end of their experience is their screen in front of them, when in fact it is just the tip of the iceberg, and really the interesting stuff, especially from a perspective of how power is exercised and how freedom and liberty are protected, happens beneath the surface in the kind of bowels of it all. There is a subterranean realm to the machine.” For those as involved and as knowledgeable as Deibert and his peers, opportunities to edify the public are everywhere. Aside from the mundane drudgery of digging up information on everything from South Korean mobile applications to wearable technology, Deibert sees the education of a train of undergraduates, post-doctoral fellows, and other researchers, as being “critical” to the work.

Interestingly, Deibert and his peers sometimes find themselves at odds with the institution that houses and facilitates them. He famously refuses to use Blackboard in his teaching, favouring an embedded forum on the Citizen Lab’s website, a choice that follows a personal aversion to proprietary software. “I try to avoid it,” he says.

Those criticisms extend to the sharing of private data, whether it belongs to students or faculty, in a variety of other veins. “I think it would be good for the University of Toronto to issue a transparency report. Only one other university in the world has done that. How often does law enforcement come here and ask for data on faculty or students?” Deibert seems conflicted about whether people should generally be optimistic about the Internet, or if a healthier cynicism than we currently exhibit is warranted. He explains: “the way I look at this machine is that we’ve created, this wonderful thing that can be terrific for lots of goals we have, you know, throughout history, goals that we’ve had as a species, this wonderful mechanism of information storage and exchange, but we haven’t thought through all the downsides to it and the unintended consequences to it are getting more and more serious, on multiple levels.” What really worries him is the observation that “most people in my conversations are completely oblivious to it and don’t really care.” When asked if he had anything in particular that he wanted to share, Deibert offered the following tidbit: “Trust no one.”

Student-to-faculty ratio consistently high at U of T

Ontario universities report the worst ratios in Canada

Student-to-faculty ratio consistently high at U of T

Ontario universities have the worst student-to-faculty ratios in Canada, and the University of Toronto is among them.

U of T by the numbers

According to the most recent comparative data on student-to-faculty ratios from 2012, the number of full-time students to full-time faculty members at U of T is 27.9:1—the second highest ratio among its peer universities in Canada, including University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, McGill University, and Dalhousie University. Full-time faculty includes those in the tenured stream, non-tenured stream, and teaching stream.  The university also measures student-to-faculty ratios with ten publicly funded universities in the United States. Compared to its peers south of the border, U of T has the highest ratio of 35.6:1.

However, the methodology used excludes medicine and counts a greater number of full-time students. When compared with the student-faculty ratio data that has been made available since 2004, U of T has consistently generated a higher ratio than the Canadian peer mean.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Canadian peer mean has fluctuated between 21.3:1 and 22.6:1 while U of T remained between 26.5:1 and 27.4:1. “Given the stand for greater access to post-secondary [education], U of T has expanded enrolment by 23,000 students in the last 12 years alone,”  said Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T. “Today, across our three campuses, we enroll 84,5000 students… because of our size, our student-to-faculty ratio will always be higher than that of other schools.” However, these ratios vary from division to division. Currently, the Faculty of Law has a ratio of 10:1, the second lowest ratio of any law school in North America and the lowest in Canada, while the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering has a ratio of 19.2:1. The Faculty of Arts & Science has 25,848 undergraduate students and 944 faculty members.   

Ontario by the numbers 

Rabble reported that enrolment at Ontario universities has increased by 71 per cent in the past 14 years; however, the number of faculty has increased by 31 percent. Currently, Ontario’s student-to-faculty ratio is 29:1 while the average in Canada is 20:1. Members from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations found that in order to meet the growing need for professors, Ontario universities need to hire 8,500 new faculty positions by 2020; however, it would require heavy funding from the Ontario government — $173 million per year. 

It is unclear if Ontario will be able to meet this need when, compared to other Canadian provinces, it currently provides the lowest funding per student.

Trinity College joins Lifeline Syria Challenge

U of T community participates in Syrian Refugee Welcome Party, Scholars-at-Risk

Trinity College joins Lifeline Syria Challenge

December 9 will mark the beginning of the Trinity College community’s efforts to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. A meeting, aimed at increasing student involvement in the Lifeline Syria Challenge, will be held.

Lifeline Syria, a non-profit organization in the Greater Toronto Area, recruits support teams to assist the 1,000 refugees who will arrive from Syria over the next two years, in line with Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government’s election promise. The Lifeline Syria Challenge will involve the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, OCAD University, and York University in sponsoring 75 refugee families. Among the University of Toronto’s teams is Trinity College.

Trinity’s staff and faculty will be involved in the financial and housing aspects of the resettlement process. They have made a call for students to donate and to  join support teams for the cause, regardless of Arabic-speaking ability. “[The] humanitarian crisis in Syria has emphasized the critical role and responsibility we all share as part of the global community,” said Trinity College provost Mayo Moran, calling on students to participate in the initiative.

Joining the Trinity’s team heads is alumna Leen Al Zaibak, who will be speaking to the community on how to get involved. For Al Zaibak, the project hits close to home. After working in Syria on a project targeting at-risk youth, Al Zaibak was forced to leave the country as the war broke out.

Through her feelings of frustration at the political situation and the astounding violence in the country, Al Zaibak formed the NGO Bridges (Jusoor) with a group of friends. “I’m such a proud Canadian and I felt that my country’s response was shamefully inadequate,” Al Zaibak said. The sudden demand for action, according to Al Zaibak, speaks to the nature of the Canadian public. She also believes it is important that Trinity College is the first of the colleges to become involved, which speaks to its history of leadership.

The program is one of a number of ideas generated within the University of Toronto community, which also include a Syrian Refugee Welcome Party and the Scholars-at-Risk program.

The welcome party, spearheaded by the non-profit DawaNet and, is not directly affiliated with the university, but has become an important event for students at the St. George campus. Mira El-Hussein, a first year student who will be attending, commented that, “It could have been any of us. We’re the upcoming leaders, teachers, doctors, politicians, and the world is being faced with a huge problem, so it’s within our best interest to do something about it.”

Fourth-year student Mohamad Hamieh noticed after visiting Lebanon that while many people have been accepted into the country, the institutions in place there are not sufficient for life improvement. It’s clear that University of Toronto students are demonstrating that they want to be involved in helping Syrian refugees.

Similarly, the Scholars-at-Risk program is U of T’s attempt to contribute to an environment where everyone, regardless of their situation, has opportunities for education. The scholarship uses an adjudication process in order to select vulnerable students for housing at Massey College on campus. These initiatives arrive late in the crisis. “Yes, it did take four years. And yes, it did take the picture of a three-year old washing up on the shores of Turkey to kind of wake our consciousness, but at least we woke up. And we woke up in a really big way,” said Al Zaibak.

Office declared vacant on second impeachment attempt

UTSU board impeaches KPE director

Office declared vacant on second impeachment attempt

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has impeached Ernest Manalo, the director for the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE). The impeachment vote took place at a meeting of the UTSU’s Board of Directors on Saturday, November 28.

The motion for Manalo’s impeachment was originally scheduled to be the fifth item on the agenda, but the board voted to move the motion up and address it first. According to the motion, moved by e ngineering director Carlos Fiel, Manalo has failed to attend a total of five board meetings since the start of the academic year, including the October 7 Annual General Meeting. The motion also alleges that Manalo has missed committee meetings, attendance of which is part of his role on the Professional Faculties Committee. Neither Fiel nor Manalo responded to The Varsity’s request for comment.

The motion accused Manalo of failing to relay information from the UTSU and to inform his constituency or their student government, the Kinesiology and Physical Education Undergraduate Association, about his absences. The UTSU bylaws state that a director’s failure to attend three consecutive meetings or a total of four board meetings, including the Annual General Meeting, is equivalent to vacating their position.  Members of Manalo’s constituency, according to the board package, were said to be “frustrated and uninformed” by the director’s absence at the meetings and the subsequent lack of involvement and representation.

“The UTSU board has often been criticized in the past for not taking absences seriously, and [thinks] this strikes a different tone where the expectation for representatives are much higher,” said UTSU president Ben Coleman in an email to The Varsity.

Abdulla Omari, UTSU director for UTM, requested that the board consider tabling the vote to the Board of Directors’s meeting in January to allow Manalo to assess his capacity to hold office before voting on impeachment.

“We take representation seriously, but at the same time, as a board, we take fairness seriously,” Omari said. “One month’s time is enough to allow the individual to decide whether or not they can fill the capacity [and] to allow the board to evaluate whether or not they are filling capacity and acting on the concerns. I don’t think it’s fair to impeach someone when they were told the concerns an hour ago and formally read the concerns four days ago [in] the board package.”

However, Coleman remarked that he believed that this sentiment would have been “unlikely to lead to a different decision, as the information presented was already compelling.”

The board rejected Omari’s motion to table the vote and, after an in-camera session that lasted half an hour, proceeded to a secret ballot. Several minutes later, UTSU speaker Brad Evoy announced the vacancy of the KPE director’s office. Manalo was absent from the room at the time. “This is not a time to rejoice or celebrated,” UTSU executive director Tka Pinnock said to the board shortly after the voting results had been announced. A second vote to destroy the ballots took place afterwards, and passed.

This is not the first time this year that Manalo has been up for impeachment. A Board of Directors meeting held in September had the same motion on the agenda, after Manalo missed every summer meeting. Victoria University director Auni Ahsan moved the motion at the time.

At the September 20 meeting, Manalo explained that he had scheduling conflicts due to working two full-time jobs. Having to undergo medical treatment and not having access to his UTSU email were among the other reasons he gave for non-performance. Ahsan later withdrew his motion. “It was very specific concern of not attending the summer meetings. The discussion was ‘were you showing up? Yes? No? Why?” Omari said, addressing differences between the most recent impeachment vote and that of September 20. “This discussion has been significantly different, going to the very core of representing the membership.”

Manalo represented over 1,000 students. Last March, He campaigned for the KPE director’s office with the Change UofT slate. Although he lost to independent candidate Ryan Schwenger, his opponent was disqualified due to exceeding the campaign spending limit. Schwenger’s appeal was rejected and Manalo was announced the winner of the election. The UTSU is currently accepting applications on its website to fill the vaccancy.

Disclosure: Abdulla Omari also serves on the Board of Directors for Varsity Publications Inc.

Alcohol on campus: the sobering truth

U of T lacks comprehensive policy on alcohol in residences

Alcohol on campus: the sobering truth

For many students, the consumption of alcohol is a central component of recreation and relaxation. There is a distinct culture tied to university drinking — the red solo cup and drinking games like beer pong are intimately linked to generic images of college life. Alcohol culture, however, manifests at different college residences in a variety of ways.  Despite having an extensive alcohol policy related to the promotion and sale of alcohol at university sanctioned events, the University of Toronto has no overarching policy on the possession and consumption of alcohol in residence buildings.

New College, the second-largest college on the St. George Campus, and home to approximately 880 resident undergraduates, has strict policies on alcohol. The college lists misuse of alcohol as a major offence, alongside acts such as “inappropriate disposal of human bodily waste” and “causing damage to or stealing residence property.” The residence agreement to which all New College residents must consent, lists underage drinking, serving alcohol to underage students possession of funnels or other drinking paraphernalia, and drinking games, as behaviours that are prohibited. 

New College also cracks down on party culture, which is not exclusive to alcohol. It is considered a minor offence to have a party, defined as: “any combination of two of the following three criteria: i) five or more individuals in one room ii) the presence of alcohol iii) significant noise.” New College takes the strictest stance on alcohol of all the colleges, stifling not only recreational alcohol consumption, but also that of socialization in residence as a whole.

The Residence Life Office at New College did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Trinity College’s drinking culture stands in stark contrast to that of New College. The college can apply for a permit that allows them to hold events serving alcohol in a cordoned-off area. Upon acceptance to Trinity, all first-year students wishing to go to events at which alcohol is served are required to attend an alcohol education seminar, held during Orientation Week. The Office of the Dean of Students keeps track of which students have attended the session in order to admit them to events throughout the year.

Adil Abdulla, chair of the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), expressed concern with the enforcement of the college’s alcohol policy. “People are meant to check for ID when they sell those [drink] tickets… I don’t really think anybody checks,”  he said. “There some events where everybody gets alcohol, there are no checks for it whatsoever, and it is totally free.”

Abdulla also revealed that the TCM can access about $160,000 of the college’s residence fees, $22,000 of which is projected to be used on alcohol for licensed college, this year. This spending implicitly incorporates the provision of alcohol into the college’s mandate, making alcoholic events central and prevalent. There is an inconsistency in the willingness of the college’s administration to intervene in student life and private spaces.

Victoria University has regulations that govern students’ private property as a form of alcohol policy, stipulating in its residence handbook that residents may “not have, obtain, or make a fake ID — if [they] have one it can be confiscated and legal action may be taken.” Melinda Scott, dean of students at University College, indicated in an interview with The Varsity that the college does not take a punitive stance on alcohol. “It is not our practice for residence staff to conduct random checks of student rooms,” Scott said, adding, “[we] also know that there are some who will choose to consume alcohol regardless of their age. For this reason, we try to balance sanctions for underage drinking with education about the responsible use of alcohol.”

Woodsworth College, the largest college at U of T, takes a similar approach to UC. “Generally we take an educational approach, encouraging our residents to make responsible choices should they choose to consume alcohol, while noting that it is not a requisite part of attending university,” said Steve Masse, assistant to the dean for residence life. Like all colleges, the consumption of alcohol is not permitted in public areas, which include hallways and common rooms.

“[When] a resident is found to be in violation of some part of our alcohol policy, they are assigned an educational sanction that encourages reflection and healthier behaviour in the future. This approach typically proves quite successful at altering problematic behaviours,” said Masse.

The expression of alcohol culture varies widely across the residences at U of T’s colleges. The reasons for the inconsistency between alcohol policies at different colleges remain unclear. It is clear that the experience of those in residence is shaped greatly by the subtleties in alcohol policies that govern that culture.

UTSU loses $1.6 million on health and dental plan

Board uninformed about deficit for years

UTSU loses $1.6 million on health and dental plan

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has lost more than $1.6 million on its health and dental plan over the course of six years, according to an investigation by StudentCare. StudentCare is an insurance broker that focuses exclusively on student health plans. “They’ve been engaged by the executive to essentially get a handle on what’s going on with our student plan,” said UTSU president Ben Coleman during a November 28 UTSU Board of Directors’ meeting.

Lev Bukhman, CEO of StudentCare, and Sophia Haque, director of partnerships & development, were also present for the meeting, at which they delivered a presentation on their findings.

“StudentCare will be working with the UTSU as a broker, helping to ensure that pricing for insurance remains competitive,” Coleman told The Varsity, adding, “one of the best things they offer is their open and accountable culture of reporting, meaning that the UTSU board would always be more aware of how the health and dental plans were performing, instead of being in the dark.” The UTSU’s board was hitherto uninformed about the deficits.

Previously, the UTSU relied on Morneau Shepell for brokerage; their agreement with Morneau Shepell was terminated last year and the union began to deal directly with the insurance provider, Green Shield. Green Shield is a not-for-profit company that provides health and dental coverage to the UTSU members. The company works with the National Student Health Network, one of the services offered by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). $100,000, –or one per cent of the premiums paid by students, goes to CFS-Services. This is in addition to the membership fees that the CFS already collects from the UTSU.

Coleman also told The Varsity that StudentCare also offers other services to students, such as “[allowing] students to get pharmacy discounts at Shopper’s Drug Mart (as opposed to the CFS service of discounts at independent pharmacies, which are harder for students to find).” Coleman also pointed to the fact that StudentCare’s communication team “would allow us to provide flyers on health plan coverage in multiple languages, a huge improvement for international students who may have to explain coverage to their parents,” while the CFS only provides material in French and English. As of press time, the CFS did not respond to a request for comment.

StudentCare’s analysis

The agreement that the UTSU has in place with Green Shield is a refund accounting system, also known as retention accounting. This means that if the premiums paid by students are greater than administrative costs and the claims paid by Green Shield, then the surplus is transferred to the UTSU’s reserve funds at the end of the year.

If the costs and the claims are greater than the premiums paid by students, the UTSU is then responsible for paying the deficit to Green Shield. “[On] the risk spectrum, [retention accounting is] a significant dial forward because in a retention accounting plan, the UTSU as the plan sponsor, as the policy holder, as the contract holder, is actually ultimately responsible for the financial performance for the plan,” said Bukhman during his presentation to the UTSU board of directors.

In 2010, the UTSU had approximately $1.2 million in its reserve funds, and according to Bukhman, these funds have been exhausted. In five of the past six years, the plan has caused the union to run a deficit, incurring losses totaling more than $1.6 million. The UTSU still owes $154,000 to Green Shield.

Bukhman attributes this to a rising number of claims on the plan. Dental claims, in particular, have increased by 60 per cent over the past five years. He noted that a rate of utilization is not inherently a bad thing, and the problem lay in the refund accounting system that has been put in place. “We want to draw a very clear distinction between encouraging students’ use of the plan and having a high level of utilization is different from having a financial risk model that the UTSU chooses to put in place to manage that claim experience,” explained Bukhman.

In order to pay off the debt owed to Green Shield and accommodate the rising number of claims, premiums have increased by 31 per cent over the past five years, from $216 to over $282.

“[The UTSU has] had to increase premiums substantially to try to make up for that loss,” Bukhman told The Varsity, “b ut despite the increases, they still incurred more losses.” Furthermore, Bukhman said that he did not see any evidence of a competitive bidding process for quotes on premiums or evidence that the UTSU considered other underwriting methods over the past 10 years. According to Bukhman, a request for quote (RFQ) process is “a standard and a prudent practice to make sure that you have a cost competitive, and [you’re] accountable to your membership in making sure you sort of have the best possible deal for them.”

“As far as we can tell, the plan has been renewed every year with Green Shield, the insurance company, without an exploration — first of all, looking elsewhere for other possibilities — or exploration of alternative underwriting methods or packages.”

Going forward

Aside from the health and dental plan, the UTSU also offers accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) insurance, as well as travel insurance, through Western Life. Bukhman explained that switching the AD&D and travel plan to StudentCare’s plan in January would save the UTSU around $20,000. “[It] isn’t earth-shattering but it’s better than having to pay that $20,000 for no extra reason,” said Haque. Bukhman, however, advocated against changing the health and dental plan in the middle of the year. “Tens of thousands of students use the plan all a time,” he said. “Changing insurance companies is operationally disruptive.”

For the future, Bukhman told the board that the UTSU should consider a fully insured plan, under which the UTSU would only be responsible for paying the premiums and the insurance company would only be responsible for paying out claims. “It appears to be in our analysis that refund accounting has not been so far to date a phenomenal choice for the UTSU,” explained Bukhman, “and perhaps, you can look at the pros and cons of other models, particularly, fully insured, which would be a model that minimizes — in fact, has no liability — for the UTSU at all.”

Bukhman also encouraged the UTSU to engage in an RFQ process. This, according to Bukhman, “ensures for students that all the homework has been done, all the diligence has been done to make sure they have the lowest cost plan and the best services.”

Coleman confirmed that the UTSU would be transitioning to StudentCare’s AD&D and travel packages at the start of the next semester, and that the union will conduct an RFQ process over January and February.

Bukhman stated that more analysis still needs to be done, especially regarding the claims data. Bukhman also suggested collecting feedback from students in order to “make an informed decision about what kind of a model, potentially what kind of insurance company you’re working with going forward.”

With files from Ahmed-Zaki Hagar