Set against a backdrop of rapid growth at the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, sweeping changes to flat fee policy, a contentious University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election, and the election of new mayors in Mississauga and Toronto, Meric Gertler assumed office as the sixteenth president of the University of Toronto during a period of unprecedented change.
As he closes in on 500 days in office, The Varsity sat down with Gertler to discuss the year gone by and plans for the year ahead.
The Varsity: You’ve now been president for over a year. At your installation address, you named leveraging location, strengthening international partnerships, and reinventing undergraduate education as priorities for the university’s future. Can you tell me about the progress you’ve made towards accomplishing those goals?
Meric Gertler: The first one, leveraging our location, is one where I think there’s certainly a lot to report. We’ve focused on a couple of things. First of all, trying to build a stronger, friendlier relationship with the city around us. That’s city with a lower case “c,” and city with an upper case “C.” So the lower case “c” is neighbourhood associations that are adjacent to our campuses, community-based organizations that can benefit from collaboration with the university, and individual citizens who might want to set foot on one of our campuses take part in, if not our educational programs, at least events that we have on campus. We’ve had some really great events where we’ve welcomed the city in. I think one of my highlights was the tribute and celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life several days after he passed, where we opened up Convocation Hall and ended up having 800 people show up. We welcomed members of the South African diaspora, the premier came, the lieutenant-governor came. We had students and faculty from Africa speaking, as well as members of the community. We had a personal video from Desmond Tutu, sent for the occasion. We had given him an honorary degree from this institution several years before, so he knows us well. So that’s a great example of using some of our fantastic spaces for the benefit of the city.
At a time when no one was doing anything, we thought, ‘We have the space. We have the kind of convening power.’ So that’s one real highlight. In terms of city with an upper case “C,” the City of Toronto and the City of Mississauga are our two host cities. We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with Mississauga for many years, with Hazel McCallion and now with Bonnie Crombie, the new mayor, who is an alumna of U of T. That relationship will continue to flourish. And similarly, although we are not physically in Brampton, Linda Jeffery, another U of T alumna, is also already reaching out to us to establish a stronger relationship. So on the western side of the [Greater Toronto Area], things are going really well.
The City of Toronto has been a work in progress. We’ve had our ups and downs with them over the years. But there’s been a real warming of relations there, starting with councillor Adam Vaughan before he moved into federal politics, where we were able to re-establish a great working relationship with him and the neighbourhood liaison committee that we has, that represents the neighbourhood associations around the St. George campus. I’ve met with Joe Cressy, the new councillor for that area, on his very first day in office. So we’ve established a very good working relationship. I’ve also established a ritual of annual meetings with the heads of all the residence associations around our St. George campus. They were here — I think it was last January — and we’ve just set up a meeting for them to return for another conversation. We also have a great relationship with councillor Wong-Tam, who’s our other downtown councillor here.
Similarly, with our councillor at Scarborough. There are all kinds of good reasons for working well with the city. We plan to leverage them as much as we can. I’ve been talking to Jennifer Keesmaat, the chief planner for the City of Toronto, about ways that we can engage students and faculty to engage on city planning issues where they need some help — where they don’t have the research capacity or expertise that we have, and we can actually engage students and faculty very successfully working in partnership with the City.
Just last night, I had dinner with the new mayor, John Tory, along with my counterparts at York [University], Ryerson [University], and OCAD [Ontario College of Art and Design], to talk about ways that the universities can work with the city more closely. While I’m at it, I might as well mention that I took the initiative to convene a meeting of the four university presidents on a regular basis. So I hosted the first of those meetings at Massey College last spring. Since then, we’ve had two more dinners — one hosted by Sara Diamond from OCAD. Last night’s dinner was hosted by Sheldon Levy at Ryerson. The next one will be hosted by Mamdouh Shoukri at York.
The idea is ‘How can the four universities work together to help address challenges that all four of us face based on the fact that we’re here in Toronto?’ So we have encouraged our faculty and students at all four universities to come together around transportation as a big issue. So many thousands of our students, our faculty, and our staff commute to and from our campuses every day, and their daily lives are so deeply affected by the state of the transportation system in this city, and indeed the region. We all recognize that we have an interest in improving the status quo. We are going to be encouraging them to work together to study student transportation patterns on a daily basis. They’ll do a survey of the behaviour of students, and collect a fantastic database that they can use to inform public policy decisions so that we can make the case for better transit to the Scarborough campus and better connections to this campus as well. So those are some examples on the first priority. Obviously, as a cities guy, I can talk about this for the next five days and not run out of material.
On the international front, our goal is really to find ways to create even more opportunities for our faculty and our students through international partnerships and other international activities. I’m a firm believer that international experience is an important element of a student’s education. You learn so much from travelling and interacting with people in other places, other societies, other cultures, other traditions. So we want to do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for more and more students to have that experience. It’s challenging for financial reasons. It’s challenging also because many of our students have multiple responsibilities here in Toronto. They live at home; they have responsibilities at home. They work part-time, and it’s hard for them to step away from their part-time positions for a summer, or a full-year is even more difficult. So we have to find ever more creative ways to do that. I like the approach that [the Faculty of] Arts & Science has taken with International Course Modules. That’s kind of a shorter, more intense, less expensive option to provide a first taste of international experience for students. I know that the dean of Arts & Science is keen to grow that as much as possible.
Another way to create international opportunities is through partnerships with other really good universities in other parts of the world. There, I think we’ve been focusing on deepening the partnerships with institutions that we think are particularly well-suited to be our partners. They are great universities. Typically, they are in other great cities around the world. I’ve spent some time travelling this year to visit some of these institutions — most recently Sao Paulo in Brazil, and the University of Sao Paulo is arguably Latin America’s best university, and is rapidly rising. We have already very strong connections… The four areas that we focused on are global cities, international relations, neuroscience, and oncology. Those are the four for the Sao Paulo agreement. Each of the agreements that we strike with different institutions will focus on different areas. I’ll be going to India next week visiting IIT [Indian Institute of Technology] Bombay, taking four faculty members with me to talk about urban issues and research. In this case, the four faculty are coming from engineering, and there too we’re going to try to create opportunities for faculty and students to work in partnership with colleagues in Bombay on areas of common interest. The Sao Paulo trip was a bigger delegation; there were 15 faculty who went on that, and a very broad range of disciplines that were represented. We know from experience there is tremendous experience in partnering with U of T abroad. We’ve seen it in Latin America. We’re seeing it in Asia, as well — in East Asia, China in particular, but also in places like Singapore.
So our challenge, and it’s a nice challenge to have, is to figure out who we really want to partner with. We can’t partner with everybody — at least not to the same extent – so one of my goals for the coming year is to instigate a conversation around the university about ‘What kinds of partners do we really want to interact with, and what are the criteria that we would use to pick?’ That’s a university-wide conversation that we like to have.
On the final one — undergraduate education and the idea of re-inventing or re-imagining it —what I’ve been trying to do is to provoke a conversation around the university about what an undergraduate education is for. What is the role of the university in that regard? There’s a lot of talk these days about the need to produce students who are job-ready, to focus their development on very specific skills, rather than taking a step back and thinking deeply about the kind of competencies that we really should be developing in our students — not just for their first job but for a lifelong career or set of careers. A lifetime of success. And what I’ve been trying to argue is that this is not the time to be throwing out the traditional liberal arts model of undergraduate education — a model of education based on breadth. Indeed, it’s a time to renew our model and rejuvenate it, and think creatively about how we develop the capacities that we think our students should have when they live here: the ability to communicate well, the ability to think creatively and critically, the ability to appraise other peoples’ arguments in a sceptical way, the ability to assemble your own arguments effectively, marshalling both qualitative and quantitative forms of evidence, the ability to work successfully in groups. These kinds of skills that, no matter what field you end up working in, or whether you go into graduate work or professional schools, or straight into the world or work, these will serve you well.
What I’ve been trying to do, through discussion of these three priorities — and particularly that last priority — is to try to stimulate discussion and debate around the different divisions of the university on all three campuses. Ultimately, it’s up to the provost, working with deans and faculty members and students, to lead the way in thinking about how we rethink undergraduate education in a way that, on the one hand, serves the long-term needs of our students, while at the same time recognizing that the challenging economic circumstances of today, and the difficulty in the job market, and helping launch our students effectively and successfully once they are getting ready to leave.
TV: Going back to the transit piece, Toronto mayor John Tory announced a 10 cent hike in Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) fares. Do you think the university plays in role in facilitating transport for students?
MG: That’s a great question. This is a very recent decision by the new mayor, so we’ll be gathering information on what potential actions the university can take. But we have indeed been advocating very strongly with the TTC directly to improve service, particularly to our Scarborough campus, which has been poorly served. We want to engage directly in debates about plans for new transit infrastructure in that quadrant of the city, and to make sure the decisions that they make recognize the scale of the development that has already taken place there — let alone plans for the future with 12,000 students at UTSC and another 5,000 at Centennial [College], which is right at the same campus, and the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, which is a huge magnet.
In fact, I did talk to the mayor about this last night at our dinner. He visited that campus recently — the first time, probably, in twenty years — and was amazed by what he saw. This kind of establishment of a dialogue and encouraging leaders like him to visit our campuses and meet with students is really critical to ensuring that whatever transit policy decisions come out of City Hall are student-friendly and university-friendly.
TV: Do you see a direct shuttle coming from the Scarborough campus to the St. George campus at any point in the future?
MG: Jill Matus, our vice-provost for students and first-entry divisions, has been investigating this issue… She has been looking at all of the issues there. Ironically, because Scarborough is in the City of Toronto and because the TTC has a legislative monopoly on public transit services within the City of Toronto, it has created a bit of an impediment for us in terms of establishing a university-sponsored shuttle between the two campuses. That has been the issue that has been our biggest stumbling block.
It’s why we have a shuttle to UTM, but not to UTSC. UTM is in a different municipality. Professor Matus has been investigating the opportunities and options that might exist… It is clearly something that seems like a good idea to everyone involved. If there’s any way we could make it happen, we would make it happen, without running afoul of the law.
TV: Do you see a different dynamic working with Tory versus the previous mayor, Rob Ford?
MG: Mr. Tory seems very open to meeting with university leadership on a regular basis. The first conversation that the four of us had with him yesterday was very cordial. He was very engaged. He expressed real interest in our needs and our challenges, and a real willingness to work together to solve mutual problems and to seize opportunities. I’m quite encouraged. It’s early days yet, but I’m quite encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.
TV: There’s been a lot of discussion across North America regarding sexual violence on postsecondary campuses. In November, the University of Toronto announced the Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence. However, a petition yesterday highlighted student concerns, calling for the university to “[r]eview all relevant policies and procedures and, in light of this review, develop a clear and comprehensive sexual violence policy.” Can you talk a bit about the steps the university is taking to combat sexual violence?
MG: We recognize this as a very serious issue, and we recognize that our overriding responsibility is to do everything we can to provide a safe environment that is conducive to learning by all members of our community — whatever gender they may be, whatever sexual orientation they may have, and any other characteristics, social or otherwise, that differentiate one from another.
That is a bedrock value of this institution that has always guided us. To that end, when these recent events hit the media, our first response was to have the provost issue a statement that acknowledges our responsibility in this area, that reminds members of the community that we do have a variety of existing channels and support services available to students if they do find themselves in a situation where they feel they need help.
We listed those very clearly, so it was an opportunity to collate these and to put them all in one place. We’re very proud of the services that we have on offer, and the policies and procedures in place to deal with such events, should they occur.
Nevertheless, whenever something like this happens at another institution, whether it’s in Canada or elsewhere, it’s a good opportunity for us to take stock and look at our own practices and ask ourselves: “Are we doing the best that we can? Can we learn from other places’ experiences, and incorporate that lesson or those lessons into how we do things?”
That is really the reason for this new group that has been announced. It’s a chance for us to take stock, looking systematically across all of our practices, all of our policies, across all of our campuses, to make sure that what we do is the absolute best-in-class. We will, of course, run that review process in a way that is very open and provides ample opportunities for all members of the university community to contribute their wisdom and perspective to this discussion. We want this to be as inclusive and as open as possible. We want everybody to feel ownership of whatever recommendations come out of this exercise. That’s our intention.
TV: As it stands right now, do you think current resources are adequate for dealing with incidents of sexual violence?
MG: Too early to say. All I can say is that our student life operation is a very high quality operation. It is recognized partly because of the scale of this place — the fact that we have experience here that smaller universities may not encounter as frequently in terms of variety and number, which creates a valuable experience base and learning opportunities for our dedicated staff. We believe that the current offering of services is very strong in that regard, but we want to make sure that is the case, and that’s why we’re undertaking this review.
TV: At various times over the past decade, the University of Toronto Faculty Association — and past-president George Luste, in particular — has expressed concern over the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation’s (UTAM) handling of pension and endowment funds. Do you think current oversight of that subsidiary, and its overall performance, is adequate?
MG: I think that the system we have in place has improved a lot since the dark days of the last financial crisis, when the university experienced a setback. Lots of other institutions experienced setbacks, but I think the scale of our losses was large relative to other places. It triggered a review by my predecessor, David Naylor, of the existing structures and practices in place, culminating in a report that was from a committee chaired by former chancellor Hal Jackman, which made some very astute observations and recommendations. It led to the creation of something called the Investment Advisory Committee (IAC), which is a volunteer committee of very senior investment professionals drawn from the Toronto investment community.
We’re lucky to be situated in one of the world’s true centres for not just financial services, but particularly for the prudent management of long-term investments — pension funds and related vehicles. We drew on that community to pull together this advisory committee, which includes people like David Denison, who has previously been with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and people from the Ontario Teachers’ Fund as well, and other seasoned investment professionals, all of whom are working as volunteers to provide advice through the president to the pension committee and UTAM leadership — working with us to help define the broad investment parameters and philosophies that shape UTAM’s decisions.
Since the establishment of the IAC, and the introduction of these new practices, the results have been considerably better. You have to remember that when you compare our results to other institutions, each institution has its own defined appetite for risk, and this is a conversation that takes place around the table of the Pension Committee and the Business Board of the university. That is important to keep in mind — our appetite for risk is lower than other institutions, in part because of the past experiences that we have had. Our goal has been to maximize returns on pension funds as well as our endowment fund, subject to a certain tolerance for risk.
With that in mind, we have seen UTAM perform very well… That exceeded not only the kinds of returns that a similarly structured passive investment portfolio would have earned, but also exceeds the returns that the university requires in terms of being able to meet its needs — generate a payout that is sufficient to pay the endowment obligations and responsibilities that we have. We think that UTAM’s performance has improved quite significantly, and quite steadily over that time period. We are appraising it regularly, and keeping a very close eye on how it performs. The IAC has been very, very helpful in that regard.
TV: Do you see a return to the investment structure that existed before 2000?
MG: One always has to ask “Are we doing things in the best possible way?” Not becoming complacent — we need to make sure we employ what we feel are the best practices in the industry. At this point, there is no compelling rationale for changing, but we will always be keeping a close eye on that question.
TV: Ontario has consistently had the lowest per-student funding of any Canadian province during the last two decades. This creates many issues for the university. How does the university balance the need to fill provincial funding gaps, while keeping the university as accessible as possible for both domestic and international students?
MG: You’re quite right. This is one of our biggest challenges, and is something else that I talked about in my installation address, right at the opening moment. It continues to be a pressing challenge for us. We’ve made a little bit of progress in the past year. The province has negotiated Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMA) with each university and each college in the provincial system.
Those agreements, now that they are struck, are supposed to be templates to guide future resource allocation decisions by Queen’s Park. Step one is in place; we are waiting to see whether subsequent steps unfold in the way we hope they will. The good news is that our Strategic Mandate Agreement acknowledges the quality of the University of Toronto and its flagship status within the Ontario system, while other universities may have been encouraged to narrow their range of offerings. We said in our Strategic Mandate Agreements that one of the truly distinctive things about the University of Toronto is that it is so strong in so many fields, and it really is — if there was one institution that had legitimate claim to being truly comprehensive in its offerings, it’s U of T. That very breadth should be recognized and enshrined in the SMA document, and it has been.
One of the things that is really remarkable about this place is how good we are in so many different disciplines. There are very few universities around the world that are as strong as we are in humanities, but also in medicine, and also in engineering and other professions. That is a distinctive quality that we thought had to be recognized. So that’s the good news. Whether there will be more good news down the road in terms of funding that comes from Ontario in ways that acknowledge our role as a comprehensive university, and as a research-intensive university, remains to be seen.
That research intensiveness is another really distinctive part of our mission and our identity. It’s one of the reasons why students come here — to be able to work with world-leading scholars in all of these different fields. We want that to remain true for a long, long time. But research is expensive, and it is not fully supported by — particularly, the federal government, which is the primary source of research funding. So we have a double challenge in that regard. Our undergraduate mission is not funded at a level that we think is appropriate from the provincial government, and at the same time we would like to see more research support coming from the federal government… There have been some positive developments there in the past year, with the establishment of the Canada First Excellence Research Fund, in particular, which is designed to allocate additional research funds to those universities and those research groups in those universities that are at the top of their game and are globally competitive. It stands to reason that U of T should do well in that kind of program, and we are in the process of putting in our first application for those funds.
So again, there is some good news at the federal level, as well… We have a set of very strong policies in place that lead us to augment provincial programs and federal programs for student aid through our own resources. Last year, we spent $165 million on student aid — above and beyond what comes from the Ontario government through OSAP, and through federal grants, loans, and tax credits, to make good on our commitment to students that they should not be denied access for resources related to financial need. That is a commitment that has been made available to domestic students. We have not extended the same guarantee to international students. It’s a more challenging environment for us because we get no grant support at all from Ontario for international students — either undergraduate or graduate.
There’s a very small amount of support for graduate students. A very, very small number are eligible for OGS [Ontario Graduate Scholarship] awards and these Trillium scholarships, but they are very small in number relative to our size. Most of our international students are not supported by provincial money. So it is challenging for us to ensure access for those students. We are offering some scholarship support for international students. That’s been a decision made by individual faculties — the extent to which they are able to do that. We are trying to raise more funds for scholarship support, in general, as part of our Boundless campaign. Some of that is targeted towards international students, and we are hopeful that we can succeed.
I think it is incredibly important for all kinds of reasons for the University of Toronto to have a strong influx of international students. It enriches the learning experience of everyone. It allows us to draw from a global pool of talent, and ensure that our student body is as strong as possible. We have every reason to encourage more of them to come.
TV: At various times over the past few years, both provincial and federal governments have talked about attracting more international students and getting a larger international student population in Canada. Have there been any discussions about per-student grants for international students?
MG: There’s been more discussion of that at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level. The federal government does have Vanier scholarships, which are open to international students. Those are still relatively small in number, and we’d certainly like to see more of that. We’d like to see the province of Ontario provide some support as well, particularly at the graduate level, where we feel the most acute pressure from our departments. Our faculty want to be able to work with the best students from across Canada and around the world. They’re frustrated that we receive so many applications every year from fantastic graduate students who want to come to U of T from outside of Canada, to work with our faculty, and yet we can’t afford to bring them in. We tend to provide support for doctoral students or doctoral-stream students, rather than them pay their way. Because we get no grant support from the Ontario government, the cost of bringing in these students is quite high. We, among other universities, have been advocating for greater provincial support in that regard. Given the fiscal climate in Ontario right now, it’s kind of discouraging. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying.
TV: There’s been a lot of discussion lately about international student representation on Governing Council. That’s largely out of the university’s hands, but have you had any discussions at the provincial level regarding changing that?
MG: We have. We’re quite concerned. As the proportion of our enrollment that is comprised of international students has grown over the last several years, we’ve recognized that there is a disconnect between the scale of their presence on campus and the opportunities that they have to voice their perspectives in our governance system.
The good news is that they are indeed welcome to, and encouraged to, get involved in faculty councils and various committees on Governing Council, but the University of Toronto Act does prohibit non-Canadian citizens from participating. By the way, this is not just students. The same applies to faculty and staff and alumni governors and LGIC [Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council] governors.
Our preference is to see the citizenship restriction lifted for all categories of members so that, whether you’re a student governor or a faculty governor or an alumni governor, citizenship is irrelevant.
I understand that the act was written at a time when nationalism was a bigger concern, perhaps than it is today. But I think everyone recognizes that we would be better off if those citizenship restrictions were not in place. So we are beginning a discussion with the provincial government to see if there is some way that we can change that. There are seven other universities in Ontario, so far as we can tell, that have similar citizenship requirements or restrictions, and we are consulting with them as well to see if they are similarly concerned. We probably have the highest international proportion of any other university in Ontario, but there are several others that have seen their international student enrolment grow significantly in the past few years, so I would be surprised if it wasn’t an issue at some of those other universities in Ontario.
TV: Are you optimistic about those discussions?
MG: I am because I think it’s hard to come up with a rationale for why one should limit participation and democratic representation on the basis of citizenship. International students, if they’re undergraduates, spend the same four years here that domestic students do. They pay more fees than domestic students do. It seems only logical and reasonable that they should have full rights of participation. I do feel that when we have the full discussion at Queen’s Park that there will be a sympathetic hearing. But it’s still early days. We are, though, very determined to see that discussion through.
TV: The Towards 2030 plan calls for, among other things, higher tuition fees, more partnerships with corporations, and a higher proportion of graduate students at the St. George campus, with the focus on undergraduate education shifting to UTM and UTSC. Do you plan to stay the course with the Towards 2030 plan during your time in office?
MG: There have been several opportunities for the university to revisit the Towards 2030 plan. One was in the exercise that came to be known as The View from 2012. This was led by former provost Cheryl Misak. At the time, there seemed to be a pretty strong consensus that the kinds of broad goals that were outlined in the 2030 plan were still widely accepted. There seemed to be pretty strong support. The next opportunity came along when the presidential search committee was struck, and went about its business consulting widely around the university on all matter of things related to the future direction of the university and its current state. They too reported that they found remarkably strong consensus around the 2030 goals, which, at the highest level, talk about advancing the university’s status as one of the world’s leading research-performing institutions, accentuating our status as a leading research-intensive, undergraduate education centre; one of the world’s largest and best centres for graduate education, as well. These were core to our mission as an institution. I think there continues to be strong support for increasing the ratio of graduate to undergraduate students across the institution, most markedly at the St. George campus.
The same is also occurring, perhaps more slowly, at UTM and UTSC. The difference is, of course, both UTM and UTSC have considerable scope to grow their undergraduate enrolments, and have experienced a lot of growth even since 2030 was struck. We now have close to 14,000 students at UTM and 12,000 at UTSC. We are constrained on the St. George campus by physical realities. It’s hard to expand. Moreover, one can ask the question ‘Should a single university campus ever get any larger than the one that we have now, and remain manageable and able to offer a great experience to students?’ My take on that would be that we should be focusing on making the campus that we have as good as possible, in terms of its physical environment and in terms of the experience that we offer to our students — both undergraduate and graduate.
Of course, we have the same goals at UTM and UTSC. So there is continued demand for spaces and for students enrolling at our two newer campuses. There is a continuing demand for access-to-university within the GTA. It remains one of the few markets for higher education in Canada that continues to grow, thanks to immigration and thanks to higher postsecondary participation rates, in particular. There is a set of conditions conducive to further growth on those two campuses — particularly at the undergraduate level, but at the same time, UTM and UTSC have both developed some very distinctive, high-quality, professional master’s programs, and in the case of UTSC, even a PhD program in environmental science. They are evolving into more like comprehensive standalone universities in their own right, and yet they continue to derive tremendous growth from their relationship with the other parts of the U of T system.
The kind of future that 2030 imagined, where UTM and UTSC become increasingly differentiated within the tri-campus system, and become increasingly autonomous, is happening, and yet at the same time, that future included continued association with the University of Toronto. The fact that a faculty member that’s hired at UTM and UTSC can become, simultaneously, a member of that campus and a tri-campus graduate department in their field, is a tremendous asset when they’re recruiting. It helps UTM and UTSC attract fantastic faculty. I can tell you, having looked at tenure files that have come from those two campuses this past year: they are hiring absolutely amazing faculty. So that tri-campus system that we have — that identity and those connections — continue to matter and help UTM and UTSC go from strength-to-strength. So, in that regard, I think the kind of vision that was laid out in 2030 is unfolding in the way that we expected it to. I think that’s a good thing.
TV: Most students on the St. George campus can agree that student space is a big issue. Over the past five years, the Student Commons has been a big topic of discussion. Do you see any timeline for breaking ground on that facility?
MG: It’s hard to forecast a specific timeline, but I can tell you that no one wants to see that Student Commons built more badly than I do, or than the provost does, or than the chair of Governing Council does. We are doing everything we can to move that process along in a more expeditious way. We are focusing on a draft operating agreement that had been devised through negotiations with the UTSU several years ago. That has been a point of contention for many members of the student community on the St. George campus, and there have been concerns about the way that the management of the Student Commons would be structured.
We are trying to find a way to revisit those terms and agree on some revisions that would end up with a structure that people could be satisfied with; that would allow for an appropriate representation of all the student groups on the St. George campus that are dues collecting, and that have a rightful place in the governance of that Commons. That’s what we’re focusing on now. We certainly hope that it will lead to progress so that we can see this thing get started. We really want to see it built.
A condensed version of this article appeared in print on Monday, January 26. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.