The CR/NCR victory is an important development for student rights at UTSC

Re: “SCSU’s Academic Advocacy campaign secures credit/no credit extension”

The CR/NCR victory is an important development for student rights at UTSC

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) recently obtained a decisive victory through its ongoing Academic Advocacy campaign by securing an extension for credit/no credit (CR/NCR) options on courses. Compared to the previous deadline, which was two weeks before the end of the semester, the extension allows students to make a choice about whether they would like their grade in a course to appear on their transcript up until the last day of classes for the session.

The Academic Advocacy campaign has hinged upon making students aware of the importance of their academic rights, with posters and outreach extending across UTSC. Other changes the SCSU’s campaign are advocating for include the option of a self-declared sick note system, capping late penalties at five percent per day, and lifting the ban on laptops that is currently enforced in some courses.

Academic issues can be difficult to manage at U of T, with lengthy bureaucratic processes for academic appeals and petitions for re-grading coursework. It is even more difficult for students to navigate these issues during times of stress, such as while ill. However, following the recent campaign, it is reported that the SCSU has seen an increase in petitions and appeals this year, a possible reflection of the effectiveness of their current awareness tactics.

By advocating for the educational rights of students at UTSC, the SCSU is initiating an important dialogue. Many of these rules and processes are explained in syllabi or long documents on the university website, weighed down by heavy jargon and red tape. Some students are not aware of their options due to the inaccessibility of these documents, including the highlighted example of the right to refuse to use Turnitin, an online plagiarism checker.

As the SCSU continues to work towards its demands in its Academic Advocacy campaign, one would hope that this win is one of many to come for UTSC students in the fight for academic rights and accessibility.

 

Anastasia Pitcher is a first-year student at New College studying Life Sciences.

Study what you love

Exploring the undervalued worth of English programs and other humanities degrees

Study what you love

To a first-year student, subject POSt enrolment is not only a rite of passage, but a crucial moment of decision-making. Majors matter, especially if a specific skill set is required for a job. Ask anyone what a confused undergrad should major in, and they will tell you to choose one that prepares you for the job market — after all, your OSAP loan will not pay itself off.

Consequently, with a job market that is already saturated with overqualified workers, students have become increasingly stressed about their futures. The result of this is that programs that do not on the surface offer degrees that will launch a graduate into the workforce — specifically, the arts and humanities — receive criticism in public discourse.

The perceived inferiority of the arts has actually led to a decline in humanities programs offered in universities. As an intended English specialist, I find myself in constant defense of my program. Instead of politely inquiring about my academic interests, the response I often get from opinionated peers is, “What are you going to do with an English degree?”

In reality, an English degree offers students far more benefits than simply written and communicative skills. It provides students with malleable skill sets that will remain relevant as society changes. There is no guarantee that a job you train for now will be in demand in four years. However, the ability to think critically, to notice patterns, to articulate ideas, and to craft well supported arguments are skills with no expiry date.

Writing demands clarification and expression, as opposed to the memorization and regurgitation required by other fields. Students are required to understand the course material, rather than committing it to short-term memory and tossing it all out after the final exam. This familiarity with the material assists them in transferring problem-solving strategies from the classroom to the real world.

In 2013, Brian Boyd conducted research on the benefits of the arts and found that humanities students thrive through our excellent handling of information, complex processing, and patterned play. Even in ENG140, a first-year English course at the University of Toronto, students are required to critically analyze texts to develop creative and original arguments. Details which on the surface seem to have no correlation are picked out and strung together to construct a strong thesis. This is similar to the “patterned play” or “pattern recognition” mode of thought that Boyd refers to, and it is  a practice that can be applied beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Whether you are analyzing a text, conducting research, or developing and articulating premises, the skills you’ll gain from studying English can be useful in any situation. It is baffling, then, why it is seen as an inferior program of study.

Some have blamed the narrow emphasis that universities place on empirical research; with considerable attention paid to published research articles, there is insufficient time or funding to consider other fields with different, but equally valuable, skill sets. A humanities degree is also seen as intrinsic rather than instrumental; perhaps good in itself, but impractical upon graduation.

In contrast to this belief, 2010-2011 data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that upon graduating, less than 10 per cent of English majors reported unemployment,. In comparison, rates for the more ‘practical’ fields of economics and political science were at 10.4 and 11.1 per cent respectively.

This is probably due to the fact that English majors graduate with skills that allow them to aspire to a variety of different positions, whether it be careers in politics, law, or media. There is no predicting what jobs will be in demand in a few years, and students who choose transferrable skills over specialized skills may just be making the right call.

Both the humanities and sciences are contributory in value. Both investments are equal in risk and in merit. Faculties should stop competing for status, and instead focus on the education of their undergraduates. Furthermore, students themselves should not let common misconceptions and petty stereotypes cloud their judgment when it comes time for POSt enrolment.

Lily Wang is a first-year student studying humanities.

Campaign for Community program under review

Faculty must approve independent study initiative

Campaign for Community program under review

The Faculty of Arts & Science has concluded its review of the Campaign for Community’s eligibility to offer course credits as part of its programming.

The initiative allowed students to undertake an independent study project with the program for course credit, under the supervision of a sociology professor. However concerns pertaining to the program’s pedagogy arose and a review process was initiated.

“[The Campaign For Community] started doing basically social activities that sort of looked like a club,” said Alex Verman, Arts & Science Students’ Union executive and participant in the independent research endeavour. “These things started last year and they’re a bit of an anomaly. We saw mostly something that looked like a club but was being taught as a class, and students could get credit for it but they weren’t really learning much.”

An independent study credit usually involves a student proposing a topic to a professor with whom the student works to develop the idea. This was not the case for the Campaign for Community’s independent study program, due to the number of students involved. Instead, one professor supervised multiple independent studies that were centered on similar concepts.

“Having had that experience I brought up in my first meeting with the faculty registrar that it would be good if we get a syllabus or list of expectations for independent study classes, and the registrar was confused because it was an independent study class, you shouldn’t even need that because it’s just the professor and the student. What was revealed is that [Campaign for Community] was operating as an independent study and therefore it doesn’t need to be looked at in any depth,” said Verman.

Verman said that they do not believe the organizers acted maliciously, but that students’ education is being compromised. “I’m not assigning malicious intent; I know people involved. They’re really nice people with really good intentions but what is actually happening is you have students paying real, literal money that they work hard for or their family works hard for and is probably really difficult to come by and then not getting what they signed up for, or a class really at all,” they said.

ASSU raised the issue to the dean of Arts & Science and the faculty registrar, who agreed to look into it. According to Verman, a week after the issue was first raised, it became “immediately apparent that it doesn’t satisfy the conditions to be taught as a class.”

The review of Campaign for Community’s for-credit programming consisted of a meeting between the campaign’s founder, David Fishbayn, and Penelope Lockwood, who is the acting associate dean, undergraduate, for the Faculty of Arts & Science. In the meeting, it was established that if the Campaign for Community intends to continue its for-credit programming, it must first be subject to a faculty-level review process.

“When I was a student, people in my social circles really wanted to do something about the nature of community at U of T. We wanted to improve community and in order to do that, we had to create a group that would actually do stuff, so it wasn’t really about essay writing, it was about doing,” said Fishbayn.

Fishbayn did an independent study himself, addressing the problem of community building at U of T through a for-credit option to keep students motivated in an independent study format.

“At the time we just sort of did this independent study thing where we had a large number of forms being processed by one professor, and at the time it just sort of seemed like a way to sort of generate a creative solution to some problems on campus.”

With the Faculty of Arts & Science citing issues of pedagogy as part of the reason for their review, Fishbayn said that the review was fair. He stated that concerns surrounding multiple independent studies conducted by a single professor stemmed from the fact that the studies were not listed as a traditional course, which caused confusion.

Going forward, Fishbayn says that Campaign for Community plans to run the program on a volunteer basis, and if a for-credit option should become possible, then the Faculty of Arts & Science will review it, which would take a year.

“We’ve already moved on and nobody’s really too focused on it, we’re just focusing on our programs and events and things are going very well,” said Fishbayn. “[The] credits still count but moving forward we just need to change some things.”

U of T strikes Truth and Reconciliation steering committee

Native Students’ Association supports mandatory Indigenous studies credit

U of T strikes Truth and Reconciliation steering committee

In the wake of the recent release of the full report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), U of T president Meric Gertler and U of T vice president and provost Cheryl Regehr have struck a university-wide steering committee to review and implement the TRC’s conclusions. The committee was created on January 15.

The TRC released its historic final report which includes a total of 94 “Calls to Action.” These “Calls to Action” are recommendations that cover steps institutions and people can take towards expediting reconciliation. Many of them involve educational reforms.

Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, coordinator of U of T’s Council of Aboriginal Initiatives and director of Aboriginal student services at U of T’s First Nations House, alongside professor Stephen Toope, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, are the steering committee’s co-chairs. Community Elders Lee Maracle and Andrew Wesley are also confirmed to be providing “guidance and wisdom” to the committee.

“The steering committee will be guiding the implementation of the Terms of Reference. I will participate in the same way all the members of the committee do,” said Maracle.

“The role of the committee is to consider the recommendations of the TRC and implement those that are relevant to the university. Students and faculty can become involved in the working groups attached to the steering committee and projects the committee proposes to undertake,” Maracle continued.

Other supporters of the committee include associate professor Sandy Welsh, vice provost, students, and professor Sioban Nelson, vice provost, academic programs and faculty and academic life, who will work closely with academic divisions and other stakeholders following the TRC’s Terms of Reference.

Native Students’ Association calls for mandatory Indigenous Studies class

The Native Students’ Association (NSA) recently circulated a petition calling on the university to implement a mandatory Indigenous studies credit across all levels of education. The petition, which was posted on Change.org last week, had 476 supporters at press time.

“The topic of Indigenous studies is relevant to everyone who was born or resides in this country as it is an often overlooked but essential factor in the search to fully understand our collective Canadian history and identity, regardless of one’s ethnic background,” said Matthew Cappella, Maten Clan Leader of the NSA.

“There are so many Canadians that are not educated on Indigenous people in Canada. I see this everyday in my classes. The University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay have already approved mandatory Indigenous studies for undergrads,” said Roy Stebel, Bear Clan Leader with the NSA.

The movement in support of a mandatory Indigenous studies course now directly responds to Call 62 of the TRC, which calls for funding and for the inclusion of Aboriginal knowledge on high school and university curricula.

“The University of Toronto is far overdue in keeping up to speed on such an important issue. It is about time that university students begin to have a better understanding of Indigenous Canadians, this will ensure a stronger more succinct nation for our future,” said Stebel.

According to the NSA, the steering committee has yet to reach out to them, and NSA members hope to be included in the process.

“At this point we know very little of the committee. Unfortunately we have not been contacted by anyone yet either. However, since we are already responding to Call 62 of the TRC Calls to Action, we are confident that at least one of our members will be selected for the committee,” said Dhanela Paran, Loon Leader, and Audrey Rochette, Crane Leader, in a joint statement.

“In fact we are hoping to have at least three of our council on the committee due to the tangible work we do everyday, every month, and every year on campus and [the] impact we have not only through thoughtful discussions but through our events, campaigns, community work, and dedication to our goals. We do this work already and our insight could be very valuable as student leaders,” they added.

Committee set to have “working groups”

“I am Mohawk, so this impacts many people in Indigenous communities and myself,” said Hamilton-Diabo. We want to be able to increase the inclusion of Indigenous people in the post-secondary sector and society where many members have disadvantages. [This is] me working for my community,” he added.

Hamilton-Diabo says the committee will look at all mechanisms available to them when considering a mandatory course in Indigenous studies for all students at U of T.

“First Nations House have been putting it out there on behalf of the NSA we support any activity the NSA puts forward to recommend change, and I think it is a important piece and we are well aware of the work they are doing and interested in seeing larger discussion that needs to take place. Should this go ahead, it would need to involve other areas. It sparks a very needed discussion,” commented Hamilton-Diabo on the NSA’s petition.

“I think we would definitely be looking at having a wide range of people that can be a benefit to the committee. [There will be] lots of opportunity for people to get involved. We will create working groups,” he said on the committee’s development.

For his part, Hamilton-Diabo is looking forward to exploring Indigenous language courses, which are currently offered at U of T. Courses teaching Indigenous languages were named in the 94 “Calls to Action” as an aspect of knowledge that post-secondary institutions should share and promote.

The committee is expected to present an interim report to Regehr and Gertler by July 1, 2016 and a final report by December 31, 2016.

Nominations for faculty, staff, and students to sit on the steering committee will close on January 25, 2016.

Calls to action and universities

The TRC Calls to Action that apply to post-secondary institutions include: asking universities to create degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages; requiring students at medical and nursing schools to take a course specifically related to Aboriginal health issues; requiring law students to take a course in Indigenous law; and educating future social and child welfare workers about the effects and legacy of residential schools for Aboriginal communities and families.

U of T currently offers courses related to Indigenous issues within these disciplines; however, not all programs require an Indigenous studies course to graduate.

The university also houses services for Indigenous students such as the First Nations House, the Council on Aboriginal Initiatives, the Indigenous Language Initiative, and the Indigenous Health Science Group. The most recent initiative is the newly established Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous health, a research institute dedicated to the health of Indigenous Canadians.

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.