U of T approves Second Attempt for Credit policy change at UTM

Policy allows students to retake up to 1.0 previously passed credits for their GPA

U of T approves Second Attempt for Credit policy change at UTM

U of T’s Committee on Academic Policy and Programs approved the introduction of a Second Attempt for Credit (SAC) proposal on January 14, which will allow UTM students to choose up to 1.0 retaken passed credits to count toward their cumulative GPA (CGPA). This policy does not apply to UTSC or UTSG students.

Currently, marks received for a retaken course are not reflected in students’ GPAs, but are denoted as “extra” on their transcript.

Effective May 1, the policy makes changes to UTM’s existing Repeating Passed Courses Policy, according to an email from U of T spokesperson, Elizabeth Church.

“Under the existing policy, students are allowed to repeat passed courses only once and only when the course is needed to enter a program, to satisfy a prerequisite, or to demonstrate higher performance for an external credential or future graduate study,” explained Church.

Data collected by the university since September 2015 shows that, out of 1,340 instances of repeated passed courses, only 10 per cent of students taking previously passed courses saw a mark decrease. Most students saw a median increase of 13 per cent.

Students must designate a course as SAC before completing it for it to count toward their GPA, or else it will continue to be denoted as “extra.”

The deadline will correspond with the deadlines for late withdrawal and credit/no credit. There is no restriction on the year that the student is in, the level of the course, or the campus where the course is offered.

The Office of the Vice-Principal Academic and Dean consulted with UTM’s Office of the Registrar and solicited feedback from UTM Department Chairs and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).

Professor Angela Lange, Acting Vice-Principal Academic and Dean, formally proposed this policy in October last year, after which it was brought to UTM’s Academic Affairs Committee. Upon the Academic Affairs Committee’s recommendation, the motion was presented to the Committee on Academic Policy and Programs for approval.

“The rationale behind this [policy],” said Church, “is to give students more opportunities to recover from challenges in their first year that may keep them from entering programs that require a minimum mark in a particular course… or a minimum CGPA.”

The SAC amendment acknowledges students’ efforts to improve and ensures that this effort is reflected in their GPA.

The new policy will also be consistent with other U15 universities, a group of 15 Canadian public research universities of which University of Toronto is a member.

The UTMSU has been advocating for the course retake policy for years, with the union releasing its policy proposal on the issue last March.

However, this policy currently only exists at UTM; no similar policies have been proposed at either UTSC or UTSG.

Haseeb Hassaan, President of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU), which represents undergraduate full-time students in the Faculty of Arts & Science at UTSG, wrote to The Varsity that ASSU “supports such a policy at the faculty of arts and science.”

“Our counterparts at the UTMSU have also briefed us on the policy,” confirmed Hassaan. “ASSU has brought this to the attention of the deans office and has made it clear that this [policy] would be of benefit [to] students.”

The Varsity has reached out to the UTMSU and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union for comment.

U of T proposes joining Faculty of Forestry with John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

Forestry facing lack of resources, declining number of students

U of T proposes joining Faculty of Forestry with John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

The Faculty of Forestry could join the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design as of July 1, according to a new proposal that will go through the governance process in early May.

If passed, the change will endeavour to retain the forestry faculty as is, keeping all of the current staff and possibly expanding the faculty’s offerings in conjunction with Daniels. The proposal would not affect undergraduate course offerings.

Robert Wright, dean of the Faculty of Forestry, told U of T News that “combining the Daniels and forestry faculties will pave the way for more collaboration and interdisciplinary research.”

One of the main reasons behind the proposed change is the faculty’s lack of resources. It does not have its own undergraduate program and is unable to offer all classes every year.

The Forestry Graduate Students’ Association (FGSA) noted that it has been involved in the consultation process with the dean, and that it is organizing a town hall for graduate students to express their opinions.

“One of the main concerns to the students… is that the programs stay intact and we have been reassured that the programs will remain the same if this particular proposal were to come to fruition,” wrote the FGSA in an email to The Varsity.

There will be another round of consultations before the proposal enters the governance process, according to Cheryl Regehr, U of T Vice-President and Provost.

“Over the years, the number of students in the Faculty of Forestry has declined and so this is a way of being able to create new synergy and create new programs,” said Regehr.

She noted that an important area of collaboration between forestry and Daniels is urban forests, as well as “the way in which forest products might be used in architectural design.”

Reddit post sparks conversation on “microtransactions,” digital learning service fees

Students speak out against use of for-profit third-party

Reddit post sparks conversation on “microtransactions,” digital learning service fees

After multiple posts on Reddit lodged complaints against the use of mandatory third-party academic tools, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) announced efforts to work with the university to address fees associated with digital learning services such as TopHat, WileyPlus, and McGraw-Hill Connect.

University guidelines

The university does have pre-existing guidelines on digital learning services, including a threshold for charging students $65 per half-credit. Services tied to publishing companies such as MindTap and WileyPlus charge $59.95 and $60 respectively, just below the mandated threshold. MindTap is owned by Cengage, an online textbook publishing company, and WileyPlus is a digital service provided by Wiley, a textbook publishing company.

The guidelines also stipulate that, if fees exceed the $65 threshold, alternative options must be provided for assessments made through these digital learning services.

Students must also be allowed to purchase the digital components separately, meaning that purchasing e-textbooks bundled with learning service codes must not be mandatory.

U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church told The Varsity that the university does not receive any incentives for using digital learning services.

“Professors determine which resources are best for their course and may choose to use digital resources to meet their teaching and learning goals.”

Professors on why they use digital learning services

In various statements to The Varsity, professors justified their use of these digital learning services by saying that it enriched students’ learning experiences — although some lamented the fact that they were necessary.

All the professors who provided comment denied ever receiving any form of incentive to use these services and affirmed that they accommodate students who cannot afford or have difficulty affording the class’ digital learning service.

Professor Kripa Freitas, whose ECO206: Microeconomic Theory course used TopHat last year, emphasized that paid learning services were not her first choice when finding a system that integrated multiple-choice and short answer responses.

TopHat is an educational software from a Toronto-based company.

Freitas however noted that TopHat is useful for larger, second-year courses and helps to actively engage “every student in class.”

“I know I re-evaluate my use of any paid extras every time I teach. I explain my reasons for using them to students clearly and solicit student feedback continuously.”

For PSY201: Statistics I and PSY202: Statistics II, Professor Molly Metz uses MindTap, an application that she has not been offered incentives to use, although she has “heard of this happening, at many institutions.”

“I also know of many colleagues who have refused to use the products offered by these companies because of their distaste with what they (and I) see as unethical behaviour,” wrote Metz.

Metz, like Freitas, believes that using applications like MindTap serves to help engage students and create a better learning environment by using a system that allows for fast and regular response times on problem sets. She also added that MindTap is included in the textbook, and thus is not an additional cost to the course, but integrated in the core cost.

However, the cost of digital learning services cannot be transferred in the same way used textbooks can be sold to another student.

ESS205: Confronting Global Change Professor Miriam Diamond, PHY205: The Physics of Everyday Life Professor Brian Wilson, and AST251: Life on Other Worlds Professor Michael Reid all echoed their colleagues’ sentiments, underscoring that no free alternatives of equal quality to these digital learning services are available.

Reid also emphasized that TopHat has had a real, positive effect on student engagement.

On the possibility of a singular, university-wide system, Reid wrote, “At a university as big as U of T, it’s very difficult to obtain the necessary consensus across diverse departments and faculties. Still, it’s something to which I think we can aspire.”

Professor Avi Cohen uses MyEconLab for ECO105: Principles of Economics for Non-Specialists, and also denied ever receiving incentives to use the application. However, he also disclosed at the top of his email that “I am an author for Pearson Canada. My textbooks and associated MyEconLab software are assigned for ECO105Y.”

MyEconLab is the economics learning software for Pearson, an education publishing company.

Justifying his use of MyEconLab, Cohen wrote, “I view these expenditures as smart financial choices. The benefits… far exceed the costs.” Benefits cited include Canvas integration and 24/7 technical support.

“The motivation for using these paid applications is that they provide a much better learning experience for students, and better administrative efficiency for instructors than ‘free alternatives.’ You get what you pay for.”

Crowd-sourced information on fees

Following Reddit posts made by u/rhymenasourus, u/NoOutsideFeesUofT, and u/Kluey on the U of T subreddit, Christopher Dryden, a computer engineering student and former UTSU director, compiled a list of classes and professors that use paid digital learning services.

According to Dryden’s crowdsourced list, TopHat gains more than $200,000 from some 7,000 students who use its digital learning services across 27 classes.

Cohen’s class is also listed in Dryden’s list, and with a maximum potential class size of 897, Pearson’s MyEconPlus generates upward of $100,000 from ECO105 students in a given year. This year, there are roughly 730 students enrolled in ECO105, according to U of T’s timetable.

The Varsity was unable to independently verify the information as it was anonymously crowdsourced.

The UTSU responds

UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Grondin wrote in a statement to The Varsity that he is working with Dryden and Spencer Robertson, President of the University of Toronto Tabletop Gaming Club and another active user on the U of T subreddit, to prepare a report for the Business Board of Governing Council.

The report will include student feedback, clarification on the incentive structures for professors, and data on classes that use digital learning services.

Grondin stated that their ultimate goal is for the university to purchase an institution-wide subscription for digital learning services, and if that fails, for the university to institute stronger regulations on these services and disallow any ties between student use and evaluation.

At the very least, Grondin hopes to ensure that prices for digital learning services are included in course descriptions.

“It is my belief that when it comes to gaining full marks in a course, students should not have to pay anything above what they have already paid in tuition fees. If a professor wants to use these materials for graded exercises/quizzes, the cost needs to be covered by the university through tuition and ancillary fees, not a separate transaction.”

Dryden did not respond to The Varsitys request for comment.

Students on their first month abroad

Students on their first month abroad

Never as bad as it seems

Studying abroad taught me new ways to fight my anxiety

My first month abroad did wonders for my anxiety, but not in the ways that you would expect.

I decided to spend my third year at Sciences Po in Reims, France. I used to live in Lyon as a child, I spoke (decent) French, and I was familiar with the French culture. However, there are some key differences between moving to another country under the protection of your parents, and having to do absolutely everything by yourself.

French bureaucracy is notoriously slow and my experience was no different. Everything took longer than expected and the extent of the paperwork, online applications, and inefficiency was mindboggling. In addition, the French bureaucrats present every step of an administrative process with the seriousness and severity of a dictatorship.

“I need to do this, or I will be deported,” ran through my mind on a regular basis. Every time I received an email from a French government agency, my heart would skip a beat, and I would read and reread the vague French wording like it was an encrypted message. “If I could find the answer, the thought ran, I might be able to escape the horrific, anxiety-inducing cycle of bureaucracy.

But eventually, I started to realize that nothing was as serious or as final as it seemed. Despite the harsh and strict wording on the administrative websites, the people were — for the most part — understanding, patient, and flexible. And eventually, I found myself saying, “I’m sure it will be fine either way.”

As it turned out, optimism was the best cure for my anxiety. Instead of thinking of all the ways that my life could go wrong, I thought about all the benefits and the possibilities of it already going right. Studying abroad is a naturally stress-inducing experience, even for someone like me, who was going back somewhere I actually knew.

In all honesty, having to face the anxiety that came with completely uprooting my life and taking it somewhere else was really daunting. But the experience and confidence that my time abroad has given me is amazing. Even if it has not always been a complete success, at least I now know better for next time.

I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and my family still lives there, so coming to Toronto was in itself an experience studying abroad. However, it was a similar situation, where I was born in Canada, and I returned to Canada each summer — I knew the language, the customs, and the culture. Yet I had the same kinds of anxiety, the same now-or-never behaviour, that I have only managed to fight by continuing to push myself to keep doing these kinds of challenges. It’s not easy, and it very well might not be permanent, but each step provides me with the audacity to take the next. As someone who suffers from anxiety, pushing yourself to go abroad and furthering your world perspective is a great weapon for continuing to fight the good fight.

— Jillian Schuler


Sea change or ‘wee’ change?

Navigating life, traffic, and self in Edinburgh

Seconds after congratulating myself for ‘understanding’ Edinburgh, I wandered into the headlights of an oncoming taxi. “Bud, where did you come from?” I thought, as I scrambled onto the sidewalk and tried to block out the ensuing chorus of beeps, sneers, and obscenities.

I had glanced to the left before initiating my jaywalk: a simple yet deadly mistake in a country where cars come at you from the other side. Clearly, I still had a lot to learn — which is why I went abroad to begin with.

After nearly three years in the city, I fled Toronto for one simple reason: I was getting too comfortable. I had a great group of friends, decent grades, and a grasp of the landscape. But that was the problem — I was siding with the status quo too much, sleepwalking around campus, and defaulting into the same old routine. I needed something new.

I figured that the best way to reset and gain perspective was to travel. I knew it might be tough, stressful, or lonely, but I knew I’d get something from it. Or, at least, I hoped I would. Furthermore, I didn’t prance off to some exotic location; my trip saw me fly from Halifax to Edinburgh, Scotland. In other words, I travelled from one coastal university town to another — hopefully drunker — coastal university town.

But that was the idea. I wanted to experience new things, sure, but I didn’t want to plunge myself into an unrecognizable, far-flung universe. For me, shuffling off to, say, Warsaw or Moscow or Cape Town would have been very bold, but not very smart.

Edinburgh seemed like the perfect pick: the history runs deep, the scotch flows fast, and the school is second to none. Scotland and Canada have myriad links — my home province, Nova Scotia, translates to New Scotland in Latin. And I’d also be close to some great travel destinations.

So, after mulling it all over, I decided to buy the ticket and take the ride.

It’s been fantastic so far. The culture shock has been minimal. Of course, the slang is odd, the people are new, and the food is different, but that’s part of the fun. Grappling late at night with the notion of haggis and debating at what point you’re qualified to say ‘mate’ instead of ‘man’ is what makes exchange so entertaining. All the new stuff keeps you on your toes, analyzing and questioning and learning as much as possible.

It’s a great reminder of that sacred rule: never get too comfortable. When I did in Toronto, my ability to scrutinize, explore, and be creative atrophied. I became a ‘wee’ bit arrogant, and my drive to change — to grow — was muted.

The signs can be subtle, sneaky, and gradual, but they can also come right out of the blue — horn honking, headlights on, middle-finger up. Either way, it pays to be wary and to do what you can to maintain perspective and humility through it all.

— Ted Fraser


Freedom in France

Learn a new language for phone plans and food

“Did you know I went to Europe?” I shout to my last remaining friends as they get in the car and drive away from the ditch on the side of the road they have abandoned me in. “Did I mention that I studied abroad in France?” I say, as my family signs the papers removing me from their will.

Though I may have no love left in my life and no home to go back to, I have zero regrets about the month I spent in Tours, France, a little city a few hours south of Paris — which I also went to, in case you were wondering.

As a disclaimer, I fully wore rose-coloured glasses during the entire time I was abroad, wherein I studied French and ignored all my problems. I’m also very aware of the luck that is inherent in getting to fly across the world and muck about for a month. With that being said, perhaps this mediocre chronicle of my adventures can be my way of ‘paying it forward’ — the least I can do is to allow less fortunate folks to live vicariously through my glamorous Parisian escapades.

I arrived in France thinking that I could coast on my high school language skills, and I ended my first day sobbing in bed, clutching my French for Beginners dictionary. Who would have guessed that French people exclusively spoke French?

What brought me to the point of uncontrollable tears was my attempt to buy a phone plan. More than food, shelter, and clothing, this is the most important thing you can do in a new country, and also something that will completely destroy you if you can’t speak the language. Never have I been a larger advocate for a universal language than when I was trying to figure out how to say ‘data’ in French. Luckily for me, I had arrived with some other U of T students who were actually fluent and I placed my life in their hands. I was pressured into buying a slightly more expensive plan, but that’s just a part of the Experience™.

From that disastrous beginning, I realized that I probably needed to learn the language, which wasn’t too difficult seeing that I was in France and enrolled in French-language courses. What further motivated my desire to learn French was my need to be able to understand menus, so that I would not accidentally order raw meat.

And that was how I passed my month. I spent the days learning French, the nights tasting wines, and the weekends getting lost in Paris. I celebrated la Fête nationale by the Eiffel Tower and I biked the countryside visiting châteaux. I met people who have remained my friends to this day.

As I’m writing this in my room surrounded by dirty plates and textbooks, I realize that I probably peaked that summer. But it will all be worth it when, one day, I’m old and gray, sitting by the fireplace, and showing my 10 cats pictures of the most delicious pasta I’ve ever had.

— Josie Kao

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.