UTM extending services amid unexpected enrolment increase

Administration will not be revisiting enrolment targets

UTM extending services amid unexpected enrolment increase

UTM welcomed its largest cohort of students this fall, despite an enrolment report from 2017 stating that the campus would not increase its undergraduate intake. The unexpected increase is testing the limits of the campus’ resources.

Enrolment targets

According to U of T’s most recent enrolment report, there were no plans to increase enrolment at UTM, and undergraduate intake was supposed to remain at 3,692 per year until 2022.

However, an additional 600 students have enrolled at UTM this year.

When asked in an email by The Varsity whether UTM would revisit its enrolment report, Vice-President and Principal Ulrich Krull wrote, “There are no plans to adjust the enrolment targets.”

“That UTM received more acceptances to offers this year than predicted by historical trends suggests that the reputation of the campus is increasing.”

According to Krull, UTM has seen an increase in enrolment by 10 per cent each year for the past 10 years.

Accommodations

To accommodate the additional intake, UTM has made adjustments to available services, including extended hours in the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre and Starbucks, and additional printing locations.

UTM also opened a vending machine for coffee and tea in the Instructional Centre and plans to open a new Grab ’N Go coffee in the North Building.

As well, UTM plans to monitor the shuttle buses to and from UTSG and Sheridan College, and Brampton Transit routes to determine if additional buses are needed to accommodate students.

Strains on resources

The impact of this increase in enrolment was first seen over the summer, when new and incoming students placed a high demand on the Office of the Registrar’s services at UTM.

Now that the school year has started, the impact of the increase on the student-instructor ratio can be assessed.

“The outcome is that the student-instructor ratio will not decrease as quickly this year as hoped due to the unexpected higher enrolment,” said Krull. “But the enrolment plan and the hiring plan have not changed and the target for the student-instructor ratio has not changed over the longer term.”

The physical impact of the increased enrolment can also be seen in the demands for classroom space. This is especially evident as some buildings at UTM remain under renovation, including the William G. Davis Building, although the new North Building has offset some of the crowding on campus.

“The classrooms are almost solidly booked, five days a week, from morning until evening,” noted Krull. More courses are expected to be housed in the North Building during the winter term.

Despite the construction plans that UTM has already undertaken, such as for a science building that is expected to open in late 2021 and a pedestrian walkway, building new spaces at UTM is not a feasible long-term solution, as the campus is surrounded by sensitive ecological habitats, including those of threatened species.

As such, the UTM Campus Council decided in its 2011 Master Plan that any expansion projects would largely take place along and inside Outer Circle Road.

While these restrictions pose a challenge to campus expansion, UTM views it as an opportunity to construct spaces that integrate the natural environment that the campus sits on.

All Ontario universities must develop free speech policies, says provincial government

Policies must be in place by 2019

All Ontario universities must develop free speech policies, says provincial government

The provincial government has mandated that all universities in Ontario draft a policy on freedom of speech by January 1, 2019. This follows Premier Doug Ford’s campaign promise that he would “ensure publicly funded universities defend free speech for everybody.”

In a press statement released on August 30, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced that every publicly-assisted college and university will have to develop and publicly post a policy that includes a definition of freedom of speech and principles based on the University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression, developed in 2014.

Free speech policy

According to the government, the policy must apply to faculty, students, staff, and management alike and uphold principles of open discussion and free inquiry.

The policy should also explain that “the university/college should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that they disagree with or find offensive.”

“Speech that violates the law is not allowed,” according to the press release.

For student groups, failure to comply with the policy in the future could mean a severance of financial support or recognition.

The release also states that schools should “encourage student unions to adopt policies that align with the free speech policy.”

In order to ensure that universities are following through, all schools must prepare annual progress reports for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, beginning in September 2019.

“If institutions fail to comply with government requirements to introduce and report on free speech policies, or if they fail to follow their own policies once implemented, the ministry may respond with reductions to their operating grant funding, proportional to the severity of non-compliance,” according to the press release.

U of T has had a free speech policy in place since 1992. SCREENSHOT VIA FREESPEECH.UTORONTO.CA

U of T’s response

U of T has had policies on freedom of speech in place since 1992. Titled the Statement of Institutional Purpose and the Statement on Freedom of Speech, they state that freedom of speech means “the right to examine, question, investigate, speculate, and comment on any issue without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large.”

The 26-year-old policy also states that “every member should be able to work, live, teach and learn in a University free from discrimination and harassment.”

In a press release from U of T, President Meric Gertler said, “Our principles have served us well and must continue to guide our practices. It’s important that members of our community understand the university’s policies on how we address these issues.”

“We have a responsibility as a university community to ensure that debates and discussions take place in an environment of mutual respect, and free of hate speech, physical violence or other actions that may violate the laws of the land,” he added.

In response to the Ford government’s announcement, U of T club Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS) told The Varsity that it is “happy to see the Ontario Government making a commitment to the cause of free speech in Ontario universities and colleges.”

SSFS is a club that fights for the rights of students in regards to freedom of expression. It has hosted some controversial events in the past, including a rally in support of the Halifax ‘Proud Boys’ in July 2017.

“We remain cautiously optimistic as we await the full policy, and look forward to the work of Minister [of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee] Fullerton,” said the SSFS. “We hope this policy ensures the rights of students to express themselves freely while maintaining a respectful environment free from harassment and discrimination.”

Op-ed: Reviewing the approved university-mandated leave of absence policy

How we can move forward with the policy and mental health supports at U of T

Op-ed: Reviewing the approved university-mandated leave of absence policy

On June 27, despite a review of the policy’s merits, a letter from the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner, and active opposition from every major student group on campus, the University of Toronto’s Governing Council approved a new university-mandated leave of absence policy, effective immediately.

The policy resulted from the 2014–2015 Report of the University Ombudsperson, which encouraged the university to improve its mental health supports broadly. The report’s recommendations included commitments to increasing awareness of support programs, expanding teaching resources, and extending and improving the effectiveness of services.

U of T still has a lot of work to do to meet these commitments and create a culture on campus that values mental health, but its first step was to create a policy, which it claims gives students in crisis the ability to put their mental health first. The policy allows the administration to place a student on academic suspension if they pose a serious risk of harm to themselves or others, or if they are “unable to engage in the essential activities required to pursue an education.”

The policy first drew attention last October and is seen by many students as an infringement upon students’ right to autonomy. Mental health advocates have argued that this policy will push students into social isolation and disrupt their daily life, making depression worse and increasing the risk of suicide.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, one in five Canadians struggle with mental health each year, a number that is magnified among postsecondary students. With so many students affected, there is no doubt that this policy calls into question the university’s commitment to protecting mental health.

Since the policy is here to stay, it is imperative that students understand the policy so that they are able to protect their mental health and defend their rights, should they be affected by it.

There has been a lot of misinformation about this policy. Perhaps the most detrimental aspect of this policy is that many students will now neglect to access university services for fear of being placed on a leave of absence.

Let’s be very clear: students are seriously impacted by a policy which could force them to leave residence, lose access to gym facilities and the Health & Wellness Centre, and become isolated from their close friends whom they need for their recovery. All of these are real costs and should raise serious questions about how the university values mental health.

But the extremely limited scope of this policy means that most students who are seeking help are completely unaffected. We encourage all students to continue to see their registrar, get help at the Health & Wellness Centre, and tell Accessibility Services about how their mental health is affecting their ability to learn.

Students can only be forced to take a leave in very limited and extreme circumstances. The policy is designed to be applied primarily when a student’s behaviour poses “a risk of imminent or serious physical or psychological harm” to themselves or others. Circumstances under which this policy would be invoked would almost certainly cause unnecessary distress for students who are already extremely vulnerable. Such an alarming proposition provides sufficient reason to fight this policy on behalf of our fellow students whose lives are affected so severely.

While these cases certainly deserve our attention, we must also recognize how rare they are in the framework of a large student body. Students in such rare circumstances would also meet the threshold to be hospitalized for their mental illness. Evidently, the vast majority of students who struggle with mental health do not meet that bar.

While students can technically be removed if they are unable to “engage in the essential activities” of their program, the university is first required to provide a host of accommodations ranging from extensions to exam deferrals, involving Accessibility Services, and allowing students to credit/no credit or defer a course. Collectively, we must work to hold the administration accountable for providing these services and supports for affected students.

Many students have also expressed concerns about the involvement of medical professionals in this process. Under the policy, students can still choose to share their assessments at any time. When an expert medical opinion disputes the Vice-Provost’s evaluation of the student’s state of mind, it is likely to be a key determinant in whether the university decides to invoke this policy or not.

For this reason, students should understand that choosing to share personal information could be very helpful to their case. However, if students choose to keep their mental health treatment private, they have the right to do so.

The university can be an incredibly toxic environment for one’s well-being, and we must acknowledge the specific conditions of students who are more likely to be affected by the policy.

Additionally, some students may not be comfortable with disclosing their mental health to doctors or therapists and may instead choose to discuss their mental health with religious leaders, professors, registrars, or close advisors. Requiring the involvement of a medical professional would force the university to value that one opinion over those of other individuals who may be more familiar with a particular student’s case.

The university has taken steps to recognize the specific differences between cases. Not every leave of absence is created equal. Students have the right to negotiate terms and conditions that are consistent with their individual circumstances. This part of the process allows students to try and minimize the disruption that a leave would create for their lives.

Students should use this opportunity to protect what they value: whether that is access to a U of T Health & Wellness counsellor, financial reimbursements for the cost of tuition, temporary housing if removed from residence, access to gyms, or credit for a course that is almost complete.

Students struggling with mental health are also eligible for legal aid, including assistance with immigration in the case of international students. This is a right we must continue fighting to uphold.

The bottom line is that the policy is so limited in scope that it would have applied to roughly five cases last year, in a university of more than 90,000 students, according to the Ombudsperson. Schools including Cornell University, the University of Chicago, New York University, Washington University in St. Louis, Columbia University, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have all implemented some version of an involuntary leave policy.

This does not by any means justify such a policy, but it allows us to analyze the way involuntary leave is exercised. At U of T, students could already have been forced away from campus by being suspended under the Code of Student Conduct when their mental health poses a danger to themselves or other community members. This policy formalizes this procedure and creates a way to differentiate between disciplinary suspensions and health-related leaves of absence.

This policy reminds us of the frequent bioethical dispute about a person’s autonomy when their safety or the safety of others is threatened. Our first priority must always be to combat these issues before they pose more serious concerns, which means providing more effective resources, community supports, and aid to students in need. The university can be an incredibly toxic environment for one’s well-being, and we must acknowledge the specific conditions of students who are more likely to be affected by the policy.

Of course, personal safety is subjective and should include personal assessments, but we must also ensure that our vulnerable students are protected in a way that truly supports them. While this policy may be imperfect, by prioritizing a student’s recovery, it attempts to value personal well-being, at the expense of student autonomy. Whether this is good or bad will always be a point of contention.

When this policy goes up for reconsideration in three years, both affected and unaffected students will once again have the opportunity to voice their opposition. In the meantime, we have a responsibility to ensure that this policy is implemented responsibly and in very few extreme cases, while making it as easy as possible for students to return to campus. We hope that students in this situation can use this piece to be better empowered to exercise their rights.

Since Governing Council chose to pass this policy, we as students will need to monitor developments carefully to defend our interests. All we can do now is wait and see, and be ready to challenge the university administration whenever necessary.

Zeus Eden is a second-year student studying Economics and Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies at Trinity College. He is the Assistant Vice-President University Governance of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).

Joshua Grondin graduated as an Economics and International Relations student at University College in June. He is the Vice-President University Affairs of the UTSU.

Meet Ulrich Krull, newly-appointed UTM interim Vice-President and Principal

Krull talks teamwork, challenges, goals

Meet Ulrich Krull, newly-appointed UTM interim Vice-President and Principal

Ulrich Krull has been appointed as interim Vice-President and Principal of UTM. Krull’s term will be effective September 1, 2016 to August 31, 2017, or until a permanent Vice-President and Principal is found.

Krull will be replacing Deep Saini, who will be serving as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra in Australia. Krull was previously appointed as acting Vice-President and Principal in July 2015, while Saini was on a six-month sabbatical.  

Krull has had an extensive history at the university, having completed his BSc, MSc, and PhD at U of T. He then went on to become a professor of Analytical Chemistry, with a specific interest in molecular diagnostics technology.  

Krull has held numerous administrative positions at UTM over the years, including: Associate Dean of Sciences; Vice-Dean, Graduate; Vice-Principal, Research; and Vice-Principal, Special Initiatives. In addition, Professor Krull has held various positions in Mississauga, assisted with four different start-up companies, and won numerous awards throughout his professional career.  

UTM's new vice-president. YASSINE ELBARADIE/THE VARSITY

UTM’s new vice-president. YASSINE ELBARADIE/THE VARSITY

Role and approach

When asked about his role at UTM, Krull stressed the importance of working with the UTM team rather than simply leading it.

“They’ve selected me in this particular case to be the spokesperson. I need to take the time and effort to make sure I represent the ‘we’ not the ‘I’. And that’s the style that you’re going to see from me, as much as I can manifest that. Keep the ego suppressed and keep the goals of what the community is after — that comes first and foremost,” Krull said.  

He described his position within UTM as both exciting and challenging: “I think you get a sense of both trepidation, in which a lot of things need to be done, and exhilaration. And yeah, it’s an exciting time to be here.”

Although he does not often speak of it, Krull is also a local Judo instructor. He believes teamwork, focus, and tackling large tasks are some skills that he has grasped from the sport, which has also contributed to his approach to the new position.   

Resolving obstacles

Krull described multiple challenges he hopes to tackle throughout his term, including the growth of the Mississauga campus.

“We’ve grown very quickly over the past 10 years, 12 years — and to the point that we need to balance our faculty to student ratio. We can’t hire fast enough to be able to maintain the kind of ratio we want; we can’t build fast enough to be able to satisfy the demands for space,” Krull said.  

During this transitional period, Krull wants to ensure that growth occurs for the betterment of the UTM community, as opposed to “just growing for the sake of growing.”

He continued, “I keep telling people that ‘Yes, that’s all fine and well, but it’s not the buildings — it’s the people in the buildings!’”

Krull also wants to maintain and grow UTM’s close relationship with the City of Mississauga and the Regional Municipality of Peel. He commented, “The City of Mississauga wants to be recognized as a place that is both livable, but also where innovation takes place.”

UTM’s many sector-specific programs are an illustration of Mississauga and the university’s close partnership. Krull explained that the city “put in $10 million over 10 years to actually build the physical infrastructure and make sure this runs. And what we’re doing is we’re creating programming that actually makes sense for the city.”    

Future goals

Krull outlined many long-term and short-term goals, from “ensuring inclusivity of aspirations for all disciplines in UTM’s family” to “addressing barriers to space in the laboratory sciences.”

Krul’s primary aspiration is to ensure UTM’s competitiveness in the Greater Toronto Area, despite the challenge of being situated near other institutions. “Out here in the west end, you have to realize that we are competing also with York because York reaches well into Brampton, which is one of our areas of view,” he said. “But you have to recognize that we also have Guelph, and Waterloo, and McMaster.”  

“I may have started at the St. George campus, but I really came out here in my early years and I grew up on this campus as a faculty member for about 30 years… so I really consider this to be my home,” Krull said.

Steady but slow

A review of the university's report on sexual assault response and prevention

Steady but slow

From the Dalhousie dentistry scandal in 2014 to a recent string of sexual assaults at the University of British Columbia, high profile occurrences of sexual misconduct have raised national concerns about sexual violence on university campuses. Students have consequently lobbied university administrations to implement sexual violence policies.

At U of T, that advocacy pressure has resulted in the creation of the Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence. The committee released their final report shortly before reading week, a decision that has been both a cause for criticism and for cautious optimism. 

The committee’s process has been slow; it seems as though the issue has not been addressed with the urgency it deserves. It took the committee 15 months from the time it was first established to release their report, and it does not include any specific terminology or protocols for a new sexual violence policy at the university. This is slow compared to the single month it took Queen’s University to create an interim sexual assault support and response protocol in response to the Toronto Star’s investigation into sexual violence policies at different universities. 

It is a weak excuse to say that bureaucratic, administrative processes hampered the committee’s ability to produce prompt recommendations. While policy is not created overnight, the administration should have certainly prioritized the issue. Given the gravity of the issue, it is unclear why our university did not move more quickly. Some recommendations require more research than others, but this should not exclude the possibility of an interim protocol or, at the very least, a clarification of existing procedures. 

The committee also proposed that a “policy on sexual violence be created and begin with a clear affirmation that sexual assault and harassment will not be tolerated on campus.” Yet, the recommendation for the sexual violence policy is simply that — a recommendation. It does not indicate what rights will be afforded to survivors of sexual assault, nor does it offer specifics on how the procedure will work. This is not to mention that an institutional commitment to combatting sexual violence is a step forward, but such a simple statement could have been made much earlier. 

Looking at Queen’s again: only one day after the Toronto Star published its review, the university’s principal and vice-chancellor wrote an article in the university publication The Gazette, affirming that “there is no tolerance for sexual assault in our community” and that “we have much work to do in this regard, but we have also made some significant strides.” Additionally, he outlined the steps the university was taking to combat sexual violence, projecting accountability to the broader community. U of T should aspire to have leaders that encourage similar attitudes.

To the committee’s credit, the suggestion to create one university sexual assault centre for reporting and providing support services is quite promising. It responds to how our current services for survivors overlap with each other, which makes them difficult to navigate. The committee’s other recommendation for university-wide education and training programs is essential for generating awareness and understanding about sexual violence among students, staff, and the community. It is commendable that the committee looks to combat “underlying attitudes and behaviours,” which are at the root of sexual violence. There is also a move toward accountability in shifting campus culture with the suggestion that “a regular campus climate survey [be] conducted.” 

These benefits are offset by the fact that the committee’s report lacks any set deadlines for further discussion or policy. This lack of certainty leaves the progress on sexual violence in limbo, and makes it harder for students to hold the university responsible for producing anything in the near future.

The university’s choice not to make the report more public exists in the same vein. For all the emphasis on campus-wide education initiatives, there was a curious failure to disseminate the report via university list-servs. This is concerning because the committee purports to want feedback from students. Yet, this cannot occur unless students know what they should be responding to.

Soliciting more student feedback will ensure that the new policy reflects the specific concerns of this university, and that the implemented initiatives are appropriately tailored to our community

It is important that we recognize the limits of bureaucracy when responding to various complex social phenomena. Equally important, however, is to keep a critical but fair eye on those who wield institutional power. In this sense, the release of the committee’s report is bittersweet, and the fight against sexual violence is far from over. 

Naomi Stuleanu is a second-year student at Victoria College studying criminology and psychology. Her column appears every three weeks.

Oops! They didn’t get in

York University's bureaucratic screw-up is an understandable mistake

Oops! They didn’t get in

On January 11, York University mistakenly emailed 500 acceptances to applicants who had not yet made the cut. These letters found their way into the hands of recipients who had their brief moments of joy abruptly interrupted by emails from the university, issuing corrections and apologies. Since then, the actions of the York admissions board have been highlighted in various news publications, including the CBC and the Toronto Star.

York’s error lends itself to clichéd complaints about universities and their failings, but this is hardly an issue that merits true indignation, let alone extensive media coverage.

On the surface, it appears that this is a mistake that could have easily been avoided, and that an error of such magnitude can only be attributed to ineptitude on the part of the admissions officials. Closer examination, however, makes this misunderstanding more justifiable.

Let’s crunch some numbers: York employs over 7,000 staff and faculty, and although the exact breakdown remains unclear, the admissions office has already received over 26,000 applications for the fall semester, with more to come. Regardless of what percentage of their total staff are responsible for admissions, there is an overwhelming amount of information for employees to process without resorting to shortcuts.

The overburdened admissions office also has to juggle specific logistics for different applications. This includes the paperwork resulting from the many hoops international students must jump through in order to study in Canada — with students from a multitude of countries, visas, English proficiency tests, and high school requirements may vary widely. Scholarships, disability accommodations, mature students, and transfer students also fall under the purview of the admissions office. This occurs parallel to the requirement that officers track an array of constantly changing marks, supplementary documents, and requirements across departments.

Additionally, employees have to coordinate with one another to send out acceptances not in one simultaneous event, but in a staggered manner, adjusted according to the number of acceptances being confirmed or rejected. Overall, this bureaucratic brain has impulses and orders firing off in every direction, under constant time pressure to get everything done, and all it takes is one misfired synapse for a mistake to happen.

Frankly, it’s amazing how well university admissions offices consistently run when you look at the depth and breadth of analysis required. One can imagine how, in the span of a day or less, someone could be sent the wrong names, quickly fill in the acceptance letter template, then erroneously send it out before realizing their mistake.

Luckily, York’s recognition of their error was prompt and courteous. Within 24 hours of the incident, the university sent out an amendment and apology. Given this short timeframe, it is doubtful that, of those applicants who had even checked their email, the individuals in question had abandoned all other offers and stocked up on York merchandise.

The vast majority of students applying for university do not bet everything on a single school. In fact, the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre — the database through which high school students submit their applications within the province -— includes application to three universities within their standard fee, with the option of applying to even more schools for extra charge.

Finally, it is worth noting that the students affected by this bureaucratic oversight have not been rejected from York altogether; in fact, their applications are still under consideration. It may well be that many of these students will wind up attending the university in the fall.

Most of us lament the bureaucratic backlog of universities, particularly given the enormous student population of U of T. But in light of the events at York, perhaps we should reflect more on the effort it takes to coordinate a colossal machine like a university, and we should tailor our responses accordingly.

Michael Chen is a second-year student at the University of Toronto Scarborough studying journalism.