The Breakdown: The Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health

U of T’s mental health task force continues consultation phase despite criticisms from students

The Breakdown: The Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

The Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health is in the first phase of its operational plans. The task force was formed in late March in response to two reported student deaths by suicide on campus in the past year. Following its start in the summer, the task force will continue to meet with various student groups, university staff, and administration, and other relevant groups over the fall. 

In total, the task force consists of 13 people: the Chair, Dean of Medicine Trevor Young; four student representatives; three faculty members; three administrative staff members; and two senior assessors. 

The central goal of the task force is to review both student mental health services and co-ordination between support systems across U of T’s three campuses, in addition to evaluating the physical spaces where mental health services are provided. Proceeding evaluation, the task force then plans to make recommendations to President Meric Gertler and the Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr by December 2019.

The task force’s Outreach and Engagement plan, published online, details the groups and individuals that the task force will meet with as it gathers information, operates pop-up booths, and hosts in-person consultations at all three campuses. The final stage of the task force will be to present its draft themes and recommendations for a public response via an online form before giving its findings and recommendations to the administration.

“Nothing About Us Without Us”

In an open letter published in The Varsity, 15 students characterized the task force as an insufficient response to a “ongoing mental health crisis” on campus and asked for the task force’s dissolution on the grounds of “a lack of transparency, diversity, and accountability mechanisms.” The students also criticized the administration for being unresponsive to their requests for meetings and consultations on the university’s mental health infrastructure.

“Nothing About Us Without Us”  is a 40-page report written by student activists that outlined numerous demands, among them that any university initiatives regarding mental health be comprised of a student majority, including in leadership positions. The report details specific criticisms that students have lodged since 2014, and also cites student experiences with the university’s mental health support system. 

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Joshua Bowman, while remaining “cautiously optimistic,” echoed concerns of student activists, noting that the task force lacks sufficient student representation. 

“[The four students on the task force] are charged with representing 71,930 undergraduate and 19,356 graduate students, respectively, according to 2017-2018 enrolment,” wrote Bowman in an email to The Varsity. He also noted that “members were selected without regard to lived experiences of mental illness or diverse identities, but based on professional and scholarly experience.”

“U of T has, for too long, ignored the voices of students in mental health policy. This Task Force was an opportunity to center the voices of students that U of T has failed to realize,” wrote Bowman.

Egag Egag, one of the two graduate representatives on the task force, acknowledged the challenges of having four students on a task force set to address the mental health of around 90,000 students across three campuses. In an email to The Varsity, Egag wrote, “it is my hope that all students will take an opportunity to participate, so that we have feedback that is authentic and representational of UofT’s students.”

Action and accountability

Currently, the task force’s sole purpose is to make recommendations, and although the Outreach and Engagement plan states that the task force will be meeting with various student unions, Bowman reports that the UTSU has not heard from the task force. 

Similarly, Chemi Lhamo, President of the Scarborough Students’ Union, wrote to The Varsity that “[the administration] also need to acknowledge that U of T students are different because of the overwhelming pressure to do well in one of the best institutions in the world.”

While Lhamo hopes that the task force will produce results, she is skeptical that the it will be able to properly represent marginalized students, and address the unique challenges faced by U of T’s satellite campuses.

 “We are looking forward to seeing actions being taken and not just the talk,” wrote Lhamo. 

Social and behavioural health sciences PhD student Corey McAuliffe is one of the members of the newly formed task force. In an email to The Varsity, McAuliffe described the role of the task force as “one way in which to address student mental health at U of T.” 

Echoing sentiments made by President Meric Gertler in an interview with The Varsity in late July, McAuliffe called on the participation of all stakeholders in the university — including the government and students — to create a “healthy environment.”

The task force is currently running an online consultation form, as part of its first phase, which will close on October 15.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

 

Labour groups rebuke U of T’s “inaction” on asbestos

Comments come as U of T report finds university meeting provincial standards

Labour groups rebuke U of T’s “inaction” on asbestos

In response to an independent U of T report that found that the university’s asbestos management practices meet legislated provincial requirements, and are even “more restrictive in some places,” labour organizations are criticizing the university over its perceived “inaction and inadequate response.”

The report and the university administration’s response were made public on March 26, two years after asbestos-containing dust forced the closure of sections of the Medical Sciences Building.

The report is a product of an independent panel whose membership was finalized by U of T in January 2018. Submitted to the school in February, the report includes data from over 4,000 air samples taken from university buildings.

The samples found that 95 per cent of indoor air samples from the Medical Sciences Building are indistinguishable from outside air and have asbestos levels below existing standards.

However, the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA), which represents U of T faculty, librarians, and research associates, has strongly criticized the university’s asbestos management and the report’s limited scope.

On April 18, the UTFA, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902, and the United Steelworkers (USW) 1998 held a press conference to voice concerns about the report and the university’s handling of asbestos.

CUPE 3902 represents contract academic workers at U of T, including teaching assistants and exam invigilators. USW 1998 represents U of T’s clerical and professional employees.

Setting standards

Asbestos is a silicate mineral that was commonly used in construction for insulation and fireproofing before 1990. It was later banned, with some exemptions, in Canada in 2018.

When asbestos fibres are released into the air, such as during maintenance or construction, they pose a serious health risk if inhaled.

Across Canada, the occupational exposure limit (OEL) — which is the standard acceptable exposure for construction workers — is 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre (f/cc) for asbestos.

The generally accepted exposure standard for the general public is half of the OEL — U of T has set its campuses’ action limit to this 0.05 f/cc standard.

The report was unable to find a legally enforceable maximum or best practice standard for public exposure to asbestos, meaning that its findings are tied to existing best practices.

Vice-President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships Scott Mabury stood by the university’s use of a 0.05 f/cc action limit, adding that if it finds a standard that is “grounded in something that everybody can agree on… or is based on some physical reality, then [the university] will consider adopting that level.”

Although not legally enforceable, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has set a desirable concentration of 0.04 f/cc.

Mabury, formerly the Chair of the Department of Chemistry, said that as an analytical chemist, it is “very difficult to tell the difference” between 0.04 and 0.05 f/cc.

U of T’s standards have been a point of contention. The report recommended that the university ensures that asbestos exposure is “as low as reasonably achievable,” with 0.02–0.04 f/cc as suggested reasonable guidelines. It added that 0.01 f/cc should be an aspirational limit.

Mabury, however, said that the university has yet to find a basis upon which to lower acceptable asbestos exposure levels.

Terezia Zoric, the Chair of the UTFA’s Grievance Committee, wrote to The Varsity that U of T must act on the report’s recommendations.

“Despite the Administration’s own Panel’s finding that it would be best practice for the Administration to adopt a more demanding standard for testing air quality, the Administration has shown a complete lack of willingness to do so,” she wrote.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Administration plans to use a less demanding standard and are concerned for the health and safety of UTFA members, students and staff.”

In response to UTFA’s critiques, Mabury told The Varsity, “We believe we will endeavour to always do the best we can. We are holding ourselves to a standard that is connected to a legal requirement because it’s something we can point to that is real and substantive.”

He added that the safety of the U of T community is the administration’s highest priority.

Administration and consultation

Another chief concern that the labour organizations have voiced is what they perceive as the panel’s lack of meaningful consultation with the U of T community.

The three-person expert panel was chaired by epidemiologist and l’Université de Montréal professor Jack Siemiatycki as well as Roland Hosein and Andrea Sass‐Kortsak, both associated with the Division of Occupational and Environmental Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Jess Taylor, the Chair of CUPE 3902, said that the panel failed to listen to criticism and that outreach was “abysmal” and inaccessible, adding that unions were only provided a 10-day notice for the feedback sessions.

“There was a democratic deficiency of representation regarding the review panel process and implementation,” Taylor said. In response, Mabury told The Varsity that the panel “went well beyond what [U of T] asked them to do.”

He also said that the panel’s timing of the consultations was based on its members’ limited availabilities due to their “high demand on a global basis to provide [their] expertise.”

The UTFA has also expressed concern that the panel was not at arm’s-length from the U of T administration, “whose conduct should have been under scrutiny.”

Mabury, however, stressed that the panel was not influenced by the U of T administration.

“These were independent scientists. They are academics… These folks were chosen for their expert opinion. That’s what we asked for. That’s what we got,” he told The Varsity.

Among the recommendations of the panel was a re-evaluation of the university’s Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Department’s organizational structure.

Under the current structure, Mabury is responsible for the removal of asbestos during capital projects, Vice-President Research and Innovation Vivek Goel is responsible for broad environmental health and safety, while Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat is responsible for worker health.

“We believe that separation of oversight duties has an internal value in having internal checks and balances that wouldn’t be there if we coalesced everything into one portfolio,” Mabury said.

While asbestos management practices will not change, the university will more explicitly articulate each Vice-President’s roles and responsibilities in its asbestos management practices.

Evaluating experts’ expertise

Beyond the lack of community input, Zoric told The Varsity that the UTFA believes that the panel should have included more experts, and ones with different areas of expertise, as its three members did not have “practical experience in asbestos abatement and management, and did not include representatives from employee groups working in affected buildings.”

Mabury said that the three members were chosen because most peer reviews involve two to three experts. He added that they were “the best from amongst those nominated” from an open nomination period, citing Siemiatycki’s four decades of experience as a researcher.

The UTFA retained the services of Environmental Consulting Occupational Health (ECOH), an environmental consultant, soon after the 2017 incidents. According to Zoric, ECOH advised that the university’s current standards are not appropriate and do not meet the best practice standard that the report calls for.

U of T to join consortium of universities using administrative consultancy tool

Australian service UniForum used by 46 universities, including Oxford, Cambridge

U of T to join consortium of universities using administrative consultancy tool

Next year, U of T will join a consortium of 46 universities that use UniForum, a data analysis tool that measures administrative expenditures and provides suggestions to boost efficiency. The data collected by UniForum will consequently inform U of T’s annual budget. UniForum partner institutions then share their management strategies with other universities at an annual conference.

At the March 18 Business Board meeting, Vice-President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships Scott Mabury said, “We haven’t ever studied ourself very well and we believe [UniForum] will allow us to make better decisions.”

How does UniForum work?

UniForum partner institutions engage in an annual cycle of activities that consist of three phases: data collection, briefings and workshops, and collaborative studies.

Using UniForum tools, universities collect and self-report information on resource capacity and employee allocation in over 150 key activities across 14 different functional areas. Employee surveys are a core component of the data collection system.

After submitting this data, universities meet to debrief each other on their respective results. Cubane Consulting, the company that provides the UniForum service, subsequently provides university-specific briefings to each partner.

As a final step, universities meet at an annual conference to present their insights and compare data. This process aims to allow universities to assess their relative research efficiency and provide direction for strategic decision-making when implementing long-term plans.

Participant institutions share their administrative activity data in order to form a pool of information. This collaborative approach ensures that local information from different schools can be used as a benchmark for each institution, creating a wide range of solution paths to minimize costs and maximize efficiency.

Mabury described the program as a “benchmarking exercise” that will be increasingly valuable as more universities partner with UniForum.

Why is U of T using UniForum?

Mabury said that UniForum is a useful tool in determining how U of T allocates its staff resources and expenditures. “We don’t know how much of [our resources are] duplicated, we don’t know how much of that is transactional versus more strategic kinds of activities… We don’t know ourselves very well.”

Mabury added that in the 12 years that UniForum has been active, no partner universities have stopped using it. Mabury and Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat are the co-executive sponsors of the program at U of T.

UniForum has 20 partner universities in Australia, 18 in the United Kingdom, five in Canada, and three in New Zealand. The Canadian member institutions are York University, the University of British Columbia, McMaster University, U of T,  and the University of Alberta. The latter two universities will both begin using UniForum in 2019. Other notable universities using UniForum include the London School of Economics, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and the University of Melbourne.

Cubane Consulting is an Australian consulting company with offices in North Sydney, London, and Toronto.

— With files from Michael Teoh

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.