University of Toronto named one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers

Initiatives for equity, diversity, family support make university top employer

University of Toronto named one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers

For the ninth consecutive year, the University of Toronto has been named among the top employers for diversity in Canada.

Canada’s Best Diversity Employers awards the distinction to Canadian employers that possess “exceptional workplace diversity and inclusiveness programs.” Diversity initiatives in multiple areas are assessed, including women, members of visible minorities, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and LGBTQ people.

Any employer with a head office or principle place of business in Canada is eligible to be considered for the project. Applicants must have at least one initiative in place that falls under the diversity umbrella.

Editors at Mediacorp Canada — a publisher specializing in employment information — evaluated diversity and inclusivity ideas of employers who applied for the competition; the results of which were released in The Globe and Mail.

U of T maintains 13 offices that focus solely on issues of equity and diversity. The president’s statement on diversity and inclusion states, “Diversity, inclusion, respect, and civility are among the University of Toronto’s fundamental values.”

U of T also runs Queer Orientation in association with the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, the Sexual Diversity Studies Students’ Union, and over two dozen participating campus groups. The orientation is designed to offer prospective and current students the chance to network and take part in activities related to LGBTQ communities.

U of T’s vice president of human resources, Angela Hildyard, hosts a yearly get-together to welcome newly hired female faculty.

A new initiative put forward when applying for this year’s competition was Indigenous Education Week, a week full of activities focusing on Indigenous contributions to education.

U of T was also chosen as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, Canada’s Top Family Friendly Employers, and Greater Toronto’s Top Employers.

Employees with young families are supported by U of T with employee parental leave. The university also provides accessible spaces for  changing diapers and breastfeeding or pumping. It has established a Family Care Office and children of employees here can be eligible for a 100 per cent tuition waiver, if they choose to pursue undergraduate studies at U of T.

Sexual violence committee releases recommendations

Students fear report could be “ultimately ineffectual”

Sexual violence committee releases recommendations

The Committee on the Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence has published its final report. This comes 15 months after the committee was first struck in 2014

The report’s major recommendations include: emphasizing the importance of correct language usage when discussing sexual violence; increasing and communicating the support available from the university, and the creation of a standalone policy and protocol on sexual violence. Increased university-wide education and training programs were also recommended.

“I think we are putting in this policy because this is an incredibly important issue for the university community,” said Sandy Welsh, U of T vice provost and committee co-chair. “It is there for students who have experienced sexual violence and who having the policy will give them the support and the direction that they need to have when they are wanting to come forward with a complaint.”

U of T has support structures and resources in place for those who have experienced sexual violence, but students have indicated that they are difficult to navigate. 

“The first [issue] was the issue of language,” Welsh said. “The second was the issue around how we communicate what it is that we are doing here at U of T — how we communicate the services and the resources we have that are already in place. There are some quotes in the report from students who participated in the focus groups that show clearly where we need to do better in terms of communication. That’s why there are some recommendations around what we need to do to ensure that people can more easily navigate the systems that we have here.”

Alleged discrepancies in report

Celia Wandio, co-founder of U of T Student Coalition Against Sexual Violence, remains unsatisfied by the recommendations.

“Upon initially reading the report, I was happy they’d included a few things students had recommended, such as a regular campus climate survey and a sexual violence ‘centre,’” Wandio said. “However, the more I look into it the more I realize that the report could ultimately be ineffectual; it almost feels like a joke. They claim to have had meetings with groups who were totally excluded from the committee’s process, and their list of sexual violence ‘resources’ includes student groups that have not been active for years.”

Focus groups were held across campus in an effort to gather feedback from students. Discussion topics included the necessity of active bystanding — what to do when one is a witness to sexual violence. Language was another concern; students called for a broad and universally accepted definition of sexual violence.

“It views women as lesser, as objectified, as all these things, and it allows people to get away with it. It definitely needs to be addressed because sexual assault and rape is not about sex, it’s about power, it’s about control, it’s about dominance,” a UTSC student was quoted as saying in the report.

“Some people are suspicious that the reason a direct reference to students’ right to be safe on campus was removed from the final report was to protect the university from potential legal action, should such rights be compromised,” Wandio said. “This highlights the fact that while many members of the university’s administration are committed to addressing sexual violence, those who make the final decisions are still more concerned with protecting the institution’s reputation and financial interests.” 

Not the end

The report mentioned the need for a standalone sexual violence policy and protocol, which would include a “comprehensive and user-friendly set of resources for complainants.”

“One of the important principles here was around the principle of procedural fairness for all parties, that means the respondent and the complainants, and that we have the appropriate procedural safeguards that are in place for both, especially when we are dealing with a complaint,” Welsh said.

Since the release of the report, U of T’s president and provost have been deliberating about possible next steps.

“There are commitments to consult with students, including and especially those who face disproportionate levels of sexual violence, but there is no guarantee they will follow through with this promise,” Wandio said. “There are no timelines, and one of the biggest things they need to do — which is to create a comprehensive policy to adjudicate claims of sexual violence — is barely addressed in the report, despite all the information available about best practices in developing such policies.”

“The president has said that he sees this not as the end, it’s really the beginning,” Welsh said. “This report, I think the committee felt, very strongly, was that this report is the first step and there is a lot more work to be done.”

Students may send feedback on the report to

Correction (February 8, 2016, 5:09 pm): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Committee on the Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence first convened in 2014. In fact, the committee was announced  in November 2014 and first met in January 2015. The Varsity regrets the error.

U of T to take over St. George Campus food services

University ends contract with Aramark

U of T to take over St. George Campus food services

On January 27, Aramark employees working at the UTSG campus received a letter from their employer informing them that the university had decided not to extend its contract with the company. The letter arrived on the same day that the university announced it would be taking over all campus food and beverage services for the entire campus. The contract was due to expire in 2016.

According to the letter, the university has scheduled three information sessions for employees to learn more about the transition. Aramark representatives will also be in attendance.

“This move will allow us to take a more active role in creating comfortable and welcoming dining areas,” said Anne Macdonald, director of ancillary services at U of T, “We’ll also be able to enhance the food offerings available to students on the St. George campus, particularly those who don’t live in residence.”           

In early October, the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education sent out a survey to many varsity athletes about the Starbucks in the Athletic Centre, citing that in the coming months the faculty will have the opportunity to suggest changes to the food services offered at that location. Questions and comment ranged from how often student-athletes used the Starbucks, to possible improvements or changes that need to be made to the location,              

The change will affect employees working in locations such as Robarts Library and Sid’s Café, as well as those at New College and Chestnut residence dining halls, both of which were contracted out to Aramark. According to U of T News, the university is intending to offer around 250 UTSG Aramark employees opportunities to work under the new management. 

The prospect of employment has current Aramark employee Robin* cautiously optimistic. “I would hope that a renowned institution like U of T wouldn’t put people out of a job,” they said. When asked about any concerns they had about changes in job description and hourly wage, Robin expressed concern. “Now am I concerned that my pay and hours will change? I am a bit. We haven’t been briefed on the situation yet, so that alone is a bit concerning.”            

Aramark has held UTSG’s food service contract since 2006 when the company replaced Sodexho, a French company who were employed by the university for 16 years. During the transition, many concerns were raised by employees about the future of their collective agreement under UNITE HERE Local 75. Currently, the university has several union groups, many of which are under the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).   

During the transition from Sodexho to Aramark at the Athletic Centre Starbucks, several employees, many of whom were students, were not re-hired.

In July, 2013 Ryerson University decided against tendering its contract with their Aramark in favour of food service operator Chartwells. Ryerson had been covering over $5.6 million in losses which former operator Aramark had agreed to undertake upon signing a contract with the university.              

Owned by British company Compass Group, Chartwells contracts out to Ryerson, UTM, George Brown, and Humber College. Food services at UTSC operate under both independent and institutional providers; one of which is Aramark.              

The university’s announcement not to renew its contract comes some months after the Starbucks in Robarts Library, one of Aramark’s contracts, was shut down temporarily by DineSafe, following a failed inspection

Robin hopes that under U of T, working and managerial conditions will improve. “I am hoping that there will be better organization. Aramark doesn’t seem to have the right handle on scheduling,” said Robin, adding, “Although the problem may come from workers not showing up at times, I’d say this is a direct effect of how things are managed. I want to be able to come into my job every day and know that I have people to work with. Not to mention that I want my work environment to be good, without unnecessary tension.”           

U of T and Aramark are still discussing the terms of the transition, including the date of effective termination.

*Name has been changed at subject’s request

Disclosure: Emma Kikulis was previously employed by Aramark; she no longer works for the company.


Centre for Civilizations and Cultures to replace McLaughlin Planetarium

New building to be built at 90 Queen’s Park Crescent

Centre for Civilizations and Cultures to replace McLaughlin Planetarium

The University of Toronto recently announced plans to construct a new Centre of Civilizations and Cultures. The building will be built at 90 Queen’s Park Crescent, replacing the location’s current resident, the decommissioned McLaughlin Planetarium.

Scott Mabury, U of T vice-president, university operations, emphasized the value of the project to both the university and the global community. “This is a great combination of academic faculties [and] academic superstars… Bringing them together will advance the conversation,” he said.   

The centre will house the departments of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, along with the Institute of Islamic Studies and the research arm of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies. It will also boast an open plaza on the ground floors, an auditorium for the Faculty of Music, and more open access to the Philosopher’s Walk pathway.

Toronto’s Architects Alliance will collaborate on the design with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a high-profile architectural studio. The Architects Alliance has worked with U of T before, assisting with both the Woodsworth Residence and the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. 

When asked why the university was building a new centre as opposed to addressing existing buildings in need of maintenance, Mabury stressed that updates would remain a priority, saying, “We’re doing both.” He pointed to many current efforts to rehabilitate structures, including about 70 different projects across the St. George campus. Mabury also cited more major undertakings to rebuild and repurpose buildings, such as at the Faculty of Law. 

“We needed additional space, and the question was how best to capture the academic needs,” Mabury said.  “How do we create something truly marvelous and exceptional?” 

A report presented to the Business Board of the U of T Governing Council in the spring of 2014 estimated the total cost of deferred maintenance on the St. George Campus at $443 million, well above that of the satellite campuses. The report also argued that the university’s policies have had some success in tackling high priority issues. 

It is not just U of T academics who stand to gain from the new Centre. The surrounding community has been anticipating its creation since the university bought the space at 90 Queen’s Park in 2009. The Royal Ontario Museum, the location’s previous owner and current next-door-neighbour, expressed enthusiasm at the announcement. 

“This development will enhance the area’s overall cultural experience by increasing the number of visitors, programs, and events offered in the Bloor Street Cultural Corridor. The ROM looks forward to collaborating with U of T to present joint programming, exhibitions, lectures and more at both the Museum and the new Centre,” said Marnie Peters, ROM spokesperson.

Some may be sad to see the McLaughlin Planetarium removed entirely, even though it has been closed since 1995. It has been a part of Toronto’s history since its opening in 1968, and has its own place in the culture of the area. However, its prominent location meant that the space was unlikely to go unused. 

The proposal for the centre was first released in September 2014. The complex was originally intended to include the Jewish Museum of Canada, which has since been removed from the plans due to changing funding priorities at United Jewish Appeal. 

There is no definite timeline for the construction, as the project is still in the design phase.

U of T begins race data collection

Move to advance goals of diversity, equity, inclusion

U of T begins race data collection

The University of Toronto has agreed to begin demographic data collection pertaining to race. The decision was reached at a December 7, 2015 meeting between members of the U of T administration and members of the Black Liberation Collective at U of T.  Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of news & media relations stated that the university believes it would be beneficial to collect such data. “These data will help to inform policies and practices to further the university’s interest in embedding diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Members of the Black Liberation Collective, U of T vice provost, students Sandy Welsh, Angela Hildyard, U of T vice president human resources and equity, and Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, the anti-racism & cultural diversity officer attended the meeting.

Several organizers with Black at UofT were approached for comment and all declined on the basis that [they] have found [The Varsity] unwilling to acknowledge, rectify or combat [it’s own] racism.”

Race-related census data collection can include data about student admission and graduation, and staff and faculty hiring and promotions. U of T is now exploring the details of how this data will be collected.

“The university will now explore the best avenues for individuals to report such data should they choose to do so,” said Blackburn-Evans.

More information is forthcoming.

Redesign team for front campus revitalization chosen

Connecting pathways and student spaces to take over front campus project

Redesign team for front campus revitalization chosen

The walk through the middle of the St. George Campus will soon have a new look. Front campus, connecting the west and east ends of St. George, will soon be redesigned by KPMB Architects, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), and Urban Strategies.

Shirley Blumberg, the design team leader, said that she is ecstatic to be working on the project. Their team consists of multiple U of T architecture graduates, including Blumberg.

The consortium of these firms was chosen after a lengthy selection process with over 600 proposals in consideration. The public was invited in September 2015 to review the proposals and select the winner.

In this new design, students can expect webs of pathways that connect both side of Front campus, a pedestrian bridge connecting Hart House to Queen’s Park, pavilions that house exits to the parking garage, coloured pavement and a new lighting scheme. 

“In any creative work there is a high motivating factor of fear that keeps you going,” said Blumberg, alluding to the high profile nature of the redesign. “The most exciting thing in the bold vision is finally removing the cars from the circle. There is no point in doing anything unless you do that.”

KPMB, MVVA and Urban Strategies will have until September 2016 to submit an outline including estimated cost and engineering needs.

First-year life science student Mahreen Khan said that she is excited about the design even if the construction disrupts students. “There is the esthetic purpose, but also after it’s built completely I am sure that it will be worth it in the end.”

“As long as they manage it properly and like I said we are not trying to run through construction to get into class on time,” said Khan.

In the proposal, King’s College Circle will become car free, moving parking underground. Instead, a focus on pedestrian and cyclist needs will take precedent.

Julie Hudson, a fourth-year statistics specialist, is also excited about the redesign but is worried about those with mobility issues. “I broke my ankle and I am in a cast, and I am sure that there are lots of people with mobility issues who need to be dropped off in front of where they need to go and if they close off to cars that wouldn’t be possible, so that is one concern.”

Blumberg noted that the underground parking garage will be on a mixed-use space that could house bicycles and scooters. “We see it as an incredibly important space,” she said. “We are hoping to make the best garage you have ever seen.”

All three firms have worked on university redesign projects before, bringing green spaces and student-centred design to campuses across North America.

Blumberg noted that their’s was the only design that did not retain the campus’ circular shape. Joseph Bivona from MVVA agreedL “our design is inspired by the idea of thickening that edge to welcome lingering and invite occupation. That space after all, is actually larger than the central part of King’s College Circle itself, which I don’t think people realize.”

Until the final draft in September 2016, the plans are open to critique.

“In the end, university is about social and intellectual exchange and interaction and discourse and I think these spaces could have a tremendous impact. What we are trying to do here by removing the cars from the circle [is that] we are changing these spaces from being parking lots and sports fields into a public realm that is really for pedestrians and cyclists,” Blumberg said.

Bivona said that they treated the redesign as a park more than anything else. Both he and Blumberg alluded to the connection the space has to Toronto as a whole. “We spent a lot of time thinking about the interface between city and campus and about how to really celebrate those moments of arrival and to welcome members of the greater public into the space,” Bivona said.

“Our proposal has also been based on the premise that the site actually works pretty well as it is, that the bones of it are actually very strong – and it’s just a matter of amplifying all of the site’s great qualities,” he added.