Business Board debates missed Health and Wellness appointment fees, following student concerns

U of T to develop new employee pension model, alongside University of Guelph, Queen’s University

Business Board debates missed Health and Wellness appointment fees, following student concerns

On November 27, the Business Board of U of T’s Governing Council held its second meeting of the 2019–2020 academic year. 

The Board continued its discussion on missed appointment fees at the Health and Wellness Centre, received reports on the University Pension Plan (UPP), and provided an update on the Divisional Court of Ontario’s strike-down of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

Health and Wellness missed appointment fees

After students expressed concerns on waiting periods, fees associated with student mental health services, and the stigma surrounding mental illness during the previous Business Board meeting, Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh presented a report on missed appointment fees regarding student health services to the Board.

Currently, U of T charges students missed appointment fees ranging from $40–100 for health and wellness services, mental health services, and group therapy sessions. The university collected $210,000 in missed appointment fees in the 2018–2019 academic year. 

These fees help subsidize the income doctors and medical professionals lose when students fail to show up to their appointment. Welsh further explained that the fees aim to deter students from last-minute cancellations, as missed appointments increase wait times and hurt students who are waiting for care.

In 2018–2019, U of T’s health and counselling services charged six per cent of the students they saw for missed appointments. Before U of T implemented missed appointment fees, the number of students who missed appointments was more than double, at 15 per cent. 

Data shows that missed appointment fees are effective in helping reduce late appointments and no-shows. However, several board members expressed concerns that the U of T is implementing an uncompassionate practice which financially punishes students who may have missed appointments due to anxiety and distress.

Board member Dr. K. Sonu Gaind noted that the missed appointment fee policy will harm the public perception of U of T regarding mental illness.

“It’s going to be very hard for the university — with whatever rationalization — to get around that perception,” Gaind said.

“Even… if the fees are effective, are they compassionate? Is the effectiveness worth the other consequences that happens?” another member asked. 

UPP Board of Trustees Chair announced

Together with the University of Guelph and Queen’s University, U of T is currently working with faculty unions and other staff associations to develop the UPP Ontario, a new pension plan which will cover employees across the three universities.  

The Governing Council previously determined the terms and benefits of the current pension model — known as the U of T Pension Plan. The U of T Pension Plan has been in effect since it was established in 1966.

The UPP is aiming to increase transparency and provide employees with an equal voice toward pension plan management. In order to achieve this objective, the new model will subject pension plan administration to oversight by a Board of Trustees, which will be comprised of both employees and employers. 

Angela Hildyard, Vice-President HR & Equity, announced that the UPP’s joint sponsors members representing the faculty associations, United Steel Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees, U of T, University of Guelph, and Queen’s University unanimously selected Gale Rubenstein as the inaugural chair of the UPP Board of Trustees.

Rubenstein, a partner at the corporate law firm Goodmans LLP, has represented the province of Ontario on the corporate restructuring of both Chrysler and General Motors in 2009. 

The remaining members of the UPP Board of Trustees will be announced by the end of January.

Miscellaneous items

Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr reported that U of T is currently evaluating the technical impact of the divisional court decision that deemed the SCI unlawful. Implemented in September of 2019, the SCI previously allowed students in Ontario to opt out of incidental fees that the provincial government had deemed non-essential, such as clubs and various student services.

As of press time, access to the opt-out portal on ACORN has been suspended.

The next Business Board meeting will be held on February 3, 2020.

Business Board reports $10.4 billion in total assets, $2.6 billion in endowments

Investment returns fall short of targets, endowment returns decrease

Business Board reports $10.4 billion in total assets, $2.6 billion in endowments

The Business Board of U of T’s Governing Council held its first meeting of 2019–2020 on October 7. The board received reports that total assets under management, individual endowment funds, and the total debt policy limit have all increased from last year.

Comprised of 42 members, the Business Board is responsible for monitoring the cost-effectiveness of the university’s investments and for approving its business policies.

Investment performance

Daren Smith, President and Chief Investment Officer of the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM), presented the semi-annual report on investment performance to the board.

UTAM manages the university’s pension funds, the Long-Term Capital Appreciation Pool (LTCAP), and the Expendable Funds Investment Pool (EFIP) on behalf of the university.

The LTCAP primarily consists of endowment funds, as well as some miscellaneous investments made by university-affiliated organizations. The EFIP consists of expendable funds, including “cash for operations, capital projects, ancillary operations, expendable donations, expendable payouts from endowments and research grants.”

Over the past year, the total market value of UTAM’s investments has increased by 6.4 per cent to around $10.38 billion. Of this amount, pension funds comprise $5.3 billion, the LTCAP accounts for around $3.1 billion, and the EFIP completes the remaining $2 billion.

In the first half of 2019, the actual returns of the three portfolios nearly matched their overall five-year benchmarks. All three portfolios have also exceeded UTAM targets for the half-year period.

Over a one-year period, pension and LTCAP actual returns have been at 3.8 per cent each, short of UTAM’s 6.1 per cent target. Return targets for pension and LTCAP are uniformly set at inflation plus four per cent.

Over both the half-year and one-year periods, the actual pension and LTCAP portfolio returns have underperformed against UTAM’s reference portfolio. A reference portfolio is a pre-established breakdown of passive and lower-risk investment allocations into different markets.

UTAM uses it as a comparison to its own active investment management strategy. Smith noted that this underperformance is the result of poorer private market investments. UTAM is not planning on making significant changes to its investment strategies.

Annual endowment financial report

As of April 2019, U of T has over 6,400 individual endowment funds, totalling $2.6 billion market value. This is an increase of about 140 individual funds and $89 million from 2018. Of this increase, $40 million comes from endowed donations and $154 million from investment income; $113 million is subtracted for fees, expenses, and spending allocation.

Each endowment has its own terms and conditions, which define the parameters of how the funds should be allocated and invested, as well as how the investment returns may be spent. The university cannot spend the original capital of donated funds; it can only spend investment returns from these funds.

Net investment returns of endowment funds were 5.2 per cent. This is less than last year’s 6.7 per cent return, and the average return over the last five years of 8.4 per cent. Endowments do not include those made to U of T’s federated colleges or affiliated Toronto School of Theology institutions.

Miscellaneous items

The board received a report on debt policy limit, increasing to $1.71 billion from last year’s $1.57 billion.

The board moved the “Other Business” item of the agenda to the top, allowing four students to address the board.

The students — Sarah Colbourn, Manny Dehan, Ellie Ade Kur, and Lucinda Qu — admonished U of T’s perceived lack of mental health resources and supports following a death at UTSG in September. The students urged U of T to invest more time and resources into mental health services and more open dialogue.

Professor Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity, told the students that the administration shared their concerns. She cited expansions of counselling services, the formation of a mental health taskforce, and an additional $3 million allocation to support student services.

Disclaimer: Michael Teoh previously served as Volume 139 Business Editor of The Varsity.

Business Board releases reports on financial statements, university operations

Alternative funding, gender pay gap equity also discussed

Business Board releases reports on financial statements, university operations

U of T’s 2018–2019 financial statements were approved and alternative sources of funding discussed in the the June 18 meeting of Governing Council’s Business Board. The meeting included reports on university operations and real estate holdings, human resources and equity, and faculty gender pay equity.

Chief Financial Officer Sheila Brown presented U of T’s financial statements to the board, saying that the university had achieved better financial results than what it had projected in January.

The university’s net assets grew by $507 million to a total of $6.5 billion. U of T has $809 million in reserves for necessary capital projects and infrastructure over the next few years. Its contractual obligations with external builders are valued at $576 million.

Brown called the university’s preference to fund capital projects with its own assets rather than through financing “very prudent.”

University operations

In his annual report, Vice-President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships Scott Mabury discussed the successes of his department, which encompasses several offices including Ancillary Services, Facilities & Services, and Information Technology Services. He also emphasized U of T’s ongoing work on the Greenhouse Gas Retrofits Program and cybersecurity, briefly floating the idea of working together with other universities to build a Canadian Security Operations Centre, not to “win the war,” but to “stay ahead” of bad cyber actors.

Mabury specifically highlighted the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, a future hub for artificial intelligence and biomedical innovation created through a $100 million donation in March. He referred to this as an achievement that showcased all aspects of the operations department, calling the media rollout a “beautiful example of managing a narrative.”

Mabury also discussed the development of the new student residence to be built at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue, which he said exhibited how challenging the development process can be at times. U of T reached an agreement with the City of Toronto last year to develop the residence, after first proposing it in 2013. Mabury said that the period from the beginning of the project to occupancy of the building will have been approximately 12 years.

Alternative funding

Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr presented a report of the Alternative Funding Sources Advisory Group. The group’s work is structured around what Regehr referred to as U of T’s core strengths: knowledge, real estate and physical infrastructure, and financial resources.

The report contains numerous recommendations for diversifying U of T’s income stream, ranging from developing joint undergraduate programs with a peer university, to investing in U of T startups. Regehr focused on recommendations related to the pillar of real estate and physical infrastructure, including expanding on the Four Corners approach to physical infrastructure that guides U of T’s expansion on all three campuses.

Gender pay equity

Regehr and Hannah-Moffat elaborated on the report of the Provostial Advisory Group on Faculty Gender Pay Equity, which was convened in fall 2016. One of the major findings of the report was that “on average, tenured and tenure stream women faculty at [U of T] earn 1.3% less than comparably situated faculty who are men, after controlling for experience, field of study, seniority, and other relevant factors.”

Analysis suggests that U of T’s 12 per cent raw overall difference between tenure-stream men and women is explained by the fact that, on average, these women have fewer years of experience and work in lower-paying fields of study. There is no statistically significant difference between salaries for male and female teaching stream faculty.

In her administrative response, Regehr announced that all female faculty who are tenured or tenure-stream at U of T will receive a 1.3 per cent increase to their base salary, effective July 1. U of T’s 834 eligible faculty were personally informed of this increase, which will cost U of T $1.8 million in the 2019–2020 fiscal year. This will be taken from the university’s central funds.

Other items

Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat discussed U of T’s smoke-free campus policy, noting that there have been no significant incidents since its implementation on January 1. She added that smoking on campus is not policed vigorously, contrary to previous concerns about enforcement of the policy.

The board also discussed the progress of the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre, which opened in 2017. There was discussion of the difference between disclosures and reports of sexual violence. Regehr noted that disclosures of sexual violence made to the centre are often incidents that do not involve a second member of the U of T community, and thus do not fall under university jurisdiction. According to the interim report on human resources and equity, the centre took steps to address 56 reports of sexual violence in the last year under university policy.

Disclosure: Reut Cohen served as the 2018–2019 Managing Editor at The Varsity.

U of T planning Boundless successor, UTAM funds incur losses

Business Board reports on future of philanthropy, UTAM finances, residential unit operating budgets

U of T planning Boundless successor, UTAM funds incur losses

U of T is planning its next major fundraising initiative following the conclusion of the Boundless Campaign, which raised more than $2.6 billion over seven years. The new initiative will be publicly announced within the next five years and is hoped to exceed Boundless’ success.

Plans to establish the new initiative were discussed at U of T Business Board’s penultimate meeting of the 2018–2019 academic year, in addition to an annual update from the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) and a review of the latest operating budget for the Residential Housing Ancillary.

The Business Board is part of Governing Council, and is responsible for monitoring and approving the university’s resource allocations, business policies, and major transactions.

New major fundraising initiative in the works

Vice-President Advancement David Palmer’s annual report to the board centred upon the past, present, and future of U of T’s Boundless Campaign. Boundless is a fundraising initiative that raised $2.641 billion for the university between 2011 and 2018, exceeding its initial $2-billion goal, setting a new record for Canadian philanthropy.

Accordingly, Palmer revealed that plans are underway for the university’s next major fundraising initiative, which he hopes will continue and even exceed the achievements of Boundless. As with its predecessor, the fundraiser will emphasize philanthropy, alumni engagement, and volunteerism.

The campaign is set to be publicly launched within the next five years and anticipated to run until 2029. Since this overlaps with U of T’s upcoming bicentennial in 2027, Palmer described the initiative as laying a foundation for the “excellence of this university’s third century.”

Palmer emphasized the need to sustain fundraising momentum in the aftermath of Boundless. “We don’t want our donors and volunteers to say, ‘Oh, you’re done. Guess you have all you need from us; we’ll go off and do other things.’ [This is the] worst thing that could possibly happen to us,” he said.

The office of the Vice-President Advancement’s analyses indicate that there is still untapped financial potential. “We’ve barely scratched the surface,” Palmer told the board. “We’re not done. The future is truly boundless.”

To maintain engagement, the office has pursued a broad digital and social media marketing strategy. Web pages, newspaper advertisements, university-sponsored events, and other promotional materials portray U of T as an enduring source of research and innovation, whose continued achievements are made possible by generous benefactors. Palmer hopes that this message conveys the university’s gratitude for Boundless contributors while emphasizing the importance of continued fundraising endeavours.

Losses incurred in pension and endowment returns

Daren Smith, President and Chief Investment Officer for UTAM, presented his organization’s annual financial report for the 2018 calendar year.

UTAM is an investment manager owned by U of T that currently oversees $10 billion in funds. It is responsible for overseeing the university’s endowment and pension funds, as well as expendable funds cash for projects and operations not currently designated for use. U of T is the only university in Ontario to own a distinct not-for-profit for investment management organization; other universities rely on their governance committees and staff members.

Invested expendable funds, consisting of $2.2 billion at the end of 2018, provided a positive return of 2.1 per cent, just short of the 2.3 per cent target. Invested pension and endowment funds incurred losses of 1.6 per cent and 1.5 per cent, respectively. These numbers were far lower than the annual target of a six per cent return on each, which Smith suggested was a result of the downturn in the capital markets seen over the past year.

While this is a nominal loss, Smith said that the active investment strategies undertaken by UTAM significantly outperformed the passively managed reference portfolio for the same time frame comparatively adding a combined value of $59 million to pension and endowment. The reference portfolio is a theoretical portfolio assuming traditional asset allocation, used to compare and evaluate active investments.

“We are long-term investors and while the short-term results… are important, our focus is on the long-term,” Smith said. Since the beginning of 2014, the pension portfolio has seen an annualized return of 7.5 per cent, while endowment has seen a 7.6 per cent return.

This trend was consistent with the returns seen for the 10-year period from 2009–2018. “Over the longer period, over five years or over 10 years, the portfolios have done their job and met or exceeded the university’s target returns,” Smith said, referring to UTAM exceeding the 5.7 per cent target return set out by the university for the longer terms.

“[UTAM is] pleased with the fact that the returns over the long term have been able to achieve the university’s target returns, which is the paramount objective,” Smith said.

Positive operating income from residential units

The Business Board also approved the 2019–2020 operating plan and budget for the Residential Housing Ancillary.

The Residential Housing Ancillary is a department of U of T’s Ancillary Services, which itself is a division of University Operations. The department is responsible for 163 rental units spread across 83 residential addresses in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood in the northwest corner of UTSG. Over half of these units are rented to faculty members, eight per cent to student families, and the rest are occupied by long-term tenants.

The forecast for the current fiscal year anticipates a net operating income of $746,364 significantly higher than the $275,180 predicted by the 2018–2019 budget. Anne Macdonald, Assistant Vice-President Ancillary Services, attributed most of this positive discrepancy to the deferment of several major capital maintenance projects, including window and roof replacements and general renovations.

Since these projects are now expected to be completed during the next fiscal year, the new 2019–2020 budget predicts a net operating loss of $241,598. However, the report submitted to the board indicates that total revenue should once again exceed operating costs in subsequent fiscal years.

“It is the goal of the Residential Housing Ancillary to operate the properties on at least a break even basis, to avoid the need for permanent subsidy from the operating budget,” the report submitted to the board affirms.

According to Vice-President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships Scott Mabury, the Residential Housing Ancillary is not yet a formal part of U of T’s new Four Corners real estate strategy. Four Corners will prioritize non-academic amenity spaces and expanded housing for faculty members, staff, and students across all three campuses. The strategy will eventually include the university’s properties in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood.

“Priority Investments”: the board meeting after Bahen

Students press the administration for better mental health resources and policy change

“Priority Investments”: the board meeting after Bahen

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

On March 17, another student died by suicide in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

We’ve lost at least three members of our student community to suicide this school year. Their stories are not mine to tell.

On March 18, I was one of five students allowed into U of T’s Business Board meeting. Students deserve to know what happened in that room. This is a story I can tell.

Like most students, I learned of the tragedy through Facebook on the night that it happened. I stayed awake refreshing my home page. By the next morning, students had created an event page called “Protest UofT’s Inaction.” Word spread quickly. Hundreds of us planned to unite in peaceful protest outside of President Meric Gertler’s office on King’s College Circle from 2:00 to 6:00 pm. When I arrived at Simcoe Hall, students were protesting outside, while Campus Police officers blocked access to the inside. Hearing that a meeting was taking place on Simcoe Hall’s second floor, four of us went to the back door of Convocation Hall to try the elevators. The elevator wouldn’t budge without a key.

I felt the sting of an obvious metaphor as I kept pressing the button. Only a select few have access to the top.

We gave up on the Simcoe sit-in and made our way to the Medical Sciences Building, where we heard the Business Board meeting would be moved. We got as close as we could to the office before Campus Police blocked off the next door. Students sat in the hall, maintaining a clear path to the door and any exit route. We’re not in the camp of blocking the way. Eventually, someone came from the meeting to offer three students a seat in the meeting. The spots filled up immediately. I ran up to Lucinda Qu, a student activist who was about to go in.

“You have to talk about the mandatory leave,” I urged.

“I will, I promise,” she said. I sat back down. A few minutes later, the same person who let three of us in came back out. There was room for two more students. This time, I was one of them.

The two of us joined the three other students sitting at the back of the room. During the meeting’s first few minutes, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr acknowledged the recent tragedy and addressed mental health on campus. She mentioned new support systems for students in crisis at this time, and underscored last year’s investments in new counsellors and additional aid.

When the provost finished, my fellow students and I were poised to continue this discussion, but the board secretary changed the topic. “The main focus of our meeting today is student fees and budget,” he said. The students’ concern over U of T’s mental health crisis was not ‘the main focus,’ at least not here. Someone gave us copies of the 2019-2020 budget report. I opened the booklet to the centre spread and saw bold white letters on a glossy blue background: “Priority Investments.” A metaphor put into words. As Governing Council members discussed budgetary planning and tuition changes, I realized that our demands for better mental health services were not a priority investment. I looked at the other student who had walked in with me.

“Wait — what exactly are we here for?” they asked me. This student held a framed picture of their friend who had died by suicide. Five students were physically present in the meeting, but when I looked at the picture, I realized that we were six. Perhaps, in some form or other, we were even more.

“I have no idea,” I said. I had no idea why — or how — a regular budgetary meeting was happening as though students weren’t protesting outside, as though a student hadn’t died the day before.

On the back of the budget report, I scribbled notes on why the university’s mandatory leave of absence policy fails to comply with the criteria outlined by Ontario Human Rights Commission. The other students compiled a statement about U of T’s mental health crisis on a public Google Doc, where students from the outside chimed in with online suggestions. There weren’t just five of us in the room. There were dozens.

After 45 minutes of budget talks, the board secretary addressed the elephant in the room: the students. He gave us a few minutes to speak. Lucinda read a statement on behalf of the students who could not make it into the room.

“To the thousands of us that will spend years of our lives here,” she said, “and to the handful of us who will end our lives here, this is disheartening.” My heart sank and a lump rose in my throat. Lucinda read sections of the collaborative document where students had listed inadequate responses: “It is UNACCEPTABLE to have waiting lists for access to mental health services. It is UNACCEPTABLE to have understaffed and unresponsive counseling services.”

In the Google Doc, students capitalized “UNACCEPTABLE,” flagging the need for emphasis. Lucinda’s voice carried this collective inflection. I think my voice would have cracked. “Time and time again,” Lucinda said, “we have participated [in] fruitless discussions with people who are supposed to be our allies.” The board secretary interrupted her. “I’m going to ask you to sum up,” he said. Crucial discussions become fruitless when cut short. Despite the impossible task of condensing a crisis in one minute, Lucinda pressed the administration to work with us “in a public, honest, and materially significant capacity.”

The secretary thanked her for “that thoughtful and well-articulated presentation.” President Meric Gertler expressed his shared concerns and thanked everyone who contributed to the statement. “We recognize that institutions like this university can and should do more to address these issues,” he said.

The president stated that the university has “invested in good faith — not bad faith — in many service improvements across all three of our campuses, and the investments are quite substantial. Clearly, there is the need to do more.” He continued, “I just want to signal here an openness, and indeed an enthusiasm, to work with students in good faith and in a very open way to solicit your advice and your ideas on how to do better.”

Regehr spoke next. She said that the administration will continue to invest in mental health, while acknowledging that many of those current investments fall short. “With respect to consultation,” she added, “we will absolutely continue to meet with our students. Professor [Sandy] Welsh and I meet regularly with our student leaders, and that is an issue that is on the table and we commit to continuing to do that.” In response to calls for systemic change at U of T, Regehr explained that the university has a “new expert panel on the undergraduate educational experience.”

When the provost finished, the board secretary thanked us again for this moving speech before moving on. I put my hand up. “I’m sorry, we can’t take questions at this time,” the secretary said.

I didn’t have any questions. I had a statement.

“We need to address the mandatory leave of absence policy,” I said. “A student died this weekend, and we can afford to spend a few extra minutes listening to students. I don’t know when I’m going to have another opportunity to share why U of T’s mandatory leave of absence policy is unacceptable.” I stumbled over every word. I was already standing and ready to read when the board secretary granted me permission.

“I think you should be allowed to read it, but I’d ask that you keep your comments to one minute,” he said. “It’s an additional request and we’d like to move on with our regular budget meeting, so please keep your comments brief.” I spoke for four minutes and 58 seconds. Here is part of what I said:

U of T’s mandatory leave of absence policy is incompatible with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The policy claims to “provide reasonable accommodation to the point of undue hardship” as per the OHRC. On January 29, OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane wrote, “the Policy may result in discrimination” and “falls short of meeting the duty to accommodate under the Code.” By approving the policy after making minor edits, the university sends the following message to students: although the OHRC flags potential human rights violations, the policy still stands, and its administrators stand behind the policy. By stressing the OHRC’s “duty to accommodate,” the policy preemptively defends itself from critique within a human rights framework. If a student is in crisis, the policy claims, “it may not be consistent with the duty to accommodate to merely let the student confront significant negative academic consequences.” By touting a mandated leave of absence as an accommodation, the university misunderstands the OHRC’s policies. This policy fits what the OHRC calls “denial of access,” whereby post-secondary institutions “exclude students with disabilities” and denies them “equal opportunity in their education.” The OHRC also claims “education providers have a duty to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.” Allowing mentally ill/Mad-identified students barrier-free access to education does not constitute undue hardship; it grants them the equal opportunity that post-secondary institutions must provide. According to specific criteria listed in the OHRC, undue hardship entails accommodations that are too onerous in terms of cost and health and safety.

The policy capitalizes on the “health and safety” criterion of undue hardship by conflating mentally ill people at risk to themselves with those who pose a risk to others, a narrative which perpetuates discriminatory stereotypes. The policy conflates “a risk of harm to self or others” in the threshold for a mandated leave. This scenario maintains that Mad people are dangerous. Most Mad/mentally ill people, however, are not violent but subject to violence. If a student poses a risk to others, however, the university should mandate removal from studies as per the student code of conduct. There are, however, documented incidents where abusers and assailants have been allowed to remain in class and on campus. The OHRC cautions against “ignorance and misunderstanding about people with psychosocial disabilities,” and the policy reveals such ignorance. Students may appeal their mandated leave “no later than 10 business days after the decision.” This 10-day deadline ignores the complexities of mental health. Someone admitted to a psychiatric hospital, as I have been several times, might not be able to contact the university and organize their defence. Students must also apply “at least 30 days prior to the term in which the student wishes to enrol.” A student forced to leave at the beginning or middle of a term can only return in the following term. If a student does not meet the 30-day deadline, the university may “terminate” their registration. The student must organize around their crisis to ensure their post-secondary education is neither suspended nor terminated. A student’s return would involve “periodic review,” “verification,” “monitoring,” and “indication that the student may be subject to ongoing conditions.” This kind of surveillance will exacerbate symptoms of paranoia and anxiety that many people with mental illness experience. The policy stigmatizes students with mental health issues. This stigma, the OHRC claims, may “lead institutions to develop policies, procedures and decision-making practices that exclude or marginalize people with mental health disabilities.”

I urge you to revise a policy that is clearly not working and clearly not for us. I suggest a policy designed to mandate the leave of abusers and assailants on campus who pose actual threats to other students, and a separate policy designed to support students in crisis who may pose a risk to themselves. Accommodate us without removing our autonomy. As the policy stands, students are afraid to seek help for fear of being placed on a mandated leave.

Posted by Lucinda Qu on Monday, March 18, 2019

My voice shook more than my hands. At this point, I went off script to maintain eye contact with individual members until they nodded.

“We see this policy, we see it in print, we see it in writing, and we are afraid. The consequences of this fear, the consequences of being silenced, [are] life-threatening.” I needed the governors to understand this fear. Last semester, University College’s mental wellness commissioner, Kiana Habibagahi, and I met with Vice-Provost Sandy Welsh to discuss the mandatory leave policy. Welsh said that the policy would be implemented in very few cases. To a person in crisis, this condition means nothing. The fear of being the rare exception keeps students from seeking help.

I thanked the board members for their time and sank in my seat. I cried. My fellow students gave me back-pats and a glass of water. The rim of the cup missed my mouth and most of the water spilled down my shirt, which was already damp from nervous sweat. I was a sopping puffy-eyed mess in a room full of people on Ontario’s Sunshine List.

The provost spoke: “I’ll just respond very briefly. I really want to thank the student for bringing this to our attention.” I tried to listen. I dissociated instead.

“When we brought the policy through last year,” the provost said, “we did undertake that we would be reporting back to governance about use of the policy and we will be doing that, as we promised.” I’m not interested in pulling back governance, or in the policy’s rare application. As long as the policy stands, so does the possibility of it being used against us.

The board secretary thanked the provost before shifting gears. “So unless there’s any other business to be raised by the board, the meeting will now move on —” One of the board members steered the discussion back to the policy, describing it as having “a certain chilling effect.” I sat up in my seat. The unexpected ally continued: “It is a strong concern and I have to admit, having thought about this policy in the months since we passed it, I have more concerns than when we approved it.” This shift from platitudes to critique hinted at progress. I felt, for the first time, that one person in the administration was on our side. He thanked us as we left the room. I’d like to thank him back.

At the end of the hall, two Campus Police officers were waiting to usher us out. An officer placed his hand on our backs to move us through the door one by one, dividing us with a firm push and a loud “Next!” It was as though we were criminals. “Next!” I waited in line behind my four fellow students. “Next!” I have PTSD from a history of sexual assault. Too many strangers have put their hands on my body. “Next!” The officer pressed his hand against my lower back.

“Don’t touch me!”

“Fine,” he said, with a have-it-your-way indignation. I was delirious from a sleepless night and a nightmarish day. And now I was triggered.

When I felt the officer’s hand on my back, Lucinda’s statement came back to me: “It is unacceptable.” It is unacceptable that campus police use intimidation strategies. It is unacceptable that campus police do not consider students who may have a history of trauma, students who come from marginalized communities that are susceptible to police brutality, students who have the right not to be touched. It is unacceptable that I have to include a tangent on the police in this article.

Yet poor mental health care and police intervention inevitably ally. I call on the administration to address the systemic connection between campus police responses and issues surrounding student mental health. In a recent meeting that a group of students and I held with Janine Robb, the Executive Director of the Health & Wellness Centre, I learnt that two years ago, campus police could handcuff students during a mental health crisis. Today, careless campus police actions are symptoms of this sanist legacy.

And to the officer who touched students that day: keep your hands off us.

I finally joined the students who were peacefully protesting in the hall. I knew they’d be waiting for us. Lucinda and I gave brief statements. Microphones and TV cameras loomed. Still, the daunting media apparatus intimidated me less than the board meeting whose members wanted us to keep our statements brief. No one was watching the clock here. I sat back down among the protesters, most of whom I didn’t know. I just knew that I cared about these people deeply and felt their care just as intensely. I cannot overstate the richness of our communal support.

Toward the end of the evening, a group of students lingered in our space of protest. On his way out, Gertler addressed us. He thanked Lucinda and me for our moving speeches. We thanked him for the opportunity to speak. He then expressed a strong desire to engage in further discussions with students.

Students are not interested in being heard without being listened to. It will be the administrators’ privilege to listen to those of us who are still here to speak. When deference doesn’t get us change, we need to make demands. I’m demanding that the administration consult with us and implement substantive policy changes as per our pleas.

“I’ll be honest,” I said to Gertler. “Students feel like the administration is working against us, not for or with us.” Prepositions matter. Consultations matter. These forms of language and communication often go wrong. He assured that he would consult with students.

President Gertler, I will take you up on your offer for further discussions, for meaningful and regular consultations. My friends and I look forward to working with you and your colleagues.

As we continue this work, our responsibility to one another requires respect for those who are grieving, for those who need privacy, and for those whose stories are not ours to tell. Amid the anger, the protests, and the collective demand for change, we cannot forget the mourning.

We cannot forget the seemingly small gestures that just might sustain someone who is struggling. After the protests, the board meeting, the media coverage, the organizing, and the grief of that long Monday, I met up with one of my closest friends. He brought me to his place so that I could do laundry and take a shower. It had been a while since I had done either of those things. The next day, another dear friend gave me Tylenol for a crushing headache and let me lie in her lap for a moment. My friends’ simple acts of care were more necessary than I can explain. I’d argue that helping someone meet their basic needs is more important than reading a statement at a board meeting.

I’d like to end with a note on language. People do not ‘commit’ suicide; they die by suicide as a result of a broken, ableist, and sanist system that does not support those who struggle. Prepositions matter.

On June 24, 2018, a student died by suicide in the Bahen Centre.

On June 27, 2018, Governing Council approved the university-mandated leave of absence policy.

We warned the administration that the policy would dissuade students from seeking help, that the risk of student suicide could rise.

We hoped we wouldn’t be right.

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.

“We care deeply for their well-being”: U of T admin addresses Bahen Centre death at Business Board meeting

Students lambaste board members following protests outside Simcoe Hall

“We care deeply for their well-being”: U of T admin addresses Bahen Centre death at Business Board meeting

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

In response to what they perceive as U of T’s lack of action on mental health following a suicide at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology — the second death to occur in the building in the past year — students passionately argued for accountability and increased mental health services at yesterday’s Business Board meeting.

The latter half of the silent protest held yesterday afternoon to pressure U of T on its perceived lack of mental health support coincided with a meeting of the Business Board, a U of T body that handles financials, public and community relations, and alumni affairs.

The meeting was supposed to be held in the Governing Council Chambers in Simcoe Hall but was moved to the Medical Sciences Building last minute after students began a sit-in protest outside the rooms.

U of T students Lucinda Qu and Kristen Zimmer delivered stinging rebukes of the university’s mental health resources during the meeting.

Following the board’s open-session discussion on regular business, Qu was given permission to read a statement from an online document that she had shared in the Facebook event page for the protest.

She told the board that “the university is ignoring the needs of students in a blatant attempt to take the onus off of its administration for our mental health, safety, and well-being.”

Qu criticized long delays in mental health services, a lack of 24-hour support, unaccountable professors, and “deeply problematic and retraumatizing” counselling as unacceptable given the university’s “recklessly dangerous” competitive environment.

“To the thousands of us that will spend years of our lives here and to the handful of us who will end our lives here, this is disheartening and it must change,” she said.

U of T President Meric Gertler, who was attending his first Business Board meeting of the year, said that the university can and should do more to improve mental health support. He added that the university’s consultations have been in good faith and that significant investments have already been made for mental health support.

“I just want to signal here and now an openness and, indeed, enthusiasm to work with students in good faith and in a very open way to solicit your advice and your ideas on how to do better,” he said.

U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr said that the university has “made many investments, but that those investments have not yet reached the point where [they are] meeting all the needs.”

Regehr cited the university’s mental health framework committee — responsible for managing the university-mandated leave of absence policy — and its expert panel on the undergraduate educational experience as two existing initiatives that support students.

The controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy was passed last year and allows the university to place students on leave if their mental health poses a risk to themselves or to others, or if it interferes with their studies. The policy drew criticism from the Ontario Human Rights Commission and was heavily protested by student groups.

After Regehr’s statement, Zimmer addressed the board, saying that “a student died this weekend and we can afford to spend a few extra minutes listening to students.” The board secretary granted her permission to speak, but asked her to keep her statement to one minute.

Zimmer gave an impassioned plea for the university to remove the “dangerous” policy, which she said “is clearly not working and clearly not for us.”

“We see this policy, we see it in print, we see it in writing, and we are afraid. The consequences of this fear, the consequences of being silenced is life-threatening,” she said.

In an interview with The Varsity following the meeting, Gertler emphasized that students’ mental health is a priority for the university and said that he wants to continue working on the issues and challenges that students face.

“Student well-being — mental, physical, emotional — is right at the top of the list. This is why we’re here. We are the university for students and about students. So clearly, we care deeply for their well-being.”

Gertler pointed to the lack of provincial and federal funding for creating new mental health supports for students, and that the university has advocated for increased funding for several years but never received sufficient funds.

He also said that there are numerous faculty and staff working to support students, and in response to requests from students for an open forum with university administrators, hopes to ensure “quality input and meaningful dialogue.”

In response to a question about whether the university is in any way culpable for the multiple suicides that have occurred on campus, Gertler said that he couldn’t address that question because the university needed much more detail.

“We know that these are adults we are talking about and we have to provide every opportunity for them to seek the kind of services that they require,” he said.

“But it’s a shared responsibility: families, friends, society more broadly, as well as the individuals involved. It’s part of a much broader conversation, a much broader effort.”

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.

U of T yet to receive provincial funding for facility maintenance, implementing international student tuition deposit

Business Board reports on deferred maintenance, international intake strategy

U of T yet to receive provincial funding for facility maintenance, implementing international student tuition deposit

Last Monday, the Business Board of U of T’s Governing Council reported that millions of dollars in provincial funding for facility maintenance expected in January had not yet been announced, possibly due to the provincial government’s budgetary changes. The board also presented the university’s new initiative to implement a tuition deposit for prospective international students.

The meeting, the third of the 2018–2019 year, was held on February 4. The Business Board monitors and approves the university’s business policies and major transactions.

Aside from voting to approve the report of the previous meeting, all open session items were for information, meaning that no action needed to be taken.

Deferred maintenance funding

Ron Saporta, the Chief Operating Officer of Property Services & Sustainability, presented the annual report on deferred maintenance for 2018. U of T’s Facility Condition Index (FCI) is 15.2 per cent, up from 13.4 per cent last year.

The FCI is a standard index used to assess the conditions of a building against norms. At U of T, facilities with an FCI higher than 10 per cent are ‘Poor.’ U of T’s FCI is “significantly higher than the [Council of Ontario University] average of 11%,” according to the report.

The increase is partially due to a new FCI-measuring method used on 24 buildings. Saporta said that these were “heavily weighted in laboratories, which tend to have a higher cost” and which thus do not form a representative sample of U of T buildings.

Using the FCI framework, there are 78 ‘Poor’ buildings at U of T — 71 at UTSG, three at UTM, and four at UTSC. In order for the university to maintain its 15.2 per cent FCI next year, an investment of $28.7 million is required; last year, the university invested $24 million.

Of last year’s funding, $7 million came from the provincial government’s Facility Renewal Program. Scott Mabury, Vice-President Operations, said that the university usually receives notice of this funding in January but, as of the meeting, had not yet received anything.

The report notes a “growing concern that this funding may be impacted by the anticipated provincial budget changes.”

Saporta added that to bring the university’s FCI down to a ‘Fair’ rating of maximum 10 per cent, the university would need to invest $66 million per year over 10 years.

According to Mabury, $28.7 million is enough to make renewals to Priority 1 buildings, which are described in the report as “assets that are well beyond useful life or are currently failing.”

International intake, tuition deposit

Vice-President International Ted Sargent presented his annual report on international student initiatives at the university. Among the new policies is the implementation of a tuition deposit for prospective international students.

“Until recently, essentially students could accept our offer, but they didn’t have to put any appreciable money down,” Sargent said. The list of prospective students who pay the deposit will be used to create “a waitlist to take in the right number of students and pursue [the university’s] diversity goals.”

International intake from Africa and the US is falling short of the university’s targets, while intake from India and a number of East Asian countries are exceeding projections.

“The US is the world’s most competitive higher education market, and the University of Toronto really should be on the list of the best students coming out of the US, thinking about where to go,” Sargent said.

The university has also increased its targets for outbound exchange students from 20 per cent to 30 per cent. Sargent’s office is working with the provost’s office to establish a fund to support students for whom the cost of studying abroad may be too expensive.

In response to a question about potentially targeting international students to make up for revenue losses from the provincial government’s 10 per cent tuition cut, Mabury said that increases to international intake is done for academic reasons. “It is not [a] financial imperative. That’s not how we view international students. It’s primarily academic.”

New fund to support research grants

Vivek Goel, the Vice-President Research & Innovation, announced a new $2 million donation from Professor Daniel Drucker to establish the Drucker Family Innovation Fund.

The donation is contingent on U of T and the University Health Network (UHN), an affiliated medical research organization, both matching it to bring the endowment to $6 million.

“Professor Drucker is hoping that when we publicly announce this with the [UHN], it will be the kickoff for [a] much larger fundraising campaign,” said Goel.

Income generated by the fund will be used for an annual grant competition for faculty affiliated with the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre and the Department of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital and UHN. Grants of up to $50,000 will be awarded.

Goel said that when U of T researchers’ inventions generate revenue above a certain threshold, the university receives portions of their royalties. The university’s $2 million will thus come from revenue generated by Drucker’s discoveries.

Business Board approves smoke-free policy, real estate strategy

Smoke-free policy to move to Executive Committee for endorsement, real estate strategy to increase amenities

Business Board approves smoke-free policy, real estate strategy

The Business Board has voted to concur with the recommendation of the University Affairs Board (UAB) to enforce a smoking ban at U of T and to approve the university’s Four Corners Strategy in principle. These were two of the 14 items on the agenda for the board’s second meeting of the 2018–2019 academic year, held at Simcoe Hall on November 26.

As part of Governing Council, the Business Board is responsible for monitoring the cost-effectiveness of the university’s investments and for approving its business-related policies.

Smoke-free policy

The Business Board was the fourth stage of governance for the university’s proposed smoke-free policy, following recommendation by the UAB on November 19 and information sessions at the UTSC and UTM Campus Councils on November 20 and 21 respectively. The policy must now be endorsed and forwarded by Governing Council’s Executive Committee on December 4 and approved by Governing Council on December 13 in order to take effect.

Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat presented the item to the board.

If approved by Governing Council, the smoke-free policy would ban most forms of smoking at the university’s three campuses effective January 1. Exceptions to the policy are Indigenous ceremonies and medical requirements.

The policy would not apply to the university’s three federated colleges — the University of St. Michael’s College, the University of Trinity College, and Victoria University.

“I’ve talked to all three head provosts and presidents of the federated universities. They all anticipate going the same direction, although they are working through their own governance processes with respect to it so they may not go at the same time. I expect they will also be using similar signage to that which we are using,” Hannah-Moffat said. She added that affiliated institutions “immediately proximate to [U of T] like Knox College… are going to adopt [their own smoke-free policies].”

“Enforcement of this policy will be first and foremost about educating our community and also talking to our community about the risks of second-hand smoke and the risks of smoking,” Hannah-Moffat added. The university will continue to provide staff, faculty, and students smoking cessation support.

All present voting assessors at the meeting voted in favour of the item, meaning that the board concurs with the approval passed by the UAB.

Real estate strategy

The board also unanimously approved the Four Corners Strategy. According to Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury, the strategy has been in development for around four years. It will replace the existing real estate strategy implemented by the university in 2007 and act as a framework to guide the university when investing in new real estate projects.

“We’re calling this ‘Four Corners’ because we want it to cover all corners of the university, wherever they may be,” Mabury said. The strategy will be updated to include the university’s properties in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood, as well as the land housing the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health that it bought last year. He added that the federated colleges will not be included, as “practically speaking, they run their [own] affairs.”

According to the report presented to the board, the strategy’s goals are “providing quality amenity spaces” and “generating financial returns directed to the operating fund through income of its improved properties.”

Mabury said that amenity spaces will include “innovation spaces, residential [spaces] to improve our ability to attract and retain our faculty and senior staff, [and] retail [spaces] to enliven and engage more effectively with the surrounding city as well as provide services for the academic community.”

A main goal is to expand available housing to faculty members, staff, and students. Mabury cited the graduate student waiting list of over 1,000 and the loss of senior staff and faculty due to a lack of available housing. “The goal here is to [make] the residential side respond — and it’s a dynamic situation and it’s not constant where that demand is.”

Other items

The in camera session comprised of the quarterly list of donations of $250,000 or more, administrative assessors’ reports, compensation increases for various staff and faculty, and approval of the membership of the board’s Striking Committee.

Hannah-Moffat also presented the Human Resources & Equity Annual Report of 2017–2018 and the Report on Employment Equity of 2017–2018, which include the university’s initiatives to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.