“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.

Business Board releases reports on investments, endowment, capital projects

Investment returns fall short of targets, endowment increases $124 million from last year

Business Board releases reports on investments, endowment, capital projects

The Business Board of U of T’s Governing Council held its first meeting of the 2018–2019 academic year on October 9. Among the 18 items discussed at Simcoe Hall were a semi-annual update on investment performance, the annual endowment financial report for the previous academic year, and the status of capital projects costing over $2 million.

Comprised of 41 members, the Business Board is responsible for monitoring the cost-effectiveness of the university’s investments and for approving its business policies.

Semi-annual report on investment performance

The semi-annual report on investment performance was presented by Darren Smith, the President and Chief Investment Officer of the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM). UTAM is responsible for managing the university’s pension funds, endowment pool, and Expendable Funds Investment Pool (EFIP). The assets in these profiles total just under $10 billion.

All three portfolios’ actual returns have underperformed against the university’s targets since the start of 2018. The actual returns for pension and endowment portfolios were 2.2 per cent each, against their 3.1 per cent targets. The actual return for the EFIP was 0.9 per cent against a 1.1 per cent target. Smith attributed this to “an unfavourable capital market environment.”

Over a one-year basis and a five-year basis, UTAM’s actual returns for all three portfolios have outperformed target returns.

Smith believes that in the next five to 10 years, outperforming targets will be more challenging. “We’re very thoughtful about the current market environment,” he said. “Frankly, we’ve been surprised over the incredible run we’ve seen over the last couple of years. We keep expecting that markets will cool off, and that will happen at some point.”

Sheila Brown, U of T’s Chief Financial Officer and a UTAM board member, added, “It is our expectation that when the markets go down, we will go down with them.” She said that the Business Board should focus on UTAM’s long-term assets and positions when the markets go down. “[This is] an important lesson for us to keep in mind collectively as we go through what will inevitably be a downturn in the market that I think everyone is sitting waiting for.”

Annual endowment financial report

U of T currently has over 6,260 individual endowment funds totalling $2.5 billion market value, an increase of $124 million from the 2017 report. Of the $124 million increase, $39 million is from endowed donations, $14 million is from the university’s unrestricted funds, and $181 million is from investment income. There is a $25 million deduction for fees and expenses and an $85 million allocation for spending.

Each endowment has its own terms and conditions, which define the parameters of how the funds should be allocated and/or invested, as well as how the investment returns may be spent. For “the donated funds themselves and the funds that are designated as endowments, we cannot spend that original capital — we can only spend the investment return,” said Brown.

Scholarships constitute a large portion of the endowment funds, but in some cases, particularly due to tuition rates rising faster than the inflation rate, they may no longer able to provide adequate financial support. According to David Palmer, U of T’s Vice-President of Advancement, U of T’s “policies preserve purchasing power of endowments relative to the original gift, not to the purpose.”

Capital projects

There are currently 95 buildings across all three campuses under design and construction, totalling over $1.4 billion in costs. The 88 UTSG projects total $823,882,204; the four UTSC projects $279,563,702; and the three UTM projects $300,757,155.

Scott Mabury, U of T’s Vice-President of Operations, highlighted U of T’s commitment to increased energy efficiency. “We’ve made a pledge to be 37 per cent below our 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2030. When we did that, there was a thing called cap and trade in Ontario that said that was the law. It seemed like a safe commitment for the president to make. You understand how that has changed.”

Mabury said that seeking more energy efficient projects is “the right thing to do from a philosophical, from a practical, from an environment, and from an energy cost perspective… we don’t pay as much, so there’s an economic return.”

In camera items discussed include labour agreements between the university and both the Carpenters and Allied Workers, Local 27 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 353. Mabury also updated the board on a “forthcoming capital initiative at the Toronto Waterfront,” which may refer to the university’s partnership with MaRS to lease 24,000 square feet of the Waterfront Innovation Centre.

— With files from Matias Gutierrez

Business Board approves widespread tuition fee increases for all students

Domestic ArtSci, Architecture, Music, KPE tuition to increase three per cent, Engineering five per cent

Business Board approves widespread tuition fee increases for all students

Tuition fees are expected to increase again this year after the Business Board of the university’s Governing Council approved the increases at a meeting on March 21.

The tuition increases were first outlined in the university’s proposed budget for the 2018–2019 academic year, which outlines a for-credit tuition fee revenue of $148 million to fund initiatives and capital projects across the three campuses.

What are the tuition increases?

Domestic undergraduate tuition fees for the Faculty of Arts & Science; the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design; the Faculty of Music; and the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education are expected to increase by three per cent in the 2018–2019 academic year.

Tuition fees for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering is expected to increase by five per cent, with tuition to be $15,760.

Tuition for international students in the Faculty of Arts & Science is expected to rise by no more than nine per cent in the 2019–2020 academic year, while international students in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering will see an increase of eight per cent to their tuition over the same period. According to the budget, “international fees are set at a level to more closely reflect the true cost of educating students.”

Tuition fees for most professional programs will increase by 2.5 per cent to five per cent under the provincial tuition framework.

Tuition fees for international graduate students will be the same as their domestic counterparts in Fall 2018, as per a university decision in mid-January.

As a result of tuition increases, an increase in student financial aid is also expected.

The proposed budget for 2018–2019 puts $224 million towards student aid for the year. In a 2016–2017 report on student financial support, the university committed itself to providing increased aid not only for undergraduate domestic students but also international students.

Why does tuition keep rising?

The overall increase in tuition is meant to address higher enrolment and increased costs, according to Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr. The costs also come in response to the tuition framework mandated by the Ontario government.

“The three per cent overall increase is the tuition framework from the provincial government and the issue is costs… continue to rise as they do everywhere,” said Regehr, noting that the government grant per student “has not increased for many years now.”

Mathias Memmel, the President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, said that the union was “disappointed, although not surprised, that the university is increasing fees by as much as it possibly can.”

Memmel, like Regehr, pointed to issues in government funding.

“The provincial government needs to step up and make a serious commitment to public education,” said Memmel. “Otherwise, our public universities will cease to be truly public and will become private institutions with public funding.”

Despite the fee increases, the university reaffirmed its commitment to aiding students in positions of financial need.

“We have always had the longstanding commitment that any qualified student who is admitted to the University of Toronto will be able to not have financial barriers that stop them from completing their education,” said Regehr.

The commitments are outlined in the university’s Policy on Student Financial Support.

U of T proposed budget increases financial aid spending, capital projects on all three campuses

$2.676 billion in budgeted operating revenue is expected, an 8.2 per cent increase from last year

U of T proposed budget increases financial aid spending, capital projects on all three campuses

The University of Toronto released their proposed budget for the upcoming 2018–2019 fiscal year, which featured increased funding in financial aid, research opportunities, and graduate programs. The budget reports a total budgeted operating revenue of $2.676 billion, 8.2 per cent higher than the 2017–2018 budget.

Expenses in the proposed budget include large-scale building projects on all three campuses, including an increase in spending toward the total deferred maintenance liability, an increase in student aid, and grants and diversity initiatives.

$224 million is budgeted toward student aid for the 2018–2019 fiscal year. This figure is expected to grow to $260 million over five years. The increase in spending on financial aid can be attributed to the university’s policy on student financial support. The statement principle outlines that, “No student offered admission to a program at the University of Toronto should be unable to enter or complete the program due to lack of financial means”.

The proposed budget also aims to fund diversity and equity initiatives. A total of $3 million over a course of three years will be allocated to coordinate access programs for students from underrepresented groups on campus. Similarly, $3 million over a course of three years will be set aside to fund postdoctoral fellowships for individuals from underrepresented groups. In turn, this will diversify the amount of minority scholars across the country.

Deferred maintenance has been a critical issue, costing the university $549 million in liabilities this year. Of that $549 million cost, UTSG accounts for $478 million with an increase of $4 million compared to last year. UTSC and UTM campuses saw decreases of $2 million and $4 million, respectively. $18 million has been allotted for deferred maintenance repairs, specifically at the St. George campus, while $2.5 million are set aside for the UTM and UTSC campus in their respective budgets.

OSAP                                                                                                          

Changes in the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) were also included in the report. The program was changed to include free tuition for students from low and middle-income families, 30 per cent off tuition grants, and opportunity-based grants for students to reduce loan debt. 55 per cent of U of T students receive OSAP payments.

Funding for the University of Toronto Advanced Planning for Students program (UTAPS) is also projected to increase by an additional $13 million over the planning period. UTAPS gives grants to OSAP eligible students based on financial need.

Revenues

Much of the university’s operating revenue is obtained through provincial operating grants, tuition, and various student fees. Tuition and grant revenue for 2018–2019 is projected to be $2.336 billion, a 2.5 per cent increase compared to the $2.279 billion projected last year. Similarly, large endowments from the university’s greater community have also contributed over $2.38 billion to the operating revenue.

This year, a maximum three per cent increase will be added to tuition for Arts & Science students. Tuition fees for graduate and professional program students may also be increased by a maximum of five per cent. The university has also proposed to align tuition fees for international PhD students with the domestic rate.

The university recently signed a new Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA2) with the province of Ontario. The agreement aims to re-establish the university’s leadership role in research and innovation in Ontario. SMA2 aims to include funding for 631 new master’s student spaces and 198 new doctoral student spaces by fall 2019.

Governing Council will vote on the $2.68 billion proposed operating budget for the 2018–2019 fiscal year on April 5

Cost of deferred maintenance at U of T drops slightly from last year

UTSG’s delayed repairs rise to $478 million

Cost of deferred maintenance at U of T drops slightly from last year

 

The university’s annual report on deferred maintenance reveals that the total cost of repairs required on U of T’s buildings is $549 million, down $2.5 million from last year. The cost of deferred maintenance represents the amount of money in repairs that the university is delaying, typically as a cost-saving measure.

The majority of the liability for this year is at UTSG, which accounts for $478 million, up by $4 million since last year. About five per cent of this figure — approximately $24 million — represents deficiencies that must be addressed within the next year, while approximately $287 million represents deficiencies that must be handled in the next three to five years.

UTSC’s deferred maintenance repairs this year totalled $42 million, down $2 million from last year. UTM accounts for $29 million of the total cost of deferred maintenance, down $4 million from last year’s figure.

The report also stated that the university’s combined facility condition index (FCI) — a number obtained by dividing the cost of repairs required by the cost of replacing the building — stands at 13.4 per cent, higher than the 11 per cent the Council of Ontario Universities last reported in 2015, but 0.5 per cent lower than last year. If an FCI is over 10 per cent, then repairs are needed.

The FCI of the 10 buildings at UTSC is 11 per cent . The 14 buildings at UTM have a combined FCI of 6.7 per cent.

UTSG’s FCI currently stands at 14.7 per cent, down slightly from last year’s 15 per cent. Of the 101 academic and administrative buildings audited for the report, 71 were classified as being in poor condition.

The report also noted that the majority of UTSG buildings were built post-war and have lower construction quality than pre-war buildings and modern, complex buildings on campus. These post-war buildings tend to require a “fundamental renewal of building systems.”

The report also pointed out that the combined internal and federal funding is “approaching” the roughly $28 million needed to reduce the FCI to 12 per cent within 10 years at UTSG. According to the report, the university “can maintain and even start to improve the condition of our academic and administrative buildings [at U of T]” with this funding.

The document also detailed changes to be made to how the deferred maintenance figures are assessed, including shortening the auditing frequency from every seven years to every five years, incorporating costs associated with professional services and consulting fees, and providing more accurate building information.