The Explainer: U of T’s Inventions Policy

How ownership, commercialization of inventions at U of T are determined

The Explainer: U of T’s Inventions Policy

As a leading hub of research and innovation, U of T leverages its vast network of affiliations and collaborations to provide its researchers with a plethora of invention opportunities. U of T is associated with inventions such as the electron microscope, the pacemaker, and, perhaps most famously, the development of insulin for the treatment of diabetes. So how does the university manage its inventions?

The Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation

With the university’s resources and talent base, the Innovations & Partnerships Office aims to provide resources for entrepreneurs to patent their inventions or commercialize their work in partnership with the university. U of T prides itself in being able to help bring business solutions to market, boasting over 350 startup companies in its portfolio.

In order to achieve these goals and ensure that the revenue generated by its researchers’ inventions can support further research, the university outlines net revenue distribution based on revenue bands.

The Inventions Policy is administered by the Vice-President Research & Innovation — currently Vivek Goel — on behalf of Governing Council. The policy defines what constitutes an invention and which parties are bound by the policy. It also clarifies what an inventor can expect from the university and what the university demands in return.

Application of the policy

According to the policy, an invention is defined as something that is “more than an idea, theorem or algorithm.” Inventions include physical or intellectual property, whether they are patentable or not.

Inventors bound by the policy are any student, staff, faculty, visitor, or academic appointee who has made an invention using university resources. The point emphasized is that their use of university resources in the creation of their work subjects them to the obligations of the policy. These resources include use of facilities owned by U of T, work performed in U of T facilities, work performed using software provided by the university, and work supported by grants or funds administered by the university.

No exceptions are listed, but for practical purposes, the use of common, publicly accessible spaces or communication services such as U of T emails and Wi-Fi may not be considered significant use of resources for the invention to fall under the policy. 

Ownership of the invention

Upon invention, it is the researcher’s responsibility to disclose their invention to the office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation. The disclosure allows the researcher and the university to address ownership if the need arises.

Under the policy’s rules, at the time of its creation, an invention is automatically co-owned by the inventor and the university. However, prior written arrangements agreed upon with a third party may supersede this rule.

An example of this is Huawei’s partnership with U of T, which has seen the telecommunications giant funnel at least $3.5 million to over a dozen research projects. In these cases, licensing rights are shared between Huawei and U of T.

In addition, the university exclusively owns all rights to an invention if researchers were instructed to make said invention. The policy can also be superseded by agreements that the university has with third parties for whom the inventor also holds an appointment.

Commercialization and division of funds

Once it is disclosed, the inventor can choose one of two options related to the legal protection, commercialization, and commodification of the invention. They can either offer the university sole ownership or take up these responsibilities themselves.

If the inventor offers the university commercialization responsibilities, they earn 60 per cent of the cumulative net revenue made from the invention. Once the invention passes a review process, the university may take up the task of patenting or attaining the copyright for the invention. The burden of commercialization is then accepted by the university — with the stipulation that the inventor can reclaim ownership if the university has not been deemed to have made reasonable efforts to commercialize the invention within two years.

Alternatively, inventors can take responsibility for legal protection and commercialization themselves. In this case, they claim 75 per cent of the cumulative net revenue, with the university receiving the remaining amount.

The funds apportioned to the university are divided across four avenues based on the cumulative net revenue for the invention and commercialization process. A portion is reserved for the inventor’s academic division and department. If commercialization is undertaken by the university, it receives 20 per cent of all net revenue as a management fee. The remaining funds are directed to the Connaught Fund, the largest internal university funding program in Canada with an endowment of over $120 million. By providing researchers funding to build on their work, the Connaught Fund aims to continue the cycle of research and innovation at U of T.

Indigenous employment at U of T

Examining Indigenous recruitment, supports, challenges

Indigenous employment at U of T

Just over two years ago, U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee released the “Wecheehetowin” report, which contained 34 calls to action that the university should undertake to engage in Canada’s ongoing process of reconciliation with Indigenous people. Eleven of these calls relate to Indigenous faculty and staff — including “significant” increases to recruitment, greater support networks, and increased community-based research. The report was presented to U of T President Meric Gertler and Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr, who both spoke of the opportunity to work toward change. But now, some 26 months later, how much progress has been made to change the university’s Indigenous faculty and staff policies, and what does U of T still have planned?

Increasing Indigenous employee representation

Out of the 8,897 U of T employees surveyed, 74 self-identify as Indigenous, representing 0.83 per cent of workers. This is according to the 2017–2018 employment equity report, a summary of employee responses to a survey as of July 31, 2018. These 8,897 responses represent 81 per cent of total eligible respondents. Of the 74 Indigenous employees represented, 56 are staff and 18 are faculty and librarians.

By contrast, Statistics Canada’s 2016 census reported that just under five per cent of Canadians self-identify as Indigenous.

Last year’s 2016–2017 employment equity report, the first after the release of “Wecheehetowin,” showed that there were 59 self-identified Indigenous employees — 49 staff and 10 faculty and librarians. In comparison to previous years’ employment equity reports, the 74 Indigenous employees currently at U of T is the highest number the university has reported since 2005, when 88 out of 6,720 employees self-identified as “Aboriginal Persons.”

One of the Steering Committee’s calls was for the university to make targeted funds available to increase Indigenous hires. The university subsequently dedicated a base $2.5 million of its 2017–2018 budget for hiring of 20 faculty and 20 staff positions. The fund covers 50 per cent of new hires’ starting salaries and benefits. According to the budget, the funds “will be held in a central pool until positions are filled, allowing for maximum flexibility in [which divisions] the hires are made.”

This funding commitment is also represented in the recent 2019–2020 budget through a $1.5 million allocation to the third phase of the Diversity in Academic Hiring fund. This allocation will support the hiring of 20 Black and Indigenous faculty; portions of the previous phases have provided funding to support hiring 20 Indigenous faculty and 20 Indigenous staff.

Part of the increase in self-reported Indigenous employees this year comes from 11 new hires, although four ended their U of T employment. In 2016–2017, the university had seven new hires and six exits.

Indigenous employment at other universities

While the latest available data from Ryerson University and York University are both less comprehensive than U of T’s data, they reveal that U of T has a greater number of Indigenous employees. Ryerson’s most recent report is from 2016, which states that one per cent of “close to 6,000 employees” self-identified as Indigenous. However, according to a 2017 Eyeopener article, the number may be as high as 90 Indigenous employees, five of whom are tenure-track faculty. At York, approximately one per cent of 3,980 employees self-identified as Indigenous — likely representing between 38 and 41 employees. OCAD University is collecting representation data but has not publicly released its findings.

Looking more broadly at U of T’s main competitors in Canada, McGill University reported in 2017 that 22 of 4,830 employees, or 0.5 per cent, self-identified as “Aboriginal.” The University of British Columbia reported in 2016 that 137 out of 9,596 employees, or 1.4 per cent, self-identified as Indigenous.

Indigenous Elder support

Two of the calls to action regarding faculty and staff relate to increasing support of university Elders and the Elders Circle, which consists of Elders and traditional teachers. “Wecheehetowin” emphasizes “the importance of Elders in achieving reconciliation.” It adds that the four Elders at the university are “unsurprisingly ‘overextended in terms of their commitments’, leaving a significant amount of unmet need in terms of those wishing to benefit from the guidance offered by Elders.”

The report calls on the university to either hire these four Elders on a full-time basis or to provide opportunities for more Elders to become involved with the university in order to support students and employees. It also includes calls to increase allocated space for Indigenous activities. Part of this has been addressed with UTSC hiring Indigenous Engagement Coordinator Juanita Muise in August. Muise’s role is to engage with employees and students to connect with Indigenous programming and culture.

However, in conversation with The Varsity in November, Muise said that the space available to UTSC Indigenous Elder Wendy Phillips is insufficient. She said, “They keep saying [that] in two years we’re going to have a First Nations House here, on this campus. We can’t wait two years. It’s not fair to our students that are here now. Everybody deserves to have a space.”

Networking and outreach

Another “Wecheehetowin” call to action regarding employees is to “seek out additional ways to encourage and facilitate networking opportunities for Indigenous faculty and Indigenous staff.”

Among U of T’s initiatives is Indigenous Mentoring Day, a tri-campus biannual event that connects Indigenous job-seekers with U of T mentors based on their career interests. According to university spokesperson Elizabeth Church, since the first Indigenous Mentoring Day in April 2018, “46 U of T faculty and staff members have signed up to mentor individuals interested in working at the University.” These job-seekers shadow their mentors for a day and are then entered into U of T’s list for future career opportunities.

Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, the co-chair of the “Wecheehetowin” report, was named the first Director of Indigenous Initiatives in April 2017. According to Church, “he is working on a range of initiatives including advising on a strategy to boost student recruitment in fields with traditionally low Indigenous representation… and [advising] on increasing Indigenous spaces on our three campuses.”

Given the recently announced $88 million shortage to the university’s previously projected 2019–2020 expenditure ability, U of T’s budget notes that the plan to hire 51 additional faculty may be delayed, potentially impacting prospective Indigenous hires. Church told The Varsity that “any decisions to delay hiring for those positions would be made by the academic divisions based on their divisional academic priorities and resources.”

What’s it like to work for U of T?

Forbes says U of T is Canada’s second-best employer, but how close is that to the truth?

What’s it like to work for U of T?

Forbes recently ranked U of T as the second-best employer in Canada, “a mere fraction of a point” short of Google. One year ago, U of T was ranked 63rd. What’s changed between then and now to justify the 61-spot jump? And do the experiences of employees at U of T measure up?

Beyond the rankings

U of T employs over 20,000 people across all three campuses, including groundskeepers, graphic designers, and financial service analysts with the University of Toronto Asset Management corporation, and library technicians who support the library facilities that students and researchers rely on.

The next highest-ranked Canadian postsecondary institution in Forbes’ employee satisfaction list is the fifth-place Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, followed by Montréal’s Concordia University in eighth place.

But Forbes seems to be inconsistent in how it rates universities, since U of T is not the only workplace to have made big jumps. In 2017, Queen’s University took home the number one spot, yet it is now ranked well below U of T as the 17th best employer in Canada. The University of Guelph was sixth in 2016, but now finds itself 61st.

This result may be due to the methodology employed: Forbes surveyed 8,000 Canadians working at companies with over 500 employees across the nation. There seems to be no guarantee of proportional distribution across companies, hence the dramatic shift in U of T’s position might be due to an underrepresentation of the university’s employees last year, or an overabundance of responses this year.

In the end, the real stakeholders are flesh-and-blood employees, and it’s the policies that U of T has in place that truly determine how it compares as an employer. While there is ambiguity about Forbes’ data collection methods, its rankings provide a good opportunity to look at what U of T does for its tens of thousands of employees.

Tuition waivers

Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Vice-President Human Resources and Equity (HR&E) believes that U of T’s jump in the rankings is partly due to Forbes having a better understanding of the university’s employment standards. “They got a more fulsome understanding of all of the things going on, and our… continuous efforts to improve, and to ensure that we have meaningful benefits, meaningful programs, flexible work — all of the things that we’re doing every single year to make sure that we’re a good inclusive environment to work in.”

Benefits make up a large part of what U of T offers its employees. Chief among these is the university’s tuition waiver scheme, which allows full-time staff to take courses at the undergraduate and master’s level on the university’s dime.

U of T is not the only university to offer such a scheme, but its details are generous compared to peer institutions in Canada. Staff can take up to three fall or winter undergraduate courses, compared to staff at the University of Waterloo, for example, who can take a maximum of two courses using tuition waivers.

Tuition waivers can also be applied to dependents of the staff. According to the tuition waiver request form for dependents, the proportion of tuition exempted depends on “the staff member employment date; percentage of employment; and the eligibility of the program of study.” Kazi Arif, a University College Food Services employee since 2005, has taken advantage of this support: his son completed a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering at UTSG through a tuition waiver. Arif received the full amount of his son’s tuition.

Pension plan

Speaking to job benefits more broadly, Arif said, “U of T has a good pension plan. All other facilities are better than any other job.”

Retirement packages differ by role, but for Professional & Managerial Staff, any employee with at least 15 years of service can receive a reduced workload in the year leading up to their retirement, while their pensions accrue at full-time rates.

“[The retirement scheme] allows us to have knowledge transferred with the employee who is departing and with somebody else who might be coming into the unit,” said Hannah-Moffat.

Pension amounts also differ by role. The precise amount is a function of the number of years of service, the annual average of the highest 36 months of salaried work, and a maximum pension amount set by the government, currently held at $57,400.

Pensions increase annually to account for inflation. For Professional & Managerial Staff who have worked at U of T for a year and who are over 35, enrolment in the pension plan is mandatory.

The pension plan is conferrable onto an employee’s spouse and dependents in the event of their death.

At the other end of the employee spectrum are people like Sarah Stiller, a library technician at Kelly Library. This is her first full-time job since she graduated from Seneca College. At this stage in her career, she has relatively few complaints about working at U of T; the hours and pay are good, and while retiring at U of T isn’t an ambition, she said that the health plan is good for her needs.

Positive feedback from different age groups of employees is a sign of a healthy workplace that delivers on the various needs of its staff, such as childcare and professional development. But with thousands of employees distributed across three campuses and 21 different bargaining units representing them, gleaning an overall pattern of employee satisfaction at U of T just isn’t possible without access to comprehensive survey data.

Surveys and equity in the workplace

HR&E conducts a number of surveys with faculty and staff to gain a picture of the U of T workplace environment. In 2014, the Speaking Up survey went out to faculty, staff, and librarians. The results went on to inform specific workplace issues that the university is looking to improve on — what HR&E calls its “areas of focus,” which include equity and diversity.

According to Hannah-Moffat, the university makes a big commitment toward being a diverse and inclusive workplace. “Excellence is diversity and diversity is excellence. The two are just not separable.”

There is particular stress placed on the representation of Black and Indigenous employees in the university. The latest HR&E Employment Equity Report, released in November, is an anonymized summation of a voluntary questionnaire that had been sent to all active employees. This year, 81 per cent, or 8,897 employees, responded.

Only two per cent of faculty and librarians and six per cent of staff self-identified as Black, and only one per cent each of faculty and librarians and staff self-identified as Indigenous. Overall, 19 per cent of faculty and librarians and 33 per cent of staff indicated that they were people of colour.

In response to this survey as well as a call to action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the university has committed $2.5 million to the hiring of 20 new staff and faculty members each who come from Indigenous backgrounds. Strategic recruitment practices by which the university actively reaches out to communities in search of excellent candidates are ongoing, according to Hannah-Moffat.

The Varsity has learned that the Office of Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost Students, is currently conducting a Workplace Culture and Professional Development Review of the Division of Student Life at UTSG, following an external review of the division last year. Student Life incorporates services such as Academic Services, Hart House, and Health & Wellness. In a memo describing the review, Welsh wrote that the survey was motivated by the university’s “collective desire to foster an inclusive and diverse working environment.” It is being conducted by Toronto-based law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP.

Confidential interviews will occur throughout March as part of the survey.

U of T did not respond to questions about whether the survey results would be made publicly available. However, in line with the university’s commitment to promoting diversity and equity, the survey results should be made available to Student Life employees, if not to the general public.

Employees have the right to know what their peers say about their working environments. Students should also be informed about the working conditions of their university’s employees. After all, Welsh said that these employees’ “passion for [their] work and enriching the student experience is unmistakable.”

Interview requests with Campus Police constables were denied by the university.

U of T’s 2019–2020 budget $88 million short of projections

Facing revenue decreases due to tuition cuts, university readjusts five-year budget

U of T’s 2019–2020 budget $88 million short of projections

Three days after U of T welcomed students back from the winter holidays, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr presented her assessor’s report to Governing Council’s Planning and Budget Committee (PBC). Within her 17-odd minute report, Regehr cited an excerpt of the provincial government’s ominous 2018 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review: “The fiscal hole is deep. The road ahead is not an easy one, and it will require difficult decisions. Everyone in Ontario will be required to make sacrifices, without exception.”

This was the extent of the information available to the university at the time, and Regehr would proceed to speculate on the ramifications of the then-unknown — yet still expected — string of provincial government changes to postsecondary education finances. In response to a question from a committee member, Regehr cited the 2008 financial crisis as an example of how the university had responded to large-scale revenue losses in the past. During that period, the university lost $62 million — $73 million today when accounting for inflation. Could the government’s changes really be as impactful on the university as a global financial crisis?

With uncertainty in the air, Regehr summarized what the committee needed to know: “We anticipate that this will be difficult for us and we still need to find out how difficult.”

A week afterward, the provincial government announced its sweeping changes, including a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition, Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) reforms, and the option for students to opt out of “non-essential” incidental fees. U of T’s recently released budget and long-range budget guideline proposals highlight the effects of these changes: a $65 million reduction compared to this year, and an $88 million reduction in revenue from original 2019–2020 projections.

The budget is an annual report that determines how operating revenue and expenditure is broadly managed across the university, while the accompanying long-range budget guidelines are the university’s projections for each of the next five academic years. The budget is balanced, meaning that revenue and expenditures are equal.

By the time the PBC convened again on February 27 to discuss and recommend the proposed 2019–2020 budget, much had changed.

Tuition

With the tuition changes taken into account, the university’s budgeted 2019–2020 operating revenue is $2.77 billion, approximately 3.5 per cent more than this year’s $2.68 billion operating revenue, but 1.7 per cent less than the previously projected $2.81 billion. Tuition and student fees constitute 62.7 per cent, or over $1.7 billion, of the budgeted revenue.

While the provincial government noted that everyone was required “to make sacrifices,” the university’s divisions are facing vastly different levels of sacrifice due to government changes. According to Vice-President Operations Scott Mabury, some divisions are facing a nine per cent decrease in operating revenues, while other divisions will see an 18 per cent increase. Divisions facing greater decreases to tuition revenue are, as expected, ones that are predominantly populated by domestic students. The second entry programs of medicine and dentistry, for example, will be more significantly impacted by the tuition cuts, as 98.7 and 99.3 per cent of their respective undergraduate intake this year pay domestic tuition rates.

According to the budget, academic divisions’ management of revenue losses will include “some combination of changes to faculty and staff hiring plans, deferral of capital projects, service reductions, and operating cost efficiencies.” The university will also allocate portions of its University Fund to support divisions most affected by the changes. Ten per cent of each division’s revenues are allocated to the fund, which then redistributes resources based on need. For example, in 2019–2020, the Arts & Science division will see an approximate net loss of $12.9 million from the fund, while the Dentistry division will receive approximately net $9.5 million.

While domestic tuition in 2020–2021 will be frozen at 2019–2020 levels, the long-range budget plan assumes a return to the three per cent year-on-year domestic tuition increase cap after this period.

Residence costs do not fall under the university’s tuition group and are instead considered cost-recovery ancillary fees, meaning that they are unaffected by the government’s changes.

Operating grants

The bulk of U of T’s remaining revenue comes from provincial operating grants, which will constitute 24.1 per cent of the overall 2019–2020 revenue. The provincial government has indicated that there will be no cuts to operating grants, although it has not formally committed to this position. The university’s core operating grant is $578.2 million per year. It also receives a graduate expansion grant, which is expected to increase from $11 million to $14.3 million in 2019–2020. Operating grant revenue is expected to rise by more than $10 million over five years, although the province has yet to approve these plans. The timeline for approval is unclear.

U of T’s dependence on operating grants has decreased over the years. When the  current budget model was established in 2006–2007, 45 per cent of the operating revenue came from operating grants. The university estimates that this will continue to decrease to 21 per cent of its operating revenue in 2023–2024. Mabury said that this is “almost perfectly matched” by the increased dependence on international student tuition, from seven per cent in 2006–2007 to 34 per cent in 2019–2020 and 38 per cent in 2023–2024.

As part of its existing Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) with the previous Liberal provincial government, the university must decrease domestic undergraduate seats by 1,800 students through 2020. Due to the terms of the SMA, the core operating grant is not expected to decrease despite decreases to domestic enrolment.

Expenditures

Fifty-nine per cent of the university’s 2019–2020 expenditures are set to cover academic faculty and staff compensation. This equates to $1.6 billion, of which $905 million goes to academic compensation and $720 million to staff compensation. Academic compensation refers to faculty, instructors, librarians, and teaching assistants, while staff compensation goes to administrative staff. U of T is planning to hire 51 additional faculty next year, although the budget notes that some of these hires may be delayed due to the revenue loss.

Overall student aid expenditure in 2019–2020 is set to $247.1 million, compared to the planned $233.6 million, which is also up from this year’s $224 million expenditure. The bulk of this increase comes from academic divisions, which have increased student aid expenditure to $119.2 million, $19.4 million more than originally planned. Due to the government easing domestic tuition costs, demand for the university’s program for needs-based aid to OSAP-eligible undergraduate students, the University of Toronto Advance Planning for Students, is set to decrease. U of T has accordingly decreased its funding to $39.9 million, a $6.9 million cut from its original 2019–2020 plans.

The Budget Report 2019-20 and Long Range Budget Guidelines 2019-20 to 2023-24 were unanimously recommended by the PBC on February 27. The budget still needs to be recommended by the Academic Board, Business Board, and Executive Committee before Governing Council votes to approve it on April 4.

UTM market showcases Black business owners, entrepreneurs

The Buy Black market, organized by student groups, wraps up February 28

UTM market showcases Black business owners, entrepreneurs

Black business owners and entrepreneurs are showcasing their work this month at the Buy Black market at UTM, a part of ongoing Black History Month celebrations run by student groups.

The Buy Black market is the only recurring event in Black History Month programming at UTM, running every Thursday except during reading week. The final Buy Black market will be on February 28.

The month-long celebrations aim to empower Black members of the UTM community. Events are co-hosted by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the UTM Black Students’ Collective, the Eastern African Student Association, the UTM African Student’s Association, and the Caribbean Connections UTM student group.

“The Buy Black market was an exceptional time to showcase black identified vendors. We wanted to create a space where business owners had the ability to share their passions and culture with the UTM community,” wrote UTMSU Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji in an email to The Varsity.

Though the event is open to UTM student vendors, Arbaji said that the organizers “didn’t find any students this time around.” Instead, they contacted vendors via Black Owned Unity, an enterprise that connects “the Black community around the goal of economic development.”

The market is located in the Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) Building. According to Arabji, this location was a strategic choice, writing that the organizers “purposely placed the market in a building with heavy traffic knowing 100’s of students each hour would interact with the vendors.” Due to its CCT Building location, food vendors are not permitted at the events. Instead, a variety of garment and cosmetics businesses are featured.

One of these business is Kallis Oils, a skincare company that primarily sells body oils. Its founder, Alazar Kafle, told The Varsity that his brand was “really well received. We had a lot of exposure, and people were really interested in our ingredients as well.” He later added that he is “super blessed to have had the chance to promote my initiative about responsible and organic skincare.”

Black History Month celebrations at UTM are wrapping up this week, with a Self-Care & Games Night event on February 25 and a closing ceremony on February 27.

U of T planning to establish new medical research fund

Daniel Drucker proposes $6 million endowment in anticipation of centenary of insulin discovery

U of T planning to establish new medical research fund

Plans are underway to establish a $6 million endowment fund to support medical research conducted by U of T faculty members. The endowment, slated to be named the Drucker Family Innovation Fund, was proposed by U of T Professor of Medicine Daniel Drucker and is planned as part of the university’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.

The Drucker Family Innovation Fund will be used to finance an annual grant competition focused on medical research. Those eligible to compete will be U of T faculty members in the Department of Medicine — stationed at either Mount Sinai Hospital or the University Health Network (UHN) — along with all faculty affiliated with the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre. Individual grants as high as $50,000 will be awarded.

As part of the proposal, Drucker has pledged to contribute $2 million, contingent on U of T and the UHN each gifting the same amount. The money invested by all three parties will coalesce into the $6 million endowment fund.

The UHN is a Toronto-based health care and medical research organization affiliated with the university. In addition to housing research facilities occupied by U of T faculty members, its constituent hospitals provide training for medical students and postdoctoral fellows. These researchers would be among the potential beneficiaries of the prospective fund. Due to an existing patent license agreement, the UHN has already benefited monetarily from Drucker’s research.

According to Vivek Goel, Vice-President Research & Innovation, U of T will derive its $2 million from revenue generated by Drucker’s discoveries. Like all U of T researchers, Drucker owes the university a certain percentage of earnings on inventions made using U of T resources; this arrangement is outlined in the university’s Inventions Policy. Thanks to the importance of his work, Drucker’s research has already generated $7.4 million for the university.

U of T’s share of inventions revenue, from inventions that generate over $500,000 in cumulative net revenue, is normally funnelled into the Connaught Fund, which distributes the money to faculty members through various research awards. However, the Inventions Policy allows the Vice-President Research & Innovation to invest this money elsewhere in exceptional cases. “The combination of the generous donation from Prof. Drucker, the level of royalty revenue and the upcoming anniversary represent a very exceptional circumstance,” Goel wrote in a report submitted to the Business Board of U of T’s Governing Council.

The 100th anniversary of insulin’s discovery is significant for the university — it was primarily a team of four U of T researchers that identified the hormone in 1921. Frederick Banting, John JR Macleod, Charles H Best, and James B Collip used a novel experimental technique to discern that insulin, secreted by the pancreas, plays an essential role in diabetes prevention. Following the team’s announcement of its findings, the university helped produce and distribute insulin to diabetics worldwide.

The upcoming celebrations and U of T’s connection to the discovery present a unique opportunity for the university. By capitalizing on the medical community’s excitement, fundraising initiatives might raise more money to finance U of T researchers. This is part of Drucker’s motivation for establishing a fund in honour of the occasion. “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 at the latest Business Board meeting.

Drucker’s research has helped to create life-saving treatments for diabetes and other endocrine disorders. His work is closely tied to the research conducted by Banting and Macleod’s team. In addition to being a Professor of Medicine at U of T, Drucker is a Senior Investigator for the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, located at Mount Sinai Hospital. His research there centres on the physiology of specific hormones responsible for diabetes, obesity, and intestinal disorders. Some of these hormones are known to regulate insulin secretion. Studies conducted by his personal lab have helped produce new treatments for both type 2 diabetes and short bowel syndrome — diseases that affect millions of people across the world.

The university made Drucker an Assistant Professor of Medicine in 1987. By then he was already familiar with the institution, having earned his medical degree from U of T seven years prior. He spent the intervening time receiving clinical training in endocrinology and internal medicine from both The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Toronto General Hospital, which is now part of the UHN. Additionally, he completed a research fellowship in molecular endocrinology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

As the fund has yet to be finalized, the university has not formally announced it. However, in an email to The Varsity, U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church said that it is one of many initiatives planned. “We are working on university-wide celebrations for the 100th anniversary in 2021, and we will start to share those plans once they are finalized,” Church said.

The Business Board, responsible for conducting periodic reviews of university fund allocation, received information of the proposed fund at its latest meeting. The Connaught Committee, which allocates funds for further research, approved Goel’s reallocation of inventions revenue plan in December.

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.

Tahani Baakdhah: crochet entrepreneur

U of T PhD student on combining self-made crocheting business, retinal stem cell research

Tahani Baakdhah: crochet entrepreneur

Tahani Baakdhah is a published author, U of T PhD student, and avid crocheter with an eye for business. Since 2012, Baakdhah — or the Purple Lilac, as she is known on her social media — has been using Etsy, an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items, to sell her crochet creations.

Crocheting is a process of creating fabric or 3D objects by interlocking loops of yarn or thread using a crochet hook, similar to knitting. Baakdhah self-financed her first crochet models, which were custom toys for her children. She has since combined her interests in medicine, education, and crocheting in a business that provides educational crocheted models of human organs and cells.

Her recently published book, Crocheting Neuroscience: The Retina, takes this one step further by demonstrating how to crochet stem cells and the entire retina for use in science illustration, communication, education, and outreach events. Baakdhah sees her interests as highly complementary: “Every time I look under the microscope, I see different kinds of cells, which motivates me to create my own patterns to crochet.”

Baakdhah began her PhD research in U of T’s Institute of Medical Science in 2012. The aim of her research is to use biotechnology to make large numbers of retinal stem cells to replace cells lost to retinal degenerative diseases. This is useful in treating diseases and providing cures for people affected by retinal issues.

An unorthodox business

In 2010, Baakdhah taught herself how to crochet by watching YouTube tutorials. Two years later, she was asked by SciCommTO — a network of science communications professionals that organizes events — to introduce crocheting to a Knit-a-Neuron Workshop. She has also taken part in Etsy pop-up shops in Toronto. This past October, she participated at the Breaking Down Barriers STEM conference at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. The event was run by hEr VOLUTION, a nonprofit organization inspiring girls and young women to pursue STEM careers.

In many ways, her entrepreneurship is admirable for its unorthodoxy. Crocheting is not usually what comes to mind when we think of starting a viable business, but Baakdhah insists on the value of creativity. Its relative low cost and almost universal application are helpful factors as well.

“You can turn any idea in your mind into [life] simply just by using hook and yarn. Whether you are crocheting a toy or a scientific model the possibilities are infinite.”

Navigating entrepreneurship

Speaking on her busy schedule as an entrepreneur, researcher, and mother, Baakdhah admits that it is impossible to balance all her responsibilities fully, but “organization really helps.” As with all things, a certain degree of enjoyment is also vital for success, and Baakdhah embodies this with her quirky creations and wholesome social media persona.

She frequently posts and advertises her latest creations on Instagram. She counts about 2,780 followers and over 1,400 posts, the majority of which are highly detailed displays of her crochet creations and the various organs or cells they are meant to represent. She also uses Instagram’s stories feature to link to her Etsy shop as a means of facilitating sales. Instagram has undoubtedly been a useful tool in promoting her business.

Baakdhah plans to expand her online business by creating new models and patterns, launching her own online store, and starting science crochet teaching classes as a way of facilitating science communication, education, and outreach. She is also in the process of putting together her second book, Crocheting Neuroscience: The Brain.

Baakdhah is an example of the possibilities of student entrepreneurship and the oftentimes unlikely crossovers between disciplines that occurs as a result.