Opinion: Reading week should be before midterm madness

A break before major assessments would bring health and academic benefits

Opinion: Reading week should be before midterm madness

Four years ago, students voted in a referendum that brought fall reading week back to arts and science students at U of T, something that the Arts and Science Students’ Union also plans to encourage other faculties to adopt in the long-term.

While students voted for adding a fall reading week, the timing of the break was not voted on. Rather, an administrative working group, which included student representatives, selected early November as the dates for the week and extended a pre-existing two-day break into a week. It also reasoned that it would provide a break between the two major stressors: midterms and finals.

But many students feel, and have felt in the past, that this reasoning is misguided. While, of course, a weeklong break is welcome after the chaos of midterms, a break preceding midterms would likely help students practice healthy study habits, like many other universities and in our satellite campuses. In fact, an October reading week would benefit us both academically and mentally.

A recent survey at McMaster University found that students overwhelmingly felt that their pre-midterm break reduced stress across the entire fall term. In comparison, U of T students spend two-thirds of the fall semester without a break.

Academically, we are faced with both existing assignments and upcoming exams, with many students experiencing cognitive fatigue and sleep deprivation, both of which are scientifically known to impact cognition and student performance, even at minor levels.

Sleep, in particular, is critical to learning new facts and committing them to memory, a technique which is vital to any student taking an exam. Something as simple as having the time to sleep restfully the week before midterms, rather than cramming in time to study between other assignments, would certainly benefit students academically.

Reading week is an opportunity to rest and enjoy a much-needed opportunity to have some social time.

An October reading week would reap these benefits by giving students time to alleviate mental and physical stress through periods of self-motivated study, rest, and relaxation. Moving forward, the administration should seriously consider making this change for the benefit of students.

James Yuan is a first-year Life Sciences student at Victoria College. Yuan is a columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.

UTSG: 2019 Minds Redefined Mental Health & Wellness Conference

The inaugural Faculty of Arts & Science Minds Redefined Mental Health & Wellness Conference will bring together students, faculty and staff to foster dialogue about mental health within the Faculty. Attendees will hear from mental health experts and advocates, develop skills to promote well-being, explore campus and community resources, and engage in rich discussions that showcase research, lived experiences and diverse voices.

The event — which is free to the U of T community — takes place on Tuesday, September 17, 2019 at the U of T Chestnut Conference Centre. Attendees are welcome to attend the conference in full or in part. For more information and to register visit the conference webpage.

Keynote speakers are celebrated Canadian and mental health advocate Margaret Trudeau and Michael Landsberg, one of the best-known personalities in Canadian broadcasting and founder of #SickNotWeak 

Full details are available at https://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/mindsredefined.

The future of the Faculty of Arts & Science: report raises questions of budget cuts, diversity

Dean confirms reduced financial aid, “more international students”

The future of the Faculty of Arts & Science: report raises questions of budget cuts, diversity

There are many changes on the horizon for the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS) this year, including a new dean, cuts to the budget and financial aid based on the Ontario government’s changes to postsecondary education, and recommendations from an external report released on January assessing the faculty’s growth.

Recommendations for the future of U of T’s largest faculty included establishing a lottery system for college admissions and increasing representation of women and racialized groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In response to this report, The Varsity spoke to outgoing dean David Cameron on increasing support for Indigenous studies, declining resources for the humanities, and a reliance on international student enrolment to make up for the budget cuts.

Report findings and recommendations

The external review report was conducted by a committee of deans from the University of California Berkeley, the University of California San Diego, and McGill University over a two-day period in October. Committee members spoke to various faculty members, including Cameron, as well as undergraduate and graduate student representatives.

Overall, the review committee noted the promising evolution of the FAS from a period of prolonged budgetary restraint, as it had accumulated a deficit of $51.2 million in 2009–2010.

However, the report also made note of issues surrounding inclusivity and interdisciplinary education that it suggested should be addressed in the future.

For example, in the STEM fields the report noted that there is the tendency for the self-segregation of women and racialized groups, leading to their underrepresentation.

To combat this, the committee suggested creating a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences to help diversify STEM fields by giving them a more humanistic appeal.

The report also identified a significant difference between the desired and actual enrolment ratios of domestic students to international students in certain programs.

For example, the desired enrolment ratio is 70 per cent domestic to 30 per cent international, yet in the computer science program, the applications ratio is currently 55 per cent domestic to 45 per cent international.

Comments were also made about U of T’s commitment to supporting the Indigenous community by both creating an Indigenous College and advancing the conditions of the Centre for Indigenous Studies (CIS).

In September 2018, an FAS committee formally proposed the creation of an Indigenous college and residence. In the case of the CIS, cramped space given current and projected staffing levels have restricted its success in educating students, with one student reportedly having been unable to pursue Indigenous languages studies because the instructor of a key course had retired without an immediate replacement.

The college system was also a focus in the report. The committee proposed that the college system be used more effectively by the FAS in promoting interdisciplinary cooperation and education among students.

However, the committee saw the different admissions standards of each college as “contra-inclusive” as it allowed students to informally rank the colleges. They proposed that an alternative process such as a lottery system be employed.

Budget reductions

The 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition and changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) mandated by the provincial government will slash an estimated $20 million from the FAS budget. When asked about what impact this will have for implementing the recommendations, Cameron said that the effects of OSAP changes are most concentrated in the amount of aid given to students by U of T.

“[The cut] has this impact on our aggregate aid budget, but it doesn’t have as much of an effect directly on the budget of Arts and Science,” Cameron said. “It cramps our style, but it’s not a dramatic hit.”

This comes in contrast with the 2018 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review, which Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr had cited in a previous meeting: “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.”

Departmentally, Cameron said that no field would find its budget slashed, although Vice-President Operations Scott Mabury previously said that divisions predominantly relying on domestic tuition would see the biggest hits.

As shown in the report, quantitative science programs like computer science have a significant international population, while programs like the humanities have a declining international population.

“The international students are less likely to go into humanities, as compared to the sciences,” Cameron said.

However, since all disciplines are internalized by the FAS, Cameron said that departments that struggle with lower undergraduate enrolment are subsidized by the FAS and protected from major budget reductions.

According to Cameron, this same situation happened when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s, reducing demand for degrees in computer science, which the FAS subsidized until enrolment grew again.

“What happens is when it comes to allocating new resources like new appointments, new positions, those that are declining in numbers are less likely to get appointments than those that are increasing,” Cameron said.

“So we’ve been putting a lot of resources into statistics and into computer science to some extent, perhaps. And not putting as many new resources into humanities.”

To compensate for the budget reductions, however, Cameron said that the FAS can adjust the intake of undergraduate students to generate more revenue. When asked if this entailed increasing the proportion of international students, Cameron confirmed this.

“More international students,” he repeated. “So we have this capacity to ensure we can maintain the resources we need to provide the education that we’re trying to achieve here.”

Reaction to recommendations

Haseeb Hassaan, President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), agreed with the suggestions the report made about constructing more student-run spaces and adding more students in working groups. However, Hassaan was disappointed by the exclusion of certain ideas voiced by ASSU.

“We are [disappointed] however, that our ask for a more accessible education that included having more lectures recorded [was] not being taken seriously enough by the external reviewers,” Hassaan wrote.

For Cameron, his objectives and the FAS’ new objectives generally matched the report’s findings, which included broadening undergraduate experience through internship opportunities.

According to the A&S Priorities Discussion Paper 2018, which will inform the development of a new five-year academic plan for the FAS, furthering inclusivity and diversity are also major goals for both the undergraduate body and the faculty members.

On the specific points on diversity, like building an Indigenous College, Cameron voiced support for furthering Indigenous studies.

“I think, frankly, we as a faculty have — until recently — not been placing a priority that we should’ve on this issue,” he said.

However, Cameron did not definitively say if the college would be built.

“I think we’ll be looking at that proposal in the context of what we’re trying to do overall about Indigenous studies,” he said. “You don’t produce a new institution like that overnight.”

On the issue of using a lottery system for college admissions, Cameron said it was unlikely, emphasizing that St. Michael’s College, Victoria College, and Trinity College are federated with the university and have a significant degree of autonomy.

“On the lottery front, the colleges are fairly jealous of their right to actually assess who might actually become members of their community,” Cameron said. “[Federated colleges], to a substantial degree, are managing some of their affairs themselves, autonomously, so [the FAS] can try to influence [them], but we don’t have direct management control.”

Comment in Briefs: Week of November 19

A student reacts to the APSS gun violence panel and delayed A&S exam schedule release

Comment in Briefs: Week of November 19

To address violence, we need to build an inclusive future

Re: “Association of Political Science Students hosts panel on gun violence in Toronto”

The recent panel, organized by the Association of Political Science Students, brought different perspectives and experiences for a much-needed conversation about the record levels of gun violence plaguing Toronto.

Despite much agreement between panelists, especially on the fact that policing alone isn’t a sufficient response, potential solutions remain open for debate.

What’s really needed is an approach beyond addressing gun violence symptomatically. There should be more commitment toward understanding and supporting communities most affected by it if there’s to be any hope for building bridges and restoring trust.

Disadvantageous socioeconomic conditions and opportunity gaps present significant challenges for communities and contribute to the marginalization of individuals to the perimeter of society. This is where the most vulnerable are at risk of falling over the edge. Also unhelpful are cuts to social programming and gaps in program accessibility. These issues require remedies that go beyond mere band-aid approaches to resolve because, frankly, these problems are not self-resolving.

Social programming is a long-term initiative that isn’t the domain or initiative of any one government’s term of office. It requires a greater societal commitment toward building a more inclusive future that encourages the participation and contributions of all its members.

This includes the Toronto Police Services (TPS). According to its mission statement, the TPS are committed to reflecting and growing because they don’t have all the answers. Therefore to seek and act on input from the communities they serve means acknowledging and learning from their mistakes and successes.

In order for the TPS to fulfil its greatest potential for the benefit of all society, it’s necessary that it listens to the voices of those whom it’s sworn to serve and protect.

Short-sightedness or their own worst enemy? 

 Re: “Arts & Science exam schedule takes longer to complete due to large size, unclear central planning body”


It seems that a lack of central administration is undermining U of T’s reliability to efficiently provide students with a final exam timetable, a problem seemingly unique to U of T.

While the process and combinatorial problem underlying the dynamic nature of scheduling exams intends to minimize student conflicts and is difficult and undoubtedly complex, I question whether the university’s excuses are really just a deferral of responsibility.

The university didn’t suddenly find itself underprepared to deal with larger attendance, since, after all, it promoted and oversaw the implementation of policies for its expansion. Is the university’s administration a victim of its own short-sightedness, or is it its own worst enemy because it plans for exponential and unsustainable growth?

I believe that the university, in lieu of hiring a central staff for this process to avoid overburdening its current staff, should stand to benefit by reaching out to more counsel and demand solutions to alleviate its administerial woes.

Otherwise, it should feel encouraged to get creative and, while not overextending itself, could ask faculty to chunk large courses and provide students with a variety of date and time options by making different exams for different sections of the same courses. This would allow students themselves to avoid conflicts by selecting between available sections. This is, perhaps, a better way that administration might defer responsibility and is surely better than delegation without a central command.

I once heard a common problem troubling many leaders likened to the problem a carriage might face when its ten horses are all travelling in different directions. Perhaps that’s the real issue underlying the administration’s difficulties with scheduling exams.

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.

U of T searching for new Dean of Arts & Science

David Cameron to leave position held since 2013

U of T searching for new Dean of Arts & Science

The university is seeking a new Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science to replace the current dean, David Cameron, who will finish his term on June 30, 2019.

An advisory committee was struck on September 21 by President Meric Gertler to begin the search.

Cameron, a political scientist, first started in May 2013 as interim dean, and was reappointed in July 2016 for a three-year term.

He has previously held positions including Vice-President Institutional Relations, Chair of the Department of Political Science, and acting Vice-Dean of Undergraduate Education and Teaching in the Faculty of Arts & Science. Cameron has been a Department of Political Science faculty member since 1985.

“Academic leaders are scholars who agree to take on special responsibilities for a time and these academic appointments usually run for two five-year terms,” said Elizabeth Church, U of T spokesperson.

Details about the transition have not been provided and it is unclear whether or not the new faculty dean will continue Cameron’s projects, including the newly proposed Indigenous college.

During his time as dean, Cameron implemented a number of initiatives including the Milestones and Pathways programs, launched in 2016, which offer support for graduate students by providing skills needed for academic and non-academic careers, as well as three-year funding for graduate programs including new program-level fellowships.

Cameron has also been involved with the expansion of the Advancing Teaching & Learning in Arts & Science program, which provides funding and support for innovative learning in the classroom.

He was also a key figure during the protests over Professor Jordan Peterson in 2016. Cameron was one of two signatories on a letter sent to Peterson asking him to respect gender pronouns.

The advisory committee appointing the new dean includes Provost Cheryl Regehr, Acting Dean of the School of Graduate Studies Luc De Nil, Dean of the Rotman School of Management Tiff Macklem, and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Trevor Young, among others.

The committee will be meeting later in the fall to discuss electoral procedures and nominations from potential candidates. Students can also contact the committee with any comments or concerns and nominate faculty for this position or any academic appointment.

New Indigenous College at U of T recommended by Faculty of Arts & Science commission

Space would be dedicated to Indigenous learning, suggested opening in 2030

New Indigenous College at U of T recommended by Faculty of Arts & Science commission

After a nearly two-year inquiry, a Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS) commission has formally recommended that the University of Toronto create and construct a new “Indigenous College with Residence Space.”

The announcement was made at a Massey College event on September 17 by co-chairs of the commission, Associate Professor Heidi Bohaker and Junior Fellow Audrey Rochette. They have been engaged in this commission, called the Decanal Working Group (DWG), since the summer of 2016, when it was created by FAS Dean David Cameron.

The college would also act as a physical monument, acknowledging that U of T has and continues to operate on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River for thousands of years. In addition, it would provide a physical space for a community of students interested in Indigenous studies.

The college would accept both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from at least the FAS and operate in a similar way to other U of T colleges.

It would maintain “residence spaces, a registrar service, faculty members drawn from different units, spaces for commuter services, and [spaces] for academic programs that are connected to the college,” said Bohaker.

However, what would be unique about this space is that it would also offer services designed specifically to support Indigenous students returning to continue their education. For instance, as Indigenous university students are “often mature students with families,” according to Rochette, the DWG has recommended the operation of a daycare service within the college.

The space would also provide medical and psychological services, contingent on a community partnership with Anishnawbe Health Services, a clinic near UTSG.

Traditional healers from the clinic would provide medical as well as spiritual services from an Indigenous cultural perspective.

According to Rochette, the partnership would ease the burden on the Elders in Residence who are currently providing spiritual services at U of T.

The need for support has also been felt by Indigenous professors, said Rochette, who have been “taking in the students who are going through other issues and trying to support them when they also have to produce their own academic work.”

The architecture of the college could possibly be inspired by the Akwe:kon residence hall at Cornell University, along with the First Nations Longhouse at the University of British Columbia, said Bohaker.

“We envision garden space, outdoor teaching and land-based pedagogy space, classroom space that envisions Indigenous pedagogies — no lecture halls with desks welded to the floor,” said Bohaker.

“Imagine learning in a circle, and how being in a circle changes how you relate to other people in the circle.”

The DWG has recommended for the college to be built at UTSG. Currently, there is no official statement by the Office of the President to commit to securing land for the project.

The Dean’s Advisory Circle is currently exploring cost estimates and funding sources. A timeline for completion of the analysis is not yet known, as the work of the recently-created group is “just getting underway,” according to the FAS communications office.

The DWG has recommended for the college to open in 2030.

Building on the TRC

A mission of the DWG was to explore how the FAS could implement recommendations from the 94 Calls to Action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in December 2015.

From 2008–2015, the TRC documented the human rights abuses inflicted on Indigenous children throughout Canada’s colonial history at residential boarding schools they were mandated to attend.

The Calls to Action called on Canadian institutions to take specific actions steps to heal the damage done to the Indigenous people by these residential schools and colonialism.

Specifically, Call 65 advocated for the establishment of “national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation” between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada. The DWG explored how U of T could answer Call 65, and that resulted in the DWG’s own Call to Action for U of T to create a new Indigenous college to centralize the university’s Indigenous studies research.

The DWG issued a Call to Action to create a “Dean’s Advisory Circle” to implement the recommendations of the Group’s report. Thus far, Professor Pamela Klassen, Vice-Dean Undergraduate, and Professor Susan Hill, Director of the Centre for Indigenous Studies, have been appointed as co-chairs.

Funding boost announced for Arts & Science doctoral students

Approximate $2,000 increase expected by 2018-2019 school year

Funding boost announced for Arts & Science doctoral students

The Faculty of Arts & Science has announced a major funding boost for graduate students.

The approved policy changes will increase the base funding by approximately $2,000 over the current amount for eligible doctoral-stream students. This includes both domestic and international students from all three campuses. The increased funds will be provided in the form of fellowship income over the next three years, with no mandatory TA work required. 

Following months of consultations with graduate student representatives, the boost will affect 64 per cent of the 3,540 doctoral-stream students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. The initial overall increase of $1,500 will be in effect as of September 2016, with annual increases thereafter.

The changes to base funding and program-level fellowships represent an estimated 27 per cent increase to the Arts & Science University of Toronto Fellowships allocation over the next three years; this includes $3.35 million in 2016–2017 and an estimated $6.7 million over current levels by the third year.

In a letter addressed to graduate students, Joshua Barker, Vice-Dean of Graduate Education & Program Reviews, explained that the university was able to accommodate increased graduate student funding as a result of an improvement to the university’s financial position and a balanced budget as of last year. 

Baker also outlined a “three-pronged approach” that includes the funding boost, program-level fellowship resources for each of the graduate departments, and the Milestones and Pathways programs — a series of new skill-building programs commencing in the fall. 

The Milestones program focuses on academic assistance, with a focus on dissertation writing and publishing research articles. The Pathways program will aim to equip graduate students with the necessary skills needed to succeed in both the classroom and the workplace. 

“We are making these improvements because we understand that you need more funding and that having to devote your time to earning income takes away from focusing on your own core research,” read a portion of Baker’s letter. “We also understand that we need to do everything we can to support you as you prepare for your future careers.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the funding increase was connected to a legal dispute between the university and CUPE 3902.