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U of T disestablishes Faculty of Forestry

Forestry to become a graduate unit under Daniels following Governing Council vote

U of T disestablishes Faculty of Forestry

In its final meeting of 2018–2019, Governing Council approved a proposal to disestablish U of T’s Faculty of Forestry and restructure it as a graduate unit under the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. Following a discussion period, which included statements of opposition from the Forestry Graduate Students’ Association (FGSA) and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the proposal received 29 votes in favour and two abstentions

On July 1, the 112-year-old faculty, which was Canada’s first for forestry-related studies, closed. Forestry’s faculty budgetary appointments will transfer to Daniels. U of T will add an additional $1 million to Daniels’ annual base budget and provide supplementary resources to hire five additional faculty members for Forestry, doubling its current number.

The proposal does not outline any changes to either Daniels or Forestry programs. Forestry’s three programs — the Master of Forestry Conservation, the Master of Science in Forestry, and the PhD in Forestry — will all continue to operate. Forestry will remain located in the Earth Sciences Centre on 33 Willcocks Street.

Forestry-specific endowments and graduate funding will remain, as will the FGSA as a representative for Forestry students.

Genesis of the proposal

Current Forestry Dean Robert Wright, who was hired in 2017 with the intention of advancing Forestry’s restructuring, ended his term on June 30, after the Dean of Forestry position ceased to exist.

Daniels Dean Richard Sommer will appoint a Forestry Program Director from Forestry’s five current tenure-stream faculty members. The Program Director will oversee Forestry programs’ day-to-day operations while Sommer will maintain administrative and budgetary responsibility for Forestry in addition to his current responsibilities.

U of T hopes that restructuring the Faculty of Forestry under Daniels will provide Forestry programs with greater academic and financial stability. In 2018–2019, Forestry had 122 students and an attributed operating revenue of around $3.68 million — the third-smallest of U of T’s 20 divisions. In comparison, in 2018–2019, Daniels had an attributed operating revenue of approximately $36.29 million, as well as 27 tenure-stream faculty members and 1,468 students.

The proposal cites Forestry’s low enrolment, faculty complement, and current demand as indicators that it is not financially sustainable in its previous form.

Student opposition

At the meeting, FGSA Chair Nicole Tratnik criticized the university’s perceived failure to provide a suitable academic rationale or an academic framework to ensure that Forestry’s identity will be maintained under Daniels. 

“We are concerned that the restructuring will turn this multi-faceted faculty into only urban forestry and wood engineering sub-programs,” she said.

She reiterated the FGSA’s demand to establish Forestry as a higher-level Extra-Departmental Unit (EDU) within Daniels. “This will keep Forestry’s science- and lab-based interests intact and visible under a design- and studio-based Faculty,” she said.

UTSU Vice-President Professional Faculties Dermot O’Halloran also addressed the council and urged its members to delay the proposal’s approval until further consultations with students are made. “At the very least, institutional protections for students in Forestry, such as creating an EDU:A or :B, should absolutely not be taken off the table,” he said. “We see and recognize the value of the Faculty of Forestry as it stands and we ask that you do today as well.”

In response to these concerns and questions brought up by members of the council, Wright advocated for the proposal’s merits. He described Forestry’s current faculty structure as “the most expensive form of administrative activity.”

“As an academic, my obligation is to protect the programs,” he said. “If you really want to save the Forestry programs, now’s the time to actually do it because this [restructuring] will… revolutionize the capacity of Forestry.”

Forestry’s future

The FGSA’s demands for Forestry to be demarcated as an EDU have thus far been delayed by the university and Daniels, who have said that such discussions could be had if and when Forestry is restructured. Now that the restructuring has been approved, Tratnik said that the FGSA remains hopeful of progress given Daniels’ “experience incorporating new programs into their Faculty.”

“Foresters think about managing forests not only for now, but for the next several decades. We feel that restructuring the Faculty of Forestry should [be] thought of in a similar way,” Tratnik told The Varsity. “Our goal has always been to ensure that the standard of forestry education remains for students in the future.”

The Governing Council vote on June 25 was the proposal’s final stage of formal governance. It was unanimously recommended by the Planning and Budget Committee on May 9. The proposal then received 43 votes in favour, three votes against, and two abstentions at the Academic Board on May 30. The Executive Committee endorsed and forwarded the proposal on June 10.

U of T begins Faculty of Forestry disestablishment process

Governance committee approves transferring faculty to Daniels despite student opposition, final vote on June 25

U of T begins Faculty of Forestry disestablishment process

U of T’s Planning and Budget Committee (PBC) has unanimously recommended the disestablishment of the Faculty of Forestry and its restructuring as a graduate unit under the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. The proposal must still be voted on by the Academic Board and the Executive Committee before being approved by Governing Council on June 25. If approved, the Faculty of Forestry would be disestablished, effective July 1.

Under this plan, the existing Forestry programs would continue to operate, but administrative and financial duties, including Forestry’s budget, would be moved under the jurisdiction of the Daniels Faculty. Financial aid would continue at current levels following the potential restructuring, as would Forestry endowments.

The restructuring proposal is motivated in part by the Faculty of Forestry’s projected long term financial unsustainability, and by the synergies between Daniels and Forestry programs.

Forestry Graduate Student Association (FGSA) Chair Nicole Tratnik urged the committee to reconsider the proposal because it does not meet students’ needs, but the proposal nonetheless received unanimous recommendation.

U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr said that restructuring Forestry would be “a unique moment when the discipline can be redefined within the context of the university and wider society, and where the new synergies and opportunities can be realized.” The proposal discusses this potential in research areas such as “bio products, landscape conservation, or mass timber use in building design and construction.”

Tratnik, however, believes the proposal is inadequate in its current form. “Forestry and architecture could be something novel and rewarding, but if done badly, could result in the loss of Canada’s oldest institution of Forestry, a pillar of higher education and research excellence at a time when Canada’s forests face unprecedented change,” she said.

Proposed Daniels budget

The proposal notes that despite managing a balanced budget, the Faculty of Forestry will not be financially sustainable in the long term. In addition to moving Forestry’s budget to Daniels, U of T would also provide an additional $1 million to its base budget “to support future collaborations amongst faculty members and the Faculty’s overall sustainability.”

Tratnik criticized the vagueness of the commitment and said that there is no guarantee this would be used to support Forestry directly. She also questioned U of T’s proposal to allocate this $1 million to Daniels, rather than allocating that money to directly support the Faculty of Forestry.

Under the proposal, the Dean of Forestry position would cease to exist, and Daniels Dean Richard Sommer would have administrative and budgetary responsibility for Forestry, “including responsibility for faculty budgetary appointments transferred from Forestry” and appointing a Forestry Program Director.

Criticism of consultation process

Following consultations beginning in March 2017, the proposal was formalized and released for consultation among faculty and staff in December. It was open for the minimum requirement of 120 days before it could go through governance.

While the report notes that “Forestry faculty members unanimously supported moving forward with a restructuring process,” Tratnik told the committee that this was misleading. She alleged that “three of the seven faculty members that did not agree were moved to other departments, and [that] the proposal wasn’t voted on by the Forestry Faculty Council.”

In response to a question about this issue from a PBC member, Regehr said that U of T’s faculty restructuring policy does not require it to obtain approval from affected faculty councils.

Tratnik said that U of T failed to incorporate the FGSA’s suggestion of making Forestry a high-level Extra-Departmental Unit under Daniels, which would grant it more administrative power to “keep Forestry’s interests intact.”

She added that U of T failed to explicitly communicate its intentions of establishing an urban forestry undergraduate program, and to clarify the status of cross-divisional teaching of current Forestry programs.

The PBC lost its quorum toward the end of the meeting, meaning that it could not approve its April 3 meeting report. Approval of the report has been moved to the first meeting of next academic year in September. Quorum is nine voting members — or one-third of its total voting members.

On May 30, the Academic Board voted to recommend the proposal, with 43 votes in favour, three votes against, and two abstentions.

Editor’s Note (June 7, 11:00 am): This article has been updated to include details from the Academic Board vote.

Save the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto

Moving the program into the Daniels Faculty will be detrimental to climate-change research

Save the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto

U of T is in the final stages of its plan to eliminate the Faculty of Forestry and move its staff, faculty, students, and programs into the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design as of this July. A news release from the university said that “The proposal would go through the governance process beginning on May 9.”

The abolition of the Faculty of Forestry as a standalone faculty is one of the worst ideas in U of T’s history. In an era of climate change, forests are the key to sustaining life on Earth. They sequester carbon, emit oxygen, filter precipitation, absorb rain, and protect ecosystems from erosion. We need forests. U of T should show pride in the Faculty of Forestry, and invest in it.

The Faculty of Forestry’s proud history began in 1907 as Canada’s oldest forestry faculty. Plaques displayed in the Earth Sciences Centre attest to the faculty’s men who gave their lives in World War I and World War II.

By the turn of the 20th century, settlers had cut down much of the forest on the Oak Ridges Moraine, and east to Northumberland County. The topsoil proved too thin to support agriculture and blew away, resulting in mass desertification and devastating annual floods in Port Hope and other communities.

Foresters knew what to do. They mobilized the government of Ontario to set up a network of tree nurseries across Canada. A massive, province-wide campaign to plant trees ensued. To this day, red pine plantations in a wide band of the northern GTA attest to the wisdom of this prescription. After the mass reforestation of the Ganaraska River Valley, the floods in Port Hope ceased. In 1968, Premier John Robarts planted the one-billionth tree: a sugar maple grown at the St. Williams provincial government nursery. Robarts also gave his name to the university’s flagship library.

Robert Wright was appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Forestry in July 2017. The university appointed him to abolish the stand-alone faculty, and he has worked hard to achieve that goal. During his first 18 months, the dean did not meet with forestry students as a group to discuss this goal or to solicit feedback. He held a town hall to discuss the restructuring only after the 34 students who enrolled in the Master of Forest Conservation in September 2017 had completed their course work and left the school.

Thus the assertion of the U of T provost, Cheryl Regehr, that “we are strongly committed to using these consultations to identify the best structure for forestry-related academic programs at the University of Toronto,” rings false.

In a recent open letter, my colleague Ben Filewod, a PhD candidate in forestry, spelled out some concerns over this transition. The Faculty of Forestry has gained recognition across Canada for its expertise in promoting the bioeconomy; for example, researchers have succeeded in making car parts out of nano-cellulose. Other research uses soil amendments to help forests, and other labs at U of T find new ways to defend forests from invasive species. One lab raises caterpillars who feed on invasive the dog-strangling vine.

Forestry companies and governments rely on the expertise of centres such as the Faculty of Forestry. A 2016 external review noted that “the University of Toronto’s program is designed to produce graduates qualified to move rapidly into research or managerial/policy-making roles.” Folding the faculty into a subordinate role in another faculty, with no dean to advocate on its behalf, risks reducing U of T’s leadership role in forestry research in Ontario. Schools in Quebec, New Brunswick, and British Columbia are ill-equipped to take its place.

Forestry overlaps with architecture in two areas: urban forestry and the use of wood in buildings and design. This leaves out, for example, the study of Ontario’s huge forested areas, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, and the boreal forest that covers most of the province and generates tens of thousands of jobs.

Large, healthy, contiguous, diverse forests are more vital than ever to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We need a dedicated unit at the University of Toronto to tell the government how to enhance and improve our forests. The U of T community must wake up and save its Faculty of Forestry.

Peter Kuitenbrouwer will graduate with a Master of Forest Conservation from the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto in June 2019.

U of T proposes joining Faculty of Forestry with John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

Forestry facing lack of resources, declining number of students

U of T proposes joining Faculty of Forestry with John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

The Faculty of Forestry could join the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design as of July 1, according to a new proposal that will go through the governance process in early May.

If passed, the change will endeavour to retain the forestry faculty as is, keeping all of the current staff and possibly expanding the faculty’s offerings in conjunction with Daniels. The proposal would not affect undergraduate course offerings.

Robert Wright, dean of the Faculty of Forestry, told U of T News that “combining the Daniels and forestry faculties will pave the way for more collaboration and interdisciplinary research.”

One of the main reasons behind the proposed change is the faculty’s lack of resources. It does not have its own undergraduate program and is unable to offer all classes every year.

The Forestry Graduate Students’ Association (FGSA) noted that it has been involved in the consultation process with the dean, and that it is organizing a town hall for graduate students to express their opinions.

“One of the main concerns to the students… is that the programs stay intact and we have been reassured that the programs will remain the same if this particular proposal were to come to fruition,” wrote the FGSA in an email to The Varsity.

There will be another round of consultations before the proposal enters the governance process, according to Cheryl Regehr, U of T Vice-President and Provost.

“Over the years, the number of students in the Faculty of Forestry has declined and so this is a way of being able to create new synergy and create new programs,” said Regehr.

She noted that an important area of collaboration between forestry and Daniels is urban forests, as well as “the way in which forest products might be used in architectural design.”

Blazes across Canada break historic records

Wildfires in Ontario continue a concerning trend of climate-related patterns

Blazes across Canada break historic records

Close to 13,000 square kilometres of land were scorched, blistered, and branded in British Columbia in 2018, and this year has set a new record for the largest area burned by fire in a season.

Even in Ontario, over 1,200 fires have broken out as of August 30, double the 10-year average for the province.

The number of fires and the damage that they inflict can vary over different seasons. But recent trends point to a worrisome pattern.

U of T Faculty of Forestry Professor Emeritus David Martell points to the worrying increase in the length of the fire season, saying that the science predicts the fire season will only get longer.

In a 2013 study, Martell and his colleagues reviewed fire seasons — the length of time from the first day of a reported naturally ignited fire to the last day that a fire is reported in a given year — from 1960 to 2009 in Eastern Ontario and Western Ontario and from 1961 to 2003 in Alberta. The fire season in Alberta lasted approximately 55 days longer.

Though less drastic, the fire seasons in Eastern and Western Ontario lasted around 15 to 20 days longer by the end of the 50-year period.

This points to a growing body of evidence that worsening global warming leads to longer fires and more disastrous fire seasons. There are now larger portions of each year when a wildfire can occur.

Prolific wildfires are not only confined to Canada, but also across the western United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Longer fire seasons and related trends are attributed to drier soil conditions, which have been linked to global warming.

The fire triangle is a simplistic explanation of the requirements for a fire: heat to ignite, fuel, and oxygen. While lightning provides the ignition for a fire, the vegetation on the ground acts as fuel.

Temperatures are notably progressing past historical norms, and a profound impact has been observed in the global water cycle. Warmer conditions increase the amount of evaporation from the soil and the ocean. The atmosphere can hold an excess of water at these elevated temperatures that would otherwise return to the surface as rain or snow. For certain vulnerable regions, the extra evaporation can lead to drier soil conditions that require much lower heat to ignite and provide suitable fuel for a fiery outcome.

As fires continue to rage, there are fire management systems in place for the allocation of resources to protect people and limit the damage wrought by such disasters. Tools such as the Fire Danger Rating System and the Fine Fuel Moisture Code provide information to the public and fire managers on the likelihood of fires in forested areas. Provincial wildfires services, such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in Ontario, monitor lands for and organize a response to observed fire events.

Martell, whose research focus is on forest fire management systems, notes that there are other programs being developed to improve the efficiency in the monitoring and management of wildfires.

However, management systems are analogous to a band-aid solution: they do not address the root of the problem.

As the effects of climate change worsen, the main concern is that there will be greater areas susceptible to wildfires. This increase will lead to the release of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the positive feedback loop of warming, drying, and blazing will continue.

Report on potential restructuring of Faculty of Forestry released

Document details student, staff feedback as second round of consultations open

Report on potential restructuring of Faculty of Forestry released

The second round of consultations related to the potential restructuring of the Faculty of Forestry began on October 5, when Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr published a report summarizing the results of the first round and opened the floor to comment on the report.

Concerns and suspicions remain among students, alumni, and administration from both the faculty and the broader university administration. In the first round of consultations, they were given the option to submit online written opinions, as well as meet with members of the administration to express their views on the issue.

Initial consultations on the future of the Faculty of Forestry ran from May 12 to July 4 after Regehr published a memo explaining the consultations in March.

Regehr’s report

The discussion paper is broken down into two sections: a summary of the feedback received and a range of questions and answers from during the discussions.

The Office of the Vice-President and Provost received 99 online submissions. Professor Elizabeth Smyth, Vice Dean, Programs of the School of Graduate Studies and Chair of this first phase of consultations, met with 79 various faculty members, students, staff, and alumni in 13 in-person consultation sessions.

A large variation of groups met with Smyth, including representatives of the School of the Environment and representatives from the Dean’s offices of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as UTM and UTSC.

Potential restructuring suggestions ranged from expanding the current faculty to closing the faculty altogether and transferring the programs into cognate units. Feedback from the online submissions as well as the face-to-face meetings stressed the importance of the Faculty of Forestry and listed its contributions to the overall field of forestry. In addition, both feedback outlets produced varying statements of concern over Forestry keeping its faculty status.

With the faculty and the administration having a history of discussing potential restructuring, the report mentions that “having been cast as ‘trouble makers’” in past discussions, the alumni are concerned with the fairness of the current process.

Stakeholders respond

Forestry Matters, an online group led by students Theresa Richlin, Annonciade Murat, and Basil Southey submitted a petition related to the consultations with 886 signatures at the time of submission on July 2. The introduction of the petition reads, “The Faculty of Forestry is at risk from inappropriate academic restructuring that could further restrict programs and operations and threaten the future of forestry education at the University of Toronto.”

Questions such as “How can consultations take place over the summer if some students are away?” and “How could the consultation take place without a Dean at the Faculty of Forestry?” were asked during the consultations and reflect the concerns expressed in this petition.

Current Dean Robert Wright took office immediately following Dean Mohini Sain leaving the post. Wright expressed his admiration of how openly the consultation process was carried out and stressed the importance of restructuring in order to “stay at the cutting edge” of forestry science. However, other groups involved did not share his optimism.

Marcin Lewandowski, Chair of the Faculty of Forestry Alumni Association, while impressed with how well the consultation paper balanced the opposing opinions on the issue, said that he took issue with the language used in the discussion. The language “insinuated that there’s a problem with the Faculty of Forestry, and to us, at least, it is an attempt to create a problem as opposed to a problem that exists.”

However, Lewandowski concedes that as long as the administration continues to recognize the importance of forestry science and ensures that there is a teaching staff to properly teach the curriculum, the alumni will be satisfied.

Southey, President of the University of Toronto’s Foresters’ Club, expressed disappointment, feeling as though undergraduate students have been overlooked. The consultations were completed during the summer, while many students were away working. Southey mentioned in an email to The Varsity that undergraduate students “had to struggle to be involved in the conversation,” claiming that the administration “made no effort to include undergraduate perspectives.” However, Southey still expresses hope that the administration will work to strengthen the faculty by increasing the resources available to the faculty.

The next step in the process is collecting and reviewing responses and comments to the report. Following the high volume of participation in early stages of the process, Regehr expressed her optimism on the outcomes of the discussions.

Regehr welcomes any comments or feedback on the discussion paper. “Everybody who wanted to voice an opinion and engage had an opportunity in the first stage,” she said. “They have an opportunity again now in the second stage.”