U of T professor missing in India since late September

GoFundMe started for search and rescue effort

U of T professor missing in India since late September

An assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Dr. Peter Wittek, went missing almost a month ago after being caught in an avalanche during a hiking expedition.

Wittek, 37, specializes in quantum-enhanced machine learning and applications of high-performance learning algorithms in quantum physics. He also serves as the academic director of Rotman’s Creative Destruction Quantum Program, which supports startups in the realm of machine learning and quantum computing.

Wittek set out with five others to climb the 7,120 metre-high Himalayan peak Mount Trishul in the Chamoli district, India. The Indian National Disaster Response Force received a SOS distress beacon from a fellow mountaineer from Wittek’s base camp at 5,700 metres on September 29.

Inclement weather forced authorities to delay their on-ground search, but a three person helicopter search eventually began a few days later on October 3, accompanied by another team of high altitude state mountaineers from the National Disaster Response Force.

“It’s been close to a couple of weeks now, and the search efforts are still ongoing, and sometimes the visibility is poor,” said Sriram Krishnan in an interview with The Varsity. Krishnan is a longtime friend and fellow adventurer who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with Wittek. “We’re also starting to be a little bit more pragmatic and thankful with the efforts that have been ongoing, but we also want to start celebrating what he’s done and who he was for all of us.”

Originally from Hungary, Wittek received his PhD in computer science from the National University of Singapore, and also has a master’s degree in mathematics. Having worked in China, Sweden, India, Japan, Spain, and Hungary, he is recognized as one of the leading researchers in quantum machine learning.

An avid mountaineer, Wittek has been climbing for over 10 years and boasts an impressive record, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, Mount Kosciuszko, Lenin Peak, and Mount Aconcagua in Argentina — which is the highest mountain outside of Asia.

Following his disappearance, friends and family immediately banded together to coordinate their resources and media outreach. Wittek’s family has been working hard to appeal to the Canadian and Indian governments for support in their search. Krishnan noted that “[authorities] have been very helpful in the coordination of efforts” and that they have received help from various Canadian entrepreneurs, as well as the University of Toronto.

Family and friends have also started a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #findpeterwittek to raise awareness of Wittek’s disappearance, with support from hundreds of colleagues and friends from around the world who have been touched by his indelible spirit.

A GoFundMe campaign was also started to “fund additional resources to help the search and rescue efforts” and “facilitate the travel and accommodation arrangements of his immediate family in or nearby the district of Chamoli,” according to the GoFundMe’s description.

The campaign was started on October 5 and has currently raised over $16,000 with donations coming in from all over the world.

“He has certainly met a lot of people, and everyone he’s met has certainly been enriched by his personality, his outlook and generosity, so it’s a testament to who he was as an individual,” said Krishnan, “We’re optimistic and hoping for the best.”

In the Spotlight: Dr. A.W. Peet

Non-binary, trans, disabled physics professor talks inclusivity in academia

In the Spotlight: Dr. A.W. Peet

Dr. A.W. Peet knows the importance of being seen.

A tenured physics professor at U of T who focuses their research on the subatomic structure of space-time, Peet is also a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. Being transgender, non-binary, and disabled, they have firsthand knowledge of the relief that finding a community in academia through sharing one’s experiences brings. 

Peet, who experiences chronic pain, described conversations with a fellow scientist who has a similar condition as “a bit like finding an oxygen supply.” They went on to say that “it meant that I felt like I could actually exist.”

Peet’s choice to publicly disclose their status as transgender and non-binary on their website was made in the hope that younger people could understand it was possible to be a professor whilst being part of both the non-binary and disabled communities. This was also the aim behind listing their name on the lgbtphysicists.org website’s “OutList.” Peet has had a number of students from Canada, the United States, and Europe write to them asking for mentorship, something they believe was only possible because they are one of the few publicly out non-binary physicists.

“If we know there’s someone a bit older than us, or a lot older than us, who is some of the same identities as us, we can figure, ‘Maybe there’s a place for me in this discipline,’” they said.

Peet recognized that having tenure before realizing they were transgender made the question of transitioning less fraught than it tends to be for tenure-track or non-tenured professors. Even so, Peet believes that some students and colleagues think less of them following their coming out.

Blatant transphobic harassment, however, reached a peak when Peet debated their colleague Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at U of T, on CBC News in October 2016. Peterson had vocally expressed his objection to Bill C-16, which sought to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. His stance garnered significant support amongst free-speech advocates and caused controversy both nationally and on campus. Critics noted that some of Peterson’s comments were transphobic and, at times, inaccurate.

Following the debate, Peet experienced severe online harassment that significantly deteriorated their mental health. They also noted that, to this day, conservative colleagues within their department are reluctant to interact with them.

“The amount of transphobic harassment I’ve had… as a consequence of being an out trans person in the last few years is more than all of the misogyny that I’ve ever experienced as a presumed woman in physics for over 20 years,” they said.

However, Peet received positive reactions from LGBTQ+ students on campus and the community at large. They have also seen an increase in requests to speak at various conferences and panels about being part of the LGBTQ+ community in STEM fields. Overall, Peet does not regret speaking out against Jordan Peterson. “I think it was because it was the right thing to do, and I try to be on the right side of history,” they said.

Peet also expanded on their call in the CBC News debate to live kindly, saying that more value should be placed on kindness and generosity of spirit in today’s society. They added, “Universities need to be academically rigorous, but we can still be really nice, decent human beings while we’re being academically excellent.”

Currently, Peet co-chairs the physics department’s Inclusivity Committee and also serves on the inclusivity committee for the Canadian Association of Physicists. They intend to continue their advocacy work until LGBTQ+ people feel as welcome as heterosexual and cisgender people on campus. However, Peet by no means claim to be an authority on all things related to inclusivity, and stresses that they are still working to educate themself.

“With the equity and diversity and inclusivity stuff, it’s not like a switch that you’re either switched on or completely clueless. It, like many things, is not a binary. I love smashing binaries,” they said.

U of T works because TAs do

How Bill 124 may reshape tutorial rooms and lives

U of T works because TAs do

University of Toronto teaching assistants (TAs) already find themselves stretched thin, but this may worsen if Bill 124, Premier Doug Ford’s new policy, comes into force.

Known as the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, Bill 124 would cap increases in public sector salaries and compensation by one per cent a year for all benefits of monetary value. This includes wages, health care insurance, child care support, and more, all without accounting for the current inflation rate of nearly two per cent.

Since TAs work for publicly-funded institutions, this would directly affect them. The Varsity interviewed three current TAs working for U of T to see what they thought about these policy changes and implications.

How Bill 124 will affect tutorial rooms

Jasmine Chorley Foster is a second-year PhD student in the Department of Political Science. She is also a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), where she is a representative for her department, speaking on behalf of TAs, course instructors, and other workers, usually PhD or Master’s students.

When asked about the trade-off between the Ford government’s claim that Bill 124 will save the public millions and the loss of potential benefits for employees in the public sector, Foster said that it isn’t a fair exchange.

“Why cut nurses’ wages, but not doctors’?” she said. “It’s not neutral cost-cutting, otherwise why would they discriminate?”

Beyond merely salaries, Foster also sees this bill as a barrier to union rights and negotiations.

“The other thing about Bill 124 is that it allows the government to interfere in collective bargaining, so even if the employer and the workers came to an agreement, the government could still intervene,” she said. “Even in a normal round of bargaining, we would have been able to come to an agreement with the university, but we will now be forced to take much less [of our demands] because of the legislation.”

Two major issues CUPE members are concerned with are student finances and living conditions.

“Everyone is facing financial constraints,” Foster said. “No one is shy about this — like how expensive rent is in Toronto — considering how little money we earn.”

According to Statistics Canada, in 2017, the low income cut-off in Toronto was defined as a salary of $25,338 per person, before tax. Though TA salaries differ by department, the base amount offered by the Faculty of Arts & Science is $17,500. In their funding packages, some TAs also receive tuition and fees. For example, certain graduate students in the Faculty of Arts & Science may receive $8,487. With these factored in, the total amount they are paid is $25,987 per year.

One way to afford life in such an expensive city is for TAs to acquire more TA positions, but this means taking longer to complete their thesis. Some graduate students end up taking seven or more years to get their degree.

Foster sees a future with Bill 124 as bleak. She believes it will eventually become a matter of what to cut, due to reduced funding. All sorts of support services, such as health insurance, child care, and more will be on the front lines.

As a parting thought, Foster noted that this fight extends beyond TAs.

“The biggest thing I want for the readership to understand is that this all will affect everyone at U of T,” she said. “[If TAs] are overworked, then we have less time to provide feedback, or give extra help, or meet outside of office hours […] That obviously affects how [students] are in tutorials [and] the quality of their work.

“All these things go together.”

“I could not even get a restaurant job”

Nonetheless, not all experiences are created equal. An international student at U of T, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of professional retribution, told The Varsity about her time as a PhD student in social sciences.

In her department, funding stops at the end of fourth year, and she has just started her fifth.

“TA-ships are my main [source of] income,” she said.

She went from working 300 hours in her fourth year, to 270 hours as a TA and 100 hours as a research assistant during her fifth.

She also voiced concerns about the difficulty of the process to become a permanent resident. She said that international students can be in precarious situations, citing the high costs, which can total to roughly $1,000 or more, and the lengthy procedure, which guarantees no expedient outcome.

“Very few people [apply for permanent residency] right away,” she said. “Some friends of mine needed to ask relatives and friends for money so that they could gather enough to apply.”

The question of financial stability doesn’t just impact her university life. Without a high enough salary, the implications could affect her living situation throughout her time at U of T.

“When I applied to U of T family housing, they [asked] to see financial records. So besides your TA income, they want to see your savings, to get evidence that you can pay rent for the next few years,” she said.

She considers herself lucky that she has the option to borrow from her parents.

“There are people in my department who don’t have such a resource. As an international student, my work permit only allows me to work on campus, so I could not even get a restaurant job,” she said.

However, the magnitude of her stress isn’t limited to her.

“The financial stress you have also affects your family. If you have to borrow money from your parents, they won’t refuse if they have the capacity, but that brings an extra burden to the family,” she said.

The stress over making ends meet, while balancing a heavy course load is an untenable situation that she acknowledges can prime students for mental health issues.

“The financial pressure that comes from the PhD program is interconnected with the kind of pressure that a foreign student faces if they cannot get [permanent residency]. If they don’t have the funds to finish, they may be forced out of the country. The whole education and immigration system creates this sense of precarity for students,” she said.

“I think there are mental health implications to this. Even from the first year, you start thinking of whether you can finish in time, before the funding runs out.”

To her, the problem is “We have all these unrealistic benchmarks in my department. They send emails on a regular basis, telling you that you have failed to reach these benchmarks, so you are reminded all the time that you are basically a failure. And then you are asked why you take on these extra jobs since you need to focus on your studies, but you need to take them on because you don’t get enough funding [so] that you can focus on your PhD research.”

“You are caught in this dilemma.”

Thoughts on the future

Some students are fortunate to have won major external scholarships, such as James ‘Billy’ Johnson, a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Department of English. However, even with substantial university funding and support, he understands that many people’s financial situations are still dubious.

“I know from friends that it can be a real struggle, especially to those who entered grad school with substantial debt from student loans from their undergrads,” Johnson said. “None are incurring more debt, but those who did not get an external scholarship certainly had to be more frugal just to survive.”

A significant concern to Johnson is the skyrocketing living costs.

An article published in EEB Quarterly stated that on average, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology students on a yearly income of $19,500 spend 61 per cent of their yearly income on rent, given that rent is $992.50 per month. This figure is double what is considered affordable.

“To hear that we are spending upward of 60 per cent is shocking to me, but [also] not shocking. Even with substantial funding, my biggest cost was rent,” Johnson said. “I found out that my apartment was $200 more [than before] just within a six month period.”

Nearing the end of his time as a PhD candidate, Johnson is thinking of the future. It’s difficult to save up any substantial amount of money during a degree that can take six years or so to complete, in addition to the rising costs of living in Toronto.

TA positions are a significant source of income for students who are limited by their course load, their immigration status, or other factors preventing them from securing another job. The threat that Bill 124 poses is to these students’ livelihoods.

“I don’t think there’s any genuine care for future generations, especially since the funding cuts increase class sizes [with] cuts to the number of teachers,” Johnson said. “Ford talks about creating ‘sustainable’ funding structures for future generations. I [find] that laughable.”

In conversation with Rini Sharma

Rotman MBA student talks media, entertainment, technology

In conversation with Rini Sharma

Among students making their mark in the field of business is Rini Sharma, part of the Rotman School of Management and a member of the Rotman Entertainment & Media Association. The Varsity caught up with Sharma to discuss her experience as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) student.

The Varsity: What does your role in the Rotman Entertainment & Media Association entail?

Rini Sharma: I’m currently serving as Vice-President External for the Entertainment & Media Association at Rotman. My role involves building relationships with industry leaders and connecting them to our student community at Rotman through the medium of events and other platforms.

TV: What kind of work does the Rotman Entertainment & Media Association do?

RS: The Entertainment & Media Association at Rotman is working on bridging the gap between MBA students and Toronto’s growing media and entertainment sector. Our goal is to help students identify and create opportunities for themselves in a manner which combines their business skills with their passion for the media and entertainment sector.

To do this, we planned various events over the 2019–2020 school year which will provide students with hands-on skill-building through case competitions, as well as networking opportunities through our industry night event, set to be held later in the year. And, last but not least, I’ve been lucky enough to produce and host my own personal project with the club, the Rotman Thoughtcast, which is Rotman’s upcoming official podcast series.

TV: What are some of the productions you’ve worked on?

RS: Prior to starting at Rotman I was working at Shaftesbury, a leading Canadian media production company, as a development and production analyst. I’ve worked on several major projects, including CBC’s most highly-rated program Murdoch Mysteries, CBC’s Frankie Drake Mysteries and Netflix’s Slasher. I was also involved in Hudson & Rex from Citytv and Shaftesbury’s latest drama series Departure, from GlobalTV, in their early stages of development.

TV: What or who has been your greatest influence in starting a business career?

RS: My dad, who has taught me the values of integrity, persistence, and relationship-building in the world of business.

TV: When did you think to combine two seemingly-different fields of technology and business?

RS: While I’ve always been curious to learn about new technologies, it was only after I joined Rotman that I observed how emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, are disrupting several different industries besides media. Moreover, I spent my summer interning at a tech accelerator, which made me realize how important it is to have a viable business strategy in order to grow and scale new technologies.

TV: How has your experience been, managing your education while also managing your career?

RS: The MBA program is a huge time commitment which essentially requires you to work on academics and career simultaneously, since day one. It hasn’t been easy. However, I love a good challenge and I’m enjoying every bit of it.

TV: How do you think an MBA has prepared you for your field?

RS: Aside from the core academic learnings, my experience in the MBA program has enabled me to enhance my time management, leadership, and communication skills — and that shall go a long way in any field!

TV: What has been your experience in media been like?

RS: In my experience in the media industry, I’ve been lucky enough to work in an environment where I was mentored by strong women leaders. That being said, it is still an evolving space for a woman of colour to be in. There’s a long way to go before we, as the audience, start perceiving stories about Mindy Kaling as anything other than a factor of her immigrant experiences.

TV: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

RS: Finding and carving my own unique niche within an institute full of 650 bright and ambitious minds.

TV: What are some tips that you have for anyone pursuing a career in business?

RS: For anyone wanting to pursue an MBA, I would recommend knowing your own personal goals before choosing a particular school or stream. In the world of business, I think it is very important to have an open and flexible mind in order to be successful in today’s globalized economy. Always strive to expose yourself to different experiences, people, and cultures.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This profile is part of an ongoing series to highlight women in business.

Remembering Dr. Jay Keystone

U of T professor’s life profoundly impacted residents, colleagues through quality education and influential research

Remembering Dr. Jay Keystone

Dr. Jay Stephen Keystone, a travel and tropical medicine specialist at the Toronto General Hospital and a professor of medicine at U of T, passed away from cancer while surrounded by family on September 3. He was 76 years old.

He is remembered fondly for his empathy and frequent use of humour as he trained residents, treated patients, and worked with colleagues through difficult days in the hospital.

“When people found out he had passed away, there was an outpouring of love and support from people all over the country and even worldwide,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a close friend and colleague of Keystone, to The Varsity.

Bogoch recalled that Keystone fostered a working environment “where you don’t really recognize that it’s work, because you’re enjoying yourself too much.”

“He’d always be smiling and enjoying life along the way,” even on days with heavy workloads, said Bogoch. “That’s one thing I certainly picked up from him.”

Keystone’s empathy in medical education

Dr. Sumontra Chakrabarti, who is now an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners, recalled his time working with Keystone as a resident for three years. He recounts those years as some of the “most enriching” of his career.

He wrote to The Varsity that Keystone was a “very outgoing, friendly and warm individual” with a “larger than life presence.” He attributed Keystone’s personality in large part to his “amazing sense of humour, that made everyone around him smile.”

“From a resident’s standpoint,” continued Chakrabarti, “any room Dr. Keystone was in, was one guaranteed to be relaxed, jovial, and a place where you would leave knowing much more than when you walked in.”

“It was because of him [that] I have pursued my special interest of tropical infections within my infectious diseases practice,” wrote Chakrabarti. “The type of clinician I am today is in large part my efforts to emulate the type of physician he was.”

Dr. Christopher David Naylor, the former president of U of T, also commented on the empathy of Keystone’s mentorship style, which sharply contrasted the approach that other medical educators used at the time.

“What stood out is that he was humble and kind to his students and residents at a time when, frankly, some of the older clinical teachers were into ritualized humiliation as a mode of instruction,” wrote Naylor.

Naylor also recalled one incident from Keystone’s education that he would never forget.

It involved Keystone teaching medical students that Ascaris lumbricoides infections could be almost asymptomatic. This means that, in Keystone’s words, on many occasions the only “presenting symptom of the patient [would] be horror.’’

“Why?” Keystone would ask rhetorically, “Well, how would you feel if you defecated and found a large worm wriggling in the toilet bowl?”

Keystone’s impact on clinical research

Reflecting on Keystone’s research, Naylor highlighted how he brought the Canadian medical community’s attention to the implications of globalization on the spread of infectious diseases at a time when its impact was not widely recognized.

Keystone graduated as a gold medallist in the U of T Medical School’s class of 1969, and conducted postgraduate work and fieldwork on multiple continents. He returned to Toronto in 1977 to found and lead the Tropical Medicine Unit at the Toronto General Hospital.

His legacy includes more than 200 scientific papers and textbook chapters that he co-authored, a premier travel medicine textbook he wrote as a senior author, and the organizations he was a part of, including the International Society of Travel Medicine where he served as president.

In 2015, he received the Order of Canada for his contributions to tropical and travel medicine.

But despite Keystone’s stature, wrote Naylor, “Jay himself often said that his greatest professional accomplishment was to teach himself out of a job.”

In an article published in May, co-authored with twin brother and rheumatologist Dr. Edward Keystone, Dr. Jay Keystone encouraged those reading “to think about the people who made an impact or provided you with mentorship, and how you can pay it forward to others.”

This fits with Dr. Jay Keystone’s approach to education. In Naylor’s words, Keystone was “involved in inspiring, recruiting, and educating literally hundreds of postgraduate medical trainees.”

“Those individuals, practising all across the country and all over the world, along with his beloved family, are Jay’s living legacy and most important gift to the world.”

Incoming pharmacy faculty dean withdraws from position over summer

Wasan and co-authors failed to cite passages taken from an earlier book review

Incoming pharmacy faculty dean withdraws from position over summer

This past year saw both exciting announcements and alarming uncertainty coming from the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. U of T unveiled their pick for the next pharmacy faculty dean in July 2018. Less than a year later, in June 2019, its new hire, Professor Kishor Wasan, had withdrawn from his appointment.

A book review in The Lancet, co-written by Wasan, who was a Professor and Dean of the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan, was found to contain “substantial passages” from another review of the same book.

The article, which was titled “A check-up on Canada’s health system,” has since been retracted due to its similarity to a review written by André Picard, a reporter and columnist for The Globe and Mail. Both Picard and Wasan wrote reviews on Danielle Martin’s book Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians.

Wasan was slated to become U of T’s newest Dean and Professor of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy for a five-year term, meant to serve in his role from July 1, 2019 until June 30, 2024. However, in a statement made to The Varsity, university spokesperson Elizabeth Church confirmed that Wasan had voluntarily withdrawn from his upcoming position following The Lancet’s retraction of his book review.

The retraction notice published by The Lancet in May does not explicitly allege that any plagiarism took place. This may be due in part to Wasan’s explanation that he and his co-authors credited Picard in earlier drafts of their review, but that the citation was removed without appropriate modifications to the text.

He contends that the citation was dropped in order to accommodate more of his and his co-authors’ perspectives. However, due to an accidental oversight, no additions were made to replace Picard’s ideas.

Speaking to Medscape Medical News, Wasan admits that he is “partly responsible,” but maintains that he and his co-authors “did not intend to deceive.”

Wasan was also previously the Chair and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia, where he co-founded the Neglected Global Diseases Initiative, a body meant to develop interventions for infectious diseases of poverty.

Wasan will not be returning to his original position as Professor and Dean of the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan. His term officially ended there in June 2019.

Professor Lisa Dolovich, who teaches at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, will serve as Interim Dean for a one-year term.

Wasan did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Government think tank assessing education faces criticisms of questionable research methods, lack of transparency

“Now is the time to shut down HEQCO,” reads faculty coalition press release

Government think tank assessing education faces criticisms of questionable research methods, lack of transparency

A leadership crisis is currently wracking the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), a government agency that evaluates the postsecondary education system in Ontario. The high-level resignations of its board members and President Harvey Weingarten in August are giving rise to criticisms, which are further fuelled by earlier accusations of questionable research methods. 

In an August 20 press release, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), a non-profit organization that advocates for the interests of faculty in Ontario universities, called for the dissolution of the HEQCO, claiming “now is the time” as the organization currently has no president.

The OCUFA accused Weingarten of hypocrisy in his recommendations to cut pensions while he himself has a $4.5 million public pension fund. The HEQCO recently held a series of consultations where it suggested that faculty should not be able to collect a salary and pension at the same time, as well as encouraged faculty to retire at the age of 65 for cost-cutting purposes.

“They put out this ridiculous report in which they said that faculty salaries and pensions are one of the more critical issues facing the sector in postsecondary education in Ontario, without really even mentioning that Ontario has the lowest per capita per student and funding vis a vis GDP in the country,” said Michael Conlon, Executive Director of the OCUFA.

HEQCO’s Research Methods

In 2018, the HEQCO completed a series of studies which claimed that around 25 per cent of graduating postsecondary students in Ontario scored below “the minimum required for graduates to perform well in today’s work world.” The test aimed to measure “literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking,” looking specifically at whether graduates have the skills to succeed in the workplace.

University Affairs (UA) called the HEQCO’s skills assessments “a good example of cargo cult policy research,” meaning that their studies are not conducted according to the proper scientific method. UA criticized the HEQCO for using a non-representative study to support broad claims about the effectiveness of postsecondary education in Ontario.

As noted in The Globe and Mail, “students volunteered or were recruited for the studies, and therefore the sample was not random or representative; nor were the same students tested at the beginning and end of their schooling.”

“They’re in essence drawing really kind of political conclusions from their data, creating this kind of exaggerated sensibility around learning outcomes,” said Conlon.

The OCUFA also criticized the HEQCO for a lack of transparency regarding their relationship to the government. “We feel like they’ve essentially become more of a political organization, rather than an independent third-party policy think tank, which is what they were originally designed to do.”

Another of the OCUFA’s criticisms of the HEQCO is their support of the usage of performance metrics in postsecondary education. Ontario announced plans earlier this year to tie 60 per cent of provincial funding of universities to performance indicators by 2024–2025.

According to Conlon, performance metrics “really undermine the system because they set up these arbitrary artificial measures that really have absolutely nothing to do with quality or student experience.” Additionally, they “distract from the real problems with this system, which is underfunding, cuts to OSAP… [and] a variety of other real challenges.”

“I think what HEQCO sets up is this kind of illusion of an independent, transparent organization, which it’s not, it’s just an agency of government. So that’s why we’re calling for that $5 million to be put back into OSAP.”

The HEQCO has declined The Varsity’s request for comment at this time.

Faculty coalition says new performance-based provincial funding model will increase inequality

Funding model doesn’t encourage improvement, but will punish failure, says OUCC

Faculty coalition says new performance-based provincial funding model  will increase inequality

Since Doug Ford assumed the office of the Premier of Ontario last year, his government has made significant changes to education at all levels. One of these major changes arose in the Ford government’s first provincial budget: the decision to tie a large portion of the funding for universities and colleges to a set of performance indicators, as opposed to enrolment numbers.

In a public statement by the Ontario Universities and Colleges Coalition (OUCC), union and student leaders alike are pushing back on this move, claiming that it will “fundamentally compromise the integrity of Ontario’s higher education system.”

Renewed Strategic Mandate Agreement

The current Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) between the provincial government and the province’s 45 publicly assisted postsecondary institutions will expire on March 31, 2020. SMAs are bilateral agreements that dictate how much the provincial government will provide in funding to these institutions over multi-year periods. While previous SMAs only tied a very small proportion of university funding to performance, the current Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities plans to increase that amount significantly.

By the 2024–2025 academic year, performance-based funding will increase incrementally from 1.4 per cent to 60 per cent in a move that Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Ross Romano claims will make Ontario a “national leader in outcomes‐based funding.”

In a statement to The Varsity, Romano wrote that these SMA bilateral discussions with university and college leaders will begin this fall to determine the specific performance metrics. Under the expiring SMA, U of T’s performance metrics are currently tied to student experience, innovation, research impact, and access and equity.

OUCC Statement

The OUCC, a coalition which represents 435,000 postsecondary Ontario students, faculty, and staff, alongside the 11 other signatories of their public statement, oppose these changes categorically. They list it as yet another attack on Ontario’s postsecondary education system, following years of stagnant public funding and cuts to student financial assistance.

The signatories argue that withdrawing funding from universities and colleges who fail to reach their targets will not encourage improvement, but will actually “ensure institutions fall further behind.”

Among a long list of predictions for how this new approach to performance-based funding will affect education, the OUCC notably claims that it will give rise to increased inequalities across all universities and colleges. Particularly  it will hurt northern and smaller postsecondary institutions, accelerate the corporatization of campuses as private funding becomes increasingly important, and generally compromise the autonomy of Ontario’s schools. In terms of students, they argue it will decrease access to education for those who are marginalized, as admissions requirements will change to best accommodate new metrics.

In an email to The Varsity, Romano wrote that he is “dedicated to making Ontario’s postsecondary education system more competitive and better aligned with labour‐market needs, while operating transparently and efficiently.”

Contrarily, the OUCC claims that Ford’s changes will “do nothing to improve accountability, as Ontario’s universities and colleges already have comprehensive structures in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs they offer.”

Further, they argue that performance-based funding won’t improve labour market outcomes, as this system will prepare students for the labour market of today, but not for the one they will enter upon graduation. The statement’s signatories include Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario, Felipe Nagata; President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, Rahul Sapra; and President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Chris Buckley, among others.