Don't opt out: click here to learn more about our work.

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.

Uncertainty looms over Forestry’s identity ahead of final vote on closure today

Stakeholders weigh in on faculty’s impending restructuring under Daniels

Uncertainty looms over Forestry’s identity ahead of final vote on closure today

Governing Council will issue a final vote today on U of T’s proposal to disestablish the Faculty of Forestry and restructure it as a graduate unit under the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. The vote follows recommendations by the Planning and Budget Committee and the Academic Board, as well as an endorsement by the Executive Committee. If approved, Canada’s first forestry faculty will close on July 1, after 112 years of operation.

The university administration and the deans of Daniels and Forestry all maintain that, despite the faculty’s probable disestablishment, Forestry programs and research would continue as usual under Daniels. However, the Forestry Graduate Students’ Association (FGSA) and Forestry faculty members and alumni have criticized the proposal for its perceived failure to ensure that Forestry would still retain its distinct identity, a concern they say was brought up during the university’s consultation periods. The University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Arts & Science Students’ Union have additionally expressed concerns over the proposed disestablishment.

The root of the problem

U of T opened the Faculty of Forestry in 1907. At the start, the faculty endured a strenuous relationship with the U of T administration, which stunted its early ambitions, according to history professor Mark Kuhlberg. This issue was punctuated by Bernhard Fernow, the faculty’s inaugural Dean, who, in his 1912 report, wrote, “…it cannot be said that the Faculty has reached a permanent form”.

Since then, the faculty has continued to face issues of instability and, at times, volatility. In 2018–2019, it had the third-smallest attributed revenue of U of T’s 20 divisions and was home to just five tenure-stream faculty members and 122 students. In its restructuring proposal, the university notes that these factors indicate that, despite posting balanced budgets, the faculty is not financially sustainable.

Following stagnation within the faculty and ongoing informal discussions, the university hosted a consultation process in 2017 that would act as the source of its current proposal. The consultation considered a number of possibilities for Forestry’s future, including maintenance of the status quo, closure, expansion, and a merger with another division.

U of T opted to pursue the final option.

Sowing the seed

On July 1, 2017, the university appointed Robert Wright — the Director of the Daniels’ Centre for Landscape Research — as the Dean of Forestry. Wright was given a two-year term ending June 30, 2019. If the university’s proposal succeeds, that would also be the last day of Forestry’s existence as a faculty.

“I took the position because I believed… that forestry programs needed to continue at the University of Toronto,” Wright wrote to The Varsity. “The Faculty of Forestry was in serious trouble, and if it continued as such, it would quickly cease to exist. Our academic mission was paramount. We needed to focus our efforts on the long-term sustainability of existing programs, faculty renewal and new program initiatives.”

Following consultations, the university administration and Wright deemed that Daniels would be the best fit for Forestry, given that both are professional faculties and that there are numerous potential avenues for interdisciplinary research between the two. The proposal highlights “areas of bio products, landscape conservation, or mass timber use in building design and construction” as examples.

Daniels is also a more secure faculty than Forestry. In 2018–2019, its attributed revenue was $26.8 million greater and it had 22 more tenure-stream faculty members and 1,346 more students.

According to Daniels Dean Richard Sommer, the faculty only formally entered discussions regarding Forestry’s restructuring in November 2018, one month prior to the proposal’s first draft release.

The draft’s release in December then triggered a mandatory minimum 120-day consultation period, after which a final draft was released and entered formal governance, beginning with the Planning and Budget Committee meeting on May 9. There, U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr said that restructuring Forestry under Daniels 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.”

Indeed, the FGSA and Forestry faculty members and alumni all agree that restructuring under Daniels can be beneficial, but only with additional provisions. 

The consultation trail

The restructuring proposal notes that by the time Daniels entered formal discussions, “Forestry faculty members unanimously supported moving forward with a restructuring process that would move forestry activities into Daniels.”

However, FGSA Chair Nicole Tratnik said that this claim and the proposal misrepresents Forestry. In an interview with The Varsity, she clarified that some Forestry faculty members had left the faculty in the past few years and, while they did not wholly oppose restructuring under Daniels, nor did the university force them out, they felt that they would be more productive in other faculties.

Tratnik also noted that the proposal wasn’t voted on by Forestry’s faculty council. U of T’s academic restructuring policy does not require it to receive approval from either the affected or destination faculty’s council. Instead, it requires “potentially affected Academic Units [to] have had a reasonable opportunity to participate in a collegial, inclusive and deliberative process.” While Daniels’ faculty council provided a vote of confidence in the proposal, there was still opposition from remaining Forestry faculty members. Nonetheless, the university deemed this requirement to have been met.

While Tratnik said that Wright has been willing to meet with Forestry students, some of the FGSA’s concerns regarding the proposal draft were not addressed when U of T released its final draft in April.

Seeing the forest for the trees

In March, the FGSA sent a letter supported by 34 Forestry students to the university, asking it to clarify its intentions of establishing a distinct identity for Forestry, maintaining Forestry program accreditation, and continuing Forestry’s endowments.

The university addressed all these concerns to varying degrees of detail when it released the proposal’s final draft in April. It clarified the continued administration of endowments and communicated that the Master of Forest Conservation would remain an accredited professional program despite Forestry’s shift from a faculty to a graduate unit.

Maintaining Forestry’s identity is a decidedly more complex matter that the various stakeholders do not see eye-to-eye on. 

In a bid to ensure that Forestry maintains a degree of administrative and financial autonomy, the FGSA is requesting that Daniels recognize Forestry as a higher-level Extra-Departmental Unit (EDU). 

According to U of T, EDUs are “flexible and multidisciplinary entities organized around emerging research and teaching areas that span disciplines.” An example is the School of the Environment, which is an EDU:B under the Faculty of Arts & Science.

At this time, U of T has not communicated a stance on Forestry’s potential establishment as an EDU under Daniels. In an interview with The Varsity, Regehr wrote, “The program could evolve over time after the restructuring has taken place, but it would need to come about as a collegial process at Daniels.”

Sommer, however, believes that establishing Forestry as an EDU under Daniels contradicts the FGSA’s desire for a distinct identity due to EDUs’ multidisciplinary nature.

“How is it that Forestry would have its own EDU without forging it together with [Daniels] around our interdisciplinary interests?” Sommer told The Varsity. “[The FGSA’s] primary concern is a way for Forestry to have an identity… and some independence as a discipline within our faculty, which they will have [as a graduate unit.]”

According to Wright, “The main concern for [Forestry members] is to ensure Forestry programs are promoted and have a distinct identity if moved into a larger faculty… I believe this proposal [addresses] that concern and we can continue those discussions at Daniels.”

While the Faculty of Forestry’s 112-year history will likely soon come to an end, the rebuilding process of the Forestry community’s identity is set to begin in earnest.

Editor’s Note (June 26, 2:07 pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote from Sommer on Forestry and Daniels’ interdisciplinary interests.

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.

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.”