U of T responds to allegations of student handcuffed by campus police

Vice-Provost declines to comment on reports, says campus police are trained in “de-escalation”

U of T responds to allegations of student handcuffed by campus police

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

At the University Affairs board meeting on November 13, Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh was met with questions about the recent allegations that a student was handcuffed by UTM Campus Police while seeking help during a mental health crisis. Welsh declined to comment on the specifics of the case but clarified that such instances would be separate from the university-mandated leave of absence policy, and also defended campus police training.

Allegations

According to an article in The Medium, later reported by the CBC News, a U of T student sought help for suicidal ideation at the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC), and was handcuffed when the the HCC called campus police on the evening of October 2. 

The student arrived at the HCC with a friend and developed a safety plan with a nurse. Before she could leave, she was informed that it was protocol to speak with campus police. The student was then handcuffed and arrested when she disclosed that she was having suicidal thoughts. 

The Varsity has yet to independently verify the reported allegations.

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) condemned the decision by the HCC to call the police. “The UTMSU believes that this student should have been approached with care and compassion, not handcuffs,” reads the press release.  

University responds at UAB

Responding to a question from full-time undergraduate member Daman Singh, the former Vice-President, Internal of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and an advocate for the UMLAP, Welsh declined to comment on the details reported in the two articles, but did say that the mandated leave policy was about concerning behaviour and that it would be irrelevant in a situation where a student is being taken to the hospital. 

Welsh, along with UTM Dean of Student Affairs and Assistant Principal, Student Services Mark Overton, reiterated that police are there to assist in extreme cases and work in accordance with the province’s Mental Health Act.

In response to a member questioning the “authority and knowledge” of campus police to “put people in handcuffs,” Welsh replied that campus police officers are trained in de-escalation and work closely with the health and wellness offices of the three campuses.

A university spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Varsity, “Campus police become involved when an individual makes specific statements that indicates they have an intention to do harm such as suicide and are unwilling to go to the hospital.”

“U of T is reviewing its police practices in this respect. Our existing practices are consistent with those of local municipal forces.”

Community responses

The UTSU endorsed the UTMSU’s statement, writing that they “stand in solidarity,” and described the incident as an “injustice.” Other campus organizations including the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students and the U of T Students’ Law Society also supported the statement. 

Spadina—Fort York MPP, Chris Glover, condemned the incident, writing: “What is the state of our services on campus if students looking for mental health support are turned away and led in handcuffs.” Glover also criticized the Ford government for removing services and thereby creating barriers to success for postsecondary students. 

UTSU President Joshua Bowman weighed in with a tweet asking “What university can stand by a protocol that actually “arrests” a student seeking help”? 

Diana Yoon, former federal candidate for Spadina—Fort York, described the traumatic experience of being sent to the emergency room “without any reasonable discussion” after seeking help for mental health issues from a guidance counsellor while in high school. Yoon declared that it is “outrageous to see this now from UTM.”

This story is developing, more to follow.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

U of T campus groups call for ombudsperson’s public apology

University-mandated leave of absence policy at the crux of backlash

U of T campus groups call for ombudsperson’s public apology

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

Following a contentious Governing Council meeting on October 24, U of T student groups have released strong condemnations of U of T Ombudsperson Dr. Ellen Hodnett’s remarks on mental health activism. The student groups criticize Hodnett’s expressed support for the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP) as well as her comment that activists have unfairly used recent apparent suicides on campus to criticize the policy.

The comments have prompted the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the U of T Mental Health Policy Council (MHPC), a newly created advocacy group, to call for Hodnett’s public apology and open discussions on her removal.

Background on the UMLAP

The issue arose when Hodnett presented her report on the UMLAP. The controversial policy, approved in June 2018, allows the university to place students on a leave of absence if they exhibit severe mental health problems that the university feels pose a potential risk of serious harm to themselves or others. The policy is only meant to be used after all other accommodations have been exhausted.

The UMLAP was passed amidst fierce opposition from students and has been the subject of continued criticism. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released an open letter in the run up to the policy’s approval, expressing its concern about how the UMLAP could “result in discrimination on the basis of mental health disability contrary to the Human Rights Code.” The policy was revised after the OHRC’s letter but students remained firmly in opposition.

This policy was specifically recommended by the Office of the Ombudsperson. In her role, Hodnett reviews university mandated leave cases.

Hodnett’s report

Hodnett addressed the Governing Council following statements on campus mental health from student representatives. She expressed how proud she was of the UMLAP, saying that it provides “extreme care, diligence, respectfulness, and compassion” to the students whose cases have been reviewed under the policy.

She maintained that the policy is evidence-based and fair, in opposition to the continuing resistance toward the policy, which she asserts is based on misinformation.

In an email to The Varsity, Hodnett specified that she sees this misinformation being widely circulated via social media. Her concern is that students will be deterred from seeking help under the UMLAP due to its widespread online criticism and encourages “everyone to actually read the Policy.”

During the Governing Council meeting, the comment that perhaps drew the most ire from students was Hodnett’s claim that recent campus deaths have been used as a “vehicle to link students’ purported fears of seeking mental health services with the mandated leave policy.”

Online statements

Immediately following the Governing Council meeting, the UTSU released a statement criticizing Hodnett’s remarks, followed closely by a statement published by the MHPC in solidarity. Both called on Hodnett to issue a public apology.

The UTSU condemned Hodnett’s comments for being “offensive” and “belittling.” It sees this as an example of the university administration not listening to its student body.

In a direct address to Hodnett, the UTSU wrote, “The fact that you told those at this meeting that you are ‘proud’ to be part of a policy that has been criticized by the Ontario Human Rights Commission and has served as an active detriment to students seeking mental health support on this campus, speaks volumes about your views on listening to us.”

The MHPC, in its statement, found Hodnett’s comments to be delegitimizing for students with mental illness and their lived experiences. They see the UMLAP as institutionalizing “U of T’s right to force a student experiencing mental illness to lose their student status, services, and housing.”

Campus groups speak out

UTSU President Joshua Bowman and other members of the UTSU said that they were so appalled by what they heard from Hodnett that they began writing their online statement during that very meeting.

In a written statement to The Varsity, Bowman went on to laud the efforts of student activists in fighting for better mental health services and found Hodnett’s remarks to be disparaging against the good work that has been put into advocating for support from the university.

“There is a mental health crisis on our campus and the fact that Dr. Hodnett stated that students grieving the loss of a classmate and community member are doing so in a politically motivated manner against UMLAP is a testament to the dispassionate nature of our university.”

Bowman’s disappointment isn’t solely reserved for Hodnett. He claimed that other meeting attendees, including some in administrative positions, were smirking and dismissive of the statements presented by student representatives at the beginning of the council meeting.

The UTSU’s official position on the UMLAP is that it is a damaging policy. In response to Hodnett’s claim that students have created a culture of fear surrounding the policy, Bowman instead posits that the fear on campus comes from the policy itself.

He claims that this fear is “perpetuated by a policy that saw little to no student consultation and ultimately makes students scared to go to Health and Wellness to seek the care they require.”

In addition to calling for an apology, Bowman wouldn’t find it unreasonable for the university to look into whether Hodnett is suited to her role as ombudsperson in light of her comments.

The MHPC took issue with Hodnett’s statements in part due to her role of ombudsperson — an independent and impartial position meant to ensure that the rights of U of T community members are protected.

“Hodnett’s annual report accuses dedicated mental health advocates on campus of spreading misinformation and intentionally exploiting recent student deaths — a partial and wildly insulting charge to level at the university’s students,” the MHPC wrote in an email to The Varsity.

For the MHPC, its top priority is “to see the UMLAP undergo a drastic rewrite or be repealed entirely.” It places high importance on ensuring that new policies are developed alongside students in order to “remove the structural and implicit barriers that prevent students from seeking help.”

University and Ombudsperson’s response

In a statement to The Varsity, Hodnett affirmed that she stands by her every word.

She wanted to remind members of the U of T community that “the Policy went through extensive consultations and was approved at every level of governance, with active involvement by students throughout, before it was implemented.”

Even though students were consulted throughout the approval process, opposition to the policy contends that this consultation was not meaningful. Indeed, students had criticized the timing and accessibility of the consultations in the lead-up to the policy’s approval one year ago.

Doubling down on the comments made during the Governing Council meeting, Hodnett claims that there is no evidence that the UMLAP is a harmful policy. In fact, she says there is evidence to the contrary — and that the UMLAP is doing “just what it was intended to do.”

According to U of T, the policy has been used eight times in the last year and the university says that in “almost all of the cases” the student affected by the policy has returned or is in the process of returning to classes.

However, it has acknowledged that considerable concern exists regarding the policy.

“We’ve heard students’ concerns that the policy could discourage individuals from using the supports available through the university and we are working to counter the perception that seeking mental health support will somehow trigger the leave process.”

It reiterated that the policy is only meant to be used when other accommodations have been found to be unsuccessful. The university claims that, “this policy is not intended to be punitive, and our experience with the policy demonstrates that.”

Mental health dominates first Governing Council meeting of the year

Presidential address, ombudsperson report, Spadina-Sussex residence were discussed

Mental health dominates first Governing Council meeting of the year

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

Governing Council’s first meeting of the academic year on October 24 was dominated by discussions of mental health, as student representatives were invited to speak on the topic. Representatives from the U of T Mental Health Policy Council, a newly-created advocacy group, were also in attendance at the meeting, though they were not given speaking rights.

The meeting also included the president’s address, the ombudsperson’s report, discussions on the planned Spadina-Sussex residence, and the Landmark Project.

Presidential address

The meeting began with President Meric Gertler’s address, which touched on the recent federal election and mental health. He noted that the university is working with the provincial government to outline the performance metrics that will be increasingly tied to U of T’s funding. On mental health, Gertler said, “We’ve heard from those who say that we have not done enough, and we welcome suggestions on how we can do better.” He pointed to the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, as well as the Expert Panel on Undergraduate Student Educational Experience as actions that the university has already taken.

“U of T is well known for its culture of excellence and we take tremendous pride in that,” wrote Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regher in her report on mental health. “You’ve just heard about our wonderful rankings, but our community has rightly reminded us [that] we also have to be mindful of the need to create a supportive community for one another.”

Mental health

Student representatives from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) all addressed the council. They shared many of the same demands, asking for more academic forgiveness, better access to counseling, and the repeal of the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP).

The UTSU’s Vice-President, Operations, Arjun Kaul, spoke on U of T’s competitive environment. “The culture of excellence that the university cultivates is what harms student mental health most,” said Kaul. He criticized the limited number of spots available for same-day counselling, and called for more funding to the Health & Wellness Centre, calling its wait times “abysmal.”

Joint speakers from the UTMSU and the UTGSU criticized the university’s fee structure, which places a financial burden on some students who take a reduced course load and recieve financial aid, and advocated for a course-by-course tuition structure.

A group of mental health protestors remained outside of Simcoe Hall for the duration of the meeting.

Report of the ombudsperson

The university’s ombudsperson, Ellen Hodnett, gave her report, speaking strongly in favour of the UMLAP.
“I was honoured to be asked to review the cases of the eight students to whom the policy was applied in its first year of implementation,” said Hodnett of the policy.

“I use the word honoured purposefully. In my 44 years here, I have never been prouder to be associated with the University of Toronto, seeing the extreme care, diligence, respectfulness, and compassion with which the policy was applied [in each case].”

She criticized the “misinformation” that she said is being “widely circulated…  to use the suicides as a vehicle to link students’ reported fears of seeking mental health services with the mandated leave policy.”

After the meeting, the UTSU released a statement asking Hodnett to issue a formal apology. The statement calls her comments on the UMLAP “offensive and wrong,” and says that they “serve as a way of belittling students and further [emphasize] the ongoing issue of the administration not listening to its students throughout the entire policy-making process.” It criticized her attitude as being demeaning toward the student protestors, and pointed out that a draft of the policy was criticized by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Hodnett also proposed recommendations from her role as ombudsperson. She suggested an ancillary fee system for students that are on a voluntary leave, which would allow them to access university services even though they are not enrolled in full or part-time studies.

Her last recommendation was on analyzing the nature of science labs as “fertile ground for harassment, bullying, and intimidation,” to which Regher responded that the university was undertaking a “Healthy Labs Initiative” which will provide resources for creating a positive lab environment.

Spadina-Sussex residence

UTSU President Joshua Bowman spoke in favour of the new residence that has been in the works since 2014, but ultimately urged Governing Council to consider “affordability and accessibility.”

“Many commuter students choose to commute out of financial necessity,” said Bowman to the council. “We can’t continue promoting the benefits of living in residence while failing to work toward financial options that are accessible to all students.” He highlighted the low amount of accessible rooms in residences across campus, even as the Spadina-Sussex residence is planned to have 44 accessible rooms — 23 dormitory rooms and 21 four-bedroom suites.

Members of the Governing Council expressed their desire for the university to plan for more than the known number of accessible spaces needed in order to create a welcoming environment for students with accessibility needs. The motion to approve the project in principle passed unanimously.

Landmark Project

Two motions were passed on the Landmark Project, a proposal which aims to make major changes to the landscape of the front campus area at UTSG to create a “greener, more walkable and accessible campus.” The first motion passed confirmed U of T’s commitment to the Landmark Project in principle, including the proposed below-ground parking lot. The second motion approved in principle, was a project for a geothermal system under King’s College Circle, which will conserve heat in the summer for use during winter.

Business Board reports $10.4 billion in total assets, $2.6 billion in endowments

Investment returns fall short of targets, endowment returns decrease

Business Board reports $10.4 billion in total assets, $2.6 billion in endowments

The Business Board of U of T’s Governing Council held its first meeting of 2019–2020 on October 7. The board received reports that total assets under management, individual endowment funds, and the total debt policy limit have all increased from last year.

Comprised of 42 members, the Business Board is responsible for monitoring the cost-effectiveness of the university’s investments and for approving its business policies.

Investment performance

Daren Smith, President and Chief Investment Officer of the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM), presented the semi-annual report on investment performance to the board.

UTAM manages the university’s pension funds, the Long-Term Capital Appreciation Pool (LTCAP), and the Expendable Funds Investment Pool (EFIP) on behalf of the university.

The LTCAP primarily consists of endowment funds, as well as some miscellaneous investments made by university-affiliated organizations. The EFIP consists of expendable funds, including “cash for operations, capital projects, ancillary operations, expendable donations, expendable payouts from endowments and research grants.”

Over the past year, the total market value of UTAM’s investments has increased by 6.4 per cent to around $10.38 billion. Of this amount, pension funds comprise $5.3 billion, the LTCAP accounts for around $3.1 billion, and the EFIP completes the remaining $2 billion.

In the first half of 2019, the actual returns of the three portfolios nearly matched their overall five-year benchmarks. All three portfolios have also exceeded UTAM targets for the half-year period.

Over a one-year period, pension and LTCAP actual returns have been at 3.8 per cent each, short of UTAM’s 6.1 per cent target. Return targets for pension and LTCAP are uniformly set at inflation plus four per cent.

Over both the half-year and one-year periods, the actual pension and LTCAP portfolio returns have underperformed against UTAM’s reference portfolio. A reference portfolio is a pre-established breakdown of passive and lower-risk investment allocations into different markets.

UTAM uses it as a comparison to its own active investment management strategy. Smith noted that this underperformance is the result of poorer private market investments. UTAM is not planning on making significant changes to its investment strategies.

Annual endowment financial report

As of April 2019, U of T has over 6,400 individual endowment funds, totalling $2.6 billion market value. This is an increase of about 140 individual funds and $89 million from 2018. Of this increase, $40 million comes from endowed donations and $154 million from investment income; $113 million is subtracted for fees, expenses, and spending allocation.

Each endowment has its own terms and conditions, which define the parameters of how the funds should be allocated and invested, as well as how the investment returns may be spent. The university cannot spend the original capital of donated funds; it can only spend investment returns from these funds.

Net investment returns of endowment funds were 5.2 per cent. This is less than last year’s 6.7 per cent return, and the average return over the last five years of 8.4 per cent. Endowments do not include those made to U of T’s federated colleges or affiliated Toronto School of Theology institutions.

Miscellaneous items

The board received a report on debt policy limit, increasing to $1.71 billion from last year’s $1.57 billion.

The board moved the “Other Business” item of the agenda to the top, allowing four students to address the board.

The students — Sarah Colbourn, Manny Dehan, Ellie Ade Kur, and Lucinda Qu — admonished U of T’s perceived lack of mental health resources and supports following a death at UTSG in September. The students urged U of T to invest more time and resources into mental health services and more open dialogue.

Professor Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity, told the students that the administration shared their concerns. She cited expansions of counselling services, the formation of a mental health taskforce, and an additional $3 million allocation to support student services.

Disclaimer: Michael Teoh previously served as Volume 139 Business Editor of The Varsity.

Who runs this place?

The hierarchical structure of the University of Toronto

Who runs this place?

When you walk on St. George street in the morning, seeing students and faculty rushing to their lectures or offices, you may wonder how this place keeps running. 

As a university with over 90,000 students and over 20,000 faculty members, U of T has developed a unique and complicated structure of governance over the past 192 years. 

The administrative system

The first thing you need to know is that the executive power in this university is shared by the Chancellor, the President, and the Governing Council. They play different roles for the same purpose — making U of T a better academic community, making essential decisions to guide its future, and ensuring that, above all else, we are ranked at least 25th worldwide, or God help us all.

The Chancellor: Dr. Rose M. Patten is an Executive in Residence, an adjunct professor in executive leadership programs at the Rotman School of Management, and a member of Massey College. She has served as the Chancellor of the university since July 1, 2018 for a three-year term. She also had a 30-year career as a senior leader in the Canadian financial services industry.

Apart from shaking thousands of hands at convocations, the Chancellor is responsible for serving as the university’s advocate in relations with government partners and others in the wider community.

The President: Professor Meric Gertler is the other person at the top of the governance structure and is Chief Executive Officer and President of the university. He joined the Department of Geography and Planning as a lecturer in 1983, served as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, began his first term as president on November 1, 2013, and is currently on his second.

He generally supervises over and directs the academic work of the university and the teaching and administrative staff under the University of Toronto Act.

The University of Toronto Governing Council (GC): The core of governance at the university is the GC and its Boards and Committees. The GC is formed by 50 governors, of which two are the Chancellor and the President, 18 are appointed, and 30 are elected. Some elected members include undergraduate, graduate, and part-time students. 

This council makes some of the essential decisions for the academics and livelihood of the student body, while also overseeing the academic, business, and student affairs of the university. Both the UTM and UTSC campuses also have Campus Councils which address campus-specific issues on behalf of the GC.

The college system

All students from Faculty of Art & Science (FAS) are registered in a college on campus. The colleges help students with academics, enrollment, and some even house students. 

The colleges owned entirely by the university are Innis College, New College, University College, and Woodsworth College. Federated colleges with their own board and buildings include St. Michael’s College, Trinity College, and Victoria College. 

Independent theological colleges form the Toronto School of Theology, including Knox, St. Augustine’s, Wycliffe, Regis, Emmanuel, Trinity and St. Michael’s. 

Faculties and Schools

There are in total 13 professional faculties and schools. They have independent academic systems and offer different programs for students. The largest faculty is the FAS with a 2017–2018 population of over 27,000 undergraduate students and over 4,300 graduate students.
The diverse range of professional faculties specialize in certain fields — for example, the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management specializes in business, and the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design specializes in architecture. Aside from its main St. George campus, U of T also has two satellite campuses: UTM and UTSC. 

Other organizations and groups on campus

U of T has no shortage of organizations and clubs on campus. Some of the most significant for student life include the University of Toronto Students’ Union, which is the largest student organization on the St. George campus, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, and Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students. UTM and UTSC have their own student unions, known respectively as UTM Students’ Union (UTMSU) and Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU). Student unions play a pivotal role in helping with rescheduling exams, student services, and advocating for students’ rights.

Business Board releases reports on financial statements, university operations

Alternative funding, gender pay gap equity also discussed

Business Board releases reports on financial statements, university operations

U of T’s 2018–2019 financial statements were approved and alternative sources of funding discussed in the the June 18 meeting of Governing Council’s Business Board. The meeting included reports on university operations and real estate holdings, human resources and equity, and faculty gender pay equity.

Chief Financial Officer Sheila Brown presented U of T’s financial statements to the board, saying that the university had achieved better financial results than what it had projected in January.

The university’s net assets grew by $507 million to a total of $6.5 billion. U of T has $809 million in reserves for necessary capital projects and infrastructure over the next few years. Its contractual obligations with external builders are valued at $576 million.

Brown called the university’s preference to fund capital projects with its own assets rather than through financing “very prudent.”

University operations

In his annual report, Vice-President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships Scott Mabury discussed the successes of his department, which encompasses several offices including Ancillary Services, Facilities & Services, and Information Technology Services. He also emphasized U of T’s ongoing work on the Greenhouse Gas Retrofits Program and cybersecurity, briefly floating the idea of working together with other universities to build a Canadian Security Operations Centre, not to “win the war,” but to “stay ahead” of bad cyber actors.

Mabury specifically highlighted the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, a future hub for artificial intelligence and biomedical innovation created through a $100 million donation in March. He referred to this as an achievement that showcased all aspects of the operations department, calling the media rollout a “beautiful example of managing a narrative.”

Mabury also discussed the development of the new student residence to be built at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue, which he said exhibited how challenging the development process can be at times. U of T reached an agreement with the City of Toronto last year to develop the residence, after first proposing it in 2013. Mabury said that the period from the beginning of the project to occupancy of the building will have been approximately 12 years.

Alternative funding

Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr presented a report of the Alternative Funding Sources Advisory Group. The group’s work is structured around what Regehr referred to as U of T’s core strengths: knowledge, real estate and physical infrastructure, and financial resources.

The report contains numerous recommendations for diversifying U of T’s income stream, ranging from developing joint undergraduate programs with a peer university, to investing in U of T startups. Regehr focused on recommendations related to the pillar of real estate and physical infrastructure, including expanding on the Four Corners approach to physical infrastructure that guides U of T’s expansion on all three campuses.

Gender pay equity

Regehr and Hannah-Moffat elaborated on the report of the Provostial Advisory Group on Faculty Gender Pay Equity, which was convened in fall 2016. One of the major findings of the report was that “on average, tenured and tenure stream women faculty at [U of T] earn 1.3% less than comparably situated faculty who are men, after controlling for experience, field of study, seniority, and other relevant factors.”

Analysis suggests that U of T’s 12 per cent raw overall difference between tenure-stream men and women is explained by the fact that, on average, these women have fewer years of experience and work in lower-paying fields of study. There is no statistically significant difference between salaries for male and female teaching stream faculty.

In her administrative response, Regehr announced that all female faculty who are tenured or tenure-stream at U of T will receive a 1.3 per cent increase to their base salary, effective July 1. U of T’s 834 eligible faculty were personally informed of this increase, which will cost U of T $1.8 million in the 2019–2020 fiscal year. This will be taken from the university’s central funds.

Other items

Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat discussed U of T’s smoke-free campus policy, noting that there have been no significant incidents since its implementation on January 1. She added that smoking on campus is not policed vigorously, contrary to previous concerns about enforcement of the policy.

The board also discussed the progress of the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre, which opened in 2017. There was discussion of the difference between disclosures and reports of sexual violence. Regehr noted that disclosures of sexual violence made to the centre are often incidents that do not involve a second member of the U of T community, and thus do not fall under university jurisdiction. According to the interim report on human resources and equity, the centre took steps to address 56 reports of sexual violence in the last year under university policy.

Disclosure: Reut Cohen served as the 2018–2019 Managing Editor at The Varsity.

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 still awaiting final guidelines on Student Choice Initiative

University Affairs Board passes fee increases for Student Life, KPE, Hart House

U of T still awaiting final guidelines on Student Choice Initiative

In anticipation of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh gave some of the first comments on the university’s progress on the issue at the University Affairs Board (UAB) meeting for March. The UAB also passed fee increases for Campus Life incidental fees, which include those for Student Life, the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE), and Hart House.

As the Senior Assessor, Welsh reported that the university is currently waiting on the provincial government to provide more details on the SCI before any determination of essential and non-essential fees can be made.

The SCI is the provincial government’s plan to implement opt-out options for “non-essential” student fees, which could see many student clubs and services lose a significant portion of their funding.

Welsh brought up the current loose guidelines given for determining which fees are essential, showing a slide from a presentation made by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU). The full presentation was obtained by The Varsity in early February and includes enforcement and rollout guidelines for the SCI.

The slide, titled “The Ancillary Fee Classification Framework,” listed athletics and recreation, career services, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, transcripts and convocation processes, financial aid offices, walksafe programs, student buildings and centres, and student transit passes as essential. Health and dental plans will also remain essential fees, while those with outside coverage can continue to opt out, which is in line with the current system for U of T.

Susan Froom, the UAB member representing part-time students, urged the university and Welsh to categorize as many fees as possible as essential.

Froom also raised concerns about how the SCI could impact Student Life, which provides services that could be categorized as non-essential, such as the Multi-Faith Centre, the Family Care Office, and the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office. Welsh replied that the university and her office do not have enough information about the classification process to provide further information, and are awaiting the final details from the provincial government.

Welsh also did not rule out the university centralizing or otherwise subsidizing impacted student societies when asked by another member of the UAB.

In a statement to The Varsity, TCU Ministry Issues Coordinator Ciara Byrne wrote that Minister Merrilee Fullerton had heard concerns from “many post-secondary students” about mandatory fees and that guidelines for the SCI would be released to institutions “shortly.”

The UAB also approved a 4.8 per cent increase for Student Life fees charged to full-time UTSG students, who will pay $164.24, an increase of $7.52 from this year. All fee increases must continue to move through the governance process and be passed by Governing Council before taking effect.

Senior Director of Student Experience David Newman also reported on Student Life, whose accessibility and Health & Wellness services would be considered essential. Newman explained that the administration would try to decrease reliance on student fees for Student Life programs and services, as additional staff had been hired this year.

The UAB also passed a $4.82, or 2.55 per cent, increase for KPE co-curricular programs, services, and facilities. Full-time students would pay $193.82 for services like U of T Sports & Rec, the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, Athletic Centre, Varsity Centre, and the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic.

Pending approval by Governing Council, students could see a fee increase for Hart House of $8.56, a 9.57 per cent increase totalling to $97.96.

John Monahan, Warden of Hart House, reported to the board that Hart House was preparing for its centennial celebration and would use the funds for continuing renovations in the Arbor Room, replacing the pool skylight, and increasing security.