Student concerns about mental health policy demand the administration’s full attention

Recent events surrounding the mandatory leave policy should spur the university to better prioritize the student voice

Student concerns about mental health policy demand the administration’s full attention

The most recent draft of the controversial University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy was withdrawn last week in what many have classified as a resounding victory for the dignity and respect of students struggling with mental health issues at U of T.

Having been in the works for the past few years, the policy allows for students struggling with mental health issues to be placed on a non-punitive leave of absence from their studies, under circumstances in which their mental health is ruled to negatively impact their studies or to present a physical threat to themselves or others. The originally proposed draft of the policy was met with widespread concern from students and campus organizations, prompting Governing Council to delay the final vote on the policy’s recommendation pending further feedback and revisions.

The status of the policy currently remains uncertain. In light of the concerns raised, the university may choose to reintroduce a revised draft in the future — and it is fortunate that being sent back to the drawing board provides optimal opportunity for reflection. When it comes to mental health on campus, the past months have demonstrated that students will not back down if they feel their needs are not being met.

University-mandated leaves of absence are currently governed using the Code of Student Conduct. It should be acknolwedged that, in contrast to the existing measures in the code, the University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy is intended to be non-punitive; unlike measures adopted under the existing framework, it does not result in a punitive mark being added to a student’s record.

Nevertheless, much of the criticism of the policy has centred on its potentially discriminatory treatment of students with mental health issues. The Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) weighed in to this effect in December 2017, expressing the opinion that it does not meet the legally mandated duty to accommodate the OHRC’s Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability and the Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addiction. The university, according to the OHRC, is required to take all steps to accommodate those with disabilities “to the point of undue hardship.” Despite these concerns, the Academic Board approved the most updated draft of the policy at the end of January, prompting the OHRC to request another delay on the policy’s progression.

It is disconcerting that the OHRC’s intervention appears to be the tipping point in the university’s final decision. The OHRC’s insistence that the policy could possibly be in contravention of Ontario human rights law — and therefore a legal liability — finally incentivized the administration to reconsider. In comparison, the numerous, repeated, and profound concerns raised by students and campus organizations over the better part of this academic year apparently did not provide sufficient impetus to substantially revise the policy in a way that could meaningfully accommodate their concerns.

A profoundly inspiring grassroots movement has formed in opposition to the policy, bringing together students from across the three campuses. The St. George Round Table, representing the student heads of colleges and undergraduate faculties, sought out concerns from students to streamline the feedback process. Petitions opposing the policy were circulated by Students for Barrier-free Access and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The U of T Graduate Students’ Union Executive Committee came out against the policy, and students from iStudents for Mental Health united to present a panel discussion reviewing the tenets of the policy. Online, students gathered in a Mandatory Leave Policy Response Group to present a line-by-line breakdown of the policy and compile student criticism.

The ultimate outcome of the draft being withdrawn would not have been possible absent the hard work of these organizations and of all the individuals involved. But despite the overwhelming amount of feedback the administration has received in this regard, the amendments to the policy remained nominal. Of the 14 concerns raised by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) with respect to the policy, only three were ultimately addressed by the time the most recent draft was completed.

Firstly, the word ‘essential’ was added to Section 1.c.21 of the policy to narrow the scope of the “activities” with which the student’s mental health condition could be ruled to interfere. Secondly, in response to a concern that the policy’s invocation would disproportionately impact international students given their enrolment-dependent immigration status, an amendment was made to provide students with access to a Student Immigration Advisor “where appropriate.” Finally, a provision was added to ensure the university’s compliance with the Personal Health Information Protection Act, which outlines the guidelines for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal health information in Ontario.

Much of the rest of the policy remains exactly the same, and numerous issues have been left unaddressed. The policy contains no explicit requirement for the involvement of medical professionals in the process and places the power to make these determinations in the hands of the Vice-Provost Students. While health professionals have the training to properly and accurately assess mental health issues and determine the extent to which students’ lives may be affected by them, the same cannot necessarily be said for members of the administration who do not receive this training.

Concern has also been raised that the vague language of the policy poses limits to student autonomy by granting overbroad powers to the administration. Students’ ability to stay in school, as well as to return to their studies if they are placed on leave, falls entirely under the discretion of the Vice-Provost Students. Any appeals must be made within 15 business days of the decision to the Discipline Appeals Board of the University Tribunal. The Senior Chair will hear and make a final decision on the appeal.

Finally, in a sad twist of irony, a policy intended to relieve mental health stressors may actually cause even greater distress by potentially forcing students in already precarious situations to take time off school. At a competitive institution like U of T, assignments can pile up after just a day of neglect, so prospects like falling behind by a semester or more, or being unable to complete one’s degree, can be harrowing. It is hardly an uncommon occurrence for mental health related stressors to interfere with students’ studies at U of T — the highly pressurized atmosphere is often considered to be a disturbingly ordinary part of the student experience.

To its credit, the administration has maintained that the policy is non-punitive and meant to be exercised in students’ best interests. Nevertheless, a number of the policy’s provisions have sparked monumental and understandable resistance from the student body, centred on fears that it will work to unduly marginalize some of the most vulnerable people on campus. If the university truly wants the policy to work for students, it is vital that it be receptive to their concerns moving forward — only then can it begin to develop a meaningful solution to addressing mental health issues on campus.

Now that the policy is once again at the drawing board, the university has the chance to issue a more meaningful response.

U of T can be a deeply isolating place, and a comprehensive approach to addressing mental health on campus is sorely needed here — such a policy has the potential to be a progressive addition if implemented in a way that is designed to serve those to whom it applies.

Fortunately, the past months have demonstrated the passion students at this institution have for supporting one another through mental health struggles. And while we hope that any future drafts of this policy will address its current flaws in a way that is more sensitive to students’ concerns, we know students will continue to push for change if these efforts fall short.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Cost of deferred maintenance at U of T drops slightly from last year

UTSG’s delayed repairs rise to $478 million

Cost of deferred maintenance at U of T drops slightly from last year

 

The university’s annual report on deferred maintenance reveals that the total cost of repairs required on U of T’s buildings is $549 million, down $2.5 million from last year. The cost of deferred maintenance represents the amount of money in repairs that the university is delaying, typically as a cost-saving measure.

The majority of the liability for this year is at UTSG, which accounts for $478 million, up by $4 million since last year. About five per cent of this figure — approximately $24 million — represents deficiencies that must be addressed within the next year, while approximately $287 million represents deficiencies that must be handled in the next three to five years.

UTSC’s deferred maintenance repairs this year totalled $42 million, down $2 million from last year. UTM accounts for $29 million of the total cost of deferred maintenance, down $4 million from last year’s figure.

The report also stated that the university’s combined facility condition index (FCI) — a number obtained by dividing the cost of repairs required by the cost of replacing the building — stands at 13.4 per cent, higher than the 11 per cent the Council of Ontario Universities last reported in 2015, but 0.5 per cent lower than last year. If an FCI is over 10 per cent, then repairs are needed.

The FCI of the 10 buildings at UTSC is 11 per cent . The 14 buildings at UTM have a combined FCI of 6.7 per cent.

UTSG’s FCI currently stands at 14.7 per cent, down slightly from last year’s 15 per cent. Of the 101 academic and administrative buildings audited for the report, 71 were classified as being in poor condition.

The report also noted that the majority of UTSG buildings were built post-war and have lower construction quality than pre-war buildings and modern, complex buildings on campus. These post-war buildings tend to require a “fundamental renewal of building systems.”

The report also pointed out that the combined internal and federal funding is “approaching” the roughly $28 million needed to reduce the FCI to 12 per cent within 10 years at UTSG. According to the report, the university “can maintain and even start to improve the condition of our academic and administrative buildings [at U of T]” with this funding.

The document also detailed changes to be made to how the deferred maintenance figures are assessed, including shortening the auditing frequency from every seven years to every five years, incorporating costs associated with professional services and consulting fees, and providing more accurate building information.

U of T forecasts $391 million in annual net income, according to new CFO report

Debt expected to rise above $1 billion due to capital projects

U of T forecasts $391 million in annual net income, according to new CFO report

U of T is expected to report a net income of $391 million for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2018. This income shows a decrease of $26 million from last year’s $417 million, according to a report from Chief Financial Officer Sheila Brown to the Governing Council’s Business Board. Net assets are projected to be approximately $5.8 billion, increasing by $313 million from 2017.

The report details revenue, expenses, net income, and net assets for the university. It was prepared using a combination of forecasting methods, including projection to April 30 using current year-to-date figures and estimation based on trend analysis of prior years.

Key assumptions made in projecting these numbers are a 5.4 per cent investment return, an $84 million endowment payout, $100 million in divisional savings, and $444 million in capital asset additions, or property.

Revenue and deficits

Based on the report, U of T’s revenue should be $3.36 billion this year, principally generated through a projected $1.57 billion in student fees. Expenses are forecast to come in at $2.97 billion, meaning U of T is making and spending a little more than it did last year, based on totals of $3.22 billion in revenue and $2.8 billion in expenses from 2017.

A deficit of $95 million is projected for 2018. Last year’s report projected a deficit of $93.9 million, but the actual deficit came in at $59 million.

The deficit is comprised of a $43 million operating fund surplus, with $35 million more in tuition fee revenue earned than in budgeted due to international undergraduate enrolment, $5 million in utilities savings, $4 million in additional government grants, and $3 million in investment returns.

An unrestricted deficit of $138 million in other funds is attributed to the internal debt component of the university’s debt program. These will be repaid over a longer period of time.

Debt projections

U of T places its outstanding debt at $1 billion, whereas its debt policy limit, or the amount it can borrow, stands at $1.5 billion. The Business Board approved $1.26 billion in allocations, which includes borrowing and contingency for donations, targets, and pledges, leaving $241 million remaining for future allocation throughout the next four months.

The annual debt strategy review states that debt “primarily supports capital projects and pensions.” Over the next five years, the review estimates that approximately $560 million of additional debt will be needed for capital projects that have not yet been approved by the Business Board but that are under consideration.

Some of these capital projects include a second instructional centre at UTSC, renovations to some Arts & Science buildings at UTSG, and the Landmark project to renovate front campus.

“In assessing the appropriateness of a debt strategy, we considered the need for debt together with the need to remain affordable, and for debt servicing to continue to be financially responsible,” reads the Debt Strategy Review.

By April 30, 2023, the debt policy limit is projected to increase to $1.85 billion to accommodate these new capital projects. Moody’s Investors Service gave U of T an Aa2 credit rating, which is unchanged from recent years, meaning U of T fulfils its financial commitments and repays the money it borrows in an effective and timely manner.

The Breakdown: Governing Council

The structure and role of Governing Council in the lives of students

The Breakdown: Governing Council

Governing Council elections will run from February 5–16, and campaigning is already underway. There are 47 student candidates running for eight seats. With the elections coming up, here is a breakdown of how Governing Council works and how it affects U of T students.

Evolving history

U of T was previously governed by a senate and a board of governors, but the University of Toronto Act of 1971 merged those two bodies into one: Governing Council.

The University of Toronto Act stipulates that members of Governing Council and its boards and committees must put the interests of the university first, regardless of the constituency they represent.

More recently, the Task Force on Governance, established in 2007 by former U of T President David Naylor, established six themes by which Governing Council would shape itself: Oversight and Accountability – Quality of the Governing Council’s Meeting Agendas; Overlap/Duplication, Deficiencies, Ambiguities – Board and Committee Mandates; Delegated Authority for Academic Divisions – Lack of Clarity, Inconsistency; Delegated Authority in the Tri-campus Context – Levels of Oversight and Accountability, Redundancy; Quality of Governors – Experience Mix and Representation; and Roles of and Appropriate Interfaces between Governors and the Administration.

Structure

Governing Council’s role is to oversee academic, business, and student affairs. Its composition is based on the five ‘estates’ of the university: government appointees, teaching staff, alumni, administration, and students.

The council is composed of 50 members — U of T Chancellor Michael Wilson and President Meric Gertler are members by virtue of their positions. Sixteen members are appointed by Lieutenant Governor-in-Council Shirley Hoy, and two are appointed by Gertler. Thirty members are elected: 12 teaching staff, eight alumni, two administrative staff, and eight students. Of the eight student members, four are full-time undergraduates, two are part-time undergraduates, and two are graduates.

A series of boards and committees are part of Governing Council, though not all board and committee members are Governing Council members. The three main boards are the Academic Board, the Business Board, and the University Affairs Board. Students sit on all three boards, and the various committees are beneath them.

The Academic Board handles matters affecting the teaching, learning, and research functions of the university. It establishes priorities and objectives, plans initiatives, and determines how to effectively use resources in the interest of academic progress. There are 123 voting members of the Academic Board: 88 teaching staff; two elected librarians; four administrative staff; six “lay members,” who are alumni or government appointees to Governing Council; 16 students, four who are elected members of Governing Council and 12 who are appointed by the Academic Board’s striking committee; four voting assessors selected by Gertler; and the President, Chancellor, Chair, and Vice-Chair of Governing Council.

The Business Board is made up of 27 members, including two students. It oversees policy regarding funding, student fees or ancillaries, and approves Hart House’s operating plan. Governing Council’s website describes the Business Board’s responsibilities as “ensuring that resource allocations are responsible and cost-effective, and approving policy and major transactions in the business-management of the University.”

The University Affairs Board is also made up of 27 members, including nine students. It is responsible for non-academic policy that concerns quality of student and campus life. It appoints six members to the Discipline Appeals Board, while the other six members are appointed by the Academic Board. It handles policy involving campus security, childcare, co-curricular programs, and university-wide campus issues at UTSG. Ceremonials, equity issues, community relations, representative student groups, use of the University of Toronto’s name and incidental fees also fall under the purview of the University Affairs board.

Student candidates for Governing Council positions released

Seats to be hotly contested in February elections

Student candidates for Governing Council positions released

 

The candidates for this year’s Governing Council elections were released on January 17, with a total of 47 candidates running for the eight positions the council reserves for students.

Governing Council is U of T’s highest governing body in charge of managing the university, including its properties and assets. Its powers include setting tuition fees and deciding on policies like the mandatory mental health leave.

There are 28 students running for the two Constituency I positions, which represent full-time students in the Faculty of Arts & Science, UTSC, and UTM.

The two seats for part-time undergraduate students were claimed by Susan Froom and Mala Kashyap. Froom is the current Vice-President Internal at Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), and has been a member of Governing Council since 2014; Kashyap is the President of the APUS and currently serves on Governing Council’s Academic Board.

The students running for Constituency I undergraduate seats are: Hussain Ali, Tejbeer Bhullar, Tyler Biswurm, Julia DaSilva, Academic Board member Arina Dmitrenko, Georgia Dryden, Elizabeth Frangos, Serena J. Gu, Edie (Yi Yi) Guo, Nicholas Heinrich, UTSU Vice-President University Affairs Adrian Huntelar, Carl Kersey, Mascha Kopytina, Audrey Lee, Jingjing Liu, Blair P. Madeley, Price Amobi Maka, former St. Michael’s College Director Georgina Merhom, Aidan Mohammad, Maha Rahman, James Rasalingam, Sukarmina Singh Shankar, Tasnia Syeda, Yousra Tarrabou, Tiger Wu, Leon Zeliang Zhang, Yufei Zhang, and Alan Zheng.

The students running for the two Constituency II undergraduate seats for students in professional faculties are Ramz Aziz, Chetanya Choudhary, Joshua Humphrey, Litos Li, Zhenglin Liu, Hanna Singer, Tom Sutherland, Twesh Upadhyaya, and Hanya Waleed Abdelgabbar Wahdan.

Liu currently serves on Governing Council’s University Affairs Board. Upadhyaya is currently a member of Governing Council as well as a member of the Academic Board.

There are five candidates for the single graduate student Constituency I seat, representing those studying humanities and social sciences: Emily Clare, Harry Orbach-Miller, Igor Samardzic, Yasseen Tasabehji, and Wales Wong.

There are three students running for the graduate student Constituency II seat, representing physical and life sciences: UTSU Associate President Nathan Chan, Sandhya Mylabathula, and Sabrina Sen.

The campaign period is January 22 to February 16. The elections are set to run from February 5–16. The students elected will serve year-long terms.

Disclosure: Nathan Chan served as the Photo Editor at The Varsity from May 2016 to April 2017.

New Bachelor of Information program pending approval from Governing Council

Interdisciplinary degree will combine social science, humanities, computer science

New Bachelor of Information program pending approval from Governing Council

 

A new two-year Bachelor of Information (BI) degree program at the Faculty of Information may begin in September 2019, pending approval and confirmation by Governing Council’s Academic Board and Executive Committee, respectively. The proposal was positively reviewed by the Academic Policy and Programs Committee of Governing Council on January 11.

The new BI program at the Faculty of Information, also called the iSchool, will be a two-year second-entry professional undergraduate degree program consisting of 11 credits. Students are expected to apply during their second year of first-entry undergraduate studies.

The BI will combine social science, humanities, and computer science to tackle the study of a data-intensive society. According to the proposal, “Students will study how data is generated, exchanged, transformed, deployed, and used, and the way that these processes mediate and are mediated by cultural, legal, economic, and technical structures and institutions.”

Its point of difference from other iSchool programs is its broad focus on three core areas: techniques of digital practice, how information practice is organized at many social and political scales, and information, power, and culture. The proposal also notes a strong focus on social justice.

Wendy Duff, a professor and Dean of the iSchool, said that the BI will mix lectures, studio courses, and a practicum. “You’re learning skills, but you’re also reflecting on what you’re learning in those large classes,” she said. “Then you take that knowledge and skills that you learned and then you go do another course.”

Duff said that the practicum part of the program will give students real workplace experience as they head into their second year. A large focus of the program is giving students both the theoretical and hands-on knowledge that will prepare them for employment in fields such as web publishing, interactive media design, and business. As the proposal states, “We aim to produce graduates who can not only understand, but also make and do.”

The structure and design of the new program relied on feedback from students, external reviewers from two different universities, and faculties like Arts & Science and the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.

The university plans to accept 25 students at first, increasing the number admitted per year to 100 in 2023. At the moment, the university is in the process of searching for two teaching stream positions and one tenure stream position. The faculty is also developing scholarships and bursaries specific to this program.

The proposal will go before Governing Council’s Academic Board for approval on January 25 and the Executive Committee for confirmation on February 6.

Ryerson Students’ Union condemns U of T’s proposed mandatory leave of absence policy

VP Equity calls policy “shameful”

Ryerson Students’ Union condemns U of T’s proposed mandatory leave of absence policy

The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has passed a motion to co-sign a letter condemning U of T’s proposed university-mandated leave of absence policy. The policy has already stirred up controversy at U of T.

Hollie Olenik, an RSU board member from the Faculty of Communications and Design, introduced the motion at the November 23 Board of Directors meeting.

The proposed leave policy, in its current format, would allow the university to put students whose mental health issues pose a physical threat to themselves or others, or impact their academics negatively, on a non-punitive yet mandatory leave of absence. The proposed policy is distinct from regular mandatory leaves. Students in this situation would currently be placed on leave in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct.

At the meeting, Olenik called the policy “damaging,” adding, “I would not be this riled up about it if it wasn’t this important.”

The RSU’s co-signer of the letter is RyeACCESS, the university’s centre for disabilities.

“The employees [at RyeACCESS] wrote a letter of solidarity and support for Students for Barrier Free Access and asked if I would help get the support of the RSU,” said Olenik. “I thought that the policy was an important one to speak out against and brought the motion forward.”

Regarding why the RSU board condemned an action at another university, Olenik said, “I think it’s important as a board member to advocate for all students, regardless of which institution they attend. A policy [like this] as always has the potential to be adopted by the Ryerson administration.”

Ryerson University does not currently have a mandatory leave of absence policy. Lauren Clegg, Media Relations Officer at Ryerson, declined to comment on the RSU’s motion or U of T’s leave policy.

Susanne Nyaga, President of the RSU, wrote to The Varsity, “Historically we have seen one University adopt a policy and similar policies pop up on other campuses. This policy does more harm than benefit to students who are facing mental health issues and if this were adopted at Ryerson the impact would be devastating.”

Nyaga said that although the RSU primarily represents Ryerson students, “it is not odd for us to stand in solidarity with students, especially marginalized students.”

Camryn Harlick, Vice-President Equity of the RSU, decried the policy as “shameful,” adding that “this policy is extremely ableist and as a mad identifying student [it] is scary to think that an institution could decide whether or not I am capable of staying in classes.”

Mathias Memmel, President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), said, “What the RSU does and doesn’t do has no bearing on the UTSU’s position. We remain opposed to the policy without the amendments we’ve proposed.”

University begins search for new Chancellor

Three-year term set to begin in July 2018 as Wilson leaves post

University begins search for new Chancellor

U of T’s Chair of the College of Electors posted a memo earlier this month seeking nominations for the university’s next Chancellor. The Chancellor is one of the most senior positions at the university, representing U of T in formal situations both at home and abroad and bestowing degrees on students.

The new Chancellor will ideally begin their term on July 1, 2018, after the completion of Michael H. Wilson’s tenure on June 30. Wilson has served the maximum two-term, six-year tenure permitted by the University of Toronto Act of 1971. The new Chancellor will be elected for an initial term of three years.

The College of Electors, a body established by Governing Council, is responsible for officially appointing someone to the position. The body is a group of 48 U of T alumni who represent the 27 alumni groups that are part of the University of Toronto Alumni Association.

Members of the College of Electors serve as liaisons for their respective alumni associations and are expected to update their associations throughout the year with news about the college.

Before the College of Electors can appoint someone, a search committee will first decide on a nominee to recommend to them. The committee consists of U of T President Meric Gertler, Chair of the Governing Council Claire Kennedy, and executive members of the College of Electors, including Chair Geeta Yadav, Vice-Chair Oliver Jerschow, UTM alumnus Kevin Golding, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education alumna Tracey King, and Faculty of Information alumna Alison Stirling.

The position profile for the Chancellor, established by the search committee, states that they are looking for a “distinguished person with a record of demonstrated excellence in their chosen field and in service to the community.” The Chancellor is expected to have a strong public presence, well-developed relationship-building skills, as well as to have demonstrated passion for U of T and a commitment to inclusivity. The Chancellor must also be a Canadian citizen.

Nominations for the position will be solicited until the committee makes a recommendation to the College of Electors. Nominations are made via a form found on Governing Council’s website.