Internal Commissioner pushed out by Graduate Students’ Union General Council

Alexandrova voted out of office, Executive-at-Large to take up duties until by-election

Internal Commissioner pushed out by Graduate Students’ Union General Council

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council pushed out Internal Commissioner (IC) Lynne Alexandrova at a meeting on November 26 after a vote to vacate the office of the IC.

The duties of the IC will be taken up by Executive-at-Large Maryssa Barras until a by-election in January.

Citing Article 9.1 of the UTGSU bylaws, the Executive Committee sent notice to Alexandrova that there were suspicions that she was not properly fulfilling her duties as Internal Commissioner in October.

In contradiction of the bylaws, Alexandrova did not circulate a report on her ongoing initiatives before an executive meeting on October 16, where the executive brought its concerns to her, although she told The Varsity that she had done so before the November 15 meeting. At the same October meeting, the Executive Committee resolved to hire a mediator to “address Executive Committee team dynamics and communication issues.”

A month later, at an executive meeting on November 15, Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto motioned on behalf of the Committee to hold an irregular meeting of the General Council on November 26, and to vote on the vacation of the IC position at that meeting, citing a failure of Alexandrova to fulfil her duties.

All members of the Executive Committee voted to pass the motion, except for Alexandrova who was absent due to an illness.

In an interview with The Varsity, Alexandrova contended that she was not given sufficient warning that this meeting would occur and did not have sufficient strength to “stand up to ungrounded anxieties causing confrontational measures.”

She believes that, had she attended the meeting, she might have stopped the Executive Committee from invoking Article 9.

The Executive Committee, in a statement to The Varsity, claimed that the decision to hold a vote on the IC’s office did not result from the explicit intention to vacate the office. Ultimately, the General Council and Board of Directors made the final decision on the matter.

Tensions had been growing between Alexandrova and other members of the Executive Committee for some time. Alexandrova alleged that she was ignored or avoided by other executives throughout her term and blamed a structural conflict between her own “pedagogical paradigm” and the existing culture among UTGSU executives as cause for the strained relationship — specifically, a culture that supported returning executives without room for outside or “different” perspectives.

Alexandrova claimed that the Executive Committee was out of order in using Article 9.1 of the UTGSU bylaws to hold a vote on vacating her now former office because she was not properly notified that she was not fulfilling her duties.

The bylaws require that the executive accused be allowed a platform to address the rest of the Executive Committee, and while this occured at the October 16 executive meeting, Alexandrova contended that she was not clearly informed that the Executive Committee sought to address her performance as IC at this meeting.

While accused of failure to adequately perform her duties, Alexandrova wrote to The Varsity that she sought to add “some creative, content contribution… [to] encourage content discussion about what the Union’s leadership should be about, and the Union.”

She continued that she believes the vote to vacate her position is part of a larger deconstruction of the IC position that has been ongoing for years, and that the UTGSU “might reach a point where student-elected executives don’t matter” — this is in reference to what Alexandrova saw as encroachment of the staff members, including the Executive Director, on the duties of the IC and the “corporatization” of the UTGSU.

Editor’s note (December 3, 3:34 pm): This article originally stated that former UTGSU Internal Commissioner Lynne Alexandrova circulated a report on her ongoing initiatives before an executive meeting on October 16 at which the executive brought its concerns to her. In fact, she did not. The Varsity regrets the error.

Editor’s note (December 3, 5:50 pm): This article has been updated with additional context on the motion passed by the Executive Committee on November 15 to hold an additional meeting and vote on the vacation of the Internal Commissioner position on November 26.

Wellness Portal established to help graduate students find resources, services

Mental health services, academic support, supervisor relationship tips included

Wellness Portal established to help graduate students find resources, services

The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) collaborated to create a Graduate Wellness Portal to provide information on the resources and services available for graduate students.

Through this portal, graduate students can find mental health services, academic support, and resources to assist with supervisor relationships. The website also includes a directory of U of T and Toronto community resources, student-supervisor resources including a supervision tip sheet, and a list of frequently asked questions.

Luc De Nil, Acting Dean of Graduate Studies, said that the SGS and UTGSU are hoping that the portal will allow students to “avoid situations where stress has impacted them so much that they run into difficulties with their academic work because we all know that early intervention, early support is the best way to support our students.”

UTGSU Executive Sophie McGibbon-Gardner said that the UTGSU feels that “this is a good resource to help graduate students navigate these issues, especially in the wake of the mandated leave of absence policy.”

The recent passing of the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy allows U of T to place a student on a non-punitive leave if their mental health poses a risk to themselves or others, or if they are unable“to fulfill the essential activities required to pursue their program.” The policy was passed in June to much backlash from students.

The portal was started as a way to solve the lack of cohesion that existed, explained De Nil, saying that “students know the resources are there [and] that resources are available to them, but they do not quite know how to find them or how to start accessing them or who to contact.”

With U of T’s growing number of international students, the portal also includes information on off-campus services that offer support in multiple languages.

Some of the resources available are SGS Wellness Counsellors, a series of Coping Skills and Supervision Workshops, and G2G Peer Advisors at the Graduate Conflict Resolution Centre.

UTGSU members can also assist other graduate students with advice, information, and representation when experiencing academic and/or administrative difficulties, including problems with supervisors, departments, or the university, if students would prefer to speak with other graduate students.

The SGS will also be looking to have accessibility advisors available specifically for graduate students, according to De Nil.

The UTGSU has a role to play in sexual assault prevention

The results of The Professor Is In’s survey reveals holes in U of T’s approach to addressing sexual assault of graduate students

The UTGSU has a role to play in sexual assault prevention

The Professor Is In, a graduate student advice website, recently revealed 16 anonymous cases of sexual harassment at the University of Toronto, in which graduate students were targeted by their academic mentors. In the same survey, it was revealed that, allegedly, none of the perpetrators suffered any academic consequences, even in cases where the abuse had been reported.

Dependent on advisers to further their careers, students can be left powerless and unwilling to report abuse in fear of the repercussions to their academic reputations. While some of these relationships can develop into mentorships or friendships, the fact that one party is in a position of power is crucial to understanding why harassment occurs.

At the same time, the resources available for addressing sexual assault at the university are not sufficiently tailored to graduate students’ specific concerns. Some respondents to the survey reported being told that staying silent would be best for their careers in the long-term and that reporting a specific harasser might only work to tarnish their reputations rather than resulting in any reprimands for the abuser.

While the new Tri-Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre offers some useful services, it also has limited operating hours that hinder its accessibility, especially for graduate students who may have heavy workloads and whose hectic schedules may not allow them to access these services.

A better option for graduate students, in that sense, would be the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), a body tasked specifically with representing graduate students’ interests. The UTGSU should ensure that students do not face undue harm to their academic careers as a result of the actions of their harassers, and should pursue provisions to prevent superiors from refusing or neglecting to support students who experience abuse.

According to The Professor Is In, one student reported increasingly violent verbal and written harassment from her supervisor after refusing his advances, to the point where she did not publish her thesis in order to avoid further contact. The student also did not receive a recommendation from her supervisor, and she cites what happened to her as one reason she was forced to prematurely end her academic career.

One way to meet graduate students’ needs might be to establish an internal body specifically tasked with providing support for graduate students in circumstances like these. Using the university’s new Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment for guidance may help the union establish a centre that makes up for a lack of specialized professional and peer-to-peer services on campus.

Systematically establishing safe spaces for graduate students is a necessary step the UTGSU must take to support students who have faced sexual harassment. Graduate students need the support of the UTGSU to address violence that originates from within the U of T community.

In a response to The Varsity’s request for comment, the UTGSU provided the following response: “It is not always clear for our Members who choose to pursue support services on campus how to navigate their situation because a majority of them are governed by both The University of Toronto policies and labour union policies. We encourage students to come forward and speak to one of our Executives and a full-time UTGSU staff person who offers confidential support and institutional resources. In addition, over the past few years, the UTGSU has participated in ongoing consultations in regards to the Sexual Violence Policy, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre as well as the training modules, which launched earlier this month.”

Supporting the well-being of students over maintaining the reputations of staff, partnered with a concentrated effort to establish a safe and supportive space for students to report and address sexual harassment, will immensely benefit women working in academia. In the long run, these changes will go toward establishing academia as a safe and inclusive space, dispelling any environmental or community-based stigmas that might prevent female academics from furthering their careers.

Angela Feng is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying History and Cinema Studies. She is The Varsity’s Campus Politics Columnist.

Editor’s Note (February 12): This article has been updated to clarify that it is the author’s opinion that the UTGSU should ensure that students do not face undue harm to their academic careers as a result of the actions of their harassers. The UTGSU is not necessarily able to do this, as a previous version of this article suggested. 

This article has been updated to include the quote provided by the UTGSU to The Varsity prior to the article’s publication. 

A previous version of this article stated that graduate students interact with professors more so than undergraduate students. This sentence has been removed given the difficulty in quantifying graduates’ interactions with professors versus undergraduates’ interactions with professors. 

Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program suspended for international master’s and PhD students

Program change could affect thousands of international graduates

Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program suspended for international master’s and PhD students

Ontario is pausing the Provincial Nominee Program that allows international graduate students to gain Permanent Residency (PR) upon completion of their degrees.

“As a result of changes Ontario has made to more closely align the streams of the program with the needs of its labour market, the province has already received the sufficient number of [Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP)] applications to meet its 2016 federal allocation,” read a message on the OINP website. “This is further proof that Ontario remains a very sought after destination for highly-skilled workers.”

The change took effect on May 9, 2016; any applications received after 5:00 pm that day will not be considered.

A total of 1.8 per cent of immigration to Canada comes from OINP.

“A lot of the people who come here to study might not have the intention of staying, but eventually they do because they form connections, they find job opportunities, and it would be frustrating if you work here long enough, but there’s not the possibility to legally stay,” said Libby Vervain, international first-year master’s of education student at OISE.

International students tend to experience more difficulty in qualifying for all streams of immigration, such as the Express Entry system that the Harper government implemented in 2014. Under Express Entry, international students are added to a pool of all applicants and judged on work experience that does not include jobs they held while in school.

Federal Immigration Minister John McCallum has spoken repeatedly about the importance of keeping international students in Canada and creating more pathways to citizenship for international students. He acknowledged that through the implementation of Express Entry, international students are having a harder time transitioning to PR.

Sara*, an international student from Peru commented on the university’s lack of notification about the program change: “The university is really fond of bringing international students for their fees, so at least they can give back some information, especially regarding status and immigration info in Canada because as internationals we rely on the university to have official information. It really sucks that you have to hear about this news in the papers, for example.”

Vervain believes it is the responsibility of the university to control the number of international students it admits, depending on immigration regulations in Ontario at the time. “Whether it’s their intention or not to stay, it’s important for them to have the option,” Vervain explained.

“…If this was a private institution, okay, maybe I get it, you are only seeking us for the money. But this is a public institution, so they do have responsibilities for everybody who is here,” said Sara.

Upon completing an academic program in Canada that is longer than 8 months, students are able to apply for an open work permit valid for the duration of their studies, up to a maximum of three years. International students may apply for this permit once throughout their academic career.

In November 2016, OINP is expected to make an announcement regarding their plan for 2017.

*Name changed at individual’s request

Funding boost announced for Arts & Science doctoral students

Approximate $2,000 increase expected by 2018-2019 school year

Funding boost announced for Arts & Science doctoral students

The Faculty of Arts & Science has announced a major funding boost for graduate students.

The approved policy changes will increase the base funding by approximately $2,000 over the current amount for eligible doctoral-stream students. This includes both domestic and international students from all three campuses. The increased funds will be provided in the form of fellowship income over the next three years, with no mandatory TA work required. 

Following months of consultations with graduate student representatives, the boost will affect 64 per cent of the 3,540 doctoral-stream students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. The initial overall increase of $1,500 will be in effect as of September 2016, with annual increases thereafter.

The changes to base funding and program-level fellowships represent an estimated 27 per cent increase to the Arts & Science University of Toronto Fellowships allocation over the next three years; this includes $3.35 million in 2016–2017 and an estimated $6.7 million over current levels by the third year.

In a letter addressed to graduate students, Joshua Barker, Vice-Dean of Graduate Education & Program Reviews, explained that the university was able to accommodate increased graduate student funding as a result of an improvement to the university’s financial position and a balanced budget as of last year. 

Baker also outlined a “three-pronged approach” that includes the funding boost, program-level fellowship resources for each of the graduate departments, and the Milestones and Pathways programs — a series of new skill-building programs commencing in the fall. 

The Milestones program focuses on academic assistance, with a focus on dissertation writing and publishing research articles. The Pathways program will aim to equip graduate students with the necessary skills needed to succeed in both the classroom and the workplace. 

“We are making these improvements because we understand that you need more funding and that having to devote your time to earning income takes away from focusing on your own core research,” read a portion of Baker’s letter. “We also understand that we need to do everything we can to support you as you prepare for your future careers.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the funding increase was connected to a legal dispute between the university and CUPE 3902.