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Meric Gertler on mental health, international tuition, and more

U of T President reflects on his sixth year in the job

Meric Gertler on mental health, international tuition, and more

After an eventful 2018–2019 academic year that was filled with student protests and provincial government changes, U of T President Meric Gertler sat down with The Varsity to reflect on the past 12 months. Gertler spoke on a number of issues, including mental health, international tuition, and truth and reconciliation. 

The Varsity: One of the biggest stories this past year was students’ mental health, with some students viewing U of T’s action on the topic as lacklustre. What do you say to people who believe U of T should be doing more?

Meric Gertler: We were certainly very concerned by the issues that arose during the past year and felt very strongly a responsibility to act. So I took the unusual step of writing to every member of our community. I don’t do that very often, but I just thought that for an issue like student mental health and its relationship to their well-being, it was really important to be able to communicate directly to all of our students as well as our faculty and staff to say, “We’ve heard you, we acknowledge how big an issue this is and how huge a challenge this is, and we’re committing to actually doing something concrete about it.” 

TV: In the letter that you sent out to all students, faculty, and staff, you mentioned that two of your priorities would be engaging with Toronto resources as well as the province. Would you say that the onus would be more on the province and the city to provide mental health services rather than the university? 

MG: So, we are not funded by the provincial government to be a health care-delivering organization, even though we deliver a lot of health care services to our students. This has been the subject of a lot of conversations with our provincial government partners. They recognize the challenge that we have. They have allocated additional funds in their last provincial budget towards mental health, in particular with a focus on student mental health. 

So we continue to expect to see some financial assistance from them. But, also, as your question quite rightly implies, this is a shared responsibility. Obviously, we have primary responsibility for the well-being of our students, but it is something that we expect to address jointly with health care institutions that are primarily funded by the provincial government. 

TV: Speaking of the provincial government, there have been a lot of changes this past year under the Ford administration to both university operations and university life for students. How do you view U of T’s relationship with the province?

MG: I’ll be quite honest here. We were really disappointed that the province did not communicate more openly with us before they made these many changes. That to me was the most disappointing part of the approach of the new government, and we were not quiet in communicating our unhappiness with the whole style with which they interact with us. 

The Strategic Mandate Agreement changes — which are putting a focus on performance-based funding — in theory, at least, we think this can work very well for U of T. It’s designed to enable each university to come forward and articulate what it thinks its distinctive strengths are, and then to base funding on those strengths. This is actually something we’ve been arguing for for 25 years in many ways and advocating for, so at least on paper, that seems to be very nicely aligned with the approach that we’ve been taking.

Other changes, like the 10 per cent cut to tuition we, frankly, think were unhelpful. I know that that particular move has been quite damaging to our budget… Now what are the consequences of that? Well, the consequences are that we have less money available to finance our own financial aid system within the university. 

TV: On the topic of affordability, international students pay much more in tuition than domestic students. How do you see this issue of increasingly unaffordable international tuition?

MG: International students have always paid more than domestic students. That gap has grown over time but this has been true for a long, long time, and it reflects a couple of things. It reflects the fact that we receive no government grants for international students, so there’s no subsidy at all from the province of Ontario for those students… The families of those international students have not been paying taxes in Ontario either, and I suppose that the provincial government may feel that that’s some justification for the fact that there is no grant support for those students. 

We are, though, mindful of the fact that we want to encourage a diverse community of international students to come to this university. It should not just be international students from wealthy families, but we want to enable all international students if they are academically qualified to potentially come here. So there too we’ve been active in creating scholarships for international students and fundraising for them.

TV: U of T has committed to the goals of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and there was a Steering Committee report released in 2017 with recommendations for the university. Since that report came out, do you see any major gaps that U of T should be filling when it comes to truth and reconciliation? 

MG: This is another topic that’s near and dear to my heart, and also near and dear to the provost’s heart. We were greatly influenced by the work of our Steering Committee and enthusiastically adopted all of their recommendations. We’ve done some amazing things since then.

This past year we have hired 18 new Indigenous scholars, which is a remarkable achievement if you think about it, because every university in Canada is trying to do the same thing so it’s a very competitive labour market right now. We’re thrilled to have this incoming talent. So I would say that’s one area where we have really succeeded dramatically in. 

In the longer term, of course, we’re looking at the future of First Nations House and how best to accommodate all of the important activities that go on there. There have been discussions underway about whether the current location is the right location or not, and we’re looking at alternatives for that as well. I think we’ve got some impressive momentum underway, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

TV: Do you think that U of T has any institutional problems with addressing barriers of access for people?

MG: We’re one of the most open and accessible institutions in the world. If you think of our 90,000 students, the incredible diversity that we have, measured along any dimension you can think of, whether it’s the language that you spoke at home, the country you were born in, the ethnicity of your parents, your sexual orientation, your political views, you name it. 

I think it’s one of the things that is most defining of the University of Toronto is not just our academic excellence and the great rankings and we have every year, it’s our ability to combine that academic excellence with an incredible degree of openness and access which very few other universities around the world can match.

TV: And then once these students do get here, what accommodations do you think are necessary to make sure that everyone feels welcome at the school? 

MG: Making sure that everyone understands what our codes of student conduct entail, and what our policies entail with regard to freedom of expression and these kinds of important principles of academic freedom on which a university is based. That does require a little bit of effort to make sure that people understand those principles but I think we’ve got a pretty good system in place.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

U of T professors, alumni call on Gertler to “speak out” against Ford funding changes

Open letter asserts performance-tied funding serves ideological goals, not students

U of T professors, alumni call on Gertler to “speak out” against Ford funding changes

After the Ontario government announced in its 2019 budget that it would dramatically change the funding model for postsecondary education, a group of U of T professors and alumni wrote an open letter to President Meric Gertler on April 24 to express their concerns.

Among the changes in the provincial budget are plans to tie the amount of funding a school receives to how they are performing on a number of metrics, such as skills and job outcomes. Previously, funding was mainly tied to enrolment numbers.

In the open letter, the professors and alumni called on Gertler to refuse to participate in this new model, saying that the “proposed metrics do not in fact measure educational performance,” and their pursuit would only lead to “terrible incentives.”

The signees included professors Rachel Barney of philosophy and classics, James Allen of philosophy, Jennifer Nagel of philosophy, Sergio Tenenbaum of philosophy, and Jonathan Weisberg of philosophy, as well as alumni Stephen Chen and Terri Chu. 

View this document on Scribd

The letter cited graduation rates as an example of a damaging incentive, claiming that pressure to increase the number of postsecondary graduates would encourage universities to further privilege the admission of wealthy students, for whom finances would not interfere with graduation. Further, professors would be incentivized to pass all students, regardless of performance.

According to the signees, indicators such as this would “achieve the remarkable feat of making an Ontario university education at once less accessible and less meaningful.”

Furthermore, they assert that other proposed metrics do not correlate at all to education itself but rather to particular knowledge streams, which align with the government’s broader goals. In short, they say, “this is a radical attempt to realign what we teach and how we teach it on the basis of a political ideology.”

The letter acknowledges that the particular fogginess of the government’s plans make a “wait and see” approach palatable to institutional leaders, but it insists that this would be a “grave mistake.”

This is not business as usual, they write, and U of T should not collaborate with such a dangerous policy. They called on Gertler and his fellow academic leaders to “step up and speak out, and to refuse to collaborate in devising a regime that can only undermine the institutions [they] lead.”

Although the signees are sparse, the group expressed an intention to launch a grassroots advocacy campaign and an online petition to further share their message.

U of T response

According to U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church, Gertler has since sent a response to the professors reassuring them that the university, as it is renegotiating the Strategic Mandate Agreement that governs provincial funding, will attempt to shape the way “performance” is defined.

Church went on to say that each university determines the weight of each indicator measured in the new provincial funding system, and as such, the university can place emphasis on areas of strength.

According to the budget, by 2024, 60 per cent of all university funding would be dictated by their adherence to these objectives. Currently, only 1.4 per cent of university funding and 1.2 per cent of college funding is connected to performance outcomes.

The performance indicators remain unreleased by the provincial government.

“Priority Investments”: the board meeting after Bahen

Students press the administration for better mental health resources and policy change

“Priority Investments”: the board meeting after Bahen

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

On March 17, another student died by suicide in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

We’ve lost at least three members of our student community to suicide this school year. Their stories are not mine to tell.

On March 18, I was one of five students allowed into U of T’s Business Board meeting. Students deserve to know what happened in that room. This is a story I can tell.

Like most students, I learned of the tragedy through Facebook on the night that it happened. I stayed awake refreshing my home page. By the next morning, students had created an event page called “Protest UofT’s Inaction.” Word spread quickly. Hundreds of us planned to unite in peaceful protest outside of President Meric Gertler’s office on King’s College Circle from 2:00 to 6:00 pm. When I arrived at Simcoe Hall, students were protesting outside, while Campus Police officers blocked access to the inside. Hearing that a meeting was taking place on Simcoe Hall’s second floor, four of us went to the back door of Convocation Hall to try the elevators. The elevator wouldn’t budge without a key.

I felt the sting of an obvious metaphor as I kept pressing the button. Only a select few have access to the top.

We gave up on the Simcoe sit-in and made our way to the Medical Sciences Building, where we heard the Business Board meeting would be moved. We got as close as we could to the office before Campus Police blocked off the next door. Students sat in the hall, maintaining a clear path to the door and any exit route. We’re not in the camp of blocking the way. Eventually, someone came from the meeting to offer three students a seat in the meeting. The spots filled up immediately. I ran up to Lucinda Qu, a student activist who was about to go in.

“You have to talk about the mandatory leave,” I urged.

“I will, I promise,” she said. I sat back down. A few minutes later, the same person who let three of us in came back out. There was room for two more students. This time, I was one of them.

The two of us joined the three other students sitting at the back of the room. During the meeting’s first few minutes, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr acknowledged the recent tragedy and addressed mental health on campus. She mentioned new support systems for students in crisis at this time, and underscored last year’s investments in new counsellors and additional aid.

When the provost finished, my fellow students and I were poised to continue this discussion, but the board secretary changed the topic. “The main focus of our meeting today is student fees and budget,” he said. The students’ concern over U of T’s mental health crisis was not ‘the main focus,’ at least not here. Someone gave us copies of the 2019-2020 budget report. I opened the booklet to the centre spread and saw bold white letters on a glossy blue background: “Priority Investments.” A metaphor put into words. As Governing Council members discussed budgetary planning and tuition changes, I realized that our demands for better mental health services were not a priority investment. I looked at the other student who had walked in with me.

“Wait — what exactly are we here for?” they asked me. This student held a framed picture of their friend who had died by suicide. Five students were physically present in the meeting, but when I looked at the picture, I realized that we were six. Perhaps, in some form or other, we were even more.

“I have no idea,” I said. I had no idea why — or how — a regular budgetary meeting was happening as though students weren’t protesting outside, as though a student hadn’t died the day before.

On the back of the budget report, I scribbled notes on why the university’s mandatory leave of absence policy fails to comply with the criteria outlined by Ontario Human Rights Commission. The other students compiled a statement about U of T’s mental health crisis on a public Google Doc, where students from the outside chimed in with online suggestions. There weren’t just five of us in the room. There were dozens.

After 45 minutes of budget talks, the board secretary addressed the elephant in the room: the students. He gave us a few minutes to speak. Lucinda read a statement on behalf of the students who could not make it into the room.

“To the thousands of us that will spend years of our lives here,” she said, “and to the handful of us who will end our lives here, this is disheartening.” My heart sank and a lump rose in my throat. Lucinda read sections of the collaborative document where students had listed inadequate responses: “It is UNACCEPTABLE to have waiting lists for access to mental health services. It is UNACCEPTABLE to have understaffed and unresponsive counseling services.”

In the Google Doc, students capitalized “UNACCEPTABLE,” flagging the need for emphasis. Lucinda’s voice carried this collective inflection. I think my voice would have cracked. “Time and time again,” Lucinda said, “we have participated [in] fruitless discussions with people who are supposed to be our allies.” The board secretary interrupted her. “I’m going to ask you to sum up,” he said. Crucial discussions become fruitless when cut short. Despite the impossible task of condensing a crisis in one minute, Lucinda pressed the administration to work with us “in a public, honest, and materially significant capacity.”

The secretary thanked her for “that thoughtful and well-articulated presentation.” President Meric Gertler expressed his shared concerns and thanked everyone who contributed to the statement. “We recognize that institutions like this university can and should do more to address these issues,” he said.

The president stated that the university has “invested in good faith — not bad faith — in many service improvements across all three of our campuses, and the investments are quite substantial. Clearly, there is the need to do more.” He continued, “I just want to signal here an openness, and indeed an enthusiasm, to work with students in good faith and in a very open way to solicit your advice and your ideas on how to do better.”

Regehr spoke next. She said that the administration will continue to invest in mental health, while acknowledging that many of those current investments fall short. “With respect to consultation,” she added, “we will absolutely continue to meet with our students. Professor [Sandy] Welsh and I meet regularly with our student leaders, and that is an issue that is on the table and we commit to continuing to do that.” In response to calls for systemic change at U of T, Regehr explained that the university has a “new expert panel on the undergraduate educational experience.”

When the provost finished, the board secretary thanked us again for this moving speech before moving on. I put my hand up. “I’m sorry, we can’t take questions at this time,” the secretary said.

I didn’t have any questions. I had a statement.

“We need to address the mandatory leave of absence policy,” I said. “A student died this weekend, and we can afford to spend a few extra minutes listening to students. I don’t know when I’m going to have another opportunity to share why U of T’s mandatory leave of absence policy is unacceptable.” I stumbled over every word. I was already standing and ready to read when the board secretary granted me permission.

“I think you should be allowed to read it, but I’d ask that you keep your comments to one minute,” he said. “It’s an additional request and we’d like to move on with our regular budget meeting, so please keep your comments brief.” I spoke for four minutes and 58 seconds. Here is part of what I said:

U of T’s mandatory leave of absence policy is incompatible with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The policy claims to “provide reasonable accommodation to the point of undue hardship” as per the OHRC. On January 29, OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane wrote, “the Policy may result in discrimination” and “falls short of meeting the duty to accommodate under the Code.” By approving the policy after making minor edits, the university sends the following message to students: although the OHRC flags potential human rights violations, the policy still stands, and its administrators stand behind the policy. By stressing the OHRC’s “duty to accommodate,” the policy preemptively defends itself from critique within a human rights framework. If a student is in crisis, the policy claims, “it may not be consistent with the duty to accommodate to merely let the student confront significant negative academic consequences.” By touting a mandated leave of absence as an accommodation, the university misunderstands the OHRC’s policies. This policy fits what the OHRC calls “denial of access,” whereby post-secondary institutions “exclude students with disabilities” and denies them “equal opportunity in their education.” The OHRC also claims “education providers have a duty to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.” Allowing mentally ill/Mad-identified students barrier-free access to education does not constitute undue hardship; it grants them the equal opportunity that post-secondary institutions must provide. According to specific criteria listed in the OHRC, undue hardship entails accommodations that are too onerous in terms of cost and health and safety.

The policy capitalizes on the “health and safety” criterion of undue hardship by conflating mentally ill people at risk to themselves with those who pose a risk to others, a narrative which perpetuates discriminatory stereotypes. The policy conflates “a risk of harm to self or others” in the threshold for a mandated leave. This scenario maintains that Mad people are dangerous. Most Mad/mentally ill people, however, are not violent but subject to violence. If a student poses a risk to others, however, the university should mandate removal from studies as per the student code of conduct. There are, however, documented incidents where abusers and assailants have been allowed to remain in class and on campus. The OHRC cautions against “ignorance and misunderstanding about people with psychosocial disabilities,” and the policy reveals such ignorance. Students may appeal their mandated leave “no later than 10 business days after the decision.” This 10-day deadline ignores the complexities of mental health. Someone admitted to a psychiatric hospital, as I have been several times, might not be able to contact the university and organize their defence. Students must also apply “at least 30 days prior to the term in which the student wishes to enrol.” A student forced to leave at the beginning or middle of a term can only return in the following term. If a student does not meet the 30-day deadline, the university may “terminate” their registration. The student must organize around their crisis to ensure their post-secondary education is neither suspended nor terminated. A student’s return would involve “periodic review,” “verification,” “monitoring,” and “indication that the student may be subject to ongoing conditions.” This kind of surveillance will exacerbate symptoms of paranoia and anxiety that many people with mental illness experience. The policy stigmatizes students with mental health issues. This stigma, the OHRC claims, may “lead institutions to develop policies, procedures and decision-making practices that exclude or marginalize people with mental health disabilities.”

I urge you to revise a policy that is clearly not working and clearly not for us. I suggest a policy designed to mandate the leave of abusers and assailants on campus who pose actual threats to other students, and a separate policy designed to support students in crisis who may pose a risk to themselves. Accommodate us without removing our autonomy. As the policy stands, students are afraid to seek help for fear of being placed on a mandated leave.

Posted by Lucinda Qu on Monday, March 18, 2019

My voice shook more than my hands. At this point, I went off script to maintain eye contact with individual members until they nodded.

“We see this policy, we see it in print, we see it in writing, and we are afraid. The consequences of this fear, the consequences of being silenced, [are] life-threatening.” I needed the governors to understand this fear. Last semester, University College’s mental wellness commissioner, Kiana Habibagahi, and I met with Vice-Provost Sandy Welsh to discuss the mandatory leave policy. Welsh said that the policy would be implemented in very few cases. To a person in crisis, this condition means nothing. The fear of being the rare exception keeps students from seeking help.

I thanked the board members for their time and sank in my seat. I cried. My fellow students gave me back-pats and a glass of water. The rim of the cup missed my mouth and most of the water spilled down my shirt, which was already damp from nervous sweat. I was a sopping puffy-eyed mess in a room full of people on Ontario’s Sunshine List.

The provost spoke: “I’ll just respond very briefly. I really want to thank the student for bringing this to our attention.” I tried to listen. I dissociated instead.

“When we brought the policy through last year,” the provost said, “we did undertake that we would be reporting back to governance about use of the policy and we will be doing that, as we promised.” I’m not interested in pulling back governance, or in the policy’s rare application. As long as the policy stands, so does the possibility of it being used against us.

The board secretary thanked the provost before shifting gears. “So unless there’s any other business to be raised by the board, the meeting will now move on —” One of the board members steered the discussion back to the policy, describing it as having “a certain chilling effect.” I sat up in my seat. The unexpected ally continued: “It is a strong concern and I have to admit, having thought about this policy in the months since we passed it, I have more concerns than when we approved it.” This shift from platitudes to critique hinted at progress. I felt, for the first time, that one person in the administration was on our side. He thanked us as we left the room. I’d like to thank him back.

At the end of the hall, two Campus Police officers were waiting to usher us out. An officer placed his hand on our backs to move us through the door one by one, dividing us with a firm push and a loud “Next!” It was as though we were criminals. “Next!” I waited in line behind my four fellow students. “Next!” I have PTSD from a history of sexual assault. Too many strangers have put their hands on my body. “Next!” The officer pressed his hand against my lower back.

“Don’t touch me!”

“Fine,” he said, with a have-it-your-way indignation. I was delirious from a sleepless night and a nightmarish day. And now I was triggered.

When I felt the officer’s hand on my back, Lucinda’s statement came back to me: “It is unacceptable.” It is unacceptable that campus police use intimidation strategies. It is unacceptable that campus police do not consider students who may have a history of trauma, students who come from marginalized communities that are susceptible to police brutality, students who have the right not to be touched. It is unacceptable that I have to include a tangent on the police in this article.

Yet poor mental health care and police intervention inevitably ally. I call on the administration to address the systemic connection between campus police responses and issues surrounding student mental health. In a recent meeting that a group of students and I held with Janine Robb, the Executive Director of the Health & Wellness Centre, I learnt that two years ago, campus police could handcuff students during a mental health crisis. Today, careless campus police actions are symptoms of this sanist legacy.

And to the officer who touched students that day: keep your hands off us.

I finally joined the students who were peacefully protesting in the hall. I knew they’d be waiting for us. Lucinda and I gave brief statements. Microphones and TV cameras loomed. Still, the daunting media apparatus intimidated me less than the board meeting whose members wanted us to keep our statements brief. No one was watching the clock here. I sat back down among the protesters, most of whom I didn’t know. I just knew that I cared about these people deeply and felt their care just as intensely. I cannot overstate the richness of our communal support.

Toward the end of the evening, a group of students lingered in our space of protest. On his way out, Gertler addressed us. He thanked Lucinda and me for our moving speeches. We thanked him for the opportunity to speak. He then expressed a strong desire to engage in further discussions with students.

Students are not interested in being heard without being listened to. It will be the administrators’ privilege to listen to those of us who are still here to speak. When deference doesn’t get us change, we need to make demands. I’m demanding that the administration consult with us and implement substantive policy changes as per our pleas.

“I’ll be honest,” I said to Gertler. “Students feel like the administration is working against us, not for or with us.” Prepositions matter. Consultations matter. These forms of language and communication often go wrong. He assured that he would consult with students.

President Gertler, I will take you up on your offer for further discussions, for meaningful and regular consultations. My friends and I look forward to working with you and your colleagues.

As we continue this work, our responsibility to one another requires respect for those who are grieving, for those who need privacy, and for those whose stories are not ours to tell. Amid the anger, the protests, and the collective demand for change, we cannot forget the mourning.

We cannot forget the seemingly small gestures that just might sustain someone who is struggling. After the protests, the board meeting, the media coverage, the organizing, and the grief of that long Monday, I met up with one of my closest friends. He brought me to his place so that I could do laundry and take a shower. It had been a while since I had done either of those things. The next day, another dear friend gave me Tylenol for a crushing headache and let me lie in her lap for a moment. My friends’ simple acts of care were more necessary than I can explain. I’d argue that helping someone meet their basic needs is more important than reading a statement at a board meeting.

I’d like to end with a note on language. People do not ‘commit’ suicide; they die by suicide as a result of a broken, ableist, and sanist system that does not support those who struggle. Prepositions matter.

On June 24, 2018, a student died by suicide in the Bahen Centre.

On June 27, 2018, Governing Council approved the university-mandated leave of absence policy.

We warned the administration that the policy would dissuade students from seeking help, that the risk of student suicide could rise.

We hoped we wouldn’t be right.


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 President Meric Gertler announces new task force on student mental health

Unit will consult with students, campus organizations

U of T President Meric Gertler announces new task force on student mental health

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

Following a student death at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology earlier this month and an increasing public outcry over perceived inaction on mental health, U of T President Meric Gertler announced today that the school will be establishing a Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health to “review mental health supports and services for students at U of T.”

According to the letter, the task force will conduct a series of consultations with students and student groups on campus, which Gertler called a “key part” of its mandate. It will also draw on expertise provided by the university’s faculty.

The letter comes two weeks after emergency services were called to campus after a student died by suicide. Gertler acknowledged that the period since has been “an extremely difficult time for our community, as we mourn the tragic death of one of our students.”

This tragedy – especially after similarly tragic events earlier in this academic year – has triggered profound shock, sorrow, anger and frustration,” he noted. “It has also triggered an extraordinarily important discussion about suicide prevention and student health and wellness more broadly. This discussion has been collegial and thoughtful. It has heightened awareness of these issues throughout the U of T community. It has also helped position us to make significant progress in the future.”

The task force will be chaired by Trevor Young, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and senior assessors will include Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh and Vice-Provost Graduate Research and Education Joshua Barker. The unit’s membership will include students, faculty, and staff.

The letter also outlined further plans of action, which includes having the Expert Panel on Undergraduate Student Educational Experience consider “explicitly the broader issue of learning cultures, competitiveness, student wellbeing and student supports in its deliberations and its recommendations.”

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 reckless
  • 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 about it, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

U of T receives $100 million donation for innovation advancement

Largest-ever donation to fund 750,000-square-foot innovation complex for AI, biotechnology research

U of T receives $100 million donation for innovation advancement

U of T has received a $100 million donation to fund a new innovation research complex that will support artificial intelligence (AI) and biomedical research. The donation, from the Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman Foundation, is the largest that the university has ever received. U of T President Meric Gertler, Toronto Mayor John Tory, and Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains were among the speakers who lauded the donation at U of T’s March 25 press conference.

“Today we enter an incredibly exciting new chapter in this history of generosity, signalling a new era of world-leading innovation and progress at the University of Toronto,” Gertler said.

Gerald Schwartz is the founder and CEO of private equity firm Onex. Heather Reisman is the founder and CEO of book retailer Indigo.

Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre

The new 750,000-square-foot Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre will be located at the corner of College Street and Queen’s Park. U of T expects that the building will host thousands of researchers, investors, industry partners, and international visitors annually. The building will also house the new Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Gertler told The Varsity after the announcement that the centre will provide opportunities for graduate and undergraduate U of T students from a variety of disciplines, including the humanities and law. “All of these disciplines are really trying to understand this incredibly tumultuous time that we’re in, both [with] the advances of technology and their applications but also what it means for society,” Gertler said. “Students will be fundamental for this.”

U of T will appoint a director to lead the new institute, who will oversee the development of programming and research initiatives, as well as the creation of new fellowships and a research fund. The institute will research digital surveillance laws and the ethical and societal implications of AI and biotechnology.

U of T Professor Emeritus, winner of the Turing Award, and leading AI researcher Geoffrey Hinton said, “My hope is that the Schwartz Reisman institute will be the place where deep learning disrupts the humanities.”

Construction will begin in the fall.

The donation

Reisman said that the donation was inspired by an article that the billionaire couple had read about U of T’s plans to further tech-driven entrepreneurship, business partnerships, and artificial intelligence leadership. She praised U of T for creating “a foundation upon which true greatness can be built.”

“At the end of the day, what stirs us most is the opportunity to supercharge the university’s ability to recruit and inspire the best,” Reisman said. “We are grateful to be part of something so pregnant with possibility.”

The gift is the largest donation ever made to the Canadian innovation sector.

“A testament to our excellence as a city”

Tory praised the donation as further evidence that Toronto is a powerhouse in international innovation. He said that continued public, private, and philanthropic investment are needed to succeed academically and commercially and that he hopes the donation will encourage further donations to Toronto’s innovation sector. “It is vital to our ability to finance the things that are very human, whether it’s education or whether it’s support for those who are struggling,” Tory said. He added that the gift will attract more researchers and academics to the city.

Bains also emphasized the importance of an “all hands on deck” approach in furthering the federal government’s long-term vision to “build a nation of innovators.

“I think it’s a great day not only for Toronto — I think it’s a great day for Canada. The investment… will make sure that Canada will leave its mark on the world,” Bains said.

Hinton added that the donation “will further cement Toronto’s leadership as a thriving industry for innovative applications of AI.”

— With files from Srivindhya Kolluru

U of T President Meric Gertler on international student fees

Gertler: U of T looks “at what our peer institutions are doing” to set tuition levels

U of T President Meric Gertler on international student fees

In an interview with The Varsity, U of T President Meric Gertler explained comments he recently made in a BBC News interview, in which he said that increasing international tuition led to an increase in demand from international students, saying that the university also takes other factors such as funding and peer institutions into account.

In the BBC interview, Gertler said that because of a higher education market driven by status, people seemed to have a “hard time reconciling” U of T as an inexpensive postsecondary institution and yet a top-30 university.

“When we increased price, we found demand went up — as did the quality of the applications,” Gertler said to BBC.

Speaking to The Varsity shortly after the BBC interview, Gertler said that the university took other factors into consideration when setting tuition fees for international students, especially given the fact that neither the federal nor provincial government provide postsecondary institutions with funding for non-domestic students. The university thus has to cover the “full costs associated with educating those students.”

When asked if U of T increased its fees in part as a way to attract more students from abroad, Gertler said that this was not the case.

“While many of our international students do not require financial assistance, a significant number of them do,” he said. “We have been able to — through the international tuition revenues that we have brought in — fund some international student scholarships.”

The president also mentioned that U of T looks “at what our peer institutions are doing,” in terms of setting fee levels, including in public university systems in places like California, Washington, and Michigan. “We obviously want to be in the similar bands to them,” he said. “We don’t want to be higher and we also don’t want to be lower.”

Gertler said that another factor is the cost of “various services that ensure that [international students] are prepared for a successful experience while they are students here. So there’s special counselling, Centre for International Experience, and things like that that are relevant.”

Tuition fee increases are set differently for domestic and international students. Under provincial regulations, domestic fees cannot be increased past a certain ceiling every year. International fees are unregulated, meaning the university can increase them at a higher rate than for domestic students. Fee increases are proposed by senior administration officials and approved by Governing Council, U of T’s highest decision-making body.

As for the rising number of international students at U of T, Gertler explained that this was due to the university’s active drive to recruit overseas.

“We compared our international enrolment to other peer institutions and found that we were actually lower than a lot of our peers,” he said. “While it’s true that Toronto is a very global city, we found that the university wasn’t quite as globalized as the city itself,” Gertler added, noting that students benefit from having more international students in the classroom.

Around 16.2 per cent of the University of Washington’s Seattle campus students and roughly 14 per cent of the University of Michigan’s students were international.

According to U of T’s 2017–2018 numbers, around 21.3 per cent of students were international.

International fees background

If it seems like international student fees are ever-increasing, you’re not wrong. An undergraduate student entering the University of Toronto in 2019 will pay as much as $59,230 in tuition fees, or roughly four per cent more than someone just the previous year. A student entering U of T in 2015 paid as much as $43,540, or 36 per cent less than in 2019.

According to Statistics Canada, it’s part of a general trend across the country. Data collected by the federal agency shows that the average tuition for an international student rose 6.3 per cent for the 2018–2019 academic year, not including incidental fees and other day-to-day expenses.

Meric Gertler fired from Waterfront Toronto board of directors amid Google deal

Province also dismisses chair Helen Burstyn, Michael Nobrega for unknown reasons

Meric Gertler fired from Waterfront Toronto board of directors amid Google deal

U of T President Meric Gertler is among three board members who were fired by the Ontario government on December 6 from Waterfront Toronto, a public agency that is working on revitalizing the city’s waterfront through a controversial partnership with Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

In a report from The Associated Press, Waterfront Toronto chairperson Helen Burstyn confirmed Thursday that herself, Gertler, and another board member, Michael Nobrega, had been removed for unknown reasons.

Burstyn said the provincial Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton informed her of the decision but declined to provide a reason for their dismissal.

Waterfront Toronto’s board of directors is composed of four representatives from each of the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government — including a chair approved by all three — but has recently been hit by high-profile resignations.

The organization partnered with Sidewalk Labs, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, in June to turn the area into a wired community filled with apartments, offices, shops, and other institutions.

The deal raised concerns with Ontario’s auditor general, whose report earlier this week said it was rushed. Others have pointed out that there may be some privacy implications of allowing one of the world’s largest technology company such a wide rein over public property.

In a statement to The Varsity, McNaughton directly referenced the auditor general’s report on Waterfront Toronto. He said that “oversight needs strengthening” and that the agency “failed to properly consult with its overseers,” which he called “unacceptable.”

“Accordingly, I have informed the three current Provincially-appointed board members that we are bringing new leadership to the board,” McNaughton said. “I want to thank the three Board members for their service to the province. We will be announcing their replacements in the time ahead.”

Burstyn told The Associated Press that she does not regret the partnership with Sidewalk Labs.

Elizabeth Church, U of T spokesperson, confirmed that Gertler had been asked to step down from the board, and said he “served at the pleasure of the government and will continue to do work to encourage city-building efforts through his role as President of the University of Toronto.”

Gertler was appointed to the board in January 2017, and brought years of expertise in urban planning with degrees from the University of California Berkeley and Harvard University. At the time, he said his goals would focus on developing affordable and accessible housing for Torontonians.

Governing Council addresses allegations of bullying, harassment in one academic unit

October meeting included report from President Gertler on municipal elections, free speech, smoking policy

Governing Council addresses allegations of bullying, harassment in one academic unit

U of T administration has opened an investigation into several allegations of bullying, harassment, and academic and professional misconduct at the university, which were brought to the attention of the Office of the Ombudsperson by current and former students.

At the Governing Council meeting on October 25, which was the first full meeting this year after the September date was interrupted by a protester, Ombudsperson Ellen Hodnett said that multiple people had contacted her over the previous year about “very serious systemic issues” occurring within a single academic unit.

According to her report, several of the allegations also concerned external institutions that partner with the university.

“After I brought the issues to the attention of senior administration, an internal investigation was launched by the Provost’s office,” Hodnett wrote. “I periodically requested and received progress updates. As of this writing, the issues remain unresolved.”

When reached by The Varsity, U of T declined to provide further details. “We can’t provide details at this time as the matter is under investigation,” a spokesperson said, “We are conducting a thorough investigation and we are waiting for the results of that work.”

An “academic unit” can mean virtually anything at U of T, ranging from the three campuses, to various faculties, departments, or colleges.

The ombudsperson also noted that despite having an established process to deal with complaints about university staff, U of T does not have a process for faculty-student relations, adding that students who make allegations against a specific professor “may be left under the supervision of the professors, while an investigation (which can take many months) is undertaken.”

She also wrote, “I recommend that the University implement measures to protect the students from real or perceived threats while the investigation is underway,” noting that these measures are important given the power imbalance between faculty and students, as well as the negative psychological impact of bullying.

Hodnett also noted that although she understands an investigation — and particularly finding an investigator — can take time, the allegations are serious enough in nature to warrant a more expedient process.

“I am concerned about the need for complaints of this nature to be responded to in an expeditious fashion, given the impact on all parties, and students in particular,” she said. “There may be ways to make the process more efficient.”

Report from the president

U of T President Meric Gertler also presented his report at the meeting, noting the results of the recent municipal elections in which many of the winners are U of T alumni, including environmental geoscientist Jennifer McKelvie, who defeated incumbent Councillor Neethan Shan in Ward 25 Scarborough—Rouge Park.

He also mentioned that U of T continued to be placed highly on international university rankings.

In addition, Gertler brought up the Ford government’s requirement that every postsecondary institution in Ontario develop a free speech policy.

The president said that the university’s existing policy, effective since 1992, already meets all of the requirements. He noted, however, that there are new “wrinkles,” including the requirement to report annually on their progress to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

The administration also spoke about the new campus smoking policy. Scott Mabury, U of T’s Vice-President University Operations, said that the university is developing a new policy that would make all campuses smoke-free, with a target of January 1 for full implementation.