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.

HEQCO report calls U of T “Ontario’s flagship Institution”

Report criticizes funding mechanism for post-secondary institutions for only rewarding enrolment growth

HEQCO report calls U of T “Ontario’s flagship Institution”

A provincial government report has found that U of T is playing a lead role among Ontario’s universities.

The report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) entitled, “The Differentiation of the Ontario University System: Where are we now and where should we go?” singled out the University of Toronto as “Ontario’s flagship institution.” This report looked at the differentiation of universities in Ontario based on equitable access, student acceptance, the learning environment, and student graduate achievements.

The report indicated that University of Toronto is excelling in notable platforms such as a strong and equitable learning environment, as well as being a model for other universities in Ontario.

HEQCO is an independent government agency that is responsible for recommending and researching higher educational policy. HEQCO suggests policies or forms of practice to substantially increase equitable entrance and success for students, and greater financial policies to support students.

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler was elated by the report findings.

“This analysis confirms U of T’s flagship position within the Ontario system, as an institution of research and teaching that is recognized around the world,” Gertler told U of T News.  “We need to do all we can to attract the best minds to our campuses, to provide the best learning environment to our students and give them the kinds of opportunities that prepare them well for lifelong success.”

HEQCO also recommended that U of T could improve in some areas, one of which was in relation to diversification of revenue sources; according to HEQCO the university relies too heavily on enrolment growth.

The report recommends restructuring the funding strategy in order for U of T to maintain its status as an internationally competitive university.

Gertler noted in the U of T News report, “This report acknowledges that a one-size-fits-all funding model makes it increasingly difficult for us to deliver on this commitment.”

In conversation with Meric Gertler

U of T president on education funding, Black Lives Matter, being a foodie

In conversation with Meric Gertler

As the 2015–2016 academic year comes to a close, The Varsity sits down with Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto, to have a candid conversation about some of the most prominent campus issues. 

The Varsity: My first question is do you think that education is a right?

Meric Gertler: Do I think that education is a right? I believe that societies have an interest and an obligation to ensure that as many of its members as possible can be educated, so, you know, my objective would be very much in line with the policy of this university, which is that anyone who is academically qualified should not be prevented from entering a program or completing a program for reasons related to financial need. So there’s a pretty strong values statement underlying that position.

TV: So with that in mind, would you support the idea of free tuition?

MG: I would support the idea of free tuition for those students and their families who need it. It makes no sense to have a blanket free tuition policy, because you’d end up subsidizing a large number of students and their families who don’t need the assistance, so I would much rather that we allocate as much of our public resources as possible to those that are most in need.

Having said that, there are good reasons why a portion of every student’s education cost should be paid for by the state, i.e, by the public sector, because there are public benefits that accrue to society when we educate an individual student. So there are private benefits the student enjoys in terms of their lifelong learnings and their lifetime satisfaction, but there are also social benefits, so it makes sense for the cost of education to be shared in that regard.

TV: Do you think that regular tuition increases are the best kind of long-term strategy to combat lack of funding?

MG: I’d rather not answer that in the abstract. I think that — let’s relate it to the context in Ontario, where we have seen many years where the provincial government has, in my view, not fulfilled its responsibility to underwrite the cost of education through the grant that it gives to the universities for each student. So my druthers, my preference, would be to see those grant transfers going up, so that we could hold the line on tuition fees or pass through smaller fees. So you know, that would be my preference. The fact that they have been unwilling or unable to do that has largely explained why we have had to bring in the tuition increases that we have.

That said, this university I think has done a very good job, through fundraising and other commitments that it has made, to enable students who lack the financial means to be admitted to the university and also to complete programs. And I think that the recent proposals in the last provincial budget, with respect to repackaging financial aid and restructuring, are a welcome move because I do think that they will simplify and clarify the process by which students obtain financial aid and will help encourage a larger number of otherwise qualified students to apply when they may not have had in the past.

TV: Do you have any plans to strike an ad-hoc committee to address the possibility of boycott, divestment and sanctions at U of T?

MG: Could you say that again?

TV: Do you currently have plans to strike an ad-hoc advisory committee — in a similar way that there was one for divestment [from fossil fuels] and one for sexual assault and harassment — do you plan to strike a similar committee for that, to consider boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel?

MG: No.

TV: Why not?

MG: Because we have been very clear on our position with regard to that issue. We feel that it makes little sense to support the idea of boycotting interaction with an entire nation, that it is far more sensible to encourage those who want to make solid evidence-based arguments in opposition to current policies about particular government to do so, both in Israel and here, if they feel strongly about it. 

It makes sense for us to be a place, for the University of Toronto to be a place, where civil discussions of pressing issues around the Middle East, for example, can take place, and where [we] hopefully generate more light than heat, where we can really advance understanding of the issues and hopefully advance progress towards reconciliation of the different views. That to me is the appropriate role for the university with regard to these issues.

Gertler gives a lecture entitled "Big city, big ideas" in 2014, hosted by the IMFG. Jessica Song/THE VARSITY

Gertler gives a lecture entitled “Big city, big ideas” in 2014, hosted by the IMFG. Jessica Song/THE VARSITY

TV: What would you say to students who would argue that, by following that policy, the University of Toronto would be complicit in human rights violations?

MG: I disagree.

TV: …What’s your relationship with the University of Toronto [Asset Management Corporation (UTAM)]?

MG: We are, I guess, the sole shareholders in UTAM, so it is an arms-length corporation from the university, which is solely owned by the university. It is governed by a board and I sit on that board. It is otherwise responsible for really upholding the fiduciary duty on behalf of the beneficiaries. So the beneficiaries are the members of the pension plan, and those that benefit from the payments from the endowments, so that would be the members of the university community at large.

TV: Graduate student workers have been clamouring for over five years for funding to be increased at minimum to the low income cut-off for Ontario. Has the University of Toronto done this?

MG: So, this too is a question that needs to be set into a larger context. The issues that were underlying the strike last year were many and varied. Some of them speak directly to funding, and I think very clearly the university is engaged in a pretty extensive conversation about what we can do to raise financial support for graduate students.

I think that conversation naturally implicates the various different divisions of the university that admit graduate students, in line with the budget model that we have had in place for eight or nine years, where the bulk of revenues that come into the university accrue to those faculties, those divisions. Where the decisions about how those revenues are spent are made at that level, in line with decisions about the nature of academic programs. So what we’re seeing now is a lot of discussions happening at the level of individual deans, coordinated by the dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

But you know, there are other issues related to that, that I think contributed to the strike that we had last year and the unhappiness that was expressed by many members of the community at that time, such as how well we support our graduate students by non-financial means, and by that, I mean how well we enable them to make proper progress through graduate programs, in as little time as possible while still of course ensuring a high-quality outcome, how well we support them in terms of their career development and professional development and prepare them for their transition from graduate studies to whatever comes next.

[When] it comes to whatever comes next, we need to recognize that while for somewhere between a quarter and a half of our graduating doctoral students, that usually means an academic position and an academic career path. For the other half to three quarters, it actually means a different kind of career path, and we haven’t really done a very good job up ’til now preparing our students to consider multiple career paths and to prepare them for non-academic careers, so this too is a conversation which is really gathering steam.

Additional concerns would relate to things like transparency: how clearly and effectively we communicate with graduate students at the point where they are entering graduate programs, or even at the point where they are considering applying to graduate programs. Things like, what are the actual levels of funding available for graduate students in these programs? What are the sources of those funds? How long will the program be, on average? And what are placement rates for students when they graduate?

So we’ve actually done quite a lot already and the School of Graduate Studies has adopted a consistent set of indicators and metrics that are now posted publicly for every graduate program in the University of Toronto and that’s a huge gain. And related to that, we want to make sure that every one of our graduate units employs best practices when it comes to telling our graduate students, in a timely way, what form of funding they will have and when they can expect to receive it, so students can plan with much less uncertainty and anxiety then they’ve had before. So many, many changes are underway as a result of the strike.

CUPE members on strike in 2015. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

CUPE members on strike in 2015. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

TV: U of T recently has taken over food services. What’s your plan to protect the rights of food service workers on campus?

MG: So there, our goal is to welcome the workers who were previously employed by Aramark. The objective of this change is really to improve the quality of food service on campus. This is really an example of in-sourcing, so that we can reassert control over how food services are delivered.

I’m a foodie myself, I believe that the quality of what we eat has a direct bearing on how productive we are as a community and how attractive U of T is as a place to come and study or to work, and I think that the move makes a lot of sense.

This was not designed as a plan to fire a bunch of workers, so we plan to transition the workers from Aramark to U of T. They will, I gather, be changing unions as a result. UNITE HERE will be — is their former union and they’re going to be, I guess, moving to a different union. That is an agreement that was worked out between the unions themselves and we don’t play a role in that particular process.

TV: What’s your favourite food? I’m curious.

MG: “I am an omnivore, so I love to — and I’ve said this in public before — I love to go along streets in places like Scarborough, going east on Lawrence, where you can find seven different versions of Chinese food, Malaysian food, Middle Eastern food, of every possible variety. Japanese, you name it, Hakka, sort of hybrid cuisines, which are really interesting. I spend a lot of time eating in Scarborough actually, for that reason.

TV: Have you had any meetings with the Black Liberation Collective?

MG: Not me directly, although Angela Hildyard, our vice president for human resources & equity, and I believe Sandy Welsh, our vice provost, students have met with them. And I know Sandy Hudson very well from her days as a leader in Arts & Science and of course as a governor at Governing Council, and I have certainly followed very closely the conversations that are underway and the issues that Black Lives Matter have put on the table.

TV: So are there plans to permit students to do exchanges to universities in Africa?  

MG: That’s a great question. I can’t say that there are any current plans, but let me relate that to the sort of conversations that are underway around international strategy for the university,where I’ve been arguing that we need to deepen and strengthen partnerships with key universities around the world. And as I have presented that idea around the university, people have responded very positively and one of the reactions has been ‘well, let’s make sure we go beyond the usual suspects you know, those universities that are in the Top 50 of The Times’ Higher Education rankings. Let’s consider emerging markets and nations that are really developing quickly, but with whom we have very few linkages, and Africa is often mentioned in that regard and I would be very interested in pursuing prospects there.

At the same time — and this is true for wherever we partner — if it comes to students abroad and student mobility, we have to ensure safety and so we have very clear guidelines around those issues, which we will have to respect when we develop exchange programs.

Brian Rankin/The Varsity

Brian Rankin/The Varsity

TV: What do you feel is your lasting project for U of T?

MG: Well, I am very passionate about a few things. First and foremost, though, I’ve spent a lot of time as dean of Arts & Science and now as president, really thinking hard about undergraduate education and how we can ensure that our students are really well-prepared for a lifetime of success. I’ve just spent the morning, actually, with presidents from across the country under the auspices of universities — Canada’s having their semi-annual meeting here in Toronto — and we spent time, actually with the bank president, Dave McKay from RBC, talking about this very issue: what kinds of competencies do our students need to succeed in life after they leave university?

I’m thrilled to report that the consensus was that it comes down to the kinds of things that we’ve actually been focusing on a lot, certainly in Arts & Science and elsewhere across the university. It’s communication skills, it is the ability to solve problems and to think critically, to put together arguments effectively whether you’re using qualitative or quantitative forms of evidence, to work well in teams. These sort of competencies which are kind of, in many ways, orthogonal to the subject matter of the discipline that you’re studying, but where we need to ensure that all students in whatever program they pursue have an opportunity to develop these capacities.

So, that suggests that we’ve been on the right track, but I think we’ve got a lot more progress still to be made. There’s an awful lot of interest around experiential learning and service learning, and that too is something that I have been a champion for as dean and now president. And that relates actually to my two other passions.

One is the city and taking better advantage of our fortunate location — or locations — in three parts of the Greater Toronto Area for the benefit of our students. So many students want some kind of internship experience or a co-op or a professional experience here, or a service learning experience in a course, or some other variation on that theme. And we’re very fortunate to be situated in this place, which offers so many rich possibilities.

So how do we do more of that for our students? Whether it’s in the classroom experience or part of a research project or an internship. Recognizing that when we do so, we’re not only enriching the experience for students and better preparing them for whatever comes next, we’re also helping them help the city, working with community-based organizations and neighbourhood groups or public agencies, so we can serve dual objectives.

And the same goes for research on the city. We have so much expertise here that can take… fuller advantage of the urban challenges and opportunities on our doorstep, and at the same time, help to advance various causes, whether it be improving public transportation in the city, something that we’ve been doing recently in connection with York, Ryerson, and OCAD; improving the public health issues; addressing income inequality; ensuring that newcomers, refugees, and others have an opportunity to really excel: and a whole range of other urban issues. So we’ve got a lot of expertise here in the university, and I want to do everything possible to make it more available to groups outside the city, in the city region, who can benefit from exposure to that.

We’ve got a lot of expertise here in the university, and I want to do everything possible to make it more available to groups outside the city, in the city region, who can benefit from exposure to that.

And the last thing is around our global connections and our global reach, picking up on what you were asking earlier with regard to Africa. I firmly believe that one of our still kind of underutilized strengths here is that we’ve got these great connections around the world to other universities. and here too. Not only is it great for our researchers to be able to work on big, hairy, tough global issues, together with colleagues from around the world, but if we can get students involved in that work as well, then there’s double or triple payoff because it broadens their horizons through an international experience. It gives them experiential learning as part of a research team and often changes their lives and their whole way that they look at the world.

TV: Are you concerned that smaller programs, such as the Transitional Year Programme and Equity Studies for example, are you concerned that they will suffer if U of T concentrates its efforts on areas where it determines to be its strengths?    

MG: No, I’m not concerned. We have actually, in this budget, reinvested substantially in the Transitional Year Programme, and it is very much a part of our identity. One of the things about U of T of which I am most proud is our ability to combine our research excellence on the global stage with our accessibility and our openness, the fact that this is a place where 85,000 students study. It’s a very, very open place.

Half of our students — more than half our students now — receive OSAP, receive financial assistance. There is no other university in the world as highly-ranked as we are that has that level of openness and accessibility. The closest neighbours would be in the California system. I know that UC Berkley is around 30 per cent financial aid; we’re at 54 per cent this year. I’m extremely proud of that part of our mission, and I see programs like TYP as being completely consistent with that part of our mission. Same with academic bridging and every other program we have in place that makes it easier for students with disadvantaged backgrounds to come and study here.

So the other thing, just more generally, we have a kind of broad understanding that there’s some programs that will pay their own way in terms of having sufficient numbers of students, and others that won’t. But that’s the essence of a university, and it’s the essence of a university like this one, which is a broad, comprehensive institution and draws its strength from that breadth.

TV: I’m conscious of your time, so this is going to be my last question. Have you ever smoked marijuana?

MG: I have! A long time ago. I didn’t particularly enjoy it. But yes, I don’t think there’s anyone in my generation that hasn’t. I was not a particular fan of it, to be honest.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

U of T’s new president lays out his vision for the next five years

Former Arts & Science dean Meric Gertler talks flat fees, fundraising, and housing shortages

U of T’s new president lays out his vision for the next five years


Meric Gertler takes the helm as the 16th president of the University of Toronto at a critical time for the university. Gertler has taught at U of T for 31 years, assuming a number of senior leadership posts — most recently serving as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science. As dean, Gertler occasionally raised the ire of student leaders, particularly when he oversaw the implementation of the controversial flat fees system — which was recently rolled back by the provincial government due to concerns about affordability for students. Gertler was mostly a popular dean, increasing the number of small first-year classes, and collaborating with the Arts & Science Students’ Union on a number of initiatives, including the popular undergraduate research fund. Now in the university’s top job, Gertler sat down to chat about the challenges he faces: reduced per-student funding from the province, dysfunctional student politics, and a public that is skeptical about the value of a university education, as well as the positive impact he hopes to make on the university over his five-year term.

 

IMG_0381TV: Do you think that universities should be graduating students job-ready?

 

MG: I think that the role for the university is to produce students that are properly educated for a lifetime of success in their careers. Does that mean job-ready? Well, probably not in the sense that public commentators have used that term. The way I would understand job-ready is that we train and educate students so that they leave here with a core set of capabilities that they can use in any job, or that will set them up well for graduate school or professional school. We’re talking about things like the ability to communicate well verbally and in written form, the ability to analyze a problem and solve it, the ability to be a critical consumer of information, question arguments and rephrase them, have some faculty of quantitative reasoning, and to be able to manage letters as well as numbers. And also, I think to have some basic grounding in moral and ethical questions. So, these are the kinds of things that I actually have spent the last seven or eight years working on in Arts and Science, trying to make sure that each of the programs in that faculty deliver those kinds of core competencies.

 

TV: When you were first appointed president you described the provincial tuition fee cap, which was a five per cent at the time, as adequate. As you know, the government announced a three per cent cap over the next four years, and they recently announced a number of changes to program fees and interest fees which you, in a previous interview, said would cost the university up to $16 million.  

 

MG: Yes.

 

TV: How has the university adjusted to funding cuts so far, and how do you see the university trying to adjust in the future?

 

MG: So, we are still digesting the news. There was some lack of clarity in the press release, and the directives from the ministry were not exactly clear on how these changes to tuition fees would be implemented. We were pleased that they even gave us a year to plan and to become ready for the adjustments that would occur. They are fairly large changes, and so we don’t want to rush into decisions. We’re also hopeful that within a year, other circumstances would change that would actually help blunt the impact of these policy decisions.

 

TV: We had a few questions submitted by students. So this is by Rishi: As an urban geographer, U of T has recently struggled with local neighbourhood associations regarding the construction of high-rise student housing on or near campus. As an urban geographer, do you believe the present availability of housing – both residents and off-campus housing — for U of T students is adequate? And if not, what needs to be done in the next 20 years, and how will you facilitate that?

 

MG: That’s a great question. So the answer is no, I don’t believe the current supply is adequate — both on or off campus. We have a rapidly growing demand for student housing on campus – both from domestic students and international students. We are doing everything we can to find ways to build more student housing on all three of our campuses. It is most challenging in the downtown setting where space is at a premium and land is scarce. Whenever you propose new projects, there are neighbourhood effects, and it’s really important to work effectively with the appropriate groups in order to plan projects that serve everybody’s needs and help our students get the kind of accommodation they want and need, but do so in a way that doesn’t offend our good neighbours. I would think that it’s possible to do that; we’ve already begun conversations with community-based organizations. I’ve met with a local councillor. I’m actually going to be meeting with the heads of all the neighbourhood associations at the St. George campus – that’s coming up later this month, and I’m looking forward to that as well.

 

TV: It’s great that you’re meeting with them. Are you going to be pursuing anything different with them in terms of policy?

 

MG: Not so much policy, but maybe in terms of practice. We’re going to bend over backwards to make sure that resident groups and associations are well-informed about what we want to do. We want to engage them in discussions about our plans and seek their input and ideas, and work in a collaborative way. We’ve tried to do that in the past – sometimes it’s worked and other times it hasn’t worked. I think we have a real interest in making sure it works well. More generally, though, coming back to the other aspect of the question in terms of housing outside the campus, I think Toronto has an affordable housing crisis. I think it’s one that’s going to get worse every time before it gets better, unless we think intelligently about how to fix it. I would love to see U of T experts in housing leading the debates about how to provide more affordable housing in the city. Related to that, though, is where that housing is, how far away it is from campus, and how students get from that housing to that campus.

 

IMG_0377

TV: Do you think the university should be doing more to improve those areas in the Maclean’s ranking, where we consistently slip?

 

MG: Absolutely. I think we have achieved a lot in the last few years, and it does take a while for perceptions to change. But that doesn’t mean that you take your eye off the ball. So we were talking a little while ago about the ONE programs, these first-year foundational programs. What they are trying to do is make sure that in this very big place there are some small group experiences in sufficient numbers. The first-year foundational programs are important. So, too, are first-year learning communities, which build smaller cohorts within very large classes. Those have proven to be hugely successful in our life sciences courses, and have now been adopted in others as well. And, particularly targeted to commuter students who find it especially difficult to build social networks, make connections, and feel a part of campus life. So we need to be doing more of that. We also need, of course, to ensure that there are more opportunities for students to engage in enriching experiences like research opportunities. We know that a lot of undergraduates come to U of T because of our research reputation. They want to be able to work with those stars who raise our position in those international rankings. They crave that kind of interaction. And so one of those things I worked hard at, as Dean, was to provide more of those opportunities. One of the ways we did that, by the way, was by partnering with the Arts and Science Students’ Union. They came to us with a great idea: to create a research fund to which undergraduate students could apply. They challenged us to match it dollar-for-dollar. In fact, we ended up matching two dollars of our money to every one dollar from them. And we set up a competition and invited students to come forward with proposals. It’s proven to be hugely popular and effective. So more of those kinds of things and – this is where my urbanist interests come in very naturally – more experiential learning and service learning opportunities, where students are working in the community locally, but not necessarily locally, but abroad as well, to not only apply their learning in the classroom in the field as it were, but also to do some good as they are doing too. It is of benefit to both the student and the community partner they are working with. We have, again, a lot of great examples of that on all three campuses. But we want to do more. So we want to identify those examples that have been most successful and scale those up, too. International experiences are something that students want more of, and that’s something I learned more of in Arts & Science. For us, we face a particular challenge because so many of our students are commuter students. So it means that, often they have part-time jobs and family responsibilities. It’s difficult for them to spend a summer abroad, let alone a whole year abroad. So we’ve had to develop more innovative ways to deliver more international opportunities to them. The one that I think is the coolest idea is these ICMs (International Course Modules) where students or faculty members can apply to the Dean’s Office for a grant to take a class, or a subset of a class, overseas for a week, ten days, or maybe two weeks. It’s to study the phenomenon they’re reading or talking about in class, up close and personally. We started those as a pilot four or five years ago and they’ve just mushroomed, they’ve been so popular. There are a lot of those kinds of innovations that don’t cost that much money but, you know, enrich the experience for students and help offset what they might otherwise be experiencing in very large, less satisfactory environments, and really make them feel connected to this place. I think that’s our biggest challenge, that kind of sense of connection, of affinity, of identifying and feeling welcome here. There are a lot of things that we have been doing, but we know that we have an awful lot of work still to do.

 

TV: One of the things I wanted to ask you about was donations. I know that as Dean, you raised $175 million through the Boundless campaign. You’ve identified fundraising as a core goal. How do you maintain academic freedom, and how do you balance the concerns of groups like the Faculty Association or the students’ unions who have repeatedly raised concerns about the fine print in donor agreements?

 

MG: Well, that’s an important question. Let me just start by noting that a pretty big chunk of the money we’re trying to raise in the Boundless campaign, including much of the money I’ve raised in Arts & Science, is earmarked for student scholarships, undergraduate and graduate, domestic and international.

 

TV: If I can be specific, I’m talking about things like, let’s say, the Rotman donation or the Munk donation which come with caveats like a yearly report to the donor and a donation that’s broken up into 14 years so that, presumably, if a yearly report didn’t go well, the funding could stop at year two or year seven. 

 

MG: So, I understand the concerns that have been expressed about those. But I think it’s important for people to know that, when you talk about the evils of fundraising, or the benefits, fundraising is for many purposes. And an awful lot of it is motivated by the need to raise money for scholarships for students. But in those other gifts that you referred to, the monies are going to help finance buildings, to help finance professorships, to help create program opportunities that would not otherwise been possible. And they have been transformative. I mean, I’ve been lucky enough to have an office at the Munk Center, now the Munk School, the original building. I have seen first-hand what a difference that philanthropic generosity has made to the enrichment and intellectual life for students and faculty. So that is where that money is going, that is what it is for. And it has been transformative. Now, having said that, it is always critical to ensure that the agreements that we sign with donors do not infringe upon academic freedom in any way. In other words, that faculty or students are as free as they were before, to pursue their own interests driven by curiosity and their particular judgment.

 

TV: Do you think that’s currently the case?

 

MG: I do, indeed. I think we’ve had a very rich, valuable, and vibrant public debate around things like the Munk gift. And in the end, I think the consensus was that, indeed, academic freedom had been protected. But it’s always good to debate these things and to raise these issues from time-to-time to make sure that we remain ever-vigilant. To make sure that we don’t cross those lines and that every agreement we sign has those protections in place. There are times when one has to push back. There are times when one has to say no. I have walked away from some big gifts in Arts and Science  when others have come to me with terms that we thought were unacceptable, where they —

 

TV: Like what?

 

MG: I can’t divulge —

 

TV: Sure, but the types of terms.

 

MG: Where, for example, a donor had said, well, this is a fund to create scholarships, but I would like these scholarships to be available only for students that come from this particular place, or that are associated with this particular company, or that sort of thing. We just said: “Well, look, if this is not based on merit or need, then we have a problem.” So, we have pushed back. It’s not fun to say “no” to multi-million-dollar gifts, but you do from time to time have to do that, and I think that we will continue to have to do that from time to time, so it’s really important to have these public discussions and debates, and to reaffirm the importance of these basic principles.

 

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TV: Absolutely. So we’ve been talking a lot about how the university is expanding on this campus and on Scarborough and Mississauga, and one of the things that The Varsity has been reporting on a lot in the last few months is deferred maintenance costs, so I know that when a donor gives a gift, like say the Goldrings, it’s often matched by another level of government. What I’m wondering is who pays for the upkeep of the Goldring Centre for High-Performance Sport in 20 years? Who pays for it in 50 years?

 

MG: Well I think this is a really good question, and we are, I think, catching up with the big deferred maintenance bill that was associated with buildings that were built many years ago, let alone the ones that we’re building today, but it has forced us to be, I think, much more careful in how we think about regular maintenance of new buildings, and ensuring that the operating costs that are associated with those buildings are probably defined to include not just heat and light and cleaning and security, but the need for ongoing maintenance, so that we prevent ourselves from getting into these difficult situation 50 years or 30 years down the road.

 

TV: Because, the current bill, and I know there’s another assessment coming out in February, but the 2012 bill, was about $400 million.

 

MG: Right.

 

TV: Obviously not all of that is urgent, but it seems like a massive expenditure.

 

MG: It is a massive expenditure, and we’re certainly not the only institution that’s facing a bill like that, but because of the large number of old buildings that we have, we’re probably disproportionately affected by this. So, we did have a process within the university of prioritizing which deferred maintenance needs are most pressing, and making sure that those are addressed. We have actually made quite a bit of progress in the last few years in shortening that last, and making sure that all the highest-priority needs have been addressed. So I think we have a much better process in place right now than we did five years ago, and while it won’t be solved overnight, I think we do have a good set of systems in place that will certainly allow us to make progress there, and on a continued basis. Of course we will continue to go after every bit of government funding that might be available for specific purposes. For example a building like University College has a lot of heritage aspects to it, and there are special funds both federally and provincially that are available from time to time to help with those particular needs, and we’ve gone after those funds quite successfully.

 

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TV: Working with ASSU is very different than working with the UTSU, with college councils. Have you had a chance to meet with student leadership so far?

 

MG: I’ve met with the executive of UTSU during the summer before I became president, went over to the observatory building and had a nice chat with them, very nice, relaxed conversation. They of course came to Governing Council in December and represented. We had a nice conversation afterwards at the reception, and I have also met with student leadership at UTM and UTSC, so –

 

TV: Have you met with the colleges?

 

MG: You mean the heads of college councils?

 

TV: Yes.

 

MG: No, I haven’t yet. I’ve interacted a lot with students at the colleges, of course, when I was Dean of Arts & Science, and the principals very close, but haven’t yet met with leaders of college councils, but I’m sure that those meetings will be coming up in my future fairly soon.

 

TV: Because, as you know, the ongoing conflict between some of the colleges and the UTSU has been more or less the same for several years now. Do you see a way out of this situation? Something you can offer as the new President?

 

MG: I am hopeful that the current conversation being conducted by the Provost will be productive and will lead to some sort of resolution, an effective resolution of the differences, and the issues that have been on the table —

 

TV: There hasn’t been any progress in six months.

 

MG: Well I’m not party to that discussion directly, so I would advise you to talk to the Provost for further details on it, but I think it’s important to take the time that is required for these issues to be aired in a fair and full way, and see what kind of resolution we can broker. We’ll certainly work hard to try and broker some kind of working and sustainable solution.

 

TV: Is there a deadline for you though? I mean the student commons is now not going to be on the table for at least this year. We’ve got a student timetable that’s often very different from an administration time table. Is there a point at which you’ll step in?

 

MG: I would not be getting directly involved, I think this is very much in the domain of the provost who’s the chief academic officer of the university, is responsible for student life issues as well. So I would encourage you to have this conversation with her.

 

TV: I guess the last question, is five years from now what would you like to be able to look back at U of T and say this is better, this is different because I was president?

 

MG: Yeah, well, I think it does come down to the three things I’ve been talking about a lot, and let’s do them in reverse order. So, we talked about reinventing and remained undergraduate education and we have spent now the better part of half an hour at least about those issues in this interview. So I would certainly hope that the gains we have made have been surmounted and we can build on them even further so we can see the student experience beginning to improve, experience in the classroom and outside the classroom. So that’s the first thing. Second thing: I’ve talked about deepening and strengthening international partnerships, and this is to the benefit of everybody including students, where we want to have ever more creative forms of international engagement for students. For example, professor Joe Wong in the Asian institute with colleagues in Fudan University in Shanghai, that pools students from Shanghai and from Toronto in the same class and faculty from both universities share the teaching. They move our Toronto students to Shanghai for the purpose of doing so. There’s no reason by the way that we couldn’t do the opposite and bring Shanghai students to Toronto. We have already quite a strong relationship with the University of Fudan, and with Joe Long and his colleagues at that university, so I’d love to see us building on models like that and applying similar ideas in our partnerships in other parts of the world as well. Third: I would really like this university to embrace its city setting in ways that it hasn’t up until now, in ways that it perhaps could or should, including the satellite campuses — so Mississauga, Scarborough and St.George. Why? Because first of all it’s good for the city, to lend our expertise and our spaces to the city for their benefit. But on top of that we also make U of T better, because the better that Toronto gets, the easier it is to attract great students to come here, the easier it is to attract great faculty and staff to work here as well and to hold on to them, they’re always in hot demand, so we have to work very hard to keep them. We want to find ourselves five years from now where our relationship with our city partners has gone from good to great and we have gone to a place where the kind of collaboration that exists between the university and the city around it has become strong, effective and successful.

 

TV: Hopefully we’ll be there in five years.

 

MG: I hope so. I’ll be working hard.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.