Mixed reactions from student groups over U of T’s mental health task force

Criticisms about lack of diverse student representation

Mixed reactions from student groups over U of T’s mental health task force

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

U of T’s Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health wrapped up its months-long consultation period on November 25, leaving mixed reviews from student groups that participated. The consultations touched on numerous topics, including student representation, the academic climate at U of T, and the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP).


The task force was formed on March 28 as part of President Gertler’s action plan to address student mental health and wellness, following two student deaths by suicide on campus between January and March of 2019. Throughout the summer and fall, the task force has been engaging in its outreach process to review U of T’s current services relating to mental health and potential new solutions. 

Earlier this month, the task force released a draft summary of the themes that arose during its consultations, and is scheduled to provide its recommendations to U of T in December.

In addition to reaching out to individual community members through online forms and in-person feedback sessions, the task force highlighted a number of student organizations that it would consult with. The Varsity contacted these groups to hear about their experiences.

Most interviewed student groups had positive feedback to share along with their criticisms, including feeling validated during consultations. The Innis College Student Society and the St. Michael’s College Student Union had only positive feedback to report.

Concerns about representation

The UofT Mental Health Policy Council (MHPC), a newly created mental health advocacy group on campus, wrote to The Varsity that “the Task Force’s structure and mandate make it a poor [representation] of student interests.” The MHPC also took issue with the prioritization of professional and academic experience above the lived experiences of applicants for the four student representative positions on the task force.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President, Operations, Arjun Kaul, wrote to The Varsity explaining that the union “took the time to criticize their non-student-led model” when meeting with the task force. Kaul also noted that no changes to the task force’s structure were made following the UTSU’s suggestions.

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union President Chemi Lhamo wrote that there is no representation of UTSC in the student members of the task force, even though it has its own nuances as a satellite campus. The student representatives on the task force are composed of two graduate students, an undergraduate student from UTM, and an undergraduate student from UTSG.

Of the student groups that responded to The Varsity’s request for comment, only the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union confirmed that student representatives from the task force were present at its consultation.

A spokesperson from U of T clarified that in order to ensure confidentiality and comfort of students at these consultations, Professor Bonnie Kirsh from the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, and Director of Critical Incidents, Safety, and Health Awareness for the Faculty of Arts & Science Caroline Rabbat, led the sessions. Kirsh and Rabbat then shared the feedback they received with other members of the task force.   

Harmful academic culture

Kaul believes that the draft summary of themes was “a good step,” however, he does not believe that the themes have put enough onus on U of T itself. Kaul cited the section in the themes document on culture at U of T and pointed out that the task force largely used language relating to students’ perception and beliefs about harmful academic culture.

“The reality is that there is an institutional rot at the heart of U of T’s academic system, not a simple problem with students’ perception,” wrote Kaul.

Morgan Watkins, President of the Students’ Law Society, wrote that “mental health needs should be a priority consideration in all university policy areas.” Watkins gave the example of taking a wider scope when it comes to mental wellness during exam times. That is, considering the structure of curricula from a mental health perspective could mean refraining from “automatically deferring to 100% exams” in the Faculty of Law, rather than simply providing extra resources during exam time.

Watkins asserted that this type of an approach to harmful academic culture focuses in on “structural barriers to addressing mental health & wellness on campus, rather than being reactionary.”

A U of T spokesperson noted that the draft summary of themes is still in the editing process and feedback from students will be taken into consideration.

University-mandated leave of absence policy

While Mental Wellness Commissioner on the University College Literary and Athletic Society, Aanya Bahl, did “appreciate the time… and attention to detail” in the draft summary of themes, she did not feel that students’ concerns in regard to the UMLAP were adequately presented. “[UMLAP] was only spoken about twice in the drafted list of themes… they’re not admitting that it’s the policy that needs to be changed,” Bahl told The Varsity.

One suggestion for the UMLAP that Bahl had was that the policy should enter into specifics about what supports they provide a student once they’re removed from study.

The U of T spokesperson informed The Varsity that university staff are working on an awareness campaign to counter misconceptions about the UMLAP.

Disclosure: Aanya Bahl writes for The Varsity‘s Science Section in Volume 140.

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.

Review of sexual violence policy finds 56 reports in three years, only one tribunal

As the policy undergoes governance review, data points toward under-reporting

Review of sexual violence policy finds 56 reports in three years, only one tribunal

At the University Affairs Board (UAB) meeting on November 13, in a relatively empty Governing Council chamber, the university’s sexual violence policy went through its first three-year review. The reports presented at the UAB found that from early 2017 to late 2018, there were 56 cases reported through the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre (SVPSC), but during that same time, only one hearing was held.

That hearing saw the respondent admitting to “non-consensual touching.” The respondent was sanctioned with a one-year suspension, a five-year notation on their transcript, and a one-year probationary period after the suspension, limiting contact with the survivor.

This review was part of the mandate of the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act that was passed under former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, which sparked the policy’s creation in the first place. U of T’s proposed revised policy clarified language, but included no substantial changes.

At the same meeting, the university released its numbers for non-academic offences, which included the number of tribunals held in cases where the respondent to a report of sexual violence is a student.

“Cases can be resolved in different ways. Where the respondent is a student, cases may be referred to a hearing under the Code of Student Conduct, but may be resolved before the hearing is conducted,” wrote Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost, Students, in an email to The Varsity.

“In making a decision as to whether a matter is referred to a hearing, the wishes of students who come to the centre are always considered,” wrote Welsh. “In some cases they may not want a hearing, and would prefer the matter be resolved in another way.”

How we got here

In 2016, the provincial legislature enacted the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, which, through the then-Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, mandated that universities and colleges were to develop independent sexual violence and assault policies. Up until then, U of T’s policy was embedded among several other policies, including the Student Code of Conduct and the university’s Policy and Procedure on Sexual Harassment. Following calls to action from the U of T community, and part of a wider movement across North America in 2014, the university began the process of consulting on revisions for a new policy.

By the time the then-bill reached royal assent in 2016, U of T’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment was undergoing consultations, with the university releasing a draft in September and a final version in November of that year. The policy was the work of years-long consultations, research, and various task force and committee recommendations — including the development of a tri-campus SVPSC.

Since then

In 2017, a year after its release,  U of T’s policy received a “C” grade for its sexual violence policies from Our Turn, a coalition of 20 Canadian student unions. The policy was marked down for lacking mandatory sexual violence sensitivity training, not acknowledging the existence of a rape culture at the university, and not having clearly defined timelines for reports and investigations. The same year, Tamsyn Riddle, a U of T student, filed a human rights complaint against U of T and Trinity College, citing a failed 17-month sexual assault investigation in 2015 and failure of the college to enforce the interim measures imposed on her assailant.

Various reports were released in 2019, reflecting the policy’s first three years: the university’s own SVPSC 2017–2018 report, a report from the U of T student advocacy group for sexual assault survivors Silence is Violence, and the Ontario provincial survey on sexual violence at postsecondary institutions.

The SVPSC reported that 56 cases of sexual violence were filed under the university’s sexual violence policy from the office’s first two years of operation.

Silence is Violence, a grassroots student advocacy group, collected its own data, surveying 544 anonymous students. Of its respondents, 109 reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual violence or were uncertain whether the incident they experienced was an act of sexual violence during their time at U of T. Thirty per cent of respondents indicated that they knew someone who had experienced sexual violence on campus.

The provincial Student Voices on Sexual Assault survey released on March 19 reported that of 26,824 U of T respondents, 4,628 reported experiences of stalking and 12,293 reported instances of sexual harassment, including discrimination and online and physical harassment. It also found that 3,602 U of T students reported non-consensual sexual experiences, which makes up 13.42 per cent of U of T’s respondents.

The revised policy, with clarified language but lacking any substantive additions, will continue through the governance process, where it will ultimately be voted for approval at the December 12 meeting of Governing Council.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities was unable to comment at the time of publication.

Editor’s note (November 18, 6:00 pm): This article has been updated to clarify that the data is compiled from multiple reports. The article has also corrected that the SVPSC report is from 2017–2018, not 2018–2019.

Opinion: UTSG’s new weather cancellation policy is a step in the right direction

Administration must always prioritize student voices, safety

Opinion: UTSG’s new weather cancellation policy is a step in the right direction

This November has seen the return of heavy snow and ice — which means all eyes are on the U of T administration’s decisions surrounding campus closures. However, recent updates to its weather cancellation policy — following significant backlash for UTSG’s decisions not to close campus in light of heavy weather last year — provide hope on this matter.

The errors of the past

In the past, UTSG has been exceptionally late in its closure announcements due to severe winter weather. Most egregiously, on January 28, UTSG cancelled classes starting at 6:00 pm, notifying students just minutes before, long after the Environment Canada warning.

At the time, I was a student living on residence. When the announcement came, I was already standing outside of my class, confused. I had a 10-minute walk. If you had a two-hour transit ride — as is the case for many students — you would have already completed your dangerous commute by the time you heard that you didn’t need to be there, and would then need to make that same trek back home. 

This led to vocal criticism from students over the way that cancellations were handled. Afterward, Regehr said that Robarts Library would remain open around-the-clock, even during winter storms, and that students could always stay there overnight if they found themselves stranded on campus. Many students further criticized this solution as absurd. Cancelling classes is a much better course of action than students sleeping overnight in Robarts. 

On February 12, the Toronto District School Board closed for the first time since 2011, and Ryerson University, York University, UTM, and UTSC all closed first thing in the morning, while UTSG stayed open until 4:00 pm.

This was criticized by students as other downtown schools declared travel unsafe, while UTSG seemed to either not realize or not care about the worsening conditions. Instead, the administration only announced around noon that classes would be cancelled later that afternoon, while many students still needed to get to campus for earlier classes, putting their safety at risk.

Students should not need to worry about their safety trying to get to class. Last year a student was rear ended while driving and another fell, potentially sustaining a concussion. Both students were on their way to and from class, with one commenting on how they felt they needed to choose between their safety and attendance, a decision that students should never need to make.

The last academic year’s experiences, in sum, raised questions about the devaluation of student voices and experiences by UTSG’s administration.

A step in the right direction

But recent changes to the procedure concerning the cancellation of classes — sent out by Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat    are a step in the right direction. The changes, which were announced on October 31, signal a positive adjustment to the way the administration is responding to student concerns regarding the university’s lack of timely closure during extreme weather.

The first heading of the announcement is titled “We heard your concerns,” and unlike previous responses from the administration, I actually feel heard. Student safety should always come first, and this is a good first step in recognizing that.

This year, the university plans to have more coordination with other schools and transit systems regarding closures and to broadcast cancellations on social media, making them more accessible to students.

One positive change is monitoring the GO Train service and local and regional highways for closures and delays, which will be beneficial for many students commuting from all throughout the GTA.

All that being said, there is still room for improvement. In the announcement, there was no reference to what they would do to ensure that cancellations are announced in a timely fashion.

In an email to The Varsity, university spokesperson Elizabeth Church clarified that the administration will try to make sure that cancellations are announced by 6:30 am this year because it recognizes that many students commute great distances.

Church also wrote, “It’s important that we hear from our students on this and other areas where we are working to update our policies and practices.”

I hope that the recent update marks a new beginning in how administration treats concerns brought forward by students. As the winter begins, we can see if it follows through on the promises it has made in this statement. Moving forward, we need an administration that always listens and that takes our concerns seriously.

Laura Peberdy is a second-year Global Health student at Victoria College.

“You have power that students don’t”: protests continue as students demand better mental health support

Calls for repeal of university-mandated leave policy, majority representation in policy consultations at Business Board

“You have power that students don’t”: protests continue as students demand better mental health support

As part of a continuing effort by the U of T Mental Health Policy Council (UTMH), an advocacy group created in the wake of a student death in September, students protested outside of Simcoe Hall during a meeting of the Governing Council’s Business Board on October 7. Speakers included student representatives from the Black Students’ Association, Leap UofT, independent student activists, and local elected officials.

Bhutilla Karpoche, MPP Parkdale–High Park, spoke at the rally in support of greater access to mental health care: “In the past year, I have listened to young people, listened to families, listened to frontline workers, and the state of our mental health care system in this province is shameful.”

Even with the resources that are available, mental health support “is virtually non-existent for young people. It is a group that has been completely ignored,” said Karpoche. “We have to continue to organize so that we don’t just leave today’s rally and come back next time when there is another crisis.”

Chris Glover, MPP Spadina–Fort York, agreed with Karpoche, saying, “Absolutely, the university must do more to support mental wellness on this campus.”

He additionally criticized the provincial government’s cuts to education as being a factor in the rise of mental health issues. “Cost and access to education is an incredible stress on students,” said Glover.

Inside the Business Board meeting, four students were given speaking rights, though comments were heard from other students who attended the meeting.

One of the four students, Sarah Colbourn, appealed to the Business Board and its financial power at the university: “You have power that students don’t.”

She criticized the Boundless fundraising campaign, which raised $2.6 billion, while the university has only allocated $3 million in additional funding for mental health in the past three years.

“We are here because we are asking you to use your power and your position to enact the changes that we can’t,” said Colbourn. “It is clear from your public posturing and media stance that you have the money.”

She pointed out that between 2014 and 2019, the number of students registered with accessibility services with a mental illness as their primary impairment doubled. “But we have not seen the staff and funding capacities of those bodies double.”

A U of T spokesperson told The Varsity that the money has gone in part to double the number of accessibility counsellors.

“We are equally as concerned about the issues that you raised. We do need to do better when it comes to issues around anti-Black racism, when it comes to issues around mental health,” responded Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Vice President, Human Resources and Equity.

In an interview with The Varsity, Mercer Palmer, an organizer with UTMH and recent U of T graduate, explained what the protestors are demanding from the administration.

Their first demand is that the university accepts “students with the intention of having them graduate,” meaning that the university needs to provide better services for students’ mental and physical health. Secondly, they demand “serious policy change,” such as the repeal of the university-mandated leave of absence policy.

“The third demand is nothing about us without us,” he said, referencing the eponymous report put out by U of T students last April, where they demand majority representation in all mental health policy creation.

“We cannot allow the university to continue to make decisions on our behalf without consulting us.”

Editor’s note (November 3, 4:48 pm): This article has been updated to correct that the university allocated $3 million in additional funding, not standalone funding, to mental health services. U of T says that the money was spent in part to double the number of accessibility counsellors.

U of T’s mental health task force is largely performative so far

Initiative must tackle academic and admission policies to truly create tangible change

U of T’s mental health task force is largely performative so far

Content warning: this article contains discussions of suicide.

In the wake of a death by suicide at Bahen Centre for Information Technology on March 17, U of T President Meric Gertler issued a letter to students, staff, and faculty announcing the formation of the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health. This letter followed a large public outcry concerning the university’s inaction over the mental health crisis.

The task force was created to work toward the priorities identified in the university’s Student Mental Health Framework report. The mandate of the task force includes a review of mental health service delivery, coordination of tri-campus student mental health support, and partnerships with community-based mental health organizations. 

While the task force aims to strengthen pre-existing policies and improve mental health facilities, its mandate does not effectively tackle one major cause of stress: the administration’s academic and admission policies.  

University is a huge stepping stone from secondary education; many students find themselves in a completely new and strange environment. This can take a huge toll on a student’s academic performance.

And yet, it is a huge task to reserve an appointment with a health and wellness counsellor if the wait time for these services is too long. There is a lack of adequate safe counselling spaces and counsellors amongst the three campuses. Regardless of what the administrative policies might be, every student should have access to these services. 

Students are hoping to see more effective communication with faculty and staff to improve on these services. They hope to see tangible change. 

Earlier this year, President Gertler issued a statement clarifying that students’ mental health and physical well-being are the university’s utmost priority. 

However, “if that really was the case, then that needs to be embodied in the academic culture on all three campuses,” remarked Lina Maragha, a representative of the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s ad hoc mental health committee. 

Academic culture has become toxic over the years, as represented by the mandated leave of absence policy. The policy not only potentially forces student facing mental illnesses to take leave from school, but also restricts them from accessing numerous services, including those provided by the Health & Wellness Centre. 

To restrict access to not just education, but also to essential services such as fitness centres, forces students to conceal their mental illnesses and prioritize academic achievement over mental well-being. Indeed, students may feel pressured or ashamed by their circumstances. 

Students want to see President Gertler’s message incorporated in the way that student life is structured and envisioned, including increasing academic forgiveness policies, having lenient timelines for credit/no credit options, and late withdrawal for any courses. 

As the task force’s mandate fails to address the GPA admission requirements to enter specific programs of study, there are steps that the administration can take toward creating a less stressful academic system. Other than lowering cutoff grades, U of T should make the program selection system abundantly clear to all prospective students. 

In conjunction, the university should discuss directly admitting students into their programs in their first year, as is the case in numerous prestigious universities around the world. Moreover, a more holistic application process may be a better reflection of students’ abilities, and the admissions committee may be able to grasp a better understanding of who the student really is.

Earlier this summer, U of T revealed the 13  members of the task force, with four students representing the diverse student population at three campuses. 

Maragha further commented that, “the current composition of the task force may not truly reflect the lived experiences of mental health by the community.” To tackle this, members of the community believe that it is important for the task force to have continuous discussions and consultations with students of all levels and status, and for the task force to integrate these consultations into its recommendations. 

Furthermore, there have also been instances where professors do not take mental health illnesses seriously or act in a manner which might cause stress to some students. For instance, in a 2016 article reported by City News, a professor dismissed a student because they did not “look sick.” 

Computer science students should be a particular focal point of the task force. Two deaths by suicide occured at the Bahen Centre this past year, which is the hub of computer science classes. These students are under intense pressure not only to get into their program, but also to succeed in highly competitive classes. 

“Even with the minimal changes previously made for U of T mental health services, students are still hopeful about changes in the near future,” said Maragha. 

The task force was formed as a result of increasing public pressure. The university administration failed to publicly recognize protesters for nearly two weeks, and mental health activists were shut down at Governing Council meetings. The announcement of the task force came after vast media coverage, and seems largely performative thus far.

Only one task force was made for three campuses that are in different geographical areas and whose student demographics differ drastically. This is not enough to review and address the entire community’s concerns. Only if and when the task force considers recommendations by students, and is willing to communicate effectively, will we begin to see a change in the happiness and health of the student population.

Vinayak Tuteja is a second-year Neuroscience and Bioinformatics student at University College.

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.

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.

Who runs this place?

The hierarchical structure of the University of Toronto

Who runs this place?

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

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

The administrative system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The college system

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

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

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

Faculties and Schools

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

Other organizations and groups on campus

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

U of T proposed budget increases financial aid spending, capital projects on all three campuses

$2.676 billion in budgeted operating revenue is expected, an 8.2 per cent increase from last year

U of T proposed budget increases financial aid spending, capital projects on all three campuses

The University of Toronto released their proposed budget for the upcoming 2018–2019 fiscal year, which featured increased funding in financial aid, research opportunities, and graduate programs. The budget reports a total budgeted operating revenue of $2.676 billion, 8.2 per cent higher than the 2017–2018 budget.

Expenses in the proposed budget include large-scale building projects on all three campuses, including an increase in spending toward the total deferred maintenance liability, an increase in student aid, and grants and diversity initiatives.

$224 million is budgeted toward student aid for the 2018–2019 fiscal year. This figure is expected to grow to $260 million over five years. The increase in spending on financial aid can be attributed to the university’s policy on student financial support. The statement principle outlines that, “No student offered admission to a program at the University of Toronto should be unable to enter or complete the program due to lack of financial means”.

The proposed budget also aims to fund diversity and equity initiatives. A total of $3 million over a course of three years will be allocated to coordinate access programs for students from underrepresented groups on campus. Similarly, $3 million over a course of three years will be set aside to fund postdoctoral fellowships for individuals from underrepresented groups. In turn, this will diversify the amount of minority scholars across the country.

Deferred maintenance has been a critical issue, costing the university $549 million in liabilities this year. Of that $549 million cost, UTSG accounts for $478 million with an increase of $4 million compared to last year. UTSC and UTM campuses saw decreases of $2 million and $4 million, respectively. $18 million has been allotted for deferred maintenance repairs, specifically at the St. George campus, while $2.5 million are set aside for the UTM and UTSC campus in their respective budgets.


Changes in the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) were also included in the report. The program was changed to include free tuition for students from low and middle-income families, 30 per cent off tuition grants, and opportunity-based grants for students to reduce loan debt. 55 per cent of U of T students receive OSAP payments.

Funding for the University of Toronto Advanced Planning for Students program (UTAPS) is also projected to increase by an additional $13 million over the planning period. UTAPS gives grants to OSAP eligible students based on financial need.


Much of the university’s operating revenue is obtained through provincial operating grants, tuition, and various student fees. Tuition and grant revenue for 2018–2019 is projected to be $2.336 billion, a 2.5 per cent increase compared to the $2.279 billion projected last year. Similarly, large endowments from the university’s greater community have also contributed over $2.38 billion to the operating revenue.

This year, a maximum three per cent increase will be added to tuition for Arts & Science students. Tuition fees for graduate and professional program students may also be increased by a maximum of five per cent. The university has also proposed to align tuition fees for international PhD students with the domestic rate.

The university recently signed a new Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA2) with the province of Ontario. The agreement aims to re-establish the university’s leadership role in research and innovation in Ontario. SMA2 aims to include funding for 631 new master’s student spaces and 198 new doctoral student spaces by fall 2019.

Governing Council will vote on the $2.68 billion proposed operating budget for the 2018–2019 fiscal year on April 5