Complex agreement means concrete improvement for U of T students

Re: "New Strategic Mandate Agreement looks to bridge gap between old and new provincial funding models"

Complex agreement means concrete improvement for U of T students

Collaborating with the provincial government, U of T recently signed a new Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) to outline its goals and priorities for the next three years. Surprisingly, considering it was devised by university administrators and provincial public servants, the SMA lays out a plan to substantially improve the student experience at U of T.

While UTM and UTSC will see their undergraduate populations remain constant, UTSG will house almost 2,000 fewer undergrads by 2020. For those undergraduate students remaining, U of T plans to offer improved financial aid, specifically aiming to spend more on student aid per recipient and land in the top quartile of scholarship and bursary expenditure per recipient among Ontario universities.

Under the new provincial funding framework, metrics like these — and others, such as number of published papers — will determine a portion of the university’s funding. The SMA thereby creates a direct financial incentive for U of T to support its students — a surefire way to catch the attention of university administrators and an unambiguously positive development.

The SMA will also shift focus toward research and innovation. While this has a more direct impact on graduate students, undergraduates will benefit as well. More professors conducting more cutting-edge research will not only build the reputation of our school and our degrees, but it will open more doors to undergraduate research and encourage innovative industries to plant themselves within our ecosystem. Implementing the SMA will ultimately result in better opportunities for students in both academia and industry.

While it’s easy to dismiss densely worded documents as meaningless in the real world, the changes outlined in the SMA will have real, concrete, and positive impacts on students for years to come. U of T is doubling down on its strengths, and we will be the ones to benefit.

 

Andrew Kidd is a fourth-year student studying Engineering Physics.

Op-ed: Yours in service

An unelected UTSU executive presents his case to the student community

Op-ed: Yours in service

My name is Adrian Huntelar, and I’m the Vice-President University Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). If reading that feels a little strange, I get it. It feels strange for me to write it.

During the 2017 UTSU election cycle, I was just another concerned student. I didn’t run for any position, and I didn’t actively support any slate. In May 2017, I was appointed to be the UTSU General Equity Director (GED) representing low-income students.

Over the past six months, I’ve sat on the Board of Directors and worked on affordability issues affecting students — textbook costs, accessibility of needs-based funding beyond the Ontario Student Assistance Program, and food security, just to name a few. Financial insecurity is something that affects me personally, so I took the board position as an opportunity to make some real progress on issues that I knew were causing serious impediments to my own university experience, and the experiences of friends and colleagues in similar situations.

On November 25, the board appointed me VP University Affairs, filling the vacancy left by Carina Zhang, who was elected in the spring and resigned from the position in early September. I now have the responsibility to advocate on behalf of students in all areas related to academics and university governance. My job also involves assisting with the work of the Mental Wellness, International Students, and Sustainability Commissioners.

If you’re concerned about the UTSU being led by someone you haven’t had the chance to assess through an election, you’re probably not alone. I’m a political science major, so I know very well that appointed leaders rarely have the time or the mandate to get anything meaningful done. With that said, I feel that it’s my duty to try to make as much progress as possible for students in the short time that I am in this position.

I don’t have the benefit of a campaign period to introduce myself and my plan, but I hope this note will serve as a somewhat adequate replacement. Here’s what you can expect from me over the next five months.

I will try to make your university experience better.

This university needs a lot of work. Students deal with more unfair policies and structures than can be outlined in a single op-ed piece. I’ve identified three broad priority areas in this regard.

The first is food security. It’s far too difficult to get healthy, affordable food that is accessible to commuter students and to those with dietary restrictions. Improving access to food is my biggest goal for the year, so stay tuned for specifics on new services and advocacy efforts.

I also believe students have the right to expect certain basic considerations when they attend U of T. Among other things, this includes the right to be provided all relevant information about their courses, the right to choose their learning methods, and the right to have their needs accommodated in all circumstances.

Issues like improving course syllabi, ensuring that professors can’t ban students who use laptops from their classes, and improving note-taking services should be approached both as individual issues, and as part of a larger conversation about student rights. Ideally, we would get a single Student Bill of Rights endorsed by the university that codifies these things and more.

Finally, university is a financial burden for many students. In addition to the UTSU’s work on freezing tuition fees, we need to make textbooks and ancillary fees more affordable, and remove unnecessary charges wherever possible. Ending exam deferral and exam remark fees would be a good place to start.

I will try to reach you.

As an executive, I have a responsibility to hear the concerns of as many students as possible. I cannot claim to know what all students are worried about, and it would be wrong to focus entirely on my own priorities without considering what students say are their biggest priorities. Only through constant communication can we identify and alleviate the biggest problems on campus.

I plan to hold office hours in popular common spaces on campus and meet with every College and Faculty Student Society before the end of my term. I will also make myself available at all times via email.  If you have concerns, I will help you get them on the agenda.

I will try to do what’s right.

I can firmly say that every decision I have made as a board member has been based on my best judgment of what was best for students. I can’t promise I’ll be perfect, but I can promise that I will speak, vote, and act with your interests in mind at all times. And if I mess something up, I want you to call me out on it.

I hope this note has given you some faith that my heart is in the right place, and that I am ready to work with and for you. I’ve always considered myself to be a student public servant, not a student politician, and assuming the role of VP University Affairs hasn’t changed that. If you would like to speak personally, you can send an email to vpua@utsu.ca, or just send me a Facebook message.

 

Adrian Huntelar is a third-year student at Trinity College studying Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies and Political Science. He was appointed Vice-President University Affairs of the UTSU on November 25.