UC administration under fire for scheduling convocation on a religious holiday

Convocation scheduled for June 10

UC administration under fire for scheduling convocation on a religious holiday

University College is under fire after scheduling its convocation on a Jewish religious holiday. Set for June 10, the ceremony conflicts with the Jewish holiday Shavuot, which stretches from June 8–10. Students of Jewish faith are frustrated and are calling upon university administration to make reasonable arrangements and prevent similar conflicts from happening in the future.

Hillel U of T, a chapter of the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, told The Varsity that the conflict is disappointing for the university’s Jewish community and for graduating students.

“Hillel is troubled by this scheduling conflict. Unfortunately, this means that Jewish students will be forced to choose between attending their convocation and observing an integral Jewish holiday,” wrote Director of Advocacy for Hillel Ontario Ilan Orzy to The Varsity.

“We have raised this concern with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students and have asked them to consider rescheduling the convocation to a different date.”

According to university spokesperson Elizabeth Church, further accommodations will be made for students who are impacted by the scheduling conflict.

“We do our best to avoid conflicts with all dates of religious observance when planning convocation ceremonies,” she wrote in a statement to The Varsity.

Due to tight scheduling, the university will be holding 31 ceremonies over 15 days. Students have the option to attend a separate convocation ceremony due to religious observance.

“Graduates who choose to attend another ceremony because of religious observance are placed with others graduating with their degree, and they are presented, walk across the stage and collect their diploma in the same manner as other attending graduates,” wrote Church.

Under Governing Council’s Policy on Scheduling of Classes and Examinations and Other Accommodations for Religious Observances, the university acknowledges that a student should not be disadvantaged for observing religious holidays.

“It is the policy of the University of Toronto to arrange reasonable accommodation of the needs of students who observe religious holy days other than those already accommodated by ordinary scheduling and statutory holidays,” it reads.

Students, however, have the responsibility of informing administration in a timely fashion of any upcoming religious observances that may be in conflict.

The Vice-President & Provost is responsible for handling such policy, as well as for publishing information regarding anticipated annual religious holidays. However, there is no guarantee that there will not be important academic dates scheduled on those dates.

Orzy assures that any students who are negatively affected by the scheduling conflict can contact Hillel U of T to express any concerns to the administration there. University College has historically had a large Jewish community, since it was the only U of T college that was openly accepting of Jewish students until the late 1970s. Victoria College’s convocation is also scheduled for June 10.

The Varsity has reached out to Victoria College for comment.

The Breakdown: Commuter resources on campus

Lounges, special dons, pancakes among commuter services

The Breakdown: Commuter resources on campus

Despite its large commuter population — over 75 per cent of U of T students identify as commuters — almost all students who commute more than an hour each way say they feel discouraged from participating in off-campus activities.

Considering the barriers that face commuter students, various colleges and student groups have created initiatives to support the needs of these commuter students and enhance their overall student experience on and off campus.

Innis College

Among the services that Innis provides to commuter students are a commuter lounge equipped with couches, tables, beanbags, a kitchenette, a microwave, a football table, and a TV; lockers available for rent starting at $10; and monthly commuter-oriented events. In addition, students can run for the two Commuter Representative positions in the Innis College Student Society.

New College

Like many other colleges, New is home to a commuter don program, which consists of two Commuter Dons and one lead don. These dons plan programming once or twice a month for commuters. Upcoming events include community hours for students to reach out to Commuter Dons and residence students alike, as well as information sessions about TTC tips.


St. Michael’s College

St. Michael’s also has a commuter donship program, which helps facilitate commuter-friendly programming and acts as a resource to both commuter and international students.

Trinity College

Trinity has a Non-Resident Affairs Committee (NRAC) made up of 14 members who meet four times a year. Members in the NRAC are responsible for facilitating commuter-friendly events, maintaining the commuter students’ common room, and integrating commuter students into student life, while also encouraging participation in student government. Trinity also has a meal plan for commuter students, which includes 10 free meals for part-time students and 15 free meals for full-time students.

University College (UC)

The Commuter Student Centre (CSC), located in the UC Union building at 79 St. George Street, is the primary space for commuter students at UC. It is equipped with a lounge, a kitchenette with a microwave and refrigerator, a study space, a group study room, lockers for rent each semester, and board games. The CSC is supported by Community Coordinators (CoCo), who facilitate programming, events, and activities at the centre.

“The UC Literary and Athletic Society, Off Campus Commission is a volunteer organization that has as its goal the betterment of the university experience for UC students that live off campus. They create community and organize events for commuter students, often in collaboration with the CoCos,” wrote Naeem Ordonez, Assistant to the Dean of Students at UC, in an email to The Varsity.

Victoria College

Victoria is home to two commuter student groups: Victoria College Off Campus Association (VOCA) and Commuter Dons. The college hosts several commuter-oriented events throughout the academic year including a weekly free pancake breakfast by VOCA.

The Goldring Student Centre also has a commuter lounge in its basement with lockers that students can rent free of charge and a quiet study space equipped with couches, desks, and charging tables.

“We (VOCA) are responsible for hosting and facilitating events throughout the year for commuter students. VOCA also holds monthly collaborations with residence dons as a way to connect residence and commuter students,” wrote Emilia De Fabritiis, Commuter Commissioner of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council in an email to The Varsity.

“The other commuter initiatives are the Vic Commuter Dons. Similar to VOCA, they host events for commuters. However, Commuter Dons are trained to provide more of an emotional support for students.”

Students are encouraged to get involved at VOCA through applications for general commission members, first year execs, upper year executives, commissioner, and co-chair.


Woodsworth College

Woodsworth has several commuter resources including lockers available for rent starting at $15; a commuter lounge equipped with a microwave, books, whiteboard, outlets, tables, and comfortable seats; and events such as Woodsworth College Students’ Association Wednesdays, when free pancakes are served. Commuter students can also run for positions, including Off-Campus Directors, and they can participate in Woodsworth’s Off-Campus Committee.


The City of Toronto’s Smart Commute Scarborough initiative allows users to be matched with a fellow commuter taking the same route, in an effort to encourage sustainability. The campus also runs a bikeshare program that allows students and staff to rent out bikes free of charge. Commuter meal plans are also available for $390.


Like UTSC, Smart Commute is also made available for commuter students at UTM. A U-Pass — a transit pass granting unlimited travel — is made available for students using MiWay. Lockers are also available for rent in the student centre.

Trinity, UTSC, and UTM did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

U of T welcomed 19,187 international students last year

Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

Amid a rising international student population, student unions and the seven colleges are expanding their representation on campus and creating services catered to those demographics. The Varsity reached out to several student unions and college governments for a roundup of international student representation on campus.


The University of Toronto Students’ Union does not have a specific committee geared toward international students. However, it does have positions which serve the international student population, such as Vice-President Student Life and Vice-President Equity.


The International Students’ Caucus (ISC) at the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union (UTGSU) aims to address the interests and concerns regarding international graduate students.

The caucus hosts social, academic, and professional workshops and meetings concerning governance and policy changes within the university community and the city at large.

“The ISC is a group under the UTGSU [that] mainly serves international students’ interests, including academic success, social interaction, and networking,” reads a statement on its website.

“Meetings will be held monthly and will focus on the needs of the caucus’ members and the needs of all international graduate students including social interaction, networking, and potential changes in programming and/or governance at the university, city, and/or provincial levels.”

The ISC’s elected positions include the chair, who oversees the caucus as a whole, and the UTGSU Executive Liaison.


The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) represents over 13,500 students across the UTM, with 20 per cent of students being international. While the UTMSU does not have a specific position or caucus dedicated to international students, they do provide several services.

“We endeavour to ensure that the rights of all students are respected, provide cost-saving services, programs and events, and represent the voices of part-time undergraduate students across the University and to all levels of government,” reads a statement on their website. “We are fundamentally committed to the principle of access to education for all.”

The UTMSU also has several campaigns in partnership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) regarding international student issues, including Fight for Fees, Fairness for International Students, and OHIP for International Students.


The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) currently does not have a specific levy or caucus dedicated to international students; however, it has positions aimed toward serving the needs of domestic and international students alike on campus, such as Vice-President Campus Life and Vice-President Equity.

SCSU also provides specific services in partnership with the CFS for international students including the International Student Identity Card, which provides students with exclusive discounts such as airfare and entertainment.

Innis College

The Innis College student body provides a number of resources and services made available to international students. The Innis Residence Council has six positions for Junior International House Representatives who work alongside Senior House Representatives to coordinate events and foster a sense of involvement. An International Transition Advisor is also available on campus.

New College

New College houses the International Foundation Program, which provides conditional acceptance to international students whose English proficiency scores do not meet direct entrance requirements. The program guarantees admission to the Faculty of Arts & Science or the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering upon completion.

Madison Hönig, New College Student Council President, told The Varsity, “At New College, international students make up an important part of our student population. We are lucky to house the International Foundation Program (IFP) at New College. As such, we do have an International Foundation Program Representative to advocate for these students.”

“Additionally, we work closely with the New College Residence Council and the main governance structures within the College to ensure that international students are being advocated for and included in our programming, academic initiatives and support at New College,” continued Hönig. “We are working to see that international student representation and advocacy is considered within the portfolios of all of our members.”

University College

University College’s International Student Advisor aims to provide academic and personal resources to International students through their sUCcess Centre. Appointments can be made to meet with an advisor.

Victoria College

Victoria College International Students Association (VISA) is a levy funded by the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council that aims to support the needs and interests of international students at Victoria College.

VISA is used to host social, academic, and professional events throughout the year and also funds a mentorship program for incoming students.

“Our program offered help to students from all backgrounds, in which the mentor would be providing both academic and moral support to the students transitioning into the new university environment, through a two-hour session every two weeks,” reads a statement from the mentorship program’s website.

Woodsworth College

The International Students Director under the Woodsworth College Student Association (WCSA) is the representative for international students at Woodsworth College. The International Students Director also coordinates events hosted by the association catered to international students.

“With this role, I hope to connect with not only incoming international students but also upper year students to bridge the gap between them. I look forward to continuing with some of the events introduced by last year’s director as well as introducing a few new ones,” reads a statement on its website from from Leslie Mutoni, WCSA’s International Students Director.

During the 2017–2018 academic year, the university welcomed over 19,187 international students from across 163 countries and regions, mainly from China, India, the United States, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students and student societies at St. Michael’s College and Trinity College did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Woodsworth, University College looking for new principals

Current UC principal Donald Ainslie to continue leading U of T revitalization plan

Woodsworth, University College looking for new principals

The search is on to replace professors Joseph Desloges and Donald Ainslie as the heads of Woodsworth College and University College (UC), respectively. Ainslie will continue in his role as co-chair of the Landmark Project.

In separate statements issued in May, the university wrote that the two principals are ineligible for re-appointment under the Policy on Appointment of Academic Administrators because they are expected to complete their second terms by the end of this school year.

U of T Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr explained, “The way that our policy works is that, for all of these positions, people are appointed for a period of usually five years for their first appointment — although the policy says it can be up to seven, it’s usually five years — and then, following the review, they can be appointed for another five years,” referring to faculty members appointed to administrative roles.

Since their departures were announced, advisory committees have been set up to help look for new college heads. Members include Regehr, teaching staff, college students, and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, among others.

Following nominations, interested applicants will undergo an interview process. From start to finish, no names are released to the public.

“We do confidential searches at the University of Toronto because what we want is to attract outstanding people who might be doing other kinds of interesting jobs that they feel very committed to, and they don’t want others to know in a public way that they are perhaps interested in something else,” explained Regehr.

Desloges has served as the principal of Woodsworth since 2008, and is also a professor in the Geography and Earth Sciences departments.

In its statement, the university lauded Desloges’ various achievements.

“Over the past decade, he has provided exceptional leadership of the College, upholding its emphasis on recruiting and supporting outstanding students from both traditional and non-traditional pathways.”

Ainslie has been the principal of University College since 2011. The university praised his accomplishments, stating, “As Principal, Professor Ainslie led University College through a revitalization planning process that resulted in the renovation project currently underway; enhanced resources for University College’s academic programs; rejuvenated alumni engagement; spearheaded University College’s very successful Boundless Campaign; and helped to create the Art Museum at the University of Toronto.”

Although Ainslie will no longer serve as the principal of UC, he will continue with his other roles within the university. In particular, Ainslie told The Varsity in an email that he “will be continuing as the academic co-lead of the Landmark Project, alongside Vice-President University Operations, Scott Mabury,” which aims to revitalize and pedestrianize parts of the St. George campus.

“In terms of other roles at U of T, I will continue to be a professor in the philosophy department. I have some sabbatical coming my way, so the first order of business will [be] finishing a book on the history of ethics,” continued Ainslie.

Desloges and Ainslie will finish their terms on June 30, 2019. Their successors are expected to take office the next day.

University College renovations set to begin in January

Proposed renovations prioritize undergraduate usage and accessibility

University College renovations set to begin in January

A Town Hall hosted by the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UC Lit) on October 10 discussed many of the drastic changes planned for the UC Building. The renovations, proposed in 2015, are part of a multi-million-dollar 10-year plan to restore the historic university buildings. Construction is scheduled to begin in early January of next year.

According to University College Principal Donald Ainslie, there are four core principles that influenced the renovations’ design. The first was to “put undergraduates first.” The second was to place focus on heritage, since UC is a national historic site. The third principle was accessibility. “We wanted the idea of the college to be for everyone,” said Ainslie. Plans are in place to add a new elevator to the front of the building.

“The final priority in the renovation was ensuring that UC… [is the] iconic building of the University of Toronto… We want to make sure that… U of T’s identity as one of world’s great teaching and research universities [is] embodied in the use of the building.”

New features will include a restored library and reading room, which will be named after former Toronto Dominion Bank CEO Ed Clark for his $2.5 million donation. UC alumnus Paul Cadario also donated $3 million to the restoration project; there will be a conference centre at Croft Chapter House named after him.

The renovation costs are to be covered by college donors and a student levy established under UC Lit, which increased by $12.50 in accordance with a vote in March 2016. “Over the past three years, a student advisory committee appointed by the UC Lit has and continues to be involved in discussions on the renovations to ensure the needs of students will be prioritized in them, especially since UC students are paying for the renovation costs,” wrote UC Lit President Albert Hoang to The Varsity. “A large majority of UC students in March 2016 voted in favour of increasing their student fees by $12.50 per session (part time students would pay $5 per session) and these increases would go towards the student levy collected over 20 years.”

Several areas near UC will be inaccessible until the end of construction in spring 2019. The UC quad walkways will be closed to build wider paths; the east and west hall on the second floor of the college will be closed and will become the new library and Clarke Family Reading Room; and the Alumni Lounge and the F Wing Basement will be inaccessible.

Student organizations — including the college newspaper The Gargoyle, located in the F Wing — are working with university officials to “find a way for them to continue their activities even during the construction,” according to Ainslie.

Student events, including the Fireball social and Orientation organized by UC Lit, are also expected to be affected by the renovations. “Students will still be able to enjoy events put on by the UC Lit and its ancillaries,” said Hoang. UC Lit said it will be working with the college administration to “preserve the spirit and quality” of social events.

UC revitalization referendum passes

Next UC Lit council to make decisions about student-run café

UC revitalization referendum passes

A vote in a University College Literary & Athletic Society’s (UC Lit) referendum for a building revitalization levy has passed.

The referendum was held online on March 10, along with the UC Lit executive elections. There were 250 votes in favour, 88 against, and 21 abstentions. 

The levy will be $12.50 for full-time students and $5 for part-time students, bringing the total UC student fees to $30.03 and $13.15 for full-time and part-time students, respectively. The money will go towards various improvements to the University College building, including: renovations to the Junior Common Room (JCR); a new student lounge and café in room 376; improvements to the quadrangle; and an expansion of the UC Success Centre. 

UC Lit president Amanda Stojcevski called the referendum a “huge achievement.”

“Many students involved in our campaign contributed a lot of time and effort into informing students about the referendum, and we are so proud to see that it paid off,” she said. “I am very excited to see the vibrant UC Community expand into the beautiful building we have, and I hope it makes future students even more proud to be a part of UC.”

This is not the first time the referendum was introduced. In 2014, it failed to reach a two-thirds majority by a margin of six votes. 

“It was quite discouraging to have the previous referendum fail by about six votes a couple years ago during my first year at university and a lot of students felt the same,” said UC Lit vice president and president-elect for the 2016–2017 year Ramsey Andary. “But it is thanks to those students who pushed for informing the community on the importance of revitalizing their common spaces that we were able to be successful this time around.”

Some details of the revitalization projects have yet to be finalized, and the UC Lit plans to hold a JCR assessment meeting on March 17 to receive input from students. The UC Lit also plans to discuss the renovations to the quadrangle with the Landmark Committee.

The incoming UC Lit executive will need to decide whether to operate the café in UC 376 themselves or have UC Food Services run it. The UC Lit has the right of first refusal to operate the café and currently operates Diabolos’, a student-run coffee shop located in the JCR.

Diabolos’, which had previously experienced financial and operational challenges, reopened in January 2015 after remaining closed for several months.

Nevertheless, Andary supports making the café student-run.

“Although we found this year that opening Diabolos’ Coffee Bar in its new form was a great challenge, we definitely knew it was worth the hassle. We learned and made note of every little detail it takes to set up a functioning student-run café, and I do believe we can use that experience in opening a ‘second branch’ in UC 376,” Andary told The Varsity.

“To have this café run by the UC Lit means we can open up more opportunities for students in our community to get involved with this project and encourage students to check out the revitalized spaces that will be opened up in the upper floors of UC,” said Andary.

UC to hold referendum on building revitalization

Plan includes JCR renovations, new library, new café, improvements to quad

UC to hold referendum on building revitalization

THE University College Literary and Athletics Society (UC Lit) plans to hold a referendum on creating a new levy for improvements to the University College (UC) building.

The new levy would comprise a tuition increase of $30.03 and $13.15 for full-time and part-time students respectively, over a span of 20 years. Even after the proposed increase, UC students would still be paying the second-lowest fees among all seven colleges.

“We want students to experience the amazing potential that our building has, and have the opportunity to use these revitalized and newly implemented spaces themselves before they graduate,” said UC Lit president Amanda Stojcevski. 

The levy is part of a larger $40 million campaign to revitalize the UC building. The campaign includes a new library and reading room at East and West Hall, improvements to the quadrangle, a conference centre at Croft Chapter House, audio-visual systems for all classrooms, a central elevator, and more accessible points of entry. Other funding sources for the project include the Faculty of Arts & Science, the Office of the Vice-President and Provost, the UC Capital Funds, donations from UC alumni, and the Boundless campaign.

Stojcevski stressed that the levy would be specifically allocated for improvements to student spaces. These include renovations to the Junior Common Room (JCR), such as power outlets on the floor, and a student run café at the the tower of the building (UC 376).

Stojcevski also mentioned that the recent flooding of the JCR will actually save the UC Lit time and money in the long run. “Since the cost of the new floor will be covered between the college and insurance as it was damaged out of our control, we now only need to cover the cost of the outlets,” she explained.   

According to Stojcevski, the new flooring of the JCR is expected to be completed within the next few weeks. Other improvements to the JCR will start in May and are scheduled to be completed in September before Frosh Week. The UC Lit hopes to see the café, library, elevator, and reading room completed around January 2017. Details for the quadrangle will be discussed with the Landmark Project, U of T’s initiative to revitalize outdoor public spaces throughout the entire campus.

This is the second time that this referendum has been introduced. In 2014, it was defeated by a margin of six votes.    

UC students will be able to vote online on March 10, between 9:00am and 9:00pm and in-person from 10:00am to 7:00pm.

Reading week spirits dampened after UC floods

Burst pipe to blame for wreckage

Reading week spirits dampened after UC floods

Students that hoped to make themselves comfortable in the University College Junior Common Room (JCR) over reading week were left shut out when a flood caused the room to close after a water pipe in the building burst; it did not reopen until February 25.

The JCR is a popular lounge and study space among students, especially those from University College. The space houses the office of the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UC Lit) and Diabolos, UC Lit’s student-run coffee shop, both of which were forced to close.

“We believe that the pipe burst due to the extreme cold,” said Melinda Scott, dean of students for University College. Over Family Day weekend, the City of Toronto issued an extreme cold alert as temperatures plummeted to below –20° Celsius.

In terms of repair, contractors worked to remove the damaged hardwood flooring and clean the concrete underneath. The floor of the JCR will remain exposed concrete until it can be replaced.

This is not the first time that ruptured pipes have caused a flood at U of T. Last year, Woodworth College residence flooded due to a burst pipe. In November 2014, Sidney Smith Hall flooded as a result of a water main break.

According to U of T’s annual deferred maintenance report that was released last month, the University College building currently has $6.9 million in deferred maintenance costs. The building was given a Facilities Condition Index score of 11.9 per cent; a score above 10 per cent indicates that a building is in poor condition.