Opinion: The credit/no credit deadline must be extended across all campuses, not just at UTSG

UTSC and UTM students should be afforded the same accommodation

Opinion: The credit/no credit deadline must be extended across all campuses, not just at UTSG

The impacts of COVID-19 have made all of our school lives more difficult. At the University of Toronto, the credit/no credit (CR/NCR) policy has been key in ameliorating academic difficulties. After all, being able to see your grade before deciding to CR/NCR is a sigh of relief in the face of heavily-weighted — yet now uncertain — finals. 

However, this is not a privilege afforded to all U of T students. In fact, UTSC and UTM students, who face the same difficulties in light of the spread of COVID-19, are making their CR/NCR choices without knowing their final marks.

UTSC and UTM students can only make their decisions until April 25 and April 22 respectively, and “no final grades will be released until after this date” per the UTSC website.

UTSG’s Faculty of Arts & Science was the first to announce its updated CR/NCR policy on March 15. It would have made sense for UTSC and UTM to follow suit, but instead, their announcements came two days after, with different CR/NCR deadlines.

The rationale that was offered for the differences between campuses is what is truly frustrating. 

The UTM website helpfully outlines that “the regulations and procedures that govern these decisions… may vary among the divisions across the University, as is normally the case.” These differences aim to “[maintain] academic standards of degrees and programs.”

In other words, differences in regulations and procedures, academic standards, and more are the cause of differences in policy.

Yet I do not believe that academic standards are so different across the three campuses as to warrant such a substantial variance. 

To be clear, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the Rotman School of Management at UTSG have both taken identical positions to the Faculty of Arts & Science. If three widely differing divisions with differing academic regulations and policies can arrive at the same decision downtown, then UTSC and UTM ought to as well.

For students who are dependent on final marks for employment, graduate school, and beyond, the ability to CR/NCR without knowledge of final marks is not sufficient when faced with writing a final that’s worth 40–50 per cent of their grade in an experimental, untested format. UTSG, the University of Waterloo, and Ryerson University all seem to agree on offering students the ability to CR/NCR after viewing their grades.

Fundamentally, this is an equity issue. UTSC and UTM students are U of T students too; they face the same academic standards, graduate with the same degree, and are equally impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Every U of T student deserves the same accommodations in the face of this pandemic.

Perhaps the university needs to listen to the petitions being circulated by those who have been impacted.

George Chen is a fourth-year Management and International Business student at UTSC.

The Medium passes referendum on levy increase

UTM newspaper increases membership levy by $2

<i>The Medium</i> passes referendum on levy increase

The Medium, UTM’s campus newspaper, passed its recently held levy referendum seeking additional funding. Voting lasted from February 11–13, and the unofficial results of the vote were announced on Monday — with 43 votes in favour, 36 against, and seven abstentions. The Medium was established in 1973 following the collapse of UTM’s first campus newspaper, The Erindalian.

Three goals were identified as justifications for the proposed levy increase, including gaining a more equitable salary for staff members, increasing opportunities for journalists, and increasing funding for the annual magazine.

As a levy-collecting student society, The Medium’s budget is funded through a combination of a student levy and advertisements. In the 2018–2019 school year, The Medium received $3.63 from full-time students and $1.21 from part-time students at UTM during the fall and winter semesters through incidental fees. During the fall semester, this fee payment depended on whether students opted in to pay, in accordance with the recently struck down Student Choice Initiative from the provincial government. The Medium has received the same level of incidental fee funding since the 2002–2003 school year.

According to the Managing Editor of The Medium, Paula Cho, salary increases would be made to match Ontario’s minimum wage, which increased to $14 per hour in 2018.

New opportunities for journalists would include “networking events, panels, and seminars with professional journalists and editors across the industry,” according to Cho. Past events have included a half-day journalism conference run by the newspaper editors and Mehreen Shahid and Vanessa Gillis of The Sheridan Sun and Robert Price of the Professional Writing Department at UTM, which aimed to teach the basics of journalism to attendees.

The levy increases would also increase funding to The Medium Magazine, which is released once a year. The magazine includes long-form opinion pieces, personal essays, photography, and more. Cho explained that the funding increase would “provide more opportunities for students to write, edit, photograph, and illustrate.”

Editor’s Note (February 24, 6:06 pm): The article was updated to include the unofficial referendum results.

Administration addresses student concerns at UTMSU mental health town hall

Revamping syllabi, scrapping sick notes among possibilities discussed

Administration addresses  student concerns at  UTMSU mental health town hall

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) invited students and panelists to have a conversation around mental health on campus last week, sparking discussion on classroom policies that negatively affect student mental health.

UTM Assistant Dean, Student Wellness, Support & Success Andrea Carter started the conversation by detailing her team’s efforts to provide mental health resources to students.

“We implement a step model of care which identifies chronic, immediate, urgent, and non-urgent needs for care, and engages in the appropriate next level options,” said Carter.

Her team’s goal, she said, is to simplify care through services such as a multilingual after-hours program through U of T’s recently released My Student Support Program service for free text and call support. Text service is offered through the app in six languages — English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, and Korean. If scheduled in advance, call service is offered in 146 languages and immediate call service is available in 35 languages.

The move toward equitable classroom policies

As the panel progressed, the conversation in the room shifted away from the mental health resources UTM offers its students and moved toward classroom policies that some students reported were detrimental to their mental well-being.

Fiona Rawle, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and UTM Assistant Dean of Students, said that she has been in talks with various departments and professors to determine stress points, and how course policies can be adjusted accordingly.

“There’s one thing in particular where I see I can help address mental illness. And that’s in the teaching and learning collaboration,” she said. “This is how faculty and instructors get trained on how to teach effectively, have effective assignments, active learning classrooms and whatnot.”

Later in the semester, UTM students will be able to fill out a survey so that Rawle and her team can gauge what kinds of changes would be helpful to students. So far, her team’s data indicates that students who request exceptions to course policies often come from privileged backgrounds.

“If you’re granting exceptions, you can be reinforcing that privilege,” she said. “And I think a lot of professors might not be aware of this.” She also noted that there is research showing that male students are more likely to ask for and be granted grade changes.

Rawle and her team’s work aims to address these classroom policies to make them more equitable for students from all backgrounds. She also acknowledged that UTM is a commuter campus with its own particular challenges, and said that there is an ongoing discussion surrounding office hours, and whether to provide online office hours for students unable to remain on campus.

Revamping the syllabus

“Have professors ever said to you ‘that’s on the syllabus’ if you ask a question?” asked Rawle to the students in the town hall. Most answered in the affirmative.

Rawle explained that research suggests “students will often ask a question that’s on the syllabus, because it’s safe territory. They might not know how to start talking to their professor.”

Her team also hopes to implement various changes to syllabi, including using a less aggressive tone of writing and listing alternative assignments. One such example, said Rawle, is to offer students the option of filming and submitting a presentation versus presenting in front of a class.

Self-reported illness forms

Rawle and the UTMSU also discussed changes to the current sick note policy, potentially modelling a new system after UTSC reported “positive results” when it implemented self-reported sick notes in 2018–2019.

Currently, students are required to submit a Verification of Student Illness or Injury form to receive academic considerations on the basis of their illness or injury. The form requires a signature from a licensed health practitioner, such as a nurse, nurse practitioner, physician, or surgeon.

Students expressed concerns that some clinics charge a processing fee to complete the forms, and that this burden could be even greater for international students who do not have provincial health coverage.

The self-reported illness forms were first introduced during a UTM Campus Council meeting last May. At the time, Professor Amrita Daniere noted that the self-declared illness form would allow students to submit incomplete coursework for up to three consecutive days without worrying about providing official documentation, and that the form could be used up to two times per semester.

Additionally, Rawle noted that there have been discussions around flexible grading schemes that would eliminate the need for sick notes altogether. In fact, Rawle noted that “there’s a lot of professors who don’t want [sick] notes at all.” 

She offered an example of what a flexible grading scheme could look like: “If you have a reading assignment due every weekend, why not just take the best eight of 12 and not worry about [sick] notes?”

Her goal, she said, is to “give all the professors the same background knowledge so they understand what the options are [on setting the grading scheme].”

“There is no University of Toronto policy saying the late penalty has to be this, or even saying that you have to have a late penalty,” Rawle said. “Some departments have policies and some professors have their own policy.”

Carter also acknowledged how inaccessible the landing webpages of services at UTM are. “I Google everything that I need to find related to UTM because the web presence is difficult,” said Carter. “So we’re working on that.”

UTM lecturer criticized online for tying grades to social media, buying his book

Reddit post sparks controversy, university asks instructor to change grading scheme

UTM lecturer criticized online for tying grades to social media, buying his book

Mitchell Huynh is a sessional lecturer at UTM who has come under fire for requiring his students to buy his own book, get his autograph, and follow his social media accounts for marks as part of his introduction to personal finance class.

Huynh has talked to multiple news outlets and stands by his grading practices, though he did tell the National Post that the university has emailed him to ask for his reconsideration of the grading scheme.

In a now-deleted Reddit post, user XdaZxz posted a breakdown of the course’s grading scheme, which included five per cent of the final mark set aside for buying Huynh’s book Dumb Money, writing out the student’s name in marker, getting the book signed by him, connecting with him on LinkedIn, and following him on Twitter and Instagram.

Despite the online backlash, Huynh stood by his grading scheme, sending the Toronto Star a copy of anonymous student feedback that he had received from previous classes, which mainly held positive views of the class. His RateMyProfessors.com score is evenly split between students who praise the lecturer’s course and students that echo online backlash.

“Basically using the course to promote his book. Course isn’t hard and it’s easy grades so if that’s what you’re after it’s a good pick,” wrote a user on Huynh’s RateMyProfessors.com page.

A LinkedIn user wrote about his teaching: “I get that the book costs what it does, but really? Participation is completely bullshit… Teaching is about mentorship and humility. Asking students to conform so you can hit a line item of value for yourself is wrong. Teach your course but don’t add extras that have a monetary value.”

To this Huynh replied that the cost of the textbook is “anywhere from $6 on a good day to $28 at it’s [sic] peak. That’s 1 to 5 Starbucks lattes.  Anything under $5 in price is a gimme, which is why the lowest the book has been is $6. The book needs to be valued to impart value to the students. This will increase the probability of the students hanging on to the book, so that it will be there when they need it.”

“Teaching and book sales together are less than five per cent of my annual income,” the instructor told the National Post, adding that he has put aside approximately $2,000 and will use the increased attention to his work to donate toward fighting the bushfires in Australia.

In a statement to The Varsity, a spokesperson for U of T declined to discuss the details of the specific case “because of personal privacy.” The spokesperson went on to write in an email: “The university does have policies regarding grading and fees for course materials.”

Huynh did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

UTM: Get Hired — Summer and Full-Time Job Fair

Speak with representatives from dozens of organizations and learn about a wide range of summer, part-time, and full-time opportunities!

This fair is exclusively for current U of T students and recent graduates (within two years of graduation). Valid TCards required for entry.

Are you an employer looking to attend our Get Hired Fair? Please contact vanisa.dimitrova@utoronto.ca for more details.

Are you Faculty or Staff at U of T? Attend to meet possible partners for your internships or co-op placements.

UTM: UTMSU Exam Destressors — Free Dinner!

Hey UTM! It’s that time of year again and we’ve got a bunch of great exam destressors for you to enjoy. Free food, activities and relaxation methods to take care of yourself this exam session.

Location: Presentation Room, Student Centre. 7:30PM – until quantities last.

*Keep your eyes peeled for FREE destressor kits throughout the exam period!*

For questions please email vpua@utmsu.ca!

UTM: UTMSU Exam Destressors — Free Dinner!

Hey UTM! It’s that time of year again and we’ve got a bunch of great exam destressors for you to enjoy. Free food, activities and relaxation methods to take care of yourself this exam session.

Location: Presentation Room, Student Centre. 7:30PM – until quantities last.

*Keep your eyes peeled for FREE destressor kits throughout the exam period!*

For questions please email vpua@utmsu.ca!

UTM: UTMSU Exam Destressors — Raptors Night

Hey UTM! It’s that time of year again and we’ve got a bunch of great exam destressors for you to enjoy. Free food, activities and relaxation methods to take care of yourself this exam session.

Location: Presentation Room, Student Centre

*Keep your eyes peeled for FREE destressor kits throughout the exam period!*

For questions please email vpua@utmsu.ca!