A roundup of construction, renovations at UTM

Several buildings remain under construction at UTM as the campus welcomes its largest ever first-year cohort

A roundup of construction, renovations at UTM

A higher population brings higher demands: more study areas, a wider range of food outlets, and additional teaching spaces are needed. This, in turn, leads to new buildings and renovations.

1. The North Building

Expected Completion: late September

The original North Building was demolished in 2015. The new six-storey building will have rooftop gardens for those interested in nature, over 500 extra study spaces for students, and technologically-advanced classrooms for teachers and learners alike. There will also be numerous charging ports, 390 lockers, and a six-storey atrium space ideal for socializing, working, eating, or just relaxing. The building will also incorporate special glass designed to deter bird strikes.

Furthermore, a resourceful rainwater reuse system will supply water for irrigation and other uses aimed at decreasing waste and energy expenditure.

The building will also add large stalls and change tables to washrooms and add both single and all-gender washrooms.

The new North Building will house the Centre for South Asian Civilizations and various other departments, with some professors already beginning the transition, and is also set to be a specific space for digital humanities research.

2. Unnamed new building

Expected Completion: Spring 2019

The currently untitled building is expected to be a two-storey glass and steel structure.

It will become part of the student pedestrian walkway that extends across campus from the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre and past the CCT Building and Student Centre.

In addition to hosting the Campus Police Services and Hospitality & Retail Operations, the building will also provide an extension to the existing Academic Annex via a shared courtyard and garden.

3. Renovations to the William G. Davis Building

Expected Completion: Spring 2019

The renovation of the William G. Davis Building comprises updates to numerous areas and services.

It currently houses lecture theatres, laboratories, classrooms, and offices, along with the Temporary Food Court (TFC), the UTM bookstore, and it is linked to the Recreation, Athletics, and Wellness Centre.

The renovations will create a refurbished main entrance and new accessible washrooms adjacent to the TFC.

The changes are designed to accommodate the increased student population. According to Paul Donoghue, then-UTM Chief Administrative Officer, a “new living room for the campus” will be formed of a permanent food court and a meeting hub that will provide seating for up to 1,000 people. The social area will be built in the location of the demolished Meeting Place.


Computer Science departments welcome five new faculty members

U of T hopes to advance robotics research

Computer Science departments welcome five new faculty members

Five new faculty members were appointed to U of T’s Computer Science departments for the 2018–2019 academic year, as the university moves to increase its commitment to computer science research, particularly in robotics.

The researchers come from a variety of backgrounds and have diverse research interests that encompass fields like robotics, machine learning, human-robot interaction, and parallel algorithms.

Dr. Animesh Garg, one of the new Assistant Professors in the Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences at UTM, was previously a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University.

In an email interview with The Varsity, Garg wrote that he chose to accept a position at U of T in part because of collaborations with industry leaders such as Google, NVIDIA, and Uber.

“The opportunity to work in such a dynamic environment composed of academic leaders, industrial partners and most of all inspiring students made for a great combination for a young academic such as myself to establish a thriving research lab,” continued Garg.

His research focuses on the fields of generalizable autonomy for robotics and “involves an integration of perception, machine learning and control in the real world.”

Dr. Maryam Mehri Dehnavi, a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science hailing from Rutgers University, wrote in an email to The Varsity that she was drawn to U of T because of its stellar academic environment and the city.

Dehnavi also pointed to the department’s focus beyond “just current trendy areas” and its investment in long-term research.

“We aim to significantly improve the performance of large-scale data-intensive problems on parallel and cloud computing platforms by building high-performance frameworks,: said Dehnavi on her research. “To build these frameworks we formulate scalable mathematical methods and develop domain-specific compilers and programming languages.”

Dr. Joseph Jay Williams is also a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science, previously from the National University of Singapore.

In an interview with The Varsity, he said that he is excited to join U of T due to the unique position he was offered in doing research that “applies computer science techniques to educational research.” In particular, Williams is excited to work on cross-disciplinary collaborations, such as with the Department of Psychology and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Williams’ research focuses on creating “intelligent self-improving systems that conduct dynamic experiments to discover how to optimize and personalize technology, helping people learn new concepts and change habitual behavior.”

In the future, Williams hopes to conduct randomized A/B experiments with practical applications in health and education.

Dr. Florian Shkurti will be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences at UTM coming from McGill University. Shkurti was drawn to U of T due to its “longstanding tradition of excellence” in areas like robotics, machine learning, computer vision, and various engineering subfields.

One of Shkurti’s research projects works on robot control systems that enable robots to work alongside scientists to explore underwater environments.

“In the future, I am planning to dedicate my research efforts to creating algorithms that learn useful abstractions and representations from large sources of unsupervised visual data,” said Shkurti.

Dr. Jessica Burgner-Kahrs from Leibniz Universität Hannover in Germany will join the Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences at UTM as an Associate Professor.

According to Burgner-Kahrs, her research interests are in robotics, particularly in small-scale continuum robotics and human-robot interactions. She will be joining the faculty in Spring 2019.

Through its appointment of research-focused faculty, the university hopes to expand its research frontiers in computer science beyond traditional areas.

The Breakdown: Orientation weeks 2018

A look at the more niche events you may have missed

The Breakdown:  Orientation weeks 2018

Orientation week brought in tens of thousands of eager first-year students at three campuses, seven colleges, and numerous faculties. While large frosh events, such as those organized by the colleges and faculties, brought together the class of 2022, several student organizations and unions created their own events catering to smaller groups on campus. The Varsity spoke to some of the organizers involved in these smaller and niche orientations.

Though some colleges organized their own LGBTQ+ friendly events, the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office is hosting a Queer Orientation for students who identify as LGBTQ+ from September 24–29.

Over 42 events will be taking place at all three campuses including a Queer & Trans Students of Colour Discussion and Social, as well as a session in collaboration with the Multi-Faith Centre, titled “What is Qu(e)erying Religion?”

A smaller orientation was also held for mature and transfer students on September 4–5, with information sessions on campus resources at U of T.



This year, the Mississauga campus is expected to welcome its largest incoming class ever.

In the weeks leading up to the start of school, UTM hosted orientation events catering to international students, as well as for parents and families of incoming first-year students.

The international student orientation took place on September 8, and it was a collaboration between the Centre for Student Engagement and the International Education Centre.

The event was not just for incoming international students, but also those new to Canada including permanent residents, landed immigrants, refugees, and newcomers with international experience who might be otherwise considered domestic students.

UTM’s International Student Orientation was the first of its kind on the campus, emerging from a user survey and feedback from the university’s international student centre. Programming included panels on social and cultural adjustment in Canada, as well as finding necessary information for immigration requirements.

“The International and New-to-Canada Student Orientation program [offered] opportunities for students to meet students with similar interests through interactive activities, learn about on/off campus services, and hear from students and alumni from UTM about how to succeed as both an international and new-to-Canada student,” said Dale Mullings, Assistant Dean of Students & International Initiatives at UTM, in an email to The Varsity.

Another similar orientation session for students new to Canada will be held on September 19 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm for those who otherwise could not attend the first event, typically due to study permit issues.

UTM’s Parent and Family Orientation, held on September 1, saw more than 700 families of incoming students. The orientation aimed to connect families and students to academic and personal resources on campus. Panels were held on specific subjects, including “Residence Parents and Families,” “Engagement Outside the Classroom,” and “University Fees and Financial Aid.” A special session was held for parents of newcomer students providing resources for immigrant services.



The Scarborough campus is also hosting an International Student Orientation, with programming scheduled from September 4–17.

“The International Student Centre has been organizing UTSC International Orientation for over 10 years,” wrote Don Campbell, Media Relations Officer at UTSC, in an email to The Varsity.

“Each incoming international student is invited to an orientation workshop where they learn about [the University Health Insurance Plan], international programs and services, and review any immigration information they might need.”

Orientation programming at UTSC’s International Student Orientation included trips to local malls, downtown Toronto attractions, and an excursion to Niagara Falls. Students will also be matched with International Student Advisors throughout the first semester to discuss important subjects such as exam preparation, immigration information, and overall guidance.

The Breakdown: What happens if the UTSU and the UTMSU separate

UTSU projects roughly $82,800 loss in yearly revenue from UTM students until 2023

The Breakdown: What happens if the UTSU and the UTMSU separate

A University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) committee has recommended that the organization terminate its membership agreement with the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).

Lucas Granger, a member of the Ad Hoc Negotiations Committee, presented the recommendation at the UTSU’s August 15 board meeting.

“It’s really serious, and I want everyone to think about that, because it’s a big move in the way the UTSU is structured,” said Granger.

That recommendation is “contingent on expected negotiation results,” said UTSU President Anne Boucher at the board meeting. Both Boucher and UTMSU President Felipe Nagata declined to comment on the specifics of these expected results.

The agreement, effective since April 30, 2008, was a bid to “co-ordinate and streamline resources” of the UTSU and UTMSU. But on January 25, 2018, the UTMSU and the UTSU began talks to renegotiate the agreement, jointly citing a need for the UTMSU to secure greater independence in governance and to better represent UTM’s student body.

The goal of the talks was not to rip up the agreement, but to “strengthen the contract,” said then-UTMSU President Salma Fakhry. That sentiment was reinforced by then-UTSU President Mathias Memmel, who said that the UTSU was “cautiously optimistic that the current agreement can be amended to the satisfaction of both parties.”

But by February, the UTSU and UTMSU released an identical announcement that “the parties aren’t able to reach an agreement,” and that they “have agreed to hold a vote on whether or not to terminate the agreement.” If the agreement is terminated, UTM students will no longer be represented by the UTSU.

Talks stalled, so the previous executives agreed to leave further negotiations “to the new executive teams [of 2018–2019] should they choose to continue.”

The new 2018–2019 UTMSU executives first met with their board on April 27, and the new UTSU executives first met with their board on April 28. The Ad Hoc Negotiations Committee within the UTSU, chaired by Boucher, first met on July 20 to secure an agreement. The committee met a second time on July 27 to discuss the financial impact of a potential separation and to issue a recommendation.

Joshua Grondin, UTSU Vice-President University Affairs, estimated that the UTSU could expect a revenue decrease of $82,000 per year from a loss of UTM student revenue.

Where does the money come from?

UTM students pay one fee and three levies to the UTSU each year, according to the Membership Agreement. The UTSU then transfers the entirety of the UTM students’ portion of both the UTSU Daycare Levy and the UTSU World University Service of Canada Levy to the UTMSU, along with 75 per cent of the UTSU Orientation Levy and 85 per cent of the UTSU Society/Membership fees. The UTSU retains the remainder of the funds.

Where does this money go?

The UTSU has budgeted the remaining 15 per cent portion of the UTSU Society/Membership Fees, which amount to around $82,800 per year, for event-running and advocacy work.

Grondin said at the July 27 committee meeting that this advocacy work includes UTSU representation on behalf of UTM, since the 2008 agreement prohibits the UTMSU from representing itself in campus-wide negotiations, such as with Governing Council.

In the 2017–2018 period, the UTSU earned $1,950,508.62 in total revenue and gains. The non-remitted revenue from UTM students accounts for 4.2 per cent of that.

Boucher further projects that lost UTM student fees would result in a sub-10 per cent reduction of revenue that the UTSU would expect to receive in 2022.

In response to Boucher’s projection, Granger said that “it’s not that much of an impact,” to which Boucher agreed, adding that “the numbers are more positive than would have been anticipated.”

How will the UTSU make up for lost revenue?

The UTSU plans to cut spending to “pursue efficiencies,” with Boucher vowing that she “would never be able to responsibly make cuts to its advocacy, services, or programming that could contribute significantly to campus life.”

The UTSU also plans to request donations from alumni, as well as to increase cash inflow by opening for-profit services run by the UTSU’s commercial subsidiary, which include renting conference spaces and running a café. Finally, the UTSU is considering an increase in the UTSU levy to offset the loss in revenue.

What are the benefits of a UTSU-UTMSU separation?

For the UTSU, a separation would allow the UTSU to provide services currently offered by the UTMSU and vice versa, which is currently prohibited by the agreement.

According to Boucher, the UTMSU would receive increased freedom in governance and increased revenue from UTM students, enabling it to offer services that it could not operate before. Nagata did not discuss any benefits to the UTMSU from a separation.

How would the separation be ratified?

The recommendation of the ad hoc committee is non-binding. One of two processes must be undertaken for a separation to occur.

The first is a three-quarters majority vote in favour of terminating the agreement in a joint meeting between the UTSU and UTMSU Board of Directors, followed by another three-quarters majority vote in favour of terminating the agreement at the Annual General Meeting between the UTSU and the UTMSU board members and executives.

The second option is a two-thirds majority vote in favour of terminating the agreement in a similar joint meeting, followed by a simple majority vote in a joint referendum.

UTM expects to welcome its largest group of first-year students

Student surge comes as much of the campus remains under construction

UTM expects to welcome its largest group of first-year students

UTM expects to welcome its largest incoming undergraduate class ever this fall, though much of the campus is under construction.

Professor Ulrich Krull, Vice-President and Principal of UTM, told The Varsity in an email that “it is expected that the incoming class may be about 10% larger than that [of] last year,” though he added that he is sure that the growth of the campus would properly accommodate the large wave of incoming students.

Krull called the increase in acceptances of offers “unexpected,” but he added that “this outcome reflects the competitive positioning that UTM has achieved.”

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017, UTM has grown considerably over the years. From a single academic building that held 155 students, 28 faculty, and 40 staff members in its inaugural year, today UTM is host to 14,000 undergraduate students, 682 graduate students, and over 54,000 alumni.

These numbers are only increasing, so what exactly is UTM going to do in order to properly accommodate its growing student population?

“As done every year, arrangements are being made with academic departments and institutes, and with the various student service operations to accommodate the incoming class and ensure that all UTM students have an outstanding experience,” wrote Krull.

Buildings still under renovation at UTM include the Davis Building, the Health Sciences Complex, Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre, Kaneff Centre, North Building, Principal’s Residence Lislehurst, and Erindale Hall.

According to UTM’s Facilities Management and Planning, its project schedules indicated that most of these buildings needed at least three more weeks of construction in August. However, this does not guarantee that the buildings would be fully completed.

Since the start of construction, there have been concerns about student access to study spaces, classrooms, and eating areas, as the rate of student growth has not changed.

“The campus has experienced total undergraduate enrolment growth at a rate of about 10% each year for the past 10 years and we welcome and look forward to the arrival of the incoming class,” wrote Krull.

Starvation drives risky behaviour in earthworms

Undergraduate researchers at UTM explore trade-offs between safety and hunger in Lumbricus terrestris

Starvation drives risky behaviour in earthworms

Oskar Shura and Pawandeep Sandhu, recent graduates from the Department of Biology at UTM, investigated animal risk-taking behaviour in the common earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris.

“Having the background information in a simple invertebrate such as an earthworm could really provide us with information on how, or why, other organisms take risks, and how external factors (such as starvation) could influence these choices,” explained Shura in an email.

Their study, published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, was carried out from September 2016 to April 2017 as part of BIO318, a year long research course at UTM that explores animal behaviour.

Shura and Sandhu worked under the mentorship of Cylita Guy, a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Rosalind L. Murray, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology. Cylita helped Shura and Sandhu shape the manuscript, while Murray provided her expertise for statistical analyses and supplementary data.

To explore the starvation-related trade-off with safety in Lumbricus terrestris, the authors manipulated the earthworm’s tendency to move away from light, a phenomenon known as negative phototaxis.

Earthworms prefer to live in predominantly moist and dark habitats, yet they are foragers that feed at the surface of the soil. This reaction to light is thought to be a defensive tactic against predators that may be active during dawn or daytime, or as a strategy to avoid dry soil, which may lead to desiccation and suffocation.

The association between starvation and risk was tested by defining movement toward light as risky behaviour.

The worms were divided into three groups: a non-starved group kept in high-nutrient compost and a starved group kept in low-nutrient potting soil for seven days prior to the experiment, as well as a group in a half-starved condition that was transferred from being in high-nutrient soil for four days to low-nutrient soil for three days prior to the experiment.

Worms from the groups at the three different stages of starvation were then individually placed in an arena where they could choose between a dark, low-nutrient environment or a bright, LED-lit, high-nutrient environment.

While there were no significant observed differences of choice and latency between the half-starved and starved worms, considering their general aversion to light, the starved and half-starved groups chose the nutrient-rich but lit environment at more than double the proportionality than the worms that were not starved.

Starved earthworms were more willing to ignore the bright environmental cue to danger when facing hunger as the alternative. They also made decisions more quickly; the starved groups took about half the time of non-starved worms when deciding between the two conditions.

The study highlighted “a cost-benefit trade-off between growth and survival,” when a hungry worm might choose to ignore the danger signs posed by a bright environment to benefit from the potential windfall gain of nutrition. There is a key balance between safety and hunger and its influence on the decision-making process in the worm.

The similarity to human behaviour is easy to see.

“You might be more likely to eat at a really sketchy food joint that you might get food poisoning from if it’s close rather than travel a really far distance to go to better food,” explained Guy.

Considering that species such as these earthworms are relatively understudied, the authors suggest that identifying behavioural similarity and differences between diverse evolutionary groups could benefit our understanding of biology and ecology.

According to Shura, studies that examine the behaviour or life history of the common earthworm  Lumbricus terrestris, an invasive species, could be used to manage their population numbers in the future.

Shura and Sandhu presented their findings at the Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution Meeting 2018 at the University of Guelph in July.

“To have our research critically evaluated by such experienced individuals like Cylita, Ros [Murray], our professors, and the editors, was truly such an honour,” said Shura.

One UTM’s victory was a foregone conclusion

Re: “Uncontested One UTM slate sweeps UTMSU executive elections”

One UTM’s victory was a foregone conclusion

According to the unofficial results of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections, held from March 20–22, 2018, the One UTM slate has won all five executive positions. Given that all executive candidates on the One UTM slate ran unopposed — a first in my three years at UTM — their victory was unsurprising.

The lack of opposition against One UTM discouraged me from voting during the elections, because their victory seemed like a foregone conclusion. Though I was approached to vote by both student volunteers as well as by members of One UTM, I still doubted whether my one vote would make a difference. I suspect many students had similar thoughts — the votes cast for each executive position was around 1,930 students, which accounts for approximately 13.5 per cent of over 14,000 students who represented by the UTMSU.

Though I agree with many of One UTM’s platform points, I still wish that there had been at least some competition, in the form of another slate or independent candidates, to allow for debate. Debating would allow the student body to see how exactly One UTM candidates would reach its goals, namely by exposing any flaws or inconsistencies in their claims or plans.

Hopefully future UTMSU elections will not be plagued by such a lack of competition.  For now, however, I look forward to seeing what changes One UTM will bring to UTM, and especially whether it will deliver on the promise of eliminating the $55 Student System Access fee that was central to its platform.


Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing and Communication.

When it comes to naming things, crowd-sourcing isn’t the best idea

Re: “UTM seeking student suggestions for new building name”

When it comes to naming things, crowd-sourcing isn’t the best idea

It seems that members of the U of T administration were left wanting more after the results of the Portal Naming Contest were announced in December 2017. Since one naming contest was not enough, UTM launched another earlier this month, this time for the new north building that is scheduled to open in the summer of 2018.

The contest invited UTM staff, students, and faculty to suggest a name for the new north building between February 12 and February 25. Subsequently, a committee formed by UTM’s staff, students, and faculty will review and recommend three names from these suggestions to Dr. Ulrich Krull, the principal of UTM. Krull will, in turn, pass along one name to be approved by the administration.

Though Susan Senese, UTM’s Interim Chief Administrative Officer, called this contest a “community opportunity,” it is highly likely that the results of this contest will generate frivolous responses rather than serious ones.

Undergraduate students make up the largest portion of UTM’s community, and many of these students share and create memes. Outside of the campus context, the results of numerous naming contests in the recent past have been skewed by meme-wielding internet users.

Mountain Dew’s 2012 Dub the Dew contest to name its soft drink resulted in suggestions ranging from “Fapple” to “Gushing Granny.” A public vote in 2016 to name the new UK Polar Royal Research Ship resulted in 124,109 votes for “Boaty McBoatface.” When the Philadelphia Zoo asked the public to name its newborn baby gorilla in 2016, it was bombarded with suggestions of “Harambe,” the gorilla who was fatally shot by a Cincinnati Zoo worker earlier that year after a three-year-old child climbed into his enclosure, and whose death was subsequently memorialized through memes.

U of T’s new portal name, Quercus, was also subjected to similar mockery by members of a Facebook group devoted to U of T memes, who likened it to “Ridiculus.”

Given that “Building McBuildingFace” and “Glassy Squares Boi” — both names derived from memes — have already been suggested, thanks to the U of T subreddit, I doubt that leaving the name up to the UTM community is the best idea. At this rate, students will be attending classes in the “Ignorant and Hurtful Building.”


Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing.