I Went To This Meeting: Governing Council 8th April 2014

I had been made to believe that this meeting would be an epic event, an annual showdown where the most contentious decision of the year was made.  The “Raise Tuition” vote.  When I ran for governing council, this was a huge deal, with a full-blown student politics Facebook debate on the subject.  People have strong opinions on what student governors should do at this most crucial of meetings.

It was (in all honesty) a little dull.

On the agenda: a report from the President, the annual financial aid report (again), the tuition fee schedules for publicly-funded and self-funded programs, the annual budget report, and final approval for the expansion of the Downsview book storage facility.

Like any student politician wanting to know what all the fuss was about, I went to this meeting.

I have a hearty chuckle every time the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities claims to have "increased" funding to universities.
I have a hearty (yet sad) chuckle every time the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities claims to have “increased” funding to universities.  This graph shows why.

PRESIDENT’S REPORT

  • In a textbook example of the word “coy”, Gertler hinted that the deal reached with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MCTU) regarding “differentation” was a good one.  There were two main outcomes expected of the differentiation process: either the MCTU would maintain the status quo, which is already preferential to U of T, or the MCTU would move towards an Oxbridge-type model where U of T would be even more preferred in the hopes of being able to compete better internationally as a research university.  With only hints to go off, I really have no idea, though my money is on the Oxbridge outcome.
  • Why all the coyness?  MCTU is still negotiating with other institutions, so if U of T got a really good deal, we don’t want to be telling everyone else about it.  As mentioned before, both of the most likely deals are good.
  • There’s a new federal minister for Science and Innovation, Ed Holder.  Apparently people we know at Western are good friends with him, so prospects for back-room lobbying are good.
  • U of T has signed onto the Heifei Statement on the Ten Characteristics of Contemporary Research Universities.  Basically, we’ve joined an international elite university club, which is nice.

THE BUDGET PRESENTATION

  • Scott Mabury (U of T VP University Operations) gave the budget presentation (a presentation I have now seen three times).  As a chemistry professor, he likes to use the phrase “delta” instead of “annual change”, giving me “pleasant” flashbacks to my homework.  That being said, U of T governance is a good example of the second law of thermodynamics, so I’m glad that a chem guy is running the show.  I’d imagine that if a physics professor was VP University Operations, the budget presentation would start out with “First, we assumed that the University of Toronto was a sphere…” (If you don’t get the joke, check this link.)
  • Any actual descriptions of the budget report are best saved for another time, so I’m just going to describe some of the discussion that happened.
  • The GSU gave a speech about post-residency fees.  Basically, the deal is this–after your fourth or fifth year of doing a PhD, you no longer have courses, so it used to be the case that you’d pay less tuition.  However, this is no longer the case, partially because the government stops giving the university money for grad students after they’ve been there for 5 years.  It would be fair to reinstate the post-residency tuition discount, but sadly, U of T is not known for having extra money lying around.
  • One of the big problems with not having a post-residency fee discount is that it turns people off from coming here for grad school.  U of T is currently not meeting some of its targets for grad enrollment, so this is a real concern.
  • Another problem for grad students is that U of T’s funding packages aren’t inflation adjusted, meaning that the value of grad funding declines in real terms every year.
  • The University seems to mostly want to solve the post-residency fee problem by reducing time to completion for grad students.  There was a review of this problem at some point, apparently.
  • UTMSU also gave a speech, raising some concerns with the steep increase in international tuition fees (10% for incoming students and 5% for current students).  They raised the concern that the ~$825 increase due to loss of cost recovery grants from the province due to budget cuts will be completely borne by students.
  • UTMSU also argued that since International students add $3 billion to the economy, so it’s fair to ask for a greater contribution from the university and province.
  • The motion to accept the budget passed.  No surprise there…

THE EPIC TUITION VOTE

  • Passed.  I think a couple of the student governors voted against it.  I’m actually coming round to the idea of voting against tuition as form of protest, if only to break up the monotony of everything passing unanimously.

THE DOWNSVIEW BOOK STORAGE FACILITY

  • Pretty sure there was no discussion on this one.  UofT saves money by storing books that are seldom read at a magical warehouse at Downsview (you can request them to be sent to one of the libraries).  Seeing as more people are not reading books, they’ve made this bliss-box for bibliophiles bigger.
  • When they built Robarts, they didn’t want undergrads to be able to go up to the stacks at first.  This decision was met with massive protest from students, and was quickly overturned.  Reasoning?  They thought the books would be too heavily used by undergrads to keep the collections sorted and in good condition.  Things done changed.

OTHER BUSINESS

  • Fishman asks a question about the UTSU election, specifically if the admin knows whether the ballots have been preserved or not.  Admin has no idea.
  • In keeping with the university admin’s reputation for excellent social media savvy, president Gertler mentions a video that we should all watch, saying something along the lines of “Google these words and you’ll find it, we hope.”

As ever, if you want to contact me, you can tweet @tallcoleman, or email ben[dot]coleman[at]utoronto[dot]ca

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