REPORT NUMBER 232 OF THE UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS BOARD
JANUARY 18, 2023
To the Governing Council,
University of Toronto
Your Board reports that it met on Wednesday, January 18, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber with the following members present:
Vikram Chadalawada (Chair), Sandy Welsh (Vice-Provost, Students), David Newman (Executive Director, Student Experience), Faraz Alidina, Neil Chakraborty*, Tarun Dewan, Susan Froom, Sherry Kulman, Clayon Levy, K. Sonu Gaind, Indi Gopinathan*, Syeda Hasan, Natasha Hanif, Madeline Kalda, Kikelomo Lawal*, Ron Levi*, Clayon Levy, Ana Kanza Tariq, David Walter Zingg, Geeta Yadav
Neel Joshi (Dean of Student Experience & Wellbeing)*, Melinda Scott (Executive Director, Office of the Vice-Provost, Students)
Regrets: Matthew Armand Benoit, Tarun Dewan, K. Sonu Gaind, Robert T. Gerlai, Natasha Hanif, Summer Hart, Farhana Islam, Jessica Johnson, Gretchen Kerr, Sherry Kulman
Secretariat: Joanne Chou (Secretary), Tracey Gameiro
Catherine Riddell (Assistant Vice-President, Communications), Donald Ainslie (Dept. of Philosophy), Cheryl Gibbs (Manager, Student Policy Initiatives, OVPS), Josh Hass (Coordinator, Student Policy Initiatives, OVPS), Daman Singh (Coordinator, Student Success and Transition, UC), Maëlis Barre, (University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union), Jaime Kearns (Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students), Jennifer Coggon (Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students), Felipe Nagata (University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union), Christy McMorrow (Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students), Shane Joy (Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council), Zoe Lazaris (Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council)
- Chair’s Opening Remarks
The Chair welcomed members and guests to the meeting. He advised that three speaking requests had been received to address the Board on Item 4, Proposed Revisions to the University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy. The requests from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the Scarborough Campus Students Union (SCSU), and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) were granted.
- Reports of the Senior Assessor
The Chair invited the Senior Assessor, Professor Sandy Welsh to make her report to the Board. Professor Welsh addressed the following:
Observing the third Anniversary of the Flight 752 Tragedy
Professor Welsh began her report by acknowledging the three-year anniversary of the flight 752 tragedy which occurred on January 8th, 2020. The flight included citizens from around the world, and 138 passengers were travelling to Canada. Many were students and academics that had travelled to Iran for winter break and were returning to Canada. The University lost eight members of the community, that included six students. She noted the profound loss of lives and commemorated the students by emphasizing their passion about contributing to the University and beyond through mentorship, creating global impact through their research, and building better lives for themselves. A memorial was held on the St. George Campus on January 11th to recognize this somber anniversary. She stated that the University launched an Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship to honour the legacy of the lives that were lost. This Scholarship was in addition to other awards established departmentally such as The Beiruti and Saleheh Memorial Fund in the Department of Computer Science, in memory of Mohammad Amin Beiruti and Mohammad Saleheh. She concluded by honouring their memories by words of encouragement, and by caring and supporting one another.
National Survey of Student Engagement
Professor Welsh highlighted that they would be once again running the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). She explained that the NSSE was an important survey for the University that was conducted every 3 years, along with all other Ontario universities and peer institutions across Canada and the US. She noted that the NSSE helped the University understand how students engaged both within and outside their courses, and what barriers might exist to engagement. The survey will be promoted widely to all students to participate both by email and through Quercus, starting March 1, 2023. She closed by stating that the results of the survey would be shared with the University community next year.
- Annual Report: Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees 2022-23
The Chair invited Professor Welsh to introduce the item. Dr. Melinda Scott (Executive Director, Office of the Vice-Provost, Students), presented an overview of the annual Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees Report, with the following highlights:
- The report was an inventory of all non-academic incidental fees, and their designated portions.
- In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, campus services and student societies were invited to review their programming and services and consider temporary reductions to their fees. Dr. Scott noted that those temporary fee reductions were previously reported to governance and were reflected in the annual report for the past two years. All temporary reductions were discontinued, and this year’s report returned to a single report which reflected the un-reduced fees.
- The report provided fee data for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years and included a listing of these fees paid by students by division.
- The fees were categorized into three areas: Campus Service Fees, Cross-Divisional Student Societies, and Divisional Fees.
- The report highlighted the range of fees across the University and was reflective of the local needs of the various divisions and any special programs within those divisions.
- Dr. Scott provided examples of these incidental fees for full-time and part-time undergraduate, and graduate students for 2022-23 across the three campuses, and outlined a comparison chart of these fees among divisions at the University.
Members had no questions.
- Revisions to the University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy
At the invitation of the Chair, Professor Welsh provided an overview of the proposed revisions of the Policy, a brief history of the Policy and its application over the past four years. She explained that the Policy was initially developed in response to concerns raised by the University Ombudsperson about the University’s ability to address student behaviours during periods of extreme distress, caused by serious health or mental health issues. Specifically, the Ombudsperson expressed concern that students whose behaviour may be a result of illness, were subjected to a disciplinary process via the Code of Student Conduct – and recommended the development of a Policy to address this concern. Based on this recommendation, the University undertook a significant consultation process that considered the feedback of students, staff, faculty, external experts in mental health and human rights law, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission – all of which informed the Policy development. The Policy was approved by the Governing Council in June 2018.
Professor Welsh stated that the Policy was developed with the intention that it only be applied in rare circumstances, and only after accommodative measures have been unsuccessful, or the student had demonstrated that they were too unwell to engage in such measures. The Policy was designed to offer compassion and support to students who engaged in extreme behaviours which negatively impacted the safety of other members of the community as a result of serious mental or physical illness. She noted that:
- Since its approval in 2018, the Policy was applied 17 times.
- There are approximately 95,000 students enrolled at the University on an annual basis, roughly 8,300 students are registered with Accessibility Services across the three campuses and 53% of these students had disclosed mental health related disabilities.
- During the 2019-20 academic year, approximately 33,000 mental health appointments were offered by the Health & Wellness Centres on the three campuses.
- There had been no cases in which a referral for consideration under this Policy has been received based on a student’s disclosure to Health & Wellness or Accessibility Services.
Professor Welsh emphasized that a Student Case Manager was appointed by the University to liaise with the student throughout the process and to ensure that appropriate accommodations were being offered. A Student Support Team (SST) was established and brought together multi-disciplinary expertise to assist in a nuanced and comprehensive analysis of the student’s needs. She underscored that the terms and conditions identified in the Policy required a tailored approach and considerations for each student. To this end, the University arranged for such measures as tuition refunds, on-going access to health and wellness services, continuation of health and dental benefits through respective student societies, and accommodations to maintain academic progress for students going through this process. She underscored the University’s goal to always find a pathway for the student to return to their studies if it was their desire to do so.
Professor Welsh provided a summary of the 2021-22 robust review process that was initiated by the Provost and was led by Professor Donald Ainslie of the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts & Science and former Principal of University College, to lead it with Varsha Patel, Assistant Dean of Student Success and Career Support, University of Toronto Scarborough. She noted the comprehensive consultations across the three campuses during the review process and highlighted the recommendations.
At the November 2021 meeting of the University Affairs Board, the reviewers’ recommendations and themes were presented for information. All of the Reviewers’ recommendations were accepted by the University and incorporated into a revised draft Policy. She noted that the administration also sought feedback from two external experts in Human Rights Law and Psychiatry on the revised draft Policy. Both experts had confirmed that the draft Policy was largely consistent with and implemented the University’s human rights obligations. Their recommendations to clarify the University’s responsibilities and obligations and ensure language within the Policy was aligned with best practices in mental health were implemented and reflected in the proposed revisions to the Policy.
Professor Welsh summarized the key changes in the Policy revisions, which included:
- Renaming the Policy to more accurately reflect its purpose and the options contained within the Policy.
- Restricting mandated leaves to cases where a student poses harm to others or actively interferes with the educational experience of fellow students, and all other options for reasonable accommodations have been exhausted.
- Reinforcing the University’s obligation to provide necessary accommodations up to the point of undue hardship.
- Clarifying language within the Policy to communicate what actions on the part of the University are mandatory versus discretionary.
Following, Professor Welsh addressed the administration’s response to additional recommendations from the review, which included:
- Producing a companion guide to the revised Policy.
- Exploring opportunities to respond to requests from undergraduate students for divisional voluntary leave of absence options.
- Continued efforts to enhance student mental health resources and accessibility services.
- Considering how additional cultural and/or family supports may be added for students placed on a Leave.
- Providing additional guidance to Division Heads with regard to the Policy and its application.
- Tracking and reporting on additional data related to the Policy, including aggregate demographic data, divisional referrals for consideration under the Policy, and timelines for those on leave.
Professor Welsh described that the overarching goal of these proposed Policy changes were to reinforce the compassionate intent of this Policy and reduce, or eliminate, any outstanding concerns to any student accessing mental health services when needed. She cited a few examples of the benefits of this Policy, the experience of students, and underscored how the application of this Policy can help students on their path to wellness. She reflected that the proposed changes to the Policy responded to the questions the administration had heard related to its scope, better articulated student’s rights and the University’s obligations, and strengthened its compassionate and supportive intent.
Professor Welsh concluded her presentation by outlining the governance path for the revisions of the Policy at its various governance bodies.
In the discussion that followed, it was noted that:
- The administration committed to consulting with key representative students’ groups and other relevant university community groups on the companion guide.
- The Office of the Vice-Provost Students (OVPS) was part of the working group with the first-entry registrars, regarding divisional voluntary leaves. OVPS planned to provide periodic updates on the progress.
- In all the cases that came forward, violent behaviour was very clear, and examples of such behaviour were cited. Professor Welsh explained the process if a threshold had been reached and what had been done to protect the safety and health of the student before a student was placed on leave. She confirmed that the OVPS provided the final decision as indicated in the Policy.
- There was no formalized process to obtain feedback from students regarding their experience and noted that any feedback was collected from the student case manager, as they work closely with the students.
- The OVPS established a Student Support Team (SST) which brought together multi-disciplinary expertise to assist in a nuanced and comprehensive analysis of the student’s needs. Membership of the SST included student service representatives, registrarial personnel, medical professionals, academic administrators, equity officers, and others.
- The terms and conditions identified in the Policy require a tailored compassionate approach and considerations for each student.
- Students could consent to provide information any point in time to the University’s decisions. Students were also encouraged to consent to share information at any time during the process, participate in a risk assessment and with the student’s consent, disclose the information obtained.
- Student case managers were appointed by the University to liaise with the student throughout the process and ensure that appropriate accommodations were being offered. This included reaching out to students on a voluntary leave of absence to determine an appropriate time to return to their academic studies.
- A member had commended the administration on the work of the Policy, and that the inclusion of parents was very compelling of the support provided under the Policy.
- Students could request a review and eventual appeal of decisions made pursuant to the Policy, and Professor Welsh outlined the review and appeal process.
- The Policy had been revised to be made very clear what is mandatory and what is discretionary and ensured the Policy was continued to be used in a fair and equitable way.
The Chair then invited representatives from University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) who had been granted speaking privileges in advance, to address the meeting. The representative from the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) was not present.
- Maëlis Barre, President, UTMSU commented on the exclusionary nature of the Policy, specifically the removal of students from their spaces against their will. She noted that the Policy did not always account for systemic inequity and disproportionally affected marginalized students, such as international students and students that experience stigma or lack of access to resources within their communities regarding mental health issues. She acknowledged the positive revisions and supported the development of a companion guide and looked forward to the ongoing dialogue with students in discussions. She encouraged the administration to consider the various sources of stresses and the systemic challenges that affect the student community, rather than prioritize focus on a Policy that removed students from classes.
- Jaime Kearns from APUS acknowledged and thanked Professor Ainslie and Ms Patel for their review on the Policy and for the consideration of their concerns and feedback from the students and work on the companion guide. She invited the Vice-Provost Students to consider a commitment to ensure that divisional leaves of absence are accessible to all students. She cited a Voluntary Leave Policy for international students in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and saw the high significance of a separate Policy for these students and to accommodate them. She encouraged administration that voluntary leaves should be in place for all students in their academic journey. She commented on the lack of clarity as it related to the role of Indigenous leaders and elders in the return to studies process for students on leave. She encouraged the administration to work more with the First Nations House and The Office of Indigenous Initiatives to ensure indigenous student supports were in place and that their rights were recognized, as a step towards reconciliation.
In response, Professor Welsh thanked the speakers for their comments and acknowledged that the administration would continue to work with First Nations House on this Policy. She stated that the OVPS had committed to expanding options available to Indigenous students in terms of mental health supports. She noted that the University was considering ways to be attentive to external cultural supports that students may want to include as part of their student support team, as all students and their access to healthcare was diverse. She emphasized the commitment that the students could provide information from healthcare professionals or knowledge keepers and elders, that this information was considered part of the University’s understanding of the student experience and support for their return to studies. She explained that the Policy was developed with an understanding of student visas, the importance of protecting international students’ visa status, and their ability to stay in Canada with access to health care. Students on leave continue to maintain a connection to the University. If there was a community safety issue, the University ensured that supports were in place for the students that included finding supportive housing while they were on their leave. She concluded by thanking the student case managers for their dedication and commitment in working with students throughout their leave.
In the discussion that followed, Professor Welsh acknowledged the suggestion by a member to emphasize the needs of Indigenous students in the revised companion guide and consult with First Nations House and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives and seek a collaborative approach for inclusion.
On motion duly made, seconded, and carried.
YOUR BOARD RECOMMENDED
THAT the proposed revisions to the University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy, dated January 2, 2023, be approved, effective March 1, 2023.
- Report of the Previous Meeting – Report 231, November 22, 2022
The Report of the Previous Meeting was approved.
- Business Arising from the Report of the Previous Meeting
There was no business arising from the Report of the Previous Meeting.
- Date of Next Meeting: March 1, 2023 at 4:30 p.m.
The Chair confirmed that the date of the next meeting would be March 1, 2023.
- Other Business
There were no items of other business.
The Board moved in camera.
- Appointment Extension: Interim Warden, Hart House
On motion duly made, seconded, and carried.
YOUR BOARD APPROVED
THAT Sherry Kulman be extended as Interim Warden, Hart House for a term ending March 31, 2023.
The meeting adjourned at 5:47 p.m.
January 24, 2023