Stifling dialogue

Dear Editor,


You’d think it would go without saying, but a discussion paper is necessarily designed to provoke discussion.

But in response to a discussion paper released by the bureaucrats at the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, the University of Toronto Students’ Union did what it always does. They cried, “Apocalypse now.” And then they spread hyperbolic misinformation. It was an “emergency”—if only in the minds of UTSU.

Apparently, the Ministry didn’t want to hear from students. Shaun Shepherd, the UTSU president who seems to think the truth is a contagion, wrote in The Varsity, “They’re not interested in your opinion about it.”

I’m not going to mince words: that claim is a lie. This is a discussion paper. It is designed to elicit feedback. It is not government policy; it is a series of suggestions stakeholders are encouraged to react to through submissions to Ministry bureaucrats.

But someone wanted to stifle dialogue. It was UTSU! After inviting minister Glen Murray to speak at their town hall, they then decided to silence discussion. At the last minute, Murray was told he could still come but that he couldn’t speak. You can’t have a dialogue if one participant isn’t allowed to speak.

In a callous twist, the UTSU executives budgeted around 10 minutes for a campy “icebreaker” exercise, time the minister could have used to outline his plans to the nearly 100 U of T students and faculty assembled on the St. George campus.

What the discussion paper proposes is a variety of means to find innovation and a balance between efficiency and quality in the postsecondary education system. It suggests more online courses, a return to three-year degrees in more universities, and more classes in the summer.

It recalls investments the government continues to make in postsecondary education, even during a period of worldwide austerity, including a 30%-off tuition grant to some 200,000 modest- and middle-income undergraduate students, and capping OSAP debt.

I critiqued the paper in U of T Magazine. I don’t think it’s a paper designed for U of T; we are unique, the best school in the country. This paper is not written with research universities in mind but rather for students hoping to get accreditation for the job market.

Fortunately, at their “emergency” town hall, UTSU had the good sense to invite U of T’s provost Cheryl Misak to speak. She struck a thoughtful balance, reacting to the proposals the paper suggests, noting, “This paper contains some pretty bad proposals for undergraduate education” at U of T “but, in each of these proposals, there is a good side.” She then outlined how U of T could sensibly react if—and it’s important to stress the word “if”—any of the paper’s suggestions are implemented.

Thanks to Misak and the assembled students and faculty, a thoughtful discussion occurred—despite UTSU’s cynical attempts to do what they always do.

Hopefully UTSU learns from this exercise that thoughtfulness, sobriety, and reason are preferable to hyperbole, mischaracterisation, and cynical disrespect of government officials.

You can submit your own comments about the discussion paper to
[email protected]


Jonathan Scott

President, U of T Liberals