On September 15, the University of Toronto Mississauga Academic Affairs Committee came together for the first time this academic year.
The agenda contained many significant changes and updates, from the university’s plans regarding campus re-entry to the recommendation of new sustainability strategies.
The meeting began with the introduction of the new committee chair, Laura Taylor, who discussed the new virtual format and how it will impact governance at U of T.
“Normally, we would have orientation sessions at the beginning of this first meeting, but this year, we have orientation videos for our governance bodies,” stated Taylor, before briefly introducing the voting members of the committee.
Amrita Daniere, vice-principal, academic and dean, introduced the administrative structure of her office and went on to discuss their mission for the 2020-2021 academic year. The most significant of which is implementing the UTM Academic Plan, which was approved four years prior.
“I’m happy to note that despite a lot of logistical issues, we are continuing to make really good progress on a lot of the important goals, and we have advanced in the plan,” stated Daniere.
Last year, UTM had launched the principal advisory committee on sustainability, which is currently being led by Daniere and Chief Administrative Officer Saher Fazilat. The committee was established to design new strategic plans to advance sustainability at UTM. In addition to maximizing sustainability on campus, the committee also aims to augment intellectual sustainability by developing new courses and research opportunities.
Since its formation in 2019, the committee has successfully drafted a strategic plan which will be published in the coming weeks. Once approved by the UTM principal, Alexandra Gillespie, the plan is expected to be implemented late in the Fall term or early spring.
The plan includes the creation of a new certificate program on sustainability, which will be available for all UTM students before the end of this year.
“We’re going to try to advance, as much as humanly possible, the number and breadth of experiential learning opportunities available to UTM students,” stated Daniere. “We work very closely with departments to introduce courses and mechanisms through which students can get work experience related to their education, [which are] sometimes paid.”
“In the past three years, we’ve won a lot of grants that have helped fund work positions here in our office for experiential learning officers who work with departments and assist them in creating more opportunities,” continued Daniere.
Despite the committee’s significant progress, the Covid-19 pandemic has ultimately affected the committee’s planned initiatives for the year.
“There’s been a bit of a setback this year as agencies and organizations are less interested in guaranteeing placements to students at such uncertain times,” said Daniere, “but we still hope to make progress.”
The university will also begin conducting searches for 29 new faculty members. Following an enhanced offer by the Office of the Provost, 17 members retired last year. While they wish to replace those positions, the university also plans on hiring additional faculty for ‘growing’ programs, such as computer science and language studies.
“We are also trying to encourage departments to hire a diverse and rich unusual group, as well as just new faculty,” stated Daniere.
As of July 1, UTM houses six Indigenous faculty members, which is an improvement considering that there were no Indigenous faculty just three years ago.
“We would like to increase the diversity of our faculty in a very proactive way,” said Daniere. “We hope to introduce some supports specifically designed to mentor Black and Indigenous faculty here at UTM.”
Daniere then went on to discuss the current state of the 800 courses offered in the fall term, 71 of them having some form of an in-person element, and how it has impacted life on campus.
“It’s not the ghost town that it was, but it’s very quiet, calm, and thoughtfully managed,” stated Daniere. “Lots of social distancing, cleaning, and respect. Wearing masks is a sign of respect and being civil and kind, [just] as you would expect of our students and faculty and staff here on this campus.”
Laura Taylor also added that the current structure of campus life and course delivery has been quite effective.
“Things are going reasonably well on our campus,” said Taylor. “We’ve had a week of classes, and we’re just continuing to adapt as the situation continues to adapt in the province and at the university.”
“In the meantime, all our regular work is ongoing, which includes curricular support towards proposals for academic change, new programs, and major modifications.”
The meeting also included a presentation from Tammy Cook, the executive director of facilities management and planning at UTM. Cook stated that the university has been working on re-entry plans since the campus’ closure in March.
“We started with mapping all of our classrooms, teaching labs and computer labs for about a total of 118 rooms for physical distancing so that we could determine our capacity to help the registrar’s office for the September enrollment plan,” said Cook.
“There was also a physical piece to this. We actually wrapped and moved seats, installed a fair bit of signage across the campus—including the classrooms, applied directional separation arrows, and installed personal protective equipment,” Cook continued. “Every classroom has a very large canister of wipes so that students can clean in between [lectures] and Purell dispensers.”
The meeting concluded with discussions regarding the recent changes in student behaviour, specifically in course enrollment, which has been significantly increasing since the beginning of summer. Some members of the committee stated that they had observed high waitlist numbers, but Loretta Neebar, registrar and director of enrollment management, stated a definitive statement could not be made until September 22, when the enrollment data is officially examined.
The next Academic Affairs Committee meeting will be held via a virtual meeting room on October 26.