The Campus Council held their first meeting for the 2019-2020 academic year last Wednesday, in which they discussed Vice-President & Principal Ulrich Krull’s permanent leave, ongoing mental health initiatives, U of T’s new rankings worldwide, and various sustainability projects.

Acting Vice-President & Principal Ian Orchard started off the meeting by announcing that he met Krull, who is currently on medical leave, at a welcoming ceremony and found him to be in “real good shape.”

Orchard’s one-year appointment ends this June and a search committee is currently accepting nominations for a new UTM Vice-President & Principal to take over in the next academic year. Krull is not seeking a renewal of his term. 

Orchard was the UTM Vice-President & Principal from 2002 to 2010. He affirmed that he will continue to reinforce Ulrich’s accomplishments and seek to make UTM a campus of choice for students and staff.

A somber announcement was then made in regard to the suicide on the St. George Campus. Orchard said he recognizes the need for additional mental health resources on campus and that there are initiatives currently underway.

“UTM does have a plan,” said Orchard in the meeting. “Centralized facilities working with the St. George campus, but also with UTM and UTSC, have been doing an inventory of buildings that might have quite high profiles, and we’re seeking advice on what we may or should do with those [buildings].”

Expert advice is also being sought from top psychiatrists on the effectiveness of barriers, architectural structures of buildings, and their correlation to mental health.

Marc Overton, Dean of Student Affairs, presented a few initiatives set in place to combat mental health issues on campus. One of the initiatives includes a new pilot program called “Refused from Your Program, Now What?”

Hosted by the Career Centre and the Office of the Registrar, the pilot program hopes to bring attention to alternative paths for students when they are not accepted to their program.

“There was a recent focus on the stress of students seeking more competitive academic programs,” said Overton. “[Refused from Your Program, Now What?] is really about helping students see that what they may see as the single and sole path to their career or aspiration is frequently not a sole path.”

“We received great feedback from our pilot group of students,” continued Overton, “and we anticipate offering it more and potentially looking at how we can bring it online.”

Overton also addressed the heavily discussed wait times at the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC) at UTM.

He stated that it is not a matter of scheduling or a lack of appointment spots available, but that the university does not have mental health specialists at hand to deal with students’ particular needs. 

“[The] Health and Counselling Centre, like universities nationwide, really is focused on short-course solution-focused therapy in our counselling,” said Overton.

“Recognizing that students typically are seen in a university health and counselling centre much more quickly than they would be if they were in the community, there is still frequently a gap between what we can provide as generalists in mental health—I say that in a positive way—to help them meet with specialists on particular mental health disorders in the community.”

According to Overton, UTM is currently working on hiring more staff for the Health and Counselling Centre to “help with that bridging until [students] could really reach that super focused specialist in their area of need.”

When asked about an individual’s privacy and the need to help the individual struggling with their mental health, Overton responded that in matters of emergencies, “safety trumps privacy.”

“Whenever a student, a faculty or staff member contacts us or they start with ‘I can’t really tell you the student’s name but I really worry,’ we always really try to remind people that ultimately even the university legal folks […] will say safety trumps privacy,” said Overton.

“So, we will say to students, faculty and staff ‘give me the name of the person you are worried about so that we can find if there are other challenges or other opportunities, other resources, other ways to tap into supports.’”

Orchard then announced UTM met the designated enrollment for student targets. There are approximately 4,000 new students, 70 per cent of which are domestic students and 30 per cent are intentional students.

The university currently has around 14, 544 undergraduate students and 904 graduate students.

Orchard talked of how international students bring different discussions to the classroom because of their own experiences and their diverse educational backgrounds.

 The conversation then led to the new Provincial Government funding framework for universities. Government funding will now be heavily tied to performance factors such as a university’s dedication towards experiential learning, graduate employment, and economic and community impact. The performance-based funding framework will stand from 2020 to 2025.

Orchard expressed his belief that this will make universities pay more attention to student experiences. However, he highlighted that meeting these new benchmarks will be a challenge.

UTM also wants to become a more sustainable campus, not just structurally, but intellectually as well. The university will hold an international sustainability conference on October 16 to 18 called “Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice, and Action Conference.”

The university will also look at implementing a new sustainability committee composed of students and faculty. A Sustainability Pathway Certificate, that students from all programs are allowed to pursue, is also underway.  A new sustainability minor has recently been introduced.

UTM is looking to hire five new faculty this fall who will be primarily helping students with writing and numeracy, an initiative that will be the bedrock of undergraduate studies in the coming years. This is just a small portion of the plan to hire 25 new faculty.

The university aims to have enough faculty to accommodate at least 25 first-year students in specialized writing courses, with intensive writing instruction and feedback.

“There is nothing more fundamental, even in this day of social media and texting and emojis, than being able to argue and make your point in succinct, beautiful, clear language,” said Amrita Daniere, Vice-Principal, Academic & Dean. “That’s not just my opinion, it’s now in all the surveys of employers and graduates from university.”

The next Campus Council meeting will be on November 20.

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