During the 2022–2023 school year, U of T saw many controversies that continue to affect the university community and discourse. Here’s a roundup of news stories from this past year that every incoming student should know.
Sexual violence and harassment
The university’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment outlines how U of T addresses instances of sexual violence involving members of the university community. First passed in 2016, the policy underwent a provincially mandated review during the 2021–2022 school year.
Student groups such as the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response for Survivors (PEARS) Project — a trauma-informed organization supporting survivors of gender-based violence — repeatedly protested the revisions proposed by the committee tasked with reviewing the sexual violence policy. PEARS argued that the recommendations did not include adequate steps to support survivors and called on the university to hire an external body to independently assess the policy.
Pressure on the university heightened after The Varsity published an article in November 2022 revealing that, according to a U of T-commissioned investigation that ended in January, UTM Professor Robert Reisz had violated the sexual violence policy and repeatedly made racially motivated remarks. U of T only spoke to Reisz’ students about the investigation after two former students published a public post on the subject, and the university has allowed Reisz to continue supervising graduate students and teaching undergraduate courses. The same day _The Varsity _published the article, the PEARS Project published an open letter calling for Reisz’s removal, which received 1,400 signatures in the first week after its release.
On December 15, the Governing Council — the highest senior governing body at U of T — approved revisions to the policy despite calls from the PEARS Project, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) to reject the revisions and conduct a new review. Reisz is still employed by U of T.
Student union controversies
U of T has three main undergraduate student unions, one for each campus: the UTSU, which represents students at the St. George campus; the UTMSU; and the Scarborough Campus Students Union (SCSU). The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) represents graduate students from all three campuses.
During the UTSU’s 2022–2023 Annual General Meeting, students approved a motion that decreased the number of seats on the union’s Board of Directors (BOD) from 44 to 12 and created a senate where students can voice their concerns. The new structure has received criticism from some students, who argue that reducing the number of BOD seats limits representation.
The union also received criticism from Climate Justice UofT, a student-run activist group, for hosting a Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) branch in the UTSU’s Student Commons. The group held a protest at the Student Commons in March 2023, highlighting that RBC is the largest funder of fossil fuel projects nationwide. In response, the UTSU BOD passed a motion later that month to begin severing its ties with the bank and work towards closing the branch by December 2026.
The UTMSU’s elections for the 2023–2024 executive positions proved contentious. In March, a student recorded vice-president candidate Niguel Walker — who ran as part of the It’s Time UTM slate — discussing Thrive UTM, another slate of candidates, in a tone they described as “passive-aggressive.” The student airdropped the recording to Thrive UTM, which submitted it to the Chief Returning Officer (CRO), the official overseeing the election. It’s Time UTM released a public statement — which it subsequently took down — in which it accused the student who made the recording of collaborating with Thrive UTM and manipulating Walker into saying things that would result in him receiving demerit points. According to the UTMSU’s Elections Procedure Code, if an executive candidate receives 40 demerit points, they are automatically disqualified from the election. In response to the recording and the statement, the CRO gave both slates demerit points.
After Thrive UTM swept the elections, both It’s Time UTM and the independent Instagram account Transparent UTMSU criticized the demerit point system. At one point during the election, Kiki Ayoola — Thrive UTM’s candidate for vice-president external and winner of the election — received 40 demerit points, although the Elections and Referenda Committee (EARC) subsequently lowered their points. However, the CRO did not update the Demerit Points Tracker, the public display of candidates’ demerit points. In addition, It’s Time UTM and Transparent UTMSU noted that the EARC included UTMSU executives. They alleged that these executives’ relationship to UTMSU President Maëlis Barre, who served as Thrive UTM’s campaign manager, indicated a conflict of interest — an allegation that Barre and the executive members denied.
The UTMSU BOD decided to ratify the election results, approving Thrive UTM members as the union’s 2023–2024 executives.
Over the past year, both the SCSU and the UTGSU have struggled to engage enough students to fulfill their official functions. In November 2022, the SCSU failed to entice the 500 members, including proxies, necessary to reach quorum at their Annual General Meeting, which prevented the union from passing any motions. The UTGSU also struggled to reach quorum for its BOD meetings.
In addition, the UTGSU persisted with two vacant executive positions for the majority of the 2023–2024 school year. UTGSU BOD vacancies left the union with insufficient personnel for the CRO search committee, as required by the union’s bylaws. Members debated the issue for much of the year before they decided that they would allow general members to sit on the committee for selecting a CRO, allowing the union to appoint a CRO in March.
Tuition and financing
In March 2023, the Ontario government announced that it would extend its freeze on in-province domestic tuition through the 2023–2024 school year. The tuition freeze first came into effect in 2020, after the provincial government implemented a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition. For the 2021–2022 school year, Ontario introduced a policy allowing universities to increase tuition for out-of-province domestic students by three per cent. Between the 2022–2023 and the 2023–2024 school year, domestic out-of-province tuition increased by five per cent. The university has repeatedly called on the provincial government to lift the tuition freeze, in light of financial instability within the university and college sector.
International student tuition remains unregulated. For the 2023–2024 school year, tuition for undergraduate first-year international students enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and Science amounts to $60,510, almost ten times the amount paid by domestic Ontario students in the same faculty and year. Many student groups, including the UTMSU, have called on U of T to stop relying on international student tuition to finance the university and to lower the fees it charges to international students.
In March 2020, the federal government temporarily eliminated interest on the federal portion of student and apprentice loan payments. Effective April 1, 2023, the government of Canada permanently eliminated interest on all Canada Student Loans. However, this bill does not impact the provincial portion of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loans, which begin to accrue interest after a student graduates. In the 2021–2022 school year, U of T students collectively received $303 million in OSAP grants and loans.
TTC violence — or not?
In January 2023, a U of T student was stabbed on the 510 Spadina Avenue streetcar, near St. George campus. Two days after the attack — which was perceived as part of a series of violent incidents on the TTC in late 2022 and early 2023 — the Toronto Police Chief, former Mayor John Tory, and the TTC CEO announced that the Toronto Police Service (TPS) would deploy more officers on the TTC. The move came 15 days after the TPS board passed the service’s 2023 budget, which increased the TPS’s funding by $48.3 million, despite the objections of some community members.
In interviews with The Varsity, U of T researchers emphasized that increasing police presence does not address the underlying causes of TTC violence, and they instead advocated for increasing social services funding. Some also highlighted a disconnect between increased media reports on TTC-related violence and the actual increase in incidents. Reports of violent incidents on the TTC increased by 46 per cent between 2021 and 2022, while the number of revenue rides — which quantifies all paid rides, along with any transfers — increased by 60 per cent. Simultaneously, the number of articles written on the subject increased by more than 300 per cent. As with many panics, fears about the TTC over the past year may be largely manufactured.