I used to say to people that I really couldn’t care less about politics. Somehow, unlike my best friend, history major and pre-law, arguing and taking sides just never turned me on (intellectually). So I never bothered, because I figured, hey, an interest in politics is like an interest in video games or Lord of the Rings (or, for the slightly more naïve population, Twilight): an extrinsic sort that ends up consuming your life only when you decide to jump into it with both feet. Thus if you decide to be one of those people who identify themselves as a member of the “Anti” group (Anti-TNA bags, Anti-Twilight, Anti-DotA), when you meet your groupies you’d probably be too busy concurring about how awful the subject of avoidance is to actually feel any sense of loss.
This belief has conveniently blindfolded me through my first two years at UofT, during which time I didn’t make room for a real life anyway. Until, one day, I experienced an epiphany: ignorance is not bliss if the consequences hold personal significance. That, my friends, was the fateful day that I lost 4% from my final grade in PSL302 due to (in my humblest opinion) an outrageous linear downward bell curve.
Since then, I’ve been paying more attention to how the school is run. I mean, this place is huge. In addition to the 12,000 faculty and staff, there are about 70,000 students, 50,000 of which belong to the St. George campus. It would be natural for any of us to feel that indeed, we are all nothing more than 9-digit student numbers. But who are we kidding? This is our place, our education, our choice. Our experience. Sometimes there’s so much going on in the world out there that we lose sight of ourselves amidst all this chaos. Fact is, if we don’t regard ourselves as being important, nobody else will. In that sense, how do we speak up and voice our opinions? Who do we speak to? Who makes all the decisions around here anyway? And where can we even find them in this big scary monster of an infrastructure?
My investigations as an amateur journalist and self-righteous undergrad led me to the front steps of Simcoe Hall, glorious home of the UofT Senior Administration and Governing Council since 1924. After a lovely chat with Louis Charpentier, Secretary of the Governing Council, and Laurie Stephens, Director Media Relations and Stakeholder Communications, I’ve come to have a much clearer understanding of the organization of senior administration at UofT. To make a long story short, here is a “condensed” list of knowledge I’ve obtained (honestly, I tried), presented to you here in point-form.
“I’VE GOT THE POWER”
Where does the Governing Council fall under the University’s hierarchy for decision-making? Who are the members of the Council and how are they chosen?
- Governing Council = Senior decision-making body at UofT
- 50 members within the Council, making up three boards (Academic, Business, University Affairs). Each board has several committees that handle delegated tasks
- Council consists of body representatives of all five constituencies (Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, Representatives of the Government)
- With the exception of government officials, who are appointed, everybody else elected, including eight students of the 50 Council members. UofT is different from other schools because students are elected by the student body, not appointed
- Council values transparency: majority of Council meetings are open to public, the decisions they make are published
IT’S A HIERARCHICAL WORLD
The UofT Who’s Who.
CHANCELLOR: The Honorable David R. Peterson
“Symbolic head of the university”. The Chancellor’s legal responsibility is to grant degrees to students during Convocation (his signature appears on our diplomas!). The role is voluntary, and he is elected from alumni. Mostly, he acts as the “ambassador” of UofT, by representing it in a larger community (i.e. government, corporate sector), advocating for it.
CHAIR of the Governing Council: John F. (Jack) Petch
Head of Governing Council. Voluntary role, he is a government appointee. Basically, he’s in charge of the leadership of Governing Council, and the “boss” of the President.
PRESIDENT: David Naylor
Reports to Governing Council. He’s the chief executive officer of the university.
There are eight VPs, whose responsibilities are divided into 2 major groups of academic and operations. In particular, there’s one VP for UTM, one for UTSC, one for human resources, business affairs, and so on.
INTERIM PROVOST: Cheryl Misak
The most senior of the VPs, has 28 principals and deans reporting to her.
-Chief Executive Officers of their Faculties, responsible for academic programs, budgets, etc.
-Appointed by the Academic Board (a body within the Governing Council)
-Represents their own constituency (i.e. Dean of Arts and Science is responsible for this particular Faculty)
-Within a college of Arts and Science, there are also Deans, but they have smaller responsibilities (e.g. Innis Dean of Residence)
-DEPARTMENT CHAIRS report to the Dean of their Faculty
-Similar role as Deans, but are not in charge of academic programs. Responsible for welfare of students, finance, etc.
-Deans within a college: report to Principals of the college
DEMOCRACY AT WORK
What kind of decisions does the Council make? What is the process for making some kind of change in the school?
- Brief list of their influences: grading policies, academic standards, structure of academic programs, tuition fees, financial aid, Code of Behaviour and Academic Matters
- Example of Process: Faculty of Arts and Science wants to establish a new academic program –> detailed planning by Faculty (faculty members, students, Councils) –>Issue brought to Vice-Presidents and Provost–>Issue handed over to Governing Council: travels from Committee to Board to final approval by the Governance. While the final approval may take only a few weeks, the entire process from initiation to end result may take much, much longer (for example, one to two years). Alas, it’s the one setback of democracy that we cannot avoid.
- When something reaches level of the Governing Council, often the only thing left to do is for the Council to decide whether or not decision is appropriate (e.g. appeal is approved/denied). It’s more involved in the conceptual level of decision-making, and less in the actual implementation.
- Council decisions are done by voting, during public meetings.
- Students are actually fairly involved in the decision-making process: we have representatives in all levels of boards and committees.
UofT WANTS YOU!
Now that you know so much about the Governing Council already, why not be a part of it? Each year the Governing Council hosts elections for 4 full-time undergraduate, 2 part-time undergraduate, and 2 graduate student seats on Council. If you think that being a “Student Governor” sounds awesome, and are willing to take on the many challenges that come with it, click here! Nominations will be accepted from Friday, January 9, 2009 at 12:00 noon until Friday, January 23, 2009 at 12:00 noon.
While it does seem like a fairly complicated process, remember: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take” (Wayne Gretzky). Each year, the number of students running for each seat varies. In some years in the past, students have even won by default! The average number of nominees running for each seat is about 4. If you’ve ever bought a lottery ticket before, I can reassure you that the odds of winning this is so much higher. Of course, the position will be a demanding one. But it’s also a chance for you to learn, to grow, and perhaps to write history.