Nice to get more tangible benefits

We should be lobbying for things we need and can get, not questionable goals

There haven’t been any earth-shattering events this week, to my knowledge, so here’s a reflective piece.

Something I noticed when I attended the UTM Students’ Union’s annual general meeting towards the end of last semester was that I didn’t find myself totally committed to all their projects (although it’s safe to say the majority was). The probable reply  is that not everyone will agree with every project, and besides, there’s always room for critique and improvement. So I’ll aim for just that.

One of main things that set the tone in my mind was the promise by president Raymond Noronha to keep pushing for a drop-credit policy. Two issues come to mind. The first is the question of whether such a push can succeed. It doesn’t seem likely, given that vice-dean Kelly Hannah-Moffat said last year that there would be no movement. So perhaps the energies could be directed elsewhere for now. But that’s not a crucial opposition; after all, the function of a student union is to be a watchdog, to always push the university to an ideal—if not always for an immediate result, at least to check situations from worsening.

My main objection is to the project itself. Yes, it’s tempting, the idea that I can blot out those damn CTEP marks from first year that bring down my CGPA. Both UTMSU and the downtown student union have latched on to this feeling for two or three years, calling the policy “progressive” because, as it stands, a low CGPA “could limit the prospects of those affected” after graduating. For example (this is all from the policy’s lobby document at, you need a 70% average in your core accounting courses to qualify for the Certified Accountant designation and we’re limiting these students’ futures if we don’t let them retake a bad course. But do we want to have CAs who failed a core course?

Actually, says the document, after dropping a credit, the CGPA would “become more reflective of a student’s true abilities and competence”. I don’t buy it. But it goes on: “Taking an additional course provides a more accurate representation of a student’s true GPA, as demonstrated by the Law of Large Numbers, which dictates that the margin of error associated with test statistics decreases as trials increase.” Maybe this writer is looking to retake a stats course now. If the trial itself alters the test value…

And the credibility question is one that comes up a few times. The document argues that our credibility will actually go up if we fix the “extremely low grades” we get at U of T because then more of our alumni will make it into graduate school. The circularity is dizzying. Admittedly, a few other universities with similar policies are listed, and some of them are credible.

The reason the vice-dean gave for the lack of interest on the university’s part addresses the best argument for the policy, namely the existence of extenuating circumstances that prevent a student from demonstrating their real knowledge. The answer was that at UTM we have a recently won credit/no credit policy, late withdrawal, and even the grade forgiveness in the worst cases. Why apply an extreme solution universally?

Again, this is not to take sides, just to present a critique. It’s a relatively recent project, not a long struggle, and maybe we should rethink it. But I suspect that won’t happen yet. It was applauded by volunteers, staff, and others at the meeting. Give it a few more years of flat refusal from the administration and it might lose steam, or worse, finally go through.

It’s not the only case in which the union has stuck to ideology rather than pragmatics. One question I asked of Mr. Noronha was why UTMSU would set a $2-million cap on the student investment in the Student Centre expansion that we’re about to vote on. After all, considering how long it’s taken to expand, we might as well do the job right; for example, the club office space is expected to more than double if the referendum passes, but it’ll still be three or four clubs to one office, and more, if UTMSU’s 2011 estimate of growth in club numbers is accurate. Mr. Noronha’s answer? Because the university’s contribution is capped at $2 million and if students paid more, then the ratio of university to student contributions would be smaller. But why does that matter if the absolute value doesn’t change? If the university had promised a 2:1 match instead of 1:1 but still had a limit of $2 million, would we limit the student contribution to $1 million in order to maximize the ratio, and have even less for an expansion? The prioritization is bizarre. The ideal would be a better expansion, not the hollow victory of paying just enough to maximize the university’s contribution.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not at all to say we shouldn’t have a higher university investment. Absolutely we should. It frustrates me that the University of Toronto, always near the top of the rankings except in student satisfaction, should hesitate to take this asset in hand for even a fraction of the amount spent on the university-operated, enrolment-growing buildings going up as we speak. And I get that the message sent by limiting student enrolment on this expansion is that they need to fix this. But still, wouldn’t it be nice if we pursued the more tangible benefits now and then?


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