March 19, 2014

U of T Mississauga Town Hall
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
William G. Davis Building, Room 2074

The following questions were submitted by students, faculty and staff prior to the town hall. The first section focuses on the theme of students’ academic success while the second section features general campus issues.  

Microphone in front of crowd of peopleQuestions on:

Students’ Academic Success

General Campus Issues

Presentation by Diane Crocker, Registrar and Director of Enrolment Management, Office of the Registrar

THEME: Students’ Academic Success

Responses by: Amy Mullin, Dale Mullings

  1. How can the UTM administration motivate students to achieve their goals?

I am glad the question was asked this way as I feel quite passionately that UTM faculty, staff, and administrators have an important role to play in informing students about their options, helping them understand how best to meet their goals through their course and program choices, and also through their co-curricular activities. Our Career Centre, our student services, academic advisors in the registrar’s office, academic advisors in our departments and faculty members are available to help students in these ways. All of these sources can help students connect their skills and interests to their academic choices.

Furthermore, what students learn in the classroom or what they learn by reflecting on their co-curricular activities can inspire students and increase their motivation to attain their goals, by making students aware of new possibilities. When students act on the basis of self-chosen goals, they are much more motivated than when their actions and choices are controlled by threats or external awards. The importance of self-determination is precisely why UTM administrators have no formal role to play in trying to motivate students to achieve their own gaols. Students supply the motivation; we supply the knowledge about how to work towards their goals, and help remove barriers to achieving them.

  1. What do students perceive as their biggest stressors?

During the 2013 National College Health Assessment, over 1,100 UTM students responded to questions related to a wide range of health issues. As it relates to stress, our students specifically found it “very difficult to handle”: academics (68.1%), family problems (39.4%), sleep difficulties (38.4%), finances (38.3%) and career-related issues (37.5%). Of those who responded to the survey, students indicated that they: felt overwhelmed (90.1%), felt exhausted – not from physical activity (86.9%), felt very sad (73.6%), felt very lonely (67.5%) and felt things were hopeless (66.9%), at some point within the 12 months leading up to the survey last spring. UTM Health & Counselling Centre counselling statistics for this current year indicate that students are primarily seeking counselling support for: 1) stress; 2) anxiety; 3) depression; 4) domestic violence; and 5) self-esteem.

  1. Can you tell us more about the report on enhancing student success and the 13 recommendations mentioned at the last town hall?

The recommendations for Enhancing Student Success are best summarized into four themes: 1) Detection – Leverage existing data to identify challenges UTM students encounter throughout their undergraduate and graduate years to better support students ‘just in time’ (ie. multidimensional student dataset review); 2) Services – Review services to students to review opportunities for collaboration, enhancement and streamlining of service (ie. first-year experience working group); 3) Facilities – Inform physical spaces with best practices in space design for student service delivery and student success (ie. new Student Services Common); 4) Culture – Encourage a campus culture that seeks to support holistic student success (ie. staff-faculty training and development opportunities). A sustained focus on these four themes will allow UTM to enhance student success now and for years to come.

  1. How can we enhance student support for international students?

International students need the same kind of supports our domestic students need and sometimes also need additional supports to cope with a transition to university that happens far from home and also involves adapting to a new culture and sometimes a new language. With respect to the additional supports, we are currently hiring an additional specialist in English Language Learning in our RGASC, to start July 1. We already offer a number of supports for transition to university life, including Headstart offered in the summer, RGASC sessions throughout the academic year, and the utmONE course, utmONE Connect sessions and myCONNECT (drop-in sessions run on a regular basis by experienced and well-trained advanced undergraduate students). The ACE@UTM Academic Culture and English program offers new students whose first language is not English extensive support in developing their language skills to meet the rigour of university level studies. These existing supports are being integrated with targeted support for international students already being offered by our UTM International Centre and existing and new programming being offered by our Registrar’s Office and Student Life.

In addition, we have hired a second International Student Development Officer and Immigration Advisor at the International Centre within the past 18 months. In an effort to support international students transitioning to UTM, this summer the International Centre, with campus and institutional partners, will pilot a one-week International Student Pre-Orientation Immersion Program. Students will participate in mock lectures, Headstart sessions, benefit from New Student Group Advising, review critical Citizenship & Immigration Canada policies and build a global network through community building programs (e.g. MiWay City Bus Tour). The UTM Experience Program will also be launched this summer. This new co-curricular orientation and transition program will see all new students receive either in-person, web-based, or over-the-phone transition support during the summer from a Peer Transition Leader. In the fall, the program pilot will offer 1,800 new students the opportunity to participate in seminars, co-curricular programs based on similar interests and out-of-classroom opportunities to engage with faculty and industry professionals. This pilot year will focus specifically on supporting international students, and others who may require additional supports for transition to university life.

  1. How can students manage their workloads and have a healthy work-life balance?

UTM is very flexible in terms of the number of courses that students can take. Students can pursue part-time study; they can take less than five courses per term in the fall and winter and then take summer courses to supplement their studies, or they can take a course load somewhere in between a part-time and full-time load, changing their course load in response to new family or health circumstances. Students who are very strong academically with terrific time management skills can take 6 courses or, if they are exceptional, can even petition to take more than 6 courses.

Academic advisors can help students make decisions about how many courses to take in any given term or year but it is equally important that students make the right choices about which courses to take and which programs to study.  When students pursue an academic program because it is someone else’s idea of what makes for a good choice, and the course of study is not something for which they are well-prepared by their skills, background knowledge and interests, then it may not be the course load that is the problem, but instead the course choices.

It is very important that students make decisions about how much academic work they can handle while taking into account their health, their family circumstances, their commute time, time spent in paid employment and the need for work-life balance. If academic workload is not leaving a student time enough to eat right, to be active, to have a social life and to get engaged from time to time in co-curricular activities that can enhance their skill development, then the work is too much. Academic advisors can help students make good decisions about course load and selection, but only if students seek out that support and then share pertinent information both about other demands on their time and about their skills and their goals.

  1. How can UTM help faculty members to spread out assignments and tests to prevent overloading students near mid-term and the final term week?

There is some possibility of coordination among instructors of courses that are commonly taken together, but it would be impossible for there to be extensive coordination for two reasons. First, students take very different overall courses from each other, and what might help one student would make another’s schedule more difficult. Second, it is often most sound pedagogically for a test to be offered roughly in the middle of a course, and for final essays to come at the end once all material has been covered. Students receive information about test and assignment due dates at the beginning of term and need to budget their time accordingly.

UtmOne and RGASC are both sources of support for time management skills. One advantage of a fall reading break is that it could allow students dedicated time to prepare for tests and assignments that follow it. However, a reading break will only have this particular advantage if it is not treated as a vacation.


THEME: General Campus Issues

Responses by: Paul Donoghue, Amy Mullin, Dale Mullings

  1. When are the northern entrance and the northern portion of the Outer Circle Road going to be fully accessible for motorized vehicles?

The Outer Circle Road will be repaved mid- to late-April when the asphalt companies re-open. The alternative would be to rush, open a partially gravel road, close again and repave, compromising the quality of the final paving job and potential for damaging newly buried services.

  1. Is UTM prioritizing the acquisition of a heated bus shelter?

We are in the process of developing a proposal that will go to our Space Planning & Management Committee. If approved, we will go out for tenders for the procurement and installation.

  1. How can UTM enforce the smoking restrictions outside?

Peer pressure is likely to be the most effective “enforcement” (since the municipal bylaw does not apply to the campus which is private property). People smoking at the entrances of buildings should be politely asked to move away from the building but confrontations should be avoided. Any belligerent reactions should be reported to Campus Police. Police officers will make the request if they come across people smoking near the entrances to buildings but having them regularly patrol entrances for smoking would take them away from other duties.

  1. What is UTMSU doing to ensure that students who purchase UTM parking passes don’t also have to contribute to U of T passes?

This is a question for UTMSU.

  1. What is UTM doing to hire TAs skilled in analyzing different perspectives, emphasizing effort and quality equally?

What is required to complete an assignment well will differ depending on the assignment, and very often faculty will not be looking to assess effort and quality equally, but instead will seek primarily to measure and assess quality. Effort that does not manifest itself by improving quality will typically not be rewarded. The primary qualification for a TA is training in the discipline in which he or she works. Additional training is provided by the TATP (Teaching Assistant Training Program), academic departments, the CTSI (Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation) and the RGASC (Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre). The latter training is specific to UTM. The other training opportunities are available for TAs who work on any of our campuses.

  1. Will students be able to access responses to course evaluations prior to deciding on a course? If so, when?

For course evaluations conducted in the fall of 2013 or the winter of 2014, course instructors were asked to opt in to having their course evaluations accessible to students via Blackboard. A relatively limited number of instructors whose course were evaluated in the fall of 2013 chose to opt in, and so we will be going forward with an opt-out system beginning in the summer of 2014. With this new approach, course evaluations will be made available to students unless instructors specifically opt out of sharing them. This is how U of T’s Faculty of Arts and Science will be proceeding, and is consistent with past UTM practice when we did paper evaluations.

Student evaluation results for the few dozen instructors evaluated this past fall who chose to opt in are now available via Blackboard. Course evaluations for those instructors evaluated this session who choose to opt in will be available in the summer after instructors have received their reports, most likely in late May 2014. For courses evaluated in the fall of 2014, survey results will be made available to students near the end of January 2015, and for courses evaluated in the winter of 2015, course evaluation results will be available near the end of May 2015.

  1. How will innovation be an underlying principle here at UTM?

Innovation at the broadest level involves coming up with better solutions to existing problems. How innovation is encouraged and how it is rewarded will differ depending on the context in which the problem arises. One very important way of encouraging innovation is to hire well when we hire faculty and staff, looking for creativity and a past record of innovation when we search for new hires. But since there are so many different contexts in which innovation happens at UTM, this is a very broad question. Perhaps it could be the subject of a future town hall.

  1. Please discuss the issue of food insecurity on campus and the possibility of campus gardens for the food bank.

It is not clear what “food insecurity” means in this context. We do have a Food Service Advisory Committee that meets regularly and includes staff, faculty and student representatives. The Committee would be a good starting point at which to clarify the question.

  1. How can we address student civility issues, especially related to social media?

If you are receiving unwanted messages from someone or if someone is posting inappropriate message to social media sites, reply to the sender with a brief and courteous private message to stop. Be sure to save the sender’s message and your reply. If the communication persists, if you believe the communication to be a violation of the Student Code of Conduct or if the content is harassing in nature, you can report the communication to the Campus Police, the dean of Student Affairs Office or the Community Safety Office.