Deep in the heart of the University of Toronto campus, a development program of 70 students and 9 faculty members is struggling for its ‘financial survival,’ according to Shahzali Samah, an alumni of the Transitional-Year Program (TYP).

The U of T’s Provost, Cheryl Misak, ‘flat-lined’ TYP’s budget earlier this year after they refused to restructure the program according to her personal wishes. According to a former student, Jessie Little, who now studies Sociology, U of T is trying to “strangle the program.”

In late 2012, the Provost asked TYP to “move administratively” to Woodsworth College, a move that would strip TYP of its current autonomy within the University. The purpose being so TYP would “have access to Woodsworth’s resources,” according to the Provost’s office.

Cuts and restructuring 

The program refused this merger and immediately two faculty members were cut. Misak then asked TYP to reconsider. They refused. The Provost then doubled-down, flat-lined the budget and stated that the five part-time faculty at TYP would be axed for the upcoming 2013-14 year (over half the current faculty).

Misak then tried to offer them two full-time employment opportunities if they merged. As of yet, Misak’s offer lacks any substantial guarantee that these jobs will be given to TYP’s current faculty. When I asked if Woodsworth could take both jobs for their own faculty, the Provost answered, “there might well be some sharing of jobs.”

Nothing has been said of what will happen to the admin staff at TYP. Nothing is in writing and the administrative merger would likely mark the end of their jobs. As for student enrolment, TYP’s student body went down from 90 to 70 students in five years. Many predict that after the merger, as few as 33 spaces could remain for TYP students. The TYP community believes that the prospects are bleak if a Woodsworth merger is forced.

U of T: Actions don’t match words

Although U of T recognizes the ‘important mission’ of TYP and is formally committed to ‘equity,’ it’s increasingly difficult to see its actions matching its words. TYP is not mentioned in the Transform 2030, which outlines the future of the university in the run up to 2027, the 200th anniversary of the school.

Indeed, the Boundless campaign that Misak is spearheading is silent on TYP’s existence, although Woodsworth’s Bridging Program is mentioned. Recently, the beautiful building TYP is housed in was given over to the Engineering Faculty as part of U of T’s revitalization process of the campus’s main strip on St. George Street, following the large-scale renovations of the business school and economics department.

All of this is not new for TYP. The program was born during the civil rights struggle in Toronto as a small bridging program for 8 black students, inaugurated at Innis College in 1970. By 1976 the then-Provost unilaterally suspended the program because the already established bridging program didn’t like the new TYP and labelled them as neo-Marxists. A huge protest ensued amongst the TYP constituency. The university then commissioned an independent task force to investigate the purpose and fate of TYP.

The 1977 Kelly report stated: “The response was unanimous: the demand is greater now than in 1969. There remains a substantial constituency to be served by a full-time pre-university programme.”

The report goes onto discuss the “socio-economic factors” implicated in pushing students out of high school. These include: “meagre family income, minimal parental education, life spent in severely depressed neighbourhoods [and a] home environment weighted against staying in school despite potential academic ability.” The report established a structure that was in place until 2003 when a founding member, Keren Braithwaite, retired.

Since then neo-liberalism has been steadily administered to TYP from the Provost’s office. The positions of full-time retirees have been converted into part-time pay for full-time work. It seems that the original plan to shutdown TYP was put on ice and saved until a more suitable pretext for permanent closure could be conjured.

It took a global financial crisis to provide that justification which the Provost’s office has trumpeted at every opportunity. Misak, whose salary has gone from $102,780 in 2001 to $364,893 (255 per cent increase in a decade) has repeatedly told TYP to live within their means and that there are no resources available for them in their current autonomous form.

According to the Ontario Sunshine List, Cheryl Misak went from a philosophy professor to vice-president and principal of U of T Mississauga in 2006 (16 per cent salary increase). She was deputy Provost in 2007 and 2008 (17 per cent and 34 per cent increase respectively). She then became Provost in 2009 (23 per cent increase). She has an average annual salary increase of 4.75 per cent since 2009. 

Students not taking hypocrisy lying down 

In 2000, the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled that U of T engaged in racist hiring practices, known as the Chun affair (the current treatment of TYP part-time faculty carries echoes of this). That same year, U of T took up the model from Harvard and Yale and inaugurated U of T Asset Management (UTAM).

This investment fund converted the endowments and pension system into a treasure trove for financial speculation. By 2008, 30 per cent of the pension and endowment fund had been wiped out due to the credit crisis, the equivalent of $1.5 billion according to the Globe and Mail. U of T’s pension plan was rated the worst of 23 that were measured, That same year, Misak received a 34 per cent salary increase.

The students of TYP have not taken this hypocrisy lying down. To say the program is life changing for the student body would be an understatement, hence the deep convictions they have that the program maintain its autonomy. Many students are 2nd generation TYP alumni. Others are mature students, like Teresa, a teenage mother who’s father passed away during her years at high school. After dropping out and working for 6 years, she enrolled in TYP and is now a second year student of conservation biology. Teresa and others like her attended a protest on March 21 of 50-60 people outside the Provost’s office, the doors of which were guarded by two armed officers.

Dr. Francis Ahia, the current Director of TYP, told me that the struggle today is exactly like the one in 1976. If the “time has come for a new structure” for TYP, the “issue must be studied, the demographics must be studied.”

He went on to say there is no doubt in his mind that Woodsworth would cannibalize TYP, just like Innis College tried to do in 1976, before achieving their autonomy. The community of TYP is calling for an independent task force to investigate their future.

Justin Panos is a Toronto-based journalist and researcher at the York Institute for Health Research. Newsfeed @justinpanos or reach him at jpanos10[at]gmail[dot]com