Enhancing Academic Programming and the Student Experience
The Faculty is committed to supporting the mental health and well-being of all our students throughout their time in A&S. We accept the recommendations of the 2020 Report of the Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health and are committed to building a culture of caring. Many resources for student mental health are administered centrally, and A&S is partnering with Accessibility Services, Health & Wellness, the Colleges, and the Vice-Provost, Students, to ensure that we meaningfully implement these recommendations. To that end, we have already struck a standing committee on Mental Health with representation from students, staff, and faculty to address challenges particular to Arts & Science and, in 2019, hired a new Mental Health Programs Officer to spearhead these efforts via training, workshops, and awareness-raising events.
Undergraduate Students. The Faculty is also making progress toward meaningful implementation of the Mental Health Task Force Report’s recommendation to “review bureaucratic and academic policies that act as stressors or barriers to students,” through the creation of a “Special Committee of A&S Council on Academic Policy.” The Special Committee will review policies with an eye to their impact on student mental health and well-being and will recommend policy changes to avoid unnecessarily exacerbating student stress. We will also simplify our numerous administrative processes and communications to make it easier for students to navigate admissions, program registration, petitions, and grading policies as they progress through their degrees. Our goal for 2025 is to have a clearly communicated set of streamlined policies, processes, and procedures, which will dramatically improve the student experience.
Graduate Supports. Graduate students’ mental health and well-being are affected by a variety of stressors associated with work-life balance, and the quality of mentorship and supervision. Our commitment to graduate student mental health requires a reorientation of the way in which we perceive and discuss graduate education. While excellence in research and scholarly activities remains the centerpiece of our mission, we must also recognize the role of mental health in graduate student outcomes and experiences. Our success as a premier research institution relies upon the success of our graduate students. Improvements in funding, time to degree, and support for alternative pathways will improve graduate student outcomes and alleviate stressors that can adversely affect students’ mental health and well-being.
Around the world, scientists and policymakers are responding to the need to take significant steps to address the dangers posed by climate change. A&S will play a crucial role in developing pedagogy related to these issues, including the integration of sustainability in our academic programming through new curricular pathways. The School of the Environment within A&S offers popular undergraduate programs in Environmental Science and Environmental Studies, as well as a new Master’s of Environment & Sustainability program. The School has the potential to serve as a more robust hub linking together pedagogy and research expertise related to sustainability from across the Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities. The School currently provides teaching through a set of cross-appointed faculty, but may better serve A&S with a stronger and more focused mandate to connect with units across the Faculty, as well as the Colleges, to coordinate and advance teaching and research on environment and sustainability.
A&S offers an exceptional educational experience. Among our alumni, we boast Nobel Prize laureates, Prime Ministers and Governors General, as well as winners of the premier international awards in virtually every discipline across the Humanities, Sciences, and Social Sciences. Our students go on to become leaders in academia, industry, politics, and the arts, providing much of the intellectual, economic, and creative direction for Canada today. We offer an education that builds critical thinking, research and communication skills, and provides students with opportunities to work with and learn from outstanding, internationally recognized researchers. Looking forward, we need to ensure that we offer undergraduate and graduate programming at the forefront of the most exciting developments in human endeavour, including areas such as new digital methodologies for studying history and culture, rapid advances in artificial intelligence, ground-breaking innovations in the study of neuroscience, and new analytic techniques for studying human behaviour and the impacts of climate change. In support of student success and well-being, we need to revitalize and create new space for students to relax and connect with friends as well as to study. As we innovate in pedagogy and research, we need to ensure that our vision respects and draws vitality from our international student body and from the cultural diversity of the city and of Canada.
The Faculty derives strength from our diverse student body. Many A&S students are the first in their family to attend university, commute long distances daily, travel vast distances to study with us, or are non-native English speakers. In “Leveraging our Strengths,” we strive to ensure that all our students experience a supportive environment and have equitable opportunities to take full advantage of their education.
Like many students across North America, our students are concerned about their future prospects, including post-graduation employment. We can do more to ensure that, in parallel with the excellence of our education, we offer opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to develop and practice skills that more directly support their future success in the workplace and in their lives more generally.
Over the next five years, the Faculty will enhance the undergraduate student experience by supporting mental health and well-being, developing new academic and co-curricular opportunities, expanding innovation in teaching methods, and ensuring students are prepared to succeed beyond graduation.
A primary strength of the Faculty of Arts & Science is our extraordinary breadth across the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences. In “Leveraging our Strengths,” we capitalize on this breadth by proposing the development of a Bachelor of Arts & Science degree. This new degree will not only better recognize and support students who choose to study majors in multiple sectors, but will also stimulate the enhancement or creation of interdisciplinary academic programming that draws on our interdisciplinary research excellence. This newly integrated Arts & Science education will include research opportunities and capstone courses tied to the proposed A&S Institute for Advanced Study. The Bachelor of Arts & Science will reflect the distinctive nature of the Faculty, and stand as the signature degree of A&S in the future.
In 2017, an A&S Working Group on First-Year Academic offerings produced a report outlining four core principles: the classroom is the primary site for first-year students to develop strong foundations to academic success; A&S, working with the Colleges and our academic units, has the overarching responsibility for communicating clear guidance to students about first-year academic offerings and policies and for coordinating appropriate resources for first-year classrooms; excellence and equity must shape any large-scale changes to first-year academic offerings; and designing and implementing meaningful changes to first-year academic offerings must be based on the ongoing collective and collaborative work of faculty, staff, and students throughout A&S and the Colleges. The Faculty will continue to be guided by these core principles as it strives to provide first-year students with a clear and coherent set of academic offerings to prepare them for their programs of study.
In recent years, the Faculty focused its efforts on the recommendation to establish the A&S First-Year Foundations (FYF) seminars. Building on the College One and “199” programs, A&S has successfully increased the number of small-class experiences available to students new to the Faculty, helping them to connect with faculty members and other students early on in their A&S education. We recognize the value of these experiences and will continue to develop them, working together with our academic units and the Colleges. Moving forward, we will also turn our attention to the Working Group’s recommendation to provide supports to large classes, ensuring that we are using pedagogical innovations in teaching to enhance both student learning and the student experience in our numerous large first-year courses.
In addition, the Faculty will develop new programs in cutting-edge fields of study. A new major in Quantitative Biology will provide students with an opportunity to focus on building skills in state-of-the-art analytics relevant to the life sciences. New programming in the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources will offer students an option to learn about labour and organizations in the context of their other programs of study. In response to the growing interest in computation and data analytics, the Faculty will create teaching supports for instructors to include computational components in existing courses that fall outside the Departments of Computer Science and Statistical Sciences. We will also increase the Faculty’s offering of introductory-level data-intensive courses for students within each sector; such courses could provide Humanities students, for example, with the computational background they need to pursue more advanced digital studies in their respective programs, and would strengthen our Digital Humanities minor. By combining traditional areas of study with new programs that help students apply their skills more directly to career options, A&S will prepare undergraduates to be at the forefront of their fields as they enter the workforce in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors.
Degree requirements have not been reviewed in over a decade, and with the possibility of a new degree and of new degree requirements, such as a First-Year Foundations seminar, we will conduct a comprehensive review of our degree requirements and program admissions.
The Faculty derives strength from a strong partnership with the seven St. George campus Colleges. The College system is among U of T’s most distinctive features, and we look to strengthen our unique and historic relationship over the next five years with the shared vision of improving the student experience. The Provost is currently undertaking “A Review of the Role of the Colleges on the St. George Campus” addressing five key areas: reviews, academic planning, and academic change; student experience; recruitment, admissions, and enrolment planning; residences; and resources. The Faculty will work closely with the Colleges and the Provost to implement any forthcoming recommendations to enhance both our partnership with the Colleges and the student experience.
The Colleges are the physical home for many students during their studies; however, demand for residence space outstrips availability. Our international students, in particular, are looking for more opportunities to live on campus. A&S will work with the Colleges and the Provost to implement recommendations arising from the Colleges Review that focus on building residence capacity. At the same time, A&S recognizes that most students commute to campus, many from a significant distance, and sometimes miss out on the opportunities that are more readily available to those who live nearby. Building on the successes of the commuter student centres at the Colleges, the Sidney Smith Commons, and unit-level initiatives, A&S will work in collaboration with the Colleges to ensure that all students have access to spaces that give them the opportunity to build communities and connect with the services they need. In addition, the Faculty will strengthen the partnership with the Colleges on academic advising and support. Registrarial staff at the Colleges play a vital role in assisting students directly and connecting them with additional resources within the College or elsewhere on campus. We recognize this crucial function and will work with the Colleges to support and guide our undergraduates throughout their studies, and ensure complementarity in the delivery of services that will enrich the student experience.
Many A&S instructors enhance their courses by adopting innovative, high-impact pedagogical approaches, including the integration of digital pedagogies into their teaching, experiential and community-based learning, and writing-integrated teaching. Supports for new teaching technologies and innovations will increase opportunities for instructors to enrich the delivery of existing courses and complement the range of experiential, international, and traditional classroom experiences open to students. We will support faculty interested in the development of online teaching, either within more traditional lecture-based courses or through fully online courses, with a focus on ensuring high quality in online offerings. We heard clearly from students that online courses and/or course components increase the accessibility of an A&S education by offering commuting students a broader range of options to pursue their studies; we will create more flexible opportunities for those students managing their studies alongside part-time jobs and/or family responsibilities.
The Faculty will embark on an ambitious experiential learning initiative through our new Experiential Learning and Outreach Support (ELOS) office. Experiential learning (EL) is a successful teaching practice that allows students to create more deliberate and explicit connections between their educational experiences in- and outside of the classroom. In A&S, EL opportunities range from small-scale course-based integration with local community organizations, to larger-scale international excursions to explore other cultures, environments, or historical sites. Our goal is for every A&S student to have the opportunity to participate in at least one high-quality, academically linked EL opportunity prior to graduation. To achieve this goal, the A&S EL expansion will focus on three key areas: First, we will support faculty in expanding course-based organization-partnered opportunities; international-, Indigenous-, and research-based opportunities; and co-curricular opportunities. Second, we will launch an A&S Co-op/Internship program that will provide 12-16 months of meaningful, paid, full-time work opportunities for Arts & Science students across a wide range of disciplines. A&S will partner with the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and their successful Professional Experience Year (PEY) program, in the design and delivery of this program. We are also engaged in conversations with other divisions regarding future collaborations on experiential learning. Finally, alongside these two initiatives, we will introduce supports and programming to help prepare students for meaningful engagement in EL opportunities and address barriers to participation.
A&S has become a leading centre for international education, home to a large body of international students and to academic and co-curricular programming that highlights the value of international experiences for all our students. International students bring immense value to the classroom and to our research projects, and we aim to ensure they have the best possible supports, including enhancements in classroom supports for English language learners. Internationalization across our range of activities promotes diversity that benefits all our students and creates important breadth in our academic offerings. The ELOS office will work with academic units and Colleges to build new partnerships that will strengthen and expand the roster of international opportunities available to undergraduate students throughout the Faculty. We will also explore the possibility of a summer Global Language Institute, capitalizing on the wealth of language teaching that occurs across A&S.
Our graduate programs are recognized internationally for the excellence of their teaching and research. We offer 39 PhD programs, 40 doctoral-stream master’s programs, and 8 professional master’s programs, which provide training to students in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Life Sciences, and Physical Sciences. The majority of our PhD and doctoral-stream master’s programs are offered as tri-campus graduate programs with faculty from the St. George, UTM, and UTSC campuses teaching courses and supervising graduate students.
The tri-campus structure is a source of enormous strength, providing unparalleled opportunities to leverage the excellence of faculty across the three campuses and offer an outstanding breadth of research opportunities to our students. At the same time, the geographic and administrative separation of the campuses can pose challenges. A&S will explore options for investing in videoconferencing technology, and virtual meeting spaces that are easy to use; we can take a leadership role within the institution in developing options, not only to facilitate tri-campus interactions, but also in recognition of the likelihood that, as academic bodies recognize the environmental damage associated with air travel, virtual scholarly meetings and conferences may play an increasingly important role in the future dissemination of knowledge. In addition, the 2018-2019 Provostial review of the tri-campus structure yielded recommendations relevant to graduate program structure and change. We look forward to working with UTM and UTSC, along with the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and the Vice-Provost, Academic Programs to address these recommendations and find the best possible ways to provide an enriching experience for master’s and doctoral students enrolled in our programs.
As part of its planning process, A&S has reflected on the kind of graduate student experience that we, as a Faculty, strive to achieve. After a period of graduate expansion, we are now closer to a steady state with respect to enrolment and can reflect on how best to deliver innovative and effective graduate education. We want our students to become experts in their respective disciplines, and to be competitive for their chosen careers. We want to support research and scholarly excellence, and while these can be defined in disciplinary ways, we should design programs and provide support with universal goals in mind. In “Leveraging our Strengths,” we focus on three factors that are of critical importance for students’ success and experience in their graduate studies: graduate funding, time to degree (TTD), and support for non-academic career pathways.
The critical importance of graduate student funding cannot be overemphasized. The Faculty understands that finances are a major contributor to graduate student stress and a constraint on our ability to attract top students to our programs. Although the Faculty has made continuous improvements to base funding since 2016, we need to do more. We will work to improve base funding packages beyond our previous commitments. We will also develop best practices with sectors to support graduate student funding, for example through having faculty apply for tri-council grants with the inclusion of support for master’s and doctoral students in their budgets. The current A&S Bridging Program provides funds for those faculty who apply for tri-council grants, but whose applications are unsuccessful; this ensures that faculty support for graduate students will be forthcoming regardless of year-to-year grant application outcomes.
Innovations in graduate student support frequently develop at the discipline-specific or unit level; however, there is no base funding to directly support innovations in graduate education. The Faculty will develop a model to provide funds for unit-level graduate initiatives, for example to establish a graduate student research fund or facilitate conference travel.
Funding for international graduate students represents a major allocation of Faculty resources to units, but is constrained by provincial funding policy. Many units express frustration with the resulting “quota” system that at times constrains units’ ambitions to recruit the best possible graduate cohorts. Recognizing the shifting pressures on unit aspirations to admit international students, the Faculty will introduce a more flexible system of reviewing and allocating units’ quota. In addition, we will continue to explore options for increasing international graduate enrolments. The Faculty will also examine new options for supporting international graduate students through their programs to address retention and time to completion.
The Faculty’s recent external review highlighted the need to decrease TTD. Increased TTD represents rising resource costs for graduate education and may be detrimental to graduate student mental health. While TTD is impacted by external forces, such as rising expectations for PhD graduates in some disciplines, increased TTD also results from structural problems within programs, including increased program requirements, ill-defined expectations for what constitutes a dissertation, and challenges with faculty supervision. The Faculty will address TTD by working with units in two primary areas: curriculum review and student supervision.
Curriculum Review. The Faculty will commence a rolling curriculum review, aligned with our new unit-level planning process. We will work with each graduate unit to evaluate program structure and requirements. Units will reflect on whether their current program design serves the needs of students and the discipline, and whether the program offers students opportunities for professional development. Students’ workload should be achievable within the funded program length, and the program structure must be compatible with clear milestones. Now that we are no longer in a period of graduate expansion, we will work with units to scale their programs appropriately, ensuring that we are recruiting the best possible students to programs that support student success both in their studies and future careers. We will coordinate with UTM and UTSC to implement mechanisms for planning and accountability in tri-campus graduate programs.
Student supervision. High-quality supervision is critical, not only to scholarly performance, but also to graduate student well-being, retention, and TTD. Indeed, diligent supervision is one key mechanism through which students learn about program expectations and requirements. Accordingly, in coordination with SGS, UTM and UTSC, and in consultation with our graduate units, the Faculty will develop a significant initiative to engage with faculty and graduate students on graduate supervision. We will consider ways to support supervision, and to foster a culture of learning for faculty, including workshops focused on supervision and mentorship. Ultimately, improving supervisory skills will positively impact the next generation of faculty, given that students learn supervisory skills from their own supervisors.
Concerns about future employment are a significant source of stress for many students entering the tight labour market for academic employment, or who have career aspirations outside academia. Although academic positions are the goal of many, they are certainly not the only desirable career option for graduates, and do not define a successful graduate degree. Students and supervisors are not always aware of the spectrum of non-academic career opportunities, and units can explore new ways to discuss and frame these pathways, including consideration of how professional outcomes intersect with program design. A&S will work with units and with SGS to coordinate professional development offerings, with an enhanced focus on experiential learning opportunities for graduate students.
Creating a Culture of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
A&S has an impressive history of supporting student innovation through the Impact Centre, primarily in the physical sciences. The Faculty is re-imagining this Centre and how we deliver entrepreneurship education for undergraduate and graduate students in A&S, including supporting student-led start-ups through an incubation/acceleration program. The Centre will be re-named and, under new leadership, will move into the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre; in partnership with academic units, the Centre will provide a base for fostering and promoting student talent and creativity.
Our proposed investments in undergraduate and graduate student support are ambitious but will yield significant benefits in the long term. Undergraduates will have access to a new Bachelor of Arts & Science degree, as well as pedagogical initiatives aimed at providing new skills in innovative areas of study. Graduate students will benefit from enhanced funding, as well as improvements in program design and supervision. Enriched support for students, with consideration paid not only to their intellectual development but also to their happiness and mental health, will have positive impacts on the quality of undergraduate and graduate education. A renewed focus on enhancing student experience will support our mission as an internationally recognized centre of excellence for teaching and research.