Proposed structural changes to the Transitional Year Program (TYP), one of U of T’s most unique offerings, have stirred up significant controversy on the St. George campus.

TYP is a special-access initiative, begun in 1976, which prepares those without formal educational qualifications for university entrance. Many of the students it serves are from marginalized socio-economic communities in Toronto.

On October 14, the Faculty of Arts & Science Council (FASC) announced that TYP could lose its autonomy, become a part of Woodsworth College and experience staff reductions.

Those affiliated with TYP believe that such changes will suffocate the program so that it is no longer able to serve its mandate. As an autonomous body, TYP was guaranteed funding from the Provost’s office. Under the proposed changes, it will have to request everything from Woodsworth College, for whom, they believe, TYP will be just one of many concerns. They also fear that staff cutbacks will be highly detrimental to the program’s performance; due to budget issues, instructors who retired last year still have not been replaced.

Those in favour of the proposal, however, argue that the unpredictable economic climate makes it necessary for TYP to be affiliated with a college.

“TYP needs closer institutional support if it is to survive,” says Professor Joseph Desloges, Principal of Woodsworth College. “Woodsworth has specialized faculty and resources which TYP would otherwise not have access to. After all, we ourselves grew out of a framework of incorporating non-traditional students.”

Professor Desloges adds that the issue of funding has been misinterpreted: “Of course there will be competition for resources. But that’s true everywhere. No one at the university is ever completely secure. By being autonomous, in fact, TYP is competing with UTM, UTSC, and numerous graduate faculties for the Provost’s endowment. At Woodsworth, there is not only a more direct approach to funding, but also a greater stress on access and equity.”

On October 19, FASC convened at the Munk Centre to further discuss the proposal. TYP students, alumni, staff, and UTSU members came out to assert that they want the program to remain the same. Many of them were disappointed when only eight people actually affiliated with TYP were allowed into the meeting-hall (which seated 85). Organizers claimed that to let anyone else in “would breach protocol.”

Mr. Francis Ahia, a math instructor at TYP, felt frustrated at being forced to wait in the lobby for two hours, when he had come ready to voice his opinions. He saw it as emblematic of the administration’s general attitude. “U of T is so obsessed with rankings, with reputation,” said Ahia, “that an initiative that takes in academically under-qualified students is seen as tarnishing the university’s image. As far as I remember, we’ve never been considered part of the mainstream.”

Jennifer Taves, a 2004 graduate of TYP, agreed. She felt that U of T often uses the program merely as an ethical fig-leaf. “We are paraded as an example of community outreach. But when it’s actually time for support, the administration suddenly goes quiet.”

Taves added, “budget cuts were carried out before there was any economic crisis to speak of. It seems ridiculous that there would be enough money to renovate the Varsity Arena, but not enough to support at-risk youth.”

Current TYP students showed up in large numbers to the FASC meeting. They were unanimous in their support for the program.

Newly-enrolled student Branden Walker also stressed the importance that the program’s accommodating nature had made in his life. “TYP is the only way I would ever be able to get to university,” he said. “I don’t come from a supportive background. If I was back home, I might already be dead or in prison.”

The chief concern of these students is that the proposed changes would force TYP to lose the intimacy necessary for its success. “It’ll just become lost in endless red-tape,” said first-year Freda Aninkorh. “People who make administrative decisions don’t realize what TYP students have had to face in their lives, and how important the feeling of community is to their survival here.”

FASC voted to adjourn any final verdicts on TYP until its next meeting. On Oct. 21, the Woodsworth College Council also deferred its final vote. Both decisions were prompted by the controversy which the issue had elicited, citing “the need for further discussion.”

Until the next round of council meetings in November, TYP will not see any of the proposed structural changes.

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