By RON FANFAIR
The University of Toronto wants to make changes to the unique Transitional Year Program (TYP), changes that could limit access for poor and marginalized students seeking higher education. So, alumni, retired and current faculty and community activists are rallying to send a strong message to the university that the 40-year-old program should be preserved in its present format.
The TYP, which emerged from the active political engagement of Toronto’s Black community in the 1960s that was advocating for positive and critical change, is facing budget and staffing cuts and other changes.
The ground-breaking initiative is a special access program for adults who do not have a formal educational background to qualify for university admission. It offers an intensive eight-month, full-time course which qualifies successful students for entrance to an Arts or Science degree program and is aimed mainly at individuals who did not have the opportunity to complete high school.
A peer review of the TYP program in 2006 recommended that the TYP discuss the possibility of sharing academic and student services expertise with the Academic Bridging Program at Woodsworth College. Administrators of both programs have been discussing whether such an alliance under a single administrative home at Woodsworth College would strengthen offerings to students in each program while retaining the programs’ distinctive identities.
In the course of discussions, the faculty and staff have also met on several occasions to determine the feasibility of aligning the two programs under the Faculty of Arts & Science umbrella.
TYP participant, Ahmed Ahmed, said he’s not comfortable with these considerations.
“The structure of the TYP program, the faculty and the curriculum is not accidental,” said Ahmed who dropped out of high school. “These are things that people have fought for and for the university to casually recommend that we lose some of these things is, quite frankly, insulting. We want the university to increase, expand and strengthen access to education.
“The university, it seems, wants to streamline its administration process. From an administrative point of view, that might be valuable, but from a student’s point of view, the value that I see is being able to walk into a place that I feel comfortable in and where the people who are teaching my classes give me material that reflect my experience. The U of T administration needs to understand who I am and the fact that it goes beyond just handing in papers.”
Educator Keren Brathwaite, considered the TYP’s heart and soul before she retired six years ago, co-founded the program which began at Innis College in September 1970 with 25 students after summer programs in 1969 and a year later presented it as a model of university access for students under-represented at the U of T.
The program was restructured in 1977 as a separate division within the university and moved to the old Metro Library building on College St. before re-locating to its current location on George Street in 1983.
In a passionate appeal, Brathwaithe called for an expanded mandate for access and equity in the university.
“You have proved that TYP works,” she told students present last Saturday at a forum to address the proposed changes to the program. “Access education must become an imperative in institutions of higher learning. We could have started TYP, but if you did not come out and participate and prove the efficacy of this program, we could not be sitting here today and asking the university and the government to continue funding programs like these so that our future young people could have the access you have had.”
Brathwaite wants the U of T to view the program as part of an overall strategy for making the university more inclusive and diverse with a provision for the curriculum, faculty, staff and resources to be enhanced to support this approach. She’s also advocating that the TYP strengthen its existing community partnerships and form new alliances to expand its intake and service to students from marginalized communities.
Former Toronto District School Board principal, Zanana Akande, challenged TYP participants to ensure that access and equity at the university is preserved.
“These meetings are terrific because they inform, they get you all riled up and then you go home and forget about if for a while, thinking that somebody else would do it,” said Akande, the first Black woman in Ontario elected to the provincial legislature in 1990. “I have been around a long time and I am going to tell you that no one else will do it for you.
“There is no time for an intermission. This has to be done step by step and day by day. Keep it in the press and on the front burner. The university needs a reputation. If it doesn’t serve you, let’s make them uncomfortable.”
Jennifer Taves praised the program she graduated from in 2004 for providing her with an opportunity to participate in higher education. She graduates this year with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies.
“This program is important and it’s one that’s very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “We are concerned about some of the proposed changes that could challenge the students’ experience.”