By MURPHY BROWNE
When the University of Toronto (U of T) was founded as King’s College by Royal Charter on March 15, 1827, slavery – which was abolished here on August 1, 1834 – was a Canadian institution. There was a population of “free people of colour” which included United Empire Loyalists, refugees from the American War of Independence 1775-1783 and the War of 1812; together with Africans who fled slavery in the U.S. and were granted refuge as free people.
It would be safe to say that few, if any, Africans-Canadians would have been students at the U of T back then. Actually, it is hardly likely that there were students from any racialized community enrolled. The establishment of the U of T was closely allied with the Family Compact, “a small group of wealthy citizens who then dominated the city’s affairs”, according to the International Dictionary of University Histories by Carol J. Summerfield, Mary Elizabeth Devine and Anthony Levi. “Its creation was … due to the local influence of the Family Compact”, many of whose members were slave holders.
From Family Compact, the 1999 Canadian encyclopedia, World Edition, by David Mills, published in 1998: “This Family Compact came about through the desire of John Graves Simcoe, first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, to create a local aristocracy by naming his friends to important political and judiciary positions”.
The first African-Canadian doctor to graduate from the U of T was Anderson Ruffin Abbott. He was born in Toronto in 1837 and received his medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1857 when he was 20 years old.
James Ross, grandson of an Okanagan chief, graduated from the university in 1865.
In 1827, the Aamjiwnaang First Nations reserve was established near Sarnia, Ontario (where alarming levels of toxic chemicals have been found in the air, water, soil and even in the residents) and the Stoney Point Reserve (which eventually became the site of contention between the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Native activists and led to the OPP killing of unarmed Ojibway activist, Dudley George, in September, 1995) was established by the British Crown.
While the British Crown was enslaving Africans in the Diaspora, colonizing Africans on the African continent and confining this country’s Native people to limited spaces (reservations) in their own land, they were making provisions for the higher education of White youth. By 1827, having made a fortune from the unpaid, forced labour of enslaved Africans for more than 300 years, the British Crown and the many slave holders of the Family Compact could definitely afford to educate those they thought merited university education.
Given this history, there is little wonder that the administration at the U of T seems bent on returning to the good old days when it was overwhelmingly peopled by rich White students. Case in point is its administration’s tinkering with the Transitional Year Program (TYP), which was established almost 40 years ago to facilitate the entry to university of students from traditionally marginalized communities.
This program has its roots in the African-Canadian community of Toronto. During the summer of 1969, in a community centre on Bathurst Street, Keren Brathwaite, a graduate student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE/UT) and York University student, Horace Campbell, tutored seven young African-Canadians in preparation for entry to university.
It was a pilot project, to prove that the students, who had not completed high school, were capable of qualifying for university. Five students successfully completed the course and were admitted to university. The next year, the summer project – with approximately 25 students – moved to the U of T and became a year long, access to education Transitional Year Program with Brathwaite as a founding faculty member.
The program broadened its mandate to include Native Canadians, new Canadians, single parents and, in fact, any adults who, because of racism, poverty, family difficulties, medical issues or other circumstances, did not complete their education in high school but want to access university education and are willing to work to achieve their goal.
In 1977, TYP was restructured as a separate division within the university reporting directly to the provost and receiving funding from the provost, like a professional faculty. The TYP is an intensive one-year full-time course of studies, with faculty providing intensive supportive counseling, leading to entrance to an Arts and Science degree program at the U of T.
After almost 40 years of successfully supporting traditionally marginalized students in achieving university education, during which Braithwaite was honoured in 1998 with the OISE/UT Distinguished Educator Award and in 1999 with the U of T Alumni Association’s Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize, the university is planning to dismantle the unique TYP.
Another blow to accessibility is U of T’s plan to charge a flat fee to all students taking three to five courses. The flat fees plan will mean that instead of students paying on a per-course basis, those taking three, three and a half, four, or four and a half courses will pay the same fees as if they were taking five courses. The implementation of flat fees was first raised as an option when a shortfall in endowment money left the university facing a $9 million deficit.
The administration decided it was expedient to make up the shortfall on the backs of the most vulnerable. In spite of widespread opposition from students and faculty, the U of T administration is forging ahead with this foolhardy cash grab. Should the university’s Governing Council vote to ratify the decision made by the Arts and Science Council, students will be left with three choices, drop down to two and a half courses, which will mean that they no longer qualify for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), take five courses and risk lowering their grade point average, which will affect their chances of entering grad school, law school, medical school etc.; or transfer to another university which does not have a flat fee policy.
Students with wealthy parents who can afford to pay their tuition fees, buy the expensive books, pay for transportation and all the other expenses that students incur are the only ones who will not be negatively affected by the flat fee policy. Many students see this as an elitist tactic to corporatize the university and change the type of students they enroll by phasing out the students who depend on funding their education by working part time and borrowing money from OSAP.
Students from low income communities – mostly racialized students – will be phased out of the U of T, back to the kind of students who studied there in 1827 when the university was founded.
On Wednesday, May 20, the U of T’s Governing Council will meet at the Mississauga campus to make the final decision about the flat fee policy. Students plan to protest and are inviting supporters to join them at 4:30 p.m. to persuade the members of Governing Council to vote no to the flat fees proposal.