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The University of Toronto’s Racist Assault on the Transitional Year Program

by BASICS NewsSoledad Superville

Photo by Abdinur Ahmed
Photo by Abdinur Ahmed

 

On Feb 13th a town hall meeting was held by students of U of T’s Transitional Year Program (TYP) to talk about the latest threat to the 43 year old program’s existence. The Provost (administration) of the university is attempting to break-up the program to merge TYP with the less successful Woodsworth bridging program, a move that has been heavily criticized by racialized students. It will lead to a loss of autonomy in making decisions on how to run the program and students will lose the close-knit community of peers and faculty that have been critical to their success.

TYP allows access into the university for the most marginalized peoples in society, particularly racialized, working class, gender and sexual minorities, disabled, Aboriginal people, refugees, and low income women and single mothers. It creates access to the university for all those who have been unable to finish high school, either because they’ve been pushed out of school due oppression in their schools or because they’ve been unable to study as a result of the struggle to survive while in poverty.

The Provost did not attend the town hall meeting, sending a representative in her place that presented a statement. The Provost stated that apparently there was “no decision to eliminate TYP”. In reality there have been huge cuts to the program. Over the past five years 4 full-time faculty members have retired but the Provost has turned them into barely part-time positions.  These workers are doing the same if not more work as the previous faculty but for a fraction of the wages and without any of the benefits or job security that comes with full-time status.

By turning racialized educators in into little more than Wal-Mart style workers the Provost’s actions have gutted the long term stability and security of the program and the program’s capacity to meet the needs of the students and the marginalized communities they come from.

The Provost did say that that there would be more money for the budget, but only if TYP “formally unified” with the Arts and Science Program of Woodsworth College, which she claimed has “excellent” administrative support. Yet this means that TYP’s own racialized, working class, and disabled administrative staff (who students love and trust) are not wanted and their jobs will be cut.  On top of this, full-time retiree pensions are paid for out of the $1.4 million TYP budget. This means that unless the Provost substantially increases the TYP’s budget it will be starved of funds necessary to pay for its day to day needs.

The entire part-time faculty of the program are racialized people whose negative experiences as educators mirrors that of racialized peoples everywhere in Canada. Racist hiring practices that have ghettoized racialized educators into spaces of lowly professional status have made them ripe for exploitation.  Part-time members whose jobs are currently on the chopping block should have been in a position to apply for the full-time positions of those who have previously retired, in keeping with the University’s supposed commitment to employment equity.


Photo by Abdinur Ahmed

Of the last 5 full-time positions left vacant by those who have since retired, 2 of these posts were held by racialized teachers, one African Canadian and one Aboriginal. Both of them taught classes related to their racial and cultural identities and group membership. Turning these teaching positions into casual labouring jobs means that the Provost’s office has made a racist assault on the life chances of African Canadians and Aboriginal peoples as a group.

White educators held 3 of these 5 full-time positions. White educators dominate positions of power at U of T. For the university to change the full-time status of jobs held by white educators to low income part-time status once they have retired and then to fill them up with racialized working class is to keep a racist, oppressive, class-based system of power going where racialized communities are oppressed as an underclass for the purpose of economic exploitation. It also hinders resistance because people are kept busy just trying to survive.

The destruction of TYP must be resisted. TYP’s destruction has implications for communities everywhere, particularly when the current school system that is a pipeline for pushing racialized low income students into the prison system. The time to act is now to demand an expansion of funding and support for the TYP program. It is time to take back the University as a public space that belongs to us the people and not to corporate elites and capitalist interests.

This article was first published in BASICS


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