Background: Meeting was called by The Office of the Principal, New College, inviting BPSU students to discuss the BPMH program

In attendance: Randy Boyagoda (FAS Vice-Dean), Dickson Eyoh (New College Interim Principal), Maya Gangji (BPSU Social Events Coordinator), Ashwin Kaura (PATH), Mahalia Newman (PATH), Janet Pham (BPSU VP), Sophia Shkodzinsky (BPSU Treasurer)

The following Minutes are organized under five topic headings that we formulate as questions or concerns arising from the information shared by Professors Eyoh and Boyagoda at the Feb 12 meeting. In these Minutes, we summarize our notes from the meeting. Where relevant, we have consulted with program faculty to confirm facts about the program, as recommended by Professor Eyoh. We include these faculty responses below, after our own meeting notes. We then conclude each section with our own further questions or conclusions.

We begin by noting that according to our records, at this informational meeting Professors Eyoh and Boyagoda spoke for over 70% of the session, with student participation primarily taking the form of questions for clarification. We affirm that this cannot constitute “consultation” of students.

1) What constitutes meaningful consultation with the student body?

Boyagoda mentioned that there is a “framework of formal consultation that the University of Toronto expects of us” in the case of potential program closures.  Newman asked, “if we’re following a certain process from the UTQAP, what would a student consultation actually look like?” Eyoh replied by saying, “I can’t give you a concrete answer because it’s not on the table. You’ve got to figure out what you want.” So, although we were told that there is a formal consultation framework, we were also clearly told that we have to “figure out what we want” in a consultation process.

Instead of consulting students on their experience of the program, the information presented by Eyoh and Boyagoda at this meeting was primarily about the financial status of the program. We found these messages to be confused and contradictory, and we asked several times for clarification of what our role in this financial process is. Newman asked, “what is actually wanted from a student consultation, is it really for us to come up with solutions of what cognate units can sponsor our program?” She suggested that “it’s not the students’ responsibility to find solutions for a program to financially be sustainable.”

Kaura explained that “I feel like this is very administrative and shouldn’t even be in a student consultation, or like a student initial consultation… it feels like this is a lot and quite overwhelming to have an initial student meeting to be discussing these things.” Pham agreed, asking “should this be in an initial talk with students?” Kaura said, “we can just go to our faculty to find a concrete way to address this. And we can propose it to you guys, you know, if this becomes our responsibility.”

Eyoh clearly told us to take what we’d learned in this meeting and discuss the issues with faculty: “So the issue will be for you to go back to your faculty, so can you explore it concretely,” he recommended. Kaura noted, “We have been in contact with faculty. The only thing is it feels odd for us to speak on their behalf.”

Newman tried to shift the conversation to student experience, suggesting that the purpose of this meeting should be sharing what the student experience is, how valuable this program really is to students, and what the institution would lose by closing the program. But that conversation did not happen at this meeting.

Our concerns and conclusions:

  • Meaningful consultation requires that students be allowed to speak about their knowledge of and experience with the program, and that student perspectives have an impact on the decision-making process.
  • We were clearly given the message that we should now organize the consultation process after discussing the issues with faculty.
  • We are not positioned to address administrative issues and misinformation that should be sorted out with faculty FIRST, before any further student meetings.

2) The administration must begin with accurate information about the program

Although Boyagoda only began his position in January, Eyoh said about Boyagoda that, “I’m sure he’s pretty up to date” on the BPMH program. But throughout the meeting, Eyoh presented information that was not questioned, and that we knew to be incorrect. For example:

1) Eyoh said the program’s disciplinary focus is “contemplative science through the prism of Buddhism. So the question is, why just Buddhism and not all contemplative traditions?”

  • We consulted the Program Director on this and received this response: The question of Buddhism’s role in our program has been addressed in earlier documents about the program. For example, it is discussed briefly in the document “BPMH Response to external review Jan 27 2023”, authored by the Program Director, signed by Eyoh, and sent to the Vice-Deans on Feb 1, 2023. The issue of Contemplative Science’s history of relationship with Buddhism is also extensively discussed throughout the Program Support Dossier. Eyoh’s comments show that he is not familiar with the program or the field and has not consulted with program faculty or read the many available documents about the program.

2) Eyoh said that between the BPMH Self-Study of January 2020 and today, “there is no evidence of any changes having been proposed by the program that went through curriculum governance… There is no evidence that things have changed.”

  • We consulted the Program Director on this and received this response: This piece of misinformation has been addressed numerous times. Garrett informed Eyoh of post-2020 curriculum changes on November 2, 2023 by Zoom, on November 14 by email, on November 20 by email, and in a December 4 presentation to Vice-Deans (meeting canceled by Vice-Dean, presentation on YouTube). Documentation of governance changes can be found by checking Humanities Curriculum Committee meetings dated 11-16-2020, 1-24-2022, and 11-15-2021, among others. The Principal’s and Vice Principal’s email accounts will have records of discussions about these changes, as would the minutes of New College Academic Affairs meetings at which they were approved. In addition, the NC Program Assistant could provide lists of courses offered before and after the Self-Study’s report (which is based on the program’s status up to 2019), as well as their syllabi, to demonstrate ample evidence of many program changes in the four years since the Self-Study was written.

3) Eyoh claimed that our tenured faculty member from OISE “has not taught in the program for the last couple years.”

  • We consulted the Program Director on this and received this response: Michel Ferrari, full Professor at OISE, has taught in BPMH regularly since 2012; he also was the Interim Director of BPMH in 2019-20. A letter describing his involvement in BPMH can be found in the Program Support Dossier.

4) Eyoh and Boyagoda both demonstrated a lack of knowledge about which are the program’s cognate units, despite this information being shared in multiple ways (see below).

Our concerns:

  • We see that the administration doesn’t understand the program and we are concerned about the continued spreading of misinformation. However, we don’t believe it’s the students’ responsibility to fact check the administration’s messaging.

3) Who is responsible for negotiating support for the program from cognate units?

When asked who is responsible for creating links with cognate departments, Eyoh said, “the Program Director, would need to speak to other units … it’s not I or Boyagoda or the Dean who speak to that… your Program Director is one who has to get those people on board.” But later in the meeting, he said, “The question is, how do you go to go about it [i.e., finding continuing faculty for the program]? That is a conversation for the Chair of the Department.” Earlier, Eyoh had explained that “the Principal acts as Chair of college programs”. At other points in the meeting, we were told that we students were being asked to speak with cognate departments ourselves. We couldn’t get a consistent message on this issue.

  • We consulted the Program Director on this and received this response: This issue of who should be negotiating with cognate units was discussed briefly in the document “BPMH Response to external review Jan 27 2023”, authored by the Program Director, signed by Eyoh, and sent to the Vice-Deans on February 1, 2023. This was also discussed in a December 4 presentation to Vice-Deans (meeting canceled by Vice-Dean, presentation on YouTube. In brief, Garrett was told on March 2, 2023 that these conversations were the Dean’s responsibility; a March 2, 2023 email stated moreover that “FAS is committed to supporting the BPMH minor and wants to find a way to do so,” and that they would engage cognate units on the issue. This commitment is also mentioned twice in the April 2023 UTQAP Final Implementation Plan produced by the Dean’s office.

Eyoh and Boyagoda demonstrated a lack of knowledge about which are our cognate units, despite this information being shared in multiple ways over the last several years. Eyoh said, “the most obvious cognate disciplines are the Department for the Study of Religion and the Department of Psychology,” and he claimed, “we spoke to these programs.” Boyagoda also suggested that “there was an effort made to find a more stable academic sponsor for the unit… And we made an assessment of the right units to go to…. Given the material that this program offers, a reasonable person would say Psychology and the Department for the Study of Religion make sense as possible sponsors.”

  • We consulted the Program Director on this and received this response: The fall 2023 document “Working Group for BPMH-Final” said that the three-person Working Group “has [sic] separate meetings with the Acting Chair of DSR and the Chair of DSR, however, we were unable to meet with the Chair of Psychology.” According to the Working Group report, no other cognate units were consulted, meaning that the Working Group spoke with only one unit. The Working Group could easily have known about the program’s other cognate units. Representatives from several cognate units attended a session with the UTQAP external reviewers in June 2021. Cognate units beyond Religion and Psychology are briefly discussed in “BPMH Response to external review Jan 27 2023”, authored by the Program Director, signed by Eyoh, and sent to Vice-Deans on February 1, 2023. On March 5, 2023, Garrett sent Eyoh and Goldstein a list of 14 faculty from 12 cognate units, people with knowledge of the program and disciplinary expertise in cognate areas. The program’s cognate units are mentioned on the program website, in the Program Support Dossier, and in other associated documents and emails between Eyoh, Guerson, Goldstein, and Garrett throughout 2022 and 2023. OFR data also confirm that the units with whom we share the most students are Psychology, Philosophy, Environment, Human Biology, Cognitive Science, Equity & Solidarity, Sociology, Mathematics, and Religion (in order of number of students, from most to least).

Our concerns:

  • So, is it the students, the Program Director, the New College Principal, or the Dean who should be organizing these conversations with all our cognate units? Why would various easily available resources not have been utilized by the Working Group? Regardless, we believe this is not an issue that students should be working on.

4) What is New College’s role in sustaining the program?

Eyoh stated that “New College has been funding the bulk of the program, and New College will continue funding the program, if it exists, if the decision by the Dean is okay… That’s not what’s at issue here.” New College Council also supports the continuation of the program at New College. On January 22, 2024 the following motion was passed by New College Council in support of the program:

“New College Council affirms that it supports this program, and that the college would like the Dean to take the time needed to consult directly and extensively with program faculty and students with an aim to looking into how the program can be resourced rather than closed” (our emphasis).

We asked why the placement of this program in New College would be brought in question, when there are 24 existing programs across campus in the various colleges. Eyoh said, “why is this program freestanding, when it should clearly be linked?” We could not ascertain what he meant by this, or why he says the program should be “linked.” Eyoh also said in this context that “New College can’t make a continuing appointment,” possibly suggesting that New College isn’t allowed to appoint faculty.

Our concerns and questions:

  • So, if New College supports the program and is willing to continue to support the program financially, then why is the New College Principal driving this program closure proposal?
  • We know that many popular interdisciplinary college programs are freestanding within colleges, and some have their own faculty – including at New College. So why would our program, one of the biggest college programs, be selected for closure?
  • Regardless, we don’t believe that this issue of the program’s financial sustainability is something that students should have to work on. 

5) What is the problem with the program that needs to be addressed?

Boyagoda suggested that a “show of support doesn’t necessarily address the questions that that external review raised, that we have a responsibility as members of the university to answer.” In an effort to understand precisely what those questions are, Kaura asked for a “list of everything that’s foundationally wrong with the program.” Boyagoda responded that “a list like that isn’t something we control or can articulate.”

Our concerns and questions:

  • How can we students respond to a proposal if the administration is not able to articulate what the proposal is?   
  • What does consultation involve if support from students, U of T professors and units, and international academics doesn’t seem to mean anything?
  • It sounds as if Boyagoda has not read the Program Support Dossier, which does extensively address many if not all the questions raised in the external review. We’re aware that he also hasn’t spoken to program faculty, who also have addressed those questions in various forums. How and when will the administration make decisions on the program’s future? It has been four years since the BPMH UTQAP Self-Study was written.
  • We believe that if the administration could start by educating themselves on the program using the many readily available resources, their meetings with students and faculty would be more productive, collegial, and a better use of everyone’s time.