University of Toronto proposes to shut down popular undergraduate program focused on mental health

Students & faculty urge university to reconsider, plan sit-in on campus inspired by Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh

Toronto, ON — Students and faculty have been informed that the University of Toronto has recommended the closure of the popular undergraduate degree program entitled Buddhism, Psychology, and Mental Health (BPMH). This Thursday from 12-1 pm at the Faculty of Arts & Science’s administrative hub, Sidney Smith Hall, students will hold a Mindful Activism Solidarity Sit-In, motivated by their coursework on Buddhist activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and “father of mindfulness,” Thích Nhất Hạnh.  

BPMH students know the powerful history of peaceful activism globally, and through their action want the University to understand why preserving this program is crucial for students’ academic learning and well-being, today and in the future.

“Many students have told me that the BPMH program changed and even saved their lives,” says Dr. Jennifer Bright, a recent BPMH instructor who is now Assistant Professor of Buddhist Spiritual Care and Counseling at Emmanuel College of Victoria University. “The BPMH program is currently a world leader in education that intentionally focuses on student flourishing, making the decision to end the program all the more confusing. A lot is at stake for our students, communities, and wider society.”

Since its founding 16 years ago, BPMH has been a lifeline for thousands of students, as one of the only opportunities they have at the University of Toronto to study, research, and build community around mental health. 

Student petition exceeds 1200 signatures

A student petition, issued by BPMH’s PATH (“Peers are There to Help”) peer mentorship group, has topped 1200 signatures in less than two weeks. 

“Closing the BPMH program would not only deprive current students of an exceptional educational experience but also undermine the University of Toronto’s value as a leader in mental health pedagogy and research,” writes Mahalia Newman, a student in the program, who started the petition. “The program stands as the first and only one of its kind nationwide offering an unparalleled academic experience.”

“The BPMH program has truly transformed my life,” says Lauren Rego, a BPMH student. A program alum, Emily, called it “an opportunity for revolutionary learning.” 

BPMH is currently the only undergraduate program of its kind in Canada, and it is popular and well-loved by students. There are currently 343 students enrolled in the program, with over 1200 students overall enrolled in its courses. In September, 182 students stood on waiting lists hoping to be admitted into BPMH courses. 

Acting Program Director, Eleanor Weisbaum, recently spoke to the importance of research on mindfulness, drawing on a November 2023 study she co-authored with Trevor Young, the University of Toronto’s vice-president and provost, and Nicholas Chadi, a clinical assistant professor at the Université de Montréal. In a just-released Temerty School of Medicine article, she called this research a “call to action” for clinicians and policymakers. 

The BPMH program strongly and directly aligns with the recommendations of the University of Toronto’s Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, December 2019, which addressed the growing and serious mental health crisis among U of T students. Students and faculty are asking the University to reconsider their proposal, and to maintain and strengthen this undergraduate program.

The proposed closure has also brought international attention. “BPMH is widely respected among many of us in North American universities who are interested in fusing innovative pedagogy and pioneering research to promote flourishing on college and university campuses,” write Professors Mark Dennis and Blake Hestir from Texas Christian University. Today, “more rather than fewer programs like BPMH at the U of Toronto are needed,” says Dr. Robert Roeser, the Bennett Pierce Professor of Care and Compassion at Pennsylvania State University.


For more information and media requests, please contact:

  • Faculty Contact
    • Frances Garrett, Associate Professor of Buddhist Studies, Director (on leave 2023-24) of BPMH – [email protected]
  • Student/Alumni Contacts: