To the Principal of New College, the Vice Dean of Academic Planning, the Vice Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the Associate Dean of Teaching, and the Senior Advisor to the Dean for Program Review,
We are writing to provide a summary and response following our recent meeting, during which several significant points regarding the ongoing process came up. We thank you for taking the time to meet with us, especially given how busy things are at the university and how much is happening in the world.
Our meeting on November 24th was opened with a land acknowledgement by students of BPSU and PATH, followed by Principal Dickson Eyoh’s opening of the meeting and Vice-Dean Poppy Lockwood’s presentation of the process for closure. Students were then given the floor to follow the agenda they had set up (included below). They began by reading a statement written by BPMH Liaison Librarian Mikayla Redden, regarding the value of the program:
“The BPMH program is a very unique offering compared to what’s available here at the University of Toronto and at many other institutions. Given that research and academia are heading towards greater interdisciplinary collaboration, this program is positioned for growth and success in the evolving landscape of education. I know that I am not alone when I say that the BPMH program is central to my undergraduate plans, and it would be devastating to be prevented from continuing along this path here at U of T. “
Many students voiced concerns about the program’s personal, institutional, public and academic value. Anusha, the President of the Arts and Science Student Union (ASSU), stated that the speed with which the program’s closure has been proposed is unprecedented. She asked, What alternatives have been considered to program closure?
Several students shared with vulnerability and passion, conveying a shared sentiment regarding the profound personal and academic impact of the BPMH program. The unique opportunities for personal, academic, and professional growth that the program provides and inspires were highlighted. The following are just a few points mentioned:
- The societal need for the program was emphasized, highlighting the program’s positive impact on mental well-being and the growing field of mindfulness research.
- An international student shared the inclusive nature of the BPMH community and compared this to their different experience in the Psychology major.
- The program complements other majors and minors students participate in, ranging from Biodiversity and Conservation Biology to Psychology.
- The program is academically rigorous; for example, one student share how much they learned in a BPMH course about how to analyze scientific journal articles.
- The program helps students learn how to care for themselves and others; it nurtures intra- and inter-personal skills.
These heartfelt testimonials collectively underscore the importance and meaningful impact of the BPMH program.
The floor was then opened for student statements and questions; our group’s own questions are attached to the agenda below.
At the end of the meeting, a unanimous vote was held to (1) delay the BPMH program closure, (2) reopen enrollments in the program, and (3) bring the program closure to University Governance bodies for approval not before March 2024, if at all. Students collectively requested this delay in order to allow time for meaningful consultation, since this was the first open forum meeting with students. We specifically request confirmation about this unanimous vote, and we sincerely hope that the administration does not fail to respect and value the voices of students directly impacted by this decision.
One student’s statement was incredibly vulnerable and insightful into how this process affects students and how this lack of communication and transparency negatively impacts students’ mental health. They shared their journey of overcoming mental health challenges through BPMH courses, expressing uncertainty and disappointment at the potential closure. They mentioned that they “planned on enrolling in March, but now I don’t know what to do. I finally found a path that I wanted to go. There is no announcement about it on the New College website.“ They were not the only student who had hoped to enroll in the program in the future, further highlighting the loss that would be felt if this program were in fact closed; it highlights the loss that is already felt now by prematurely halting enrollment into the program. Many concerns were brought forward regarding how the university can possibly ensure students can complete their program requirements if enrollment has already been closed.
Regarding the meeting’s atmosphere, we would like to address concerns surrounding post-meeting interactions. We perceive Poppy Lockwood’s offer to engage with students in an informal one-on-one setting as inappropriate. Dickson Eyoh brought the student mentioned above, who was still visibly distressed after the meeting, outside the meeting room to speak to them alone. Members of PATH accompanied them since they felt having multiple bodies there would ensure their protection and further transparency. We maintain that encouraging off-the-record conversations between students and administration about this issue is inappropriate, and even more so when a student is distressed and vulnerable.
Additionally, we are troubled by the fact that conflicting statements were made about the program closure timeline. Poppy Lockwood mentioned that the closure process typically takes several years, while Dickson Eyoh simultaneously indicated that the program is planned to be closed by 2025. The inconsistency in communication is leading to confusion and furthering the mistrust of the changing story that students have been provided by the administration.
The outcome of Friday’s meeting is clear. Students want the BPMH program to continue, and they want the Administration to work on finding solutions to sustain the program. To that end, we again request a timely response to the below questions, appended to the end of our meeting agenda. Additionally, students request that the administration keep enrollment open to remove any undue hardship and stress for current students working on enrolling in the program. Finally, students want to delay bringing the program closure to governance bodies until proper consultation occurs, no earlier than March 2024.
With compassion and concern,
PATH & BPSU on behalf of the BPMH student body
1. Reading the Student Petition (https://www.change.org/p/protect-the-bpmh-program). As of November 24th, 2023, this petition has 1295 signatures since being started on November 13th, 2023.
2. Reading and sharing from the Student Body (open floor)
1) We will begin by sharing a few student statements in response to the news of the program closure.
2) We invite you to raise your hand and speak within your comfort levels.
3. Questions for the Administration
1) We would like to have the emotional distress that this program closure is causing students, and the turbulence this causes in students’ academic journeys to be acknowledged. Additionally, we would like you to address how this will be compensated.
2) Why was a room with a capacity of 93 booked for this meeting when this program has over 300 students enrolled? If this is a consultation, all students enrolled in the BPMH program should have the space to be heard.
3) Why have no written documents with procedures or the reasons for program closure been shared?
4) What is the academic rationale to closing the program?
5) What did you anticipate the BPMH student and faculty reactions to this proposal being?
6) What other solutions have been considered?
7) What has the administration been doing to protect the program? Why is New College not supporting its own program?
8) Why has there been no consultation with the BPMH faculty about the closure of the program?
9) Why would you consider shutting down a program focused on mental health during a mental health crisis, especially when the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health precisely recommended programs like this?