Provost’s Statement regarding a UTSC Health Studies Program course (July 7, 2015)

The excellence of our academic programs lies at the heart of the University of Toronto’s mission. Under the University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process, responsibility for program quality is shared across the academic divisions, the University’s governing bodies, and the Provost’s Office. All new courses and new programs are developed by faculty in academic divisions and approved by divisional or University-wide governing bodies. The Provost’s Office oversees the University’s quality assurance process, and supports and monitors its application. This collegial division of responsibility ensures that academic freedom is respected, and enables committees of faculty with world-renowned expertise to monitor the intellectual rigour of courses and programs.

Accordingly, in response to concerns raised regarding a Health Studies Program course in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) taught by a sessional instructor, I requested that Professor Vivek Goel, Vice-President, Research and Innovation and a leading public health expert, work with the chair of UTSC’s Department of Anthropology to examine these concerns. Vice-President Goel’s principal responsibility was to examine whether quality assurance mechanisms had been followed in the development of this course.

Vice-President Goel has now delivered a report regarding the development of the course in question, namely ‘Special Topics in Health (Alternative Health: Practice and Theory)’. A copy of Vice-President Goel’s review report can be found here.

Noting that other courses in the program offer extensive scientific information regarding immunization, Vice-President Goel concluded that the sessional instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced; it presented material that, in context, would enable critical analysis and inquiry.

Vice-President Goel nonetheless found that the course could be strengthened by greater engagement of academic colleagues from the Department of Anthropology and experts from the University’s health sciences faculties in developing and approving the course curriculum. The Health Studies Program at UTSC is relatively new, and at the time of the review, did not yet have its own program-specific curriculum committee in place.

Vice-President Goel noted that a curriculum committee could monitor the hiring of sessional instructors and enable faculty to identify appropriately qualified people to present the broad area of content intended to be covered in courses. He also concluded that the establishment of a UTSC Health Studies curriculum review committee would enhance the Program’s ability to offer a range of relevant, rigorously prepared and well-delivered courses to support the degrees granted.

As a result, a curriculum committee has now been established in the Health Studies Program at UTSC. The committee has, over the past months, engaged in a review of both the proposed curricula for new courses and the qualifications of proposed sessional instructors.

The UTSC Health Studies Program has indicated that the course in question will not be taught in the 2015-16 academic year, or over the summer term.

As Provost of this academic institution, I must at all times respect the diversity of opinions and views of academic colleagues and sessional instructors. However, I do note with respect that the Deans of the University’s Faculty of Medicine and Dalla Lana School of Public Health have released a statement commenting on the education of their students regarding vaccinations. It includes the following:

“As deans of two of the health sciences faculties at the University of Toronto, we teach our students that vaccines are safe, effective and vital to children’s health. Vaccines are one of history’s most important and significant achievements in public health and medicine. The best evidence that science can provide proves that the health benefits of vaccines far outweigh their potential side effects, and we instruct our students accordingly.”

The full Deans’ statement can be found here.