The Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) is the academic student union for over 23,000 full-time undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto. Based in Sidney Smith, 1068, ASSU is made up of over 60 course unions, 7 elected executives, and 3 staff members. Through our structure of course unions, we organize with students and community members to hold events, change policies, improve programs, run successful campaigns, and provide support for academic grievances.
ASSU recognizes that our academic experience is inherently linked to our lived experience and seeks to support our members in addressing the systemic barriers that they face, including poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and discrimination based upon immigration status. We work to ensure that the academic needs and concerns of all students are fulfilled.
“The academy is not a paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The Classroom, with all of its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.” – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
As early as 1965, students were facing problems that have become all too common today – huge classes and the alienation of the student in a classroom situation. Criticism was particularly directed at the “mass consumer” type of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science.
The solution was seen to be an increase of meaningful student participation at all levels of education. To win student representation with departments, Course Unions were founded to serve as grassroots student-led organizations based in a particular department or area of study.
From the beginning, Course Unions were intended to deal with impersonal education, alienating grading systems based on heavily-weighted examinations, promote informal communication with instructors and to affect fundamental change in the educational process by challenging the status-quo relationship of power in the classroom. Course Unions also promoted student involvement in faculty promotion and tenure decisions as well as the determination of the curriculum and its contents. Course evaluations were seen as one way of affecting change in the classroom and directly helping students.
Part of this struggle by students for a meaningful role in the education system was directed at gaining parity – equal student representation with faculty on governing administrative bodies within the university. On many levels student representation increased dramatically, although nowhere was parity achieved. In most areas, students have succeeded only in token participation. Final authority remains with the Department Chairs, Program Directors, and a few senior administrators.
From the late sixties on, new Course Unions began to come into existence; the first one was the History Students’ Union (HSU), founded in 1967 (Commerce and Geography have deeper roots in course clubs and associations pre-dating this period). Most of these new Course Unions went to Students’ Administrative Council (SAC) and received funding through the now defunct Education Commission.
In 1972, a SAC Constitutional Conference strongly recommended that SAC no longer be responsible for educational work within the faculties; instead, the responsibility was shifted to student faculty councils. In June 1972, a conference was held to discuss and begin the creation of a new organization to act as an intermediate between SAC and the Course Unions – the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU).
ASSU’s Constitution was settled in September of that same year and the SAC Education Commission agreed to provide the new umbrella group with an annual grant of two dollars ($2.00) per SAC student registered in the Faculty of Arts and Science on St-George campus. This amounted to $20,000 in 1974-75.
Due to pressure from other faculties, the SAC Executive in 1974 notified ASSU that the Education Commission grant would cease after the 1975-76 academic year. In order to finance the activities of its Course Unions, ASSU appealed to its constituency with a referendum in the fall of 1975. Of those voting, 87% voted to grant ASSU $4 as an undergraduate levy. Since that time there have been six fee increases. ASSU was founded to improve the education and academic life of full-time undergraduates, currently over 23,000 students, in our faculty.
ASSU has expanded over the years to the point where we now have over 60 Course Unions. With this growth, our evaluations have also expanded to now cover more than 1,700 courses. These student evaluations are published annually and distributed free to over 8,000 students in the ASSU Anti-Calendar. – Last Fall, the University introduced a new online evaluation system – so sadly, ASSU is no longer responsible for the evaluation process and will not longer be producing the ASSU Anti-Calendar.