2021-22 Decanal Memoranda

Dec 16: Omicron Variant & Graduate Community

Dear Graduate Community,

On December 15th, the University leadership announced new measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant of concern. These measures will result in a sharp reduction in on-campus activity—effective today and continuing through January—in order to keep our community safe. I strongly advise you to read that memo, if you have not done so already. In this message, I highlight how these changes will impact the graduate community.  

Graduate Classes and In-Class Exams

As of today, Fall term graduate in-person exams will not be proceeding. Instructors or programs will be reaching out to confirm arrangements in affected courses.

Winter term graduate and undergraduate classes are expected to start as scheduled in January; however, a vast majority of these will be delivered online until January 31, 2022. A small number of graduate courses may continue to require in-person meetings, placements, or practica, so please watch for updates from your instructor or program administrator on a particular course.

Departmental Examinations

Departmental graduate examinations (e.g. qualifying exams, comprehensive exams, thesis proposal defenses, etc.) will be solely online until January 31, 2022.

Final Oral Examinations for Doctoral Students

Final oral examinations for doctoral students that are scheduled to take place prior to January 31, 2022, and which were approved to be in an in-person or hybrid format, will now be transitioned back to an online format. SGS will continue to schedule in-person and hybrid final oral examinations for dates starting January 31, 2022. For any questions, please contact: sgs.doctoral@utoronto.ca.

Placements, Internships and Other Experiential Program Elements

Please refer to your graduate program for further information regarding placements, internships, and other experiential program components for the month of January.

Graduate Research on Campus

Our on-campus laboratories continue to operate but those who can work remotely should do so until January 31, 2022. For graduate students, the decision to conduct research activities in-person or remotely is ideally a joint decision with your supervisor, but ultimately the decision to be in-person rests with the student. It is imperative that we continue to use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow all public health guidance.

All in-person research with participants who are from vulnerable populations must stop now until January 31, 2022. Vulnerable populations include for example, the unvaccinated, undervaccinated (e.g. have not had two COVID-19 vaccines), immune compromised, long term care residents and Indigenous communities.  Questions about whether your population is vulnerable should be directed to: f2f.research@utoronto.ca. All virtual research may continue. Any research that can be moved virtually, should be moved now to those alternative methods.

For all other in-person research that is not with vulnerable populations and which cannot be moved virtually or paused, emergency stop and contact tracing plans must be reviewed and researchers should continue to monitor local public health guidance and travel advisories.

All researchers should monitor the OVPRI website for updates as the situation evolves.

Working Remotely – Teaching Assistants and Employee Postdoctoral Fellows

With the latest provincial announcement, all employees, including Teaching Assistants and Postdoctoral Fellows, should work remotely until Monday, January 31, 2022, with the exception of those who must work on campus, such as employees who provide in-person student support, or who are needed for specific in-person research activities.

If you are a teaching assistant, please reach out to your course instructor for further information. If you are a postdoctoral fellow, please reach out to your supervisor/principal investigator.

If you have not already done so, please ensure you have uploaded your proof of vaccination to Ucheck; this is required for all employees, even those working remotely.

Students and International Travel

Given that the federal government has issued a global travel advisory advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada, as of December 15, 2021, all university sanctioned activities outside of Canada are cancelled for U of T students, until further notice.

If you are a PhD student looking to conduct thesis related research outside of Canada – if you can defer your travel, please do so at this time; otherwise, please contact safetyabroad@utoronto.ca to discuss your options.

If you are considering personal travel over the winter break, please be aware that restrictions around travel including requirements for return to Canada may change without any notice. There is the possibility that you will have difficulty returning to Canada including significant delays and being required to quarantine when able to return.

For additional information please refer to the frequently asked questions by students on the VP Students COVID-19 FAQ page.

SGS Student Services

SGS operations will continue with minor modifications in how we deliver our services. We will now only offer virtual and phone appointments in lieu of in-person appointments, until January 31, 2022.

We understand this period may particularly be stressful for graduate students who will be joining the University of Toronto for the first time in January. We look forward to welcoming you and answering your questions. We hope you will attend our Virtual Winter Orientation.

I will be in contact again as the University continues to monitor the latest announcements from the provincial and federal governments. In the meantime, I hope you can make the time to rest and connect with your loved ones safely. It has been a challenging year, and you deserve a break.

Please remember that help is available if you need it. We have put in place health and mental health supports for members of our community. If you need to talk, do not hesitate to reach out (see resource list below).


Joshua Barker, PhD
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

Oct 27: Message sent to Graduate Students and Follow-Up with Graduate Units

Dear Graduate Chairs, Graduate Coordinators and Graduate Administrators, 

Earlier today, I shared the [following] message (October 27, 2021) with all graduate students. In addition to this message, I wanted to add the following items for your information. 

Graduate Students Research & Study Spaces 

As an increasing number of graduate students return to our campuses, there is an expressed demand to re-open or provide more access (e.g., longer hours) to research and study spaces, such as graduate student offices and divisional/departmental libraries. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to work with your CAOs, Department Managers and others to review your General Assessment Templates (GATs) and increase capacity in these spaces where possible (respecting physical distancing and non-medical masks requirements, if they are shared spaces).  

EHS notes that graduate student spaces (whether in the lab or in nearby offices), where instruction is given or used for required academic work, should be considered instructional spaces. The following caveats apply: 

  • These spaces should be restricted to graduate students who have assigned. desks/spaces. Assigned space for graduate students is required to facilitate contact tracing. 
  • The restrictions can be time-bound (e.g. between noon and 5 p.m.) for areas where the space has multiple uses. 

For clarity, common rooms, where transient individuals can enter, are not instructional spaces.  

In the attached memo, we also remind graduate students that the University has created a list of places and spaces to go between classes. This resource is available on the UTogether web pages


Additional Funding Supports 

Graduate students experiencing delays have been encouraged to connect with you regarding additional funding supports. I know that many of you have created COVID-19 Pivot and Completion Awards and Bursaries to help graduate students affected by the pandemic. Some academic divisions are approving a second or third Tuition Fee Exemption (waivers) for graduate students experiencing extreme delays; please consider discussing this possibility with the graduate leadership in your division.  

At the next Graduate Administrators Community of Practice (November) meeting, our team will dedicate the session to reviewing the eligibility criteria of the Tuition Fee Exemptions and updating administrative guidelines, as required. In particular, we’ll remind graduate administrators that students remain eligible for a one-term registration with a tuition exemption until the time they are close to graduation. 

As indicated in the message to graduate students, the Doctoral Completion Award is another possible source of support for students. The budget for this program was increased by 10% last year and will increase by another 10% this year.   


Vaccination Status, Graduate Student Funding, and Academic Progress 

As you know, it is the graduate unit’s responsibility to ensure that graduate students in the funded cohort, who are in good academic standing and can continue to work and make progress, receive their stipend and all other funding, as committed in their graduate funding letters. 

If a student’s non-compliance with the University’s vaccine mandate (or that of a third-party) prevents them from attending campus or another research site, it is recommended that the supervisor/supervisory committee determine whether the student is still able to make progress remotely, and if so, to demonstrate flexibility this academic year. If academic progress cannot be made, SGS policies regarding remaining in good standing may apply. We recommend that graduate students be made aware of the risks associated with not making adequate progress.  

Conversations focusing on academic progress related to non-compliance can be sensitive and need to be handled with care. If you or your faculty members have questions about how to approach such conversations, please get in touch with Caroline Rabbat (caroline.rabbat@utoronto.ca) at the Centre for Graduate Mentorship and Supervision. 

Thank you for your continued support of our graduate students. If you have any questions, please do reach out to me directly. 


Joshua Barker, PhD 
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and 
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education 

Sept 27: Final Oral Examinations at the School of Graduate Studies

Dear Graduate Chairs, Graduate Coordinators and Graduate Administrators,

We currently remain in Stage 3 of the provincial reopening; the government has allowed most of the University’s operations to reopen, although physical distancing and other health and safety requirements remain in place. We know that Final Oral Examinations are an important culminating experience and celebratory milestone for our doctoral candidates. SGS is committed to providing the best possible experience for them and our supervising committee members. Please see an update regarding Final Oral Examinations below.

  • At this time, SGS continues to waive the current guidelines for FOEs that prohibit the candidate’s remote participation and limit the remote participation of members of the examination committee to two per exam.
  • Where feasible, students may choose an in-person FOE to be held on campus provided the appropriate public health measures, advice and restrictions are in place.
  • As of September 28, 2021, the School of Graduate Studies will begin accepting room reservations for examinations scheduled to take place in late November 2021, at the School of Graduate Studies (63 St. George Street). Information and instructions regarding the use of SGS space, including maximum in-person room capacity and general availability, will be posted and updated regularly on the SGS Doctoral Examinations & Schedule webpage.
  • Remote examinations (full or hybrid) may continue to be requested by students defending their thesis during the fall 2021 and winter 2022 sessions. Remote video conference participation may occur via, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Quercus and in exceptional circumstances via teleconference.
  • Wherever possible, remote, in-person or hybrid FOEs will continue to be scheduled during regular university business hours, e.g. between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday to Friday.
  • Please note that the inclusion of a fully remote or hybrid FOE continues to be a temporary arrangement that has been put in place to respond to ongoing travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, and other public health measures. In the coming months, we will provide an update for FOEs scheduled beyond the 2021-2022 fall/winter sessions.
  • Except for the requirement for in-person participation, remote or hybrid examinations will be held following the SGS Guidelines for the Final Doctoral Oral Exam (FOE). Additionally, all signatures, files and post-examination instructions will be administered electronically.

If public health measures or other health and safety requirements change shortly, we will provide an update to the plans above, as appropriate. If you have any questions regarding Final Oral Examinations, please do not hesitate to contact Jonathan Turner, Manager, Graduate Completion and Postdoctoral Services, at jonathan.turner@utoronto.ca.


Joshua Barker, PhD 
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and 
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education 

Sept 1: Graduate Education Innovation Fund

Date: Sept 1, 2021
To: Graduate Chairs; Graduate Coordinators and Graduate Administrators

I am pleased to introduce a new three-year pilot fund to support teaching innovation for graduate education. The goal of the Graduate Education Innovation Fund (GEIF) is to advance excellence in graduate education through greater exposure to innovative educational practices within and across programs and curricula, including both the classroom and field settings, and in the student-faculty member mentorship relationship. This fund will contribute to the mission of SGS, namely to foster excellence in graduate education by supporting and promoting outstanding graduate learning and research in an environment that encourages an exceptional student experience.

Proposal topics can include strengthening programs through: professional development; experiential learning; interdisciplinary learning; Indigenous ways of knowing and other diverse cultural perspectives; decolonization, anti-oppression and anti-racism pedagogies; global perspectives; effective mentorship; and public scholarship. 

University of Toronto faculty members with continuing appointments are eligible to apply. Ten seed grants of a maximum of $5,000 each will be available on an annual basis.

More information regarding this fund, including the application process, is available on the GEIF website.

The deadline for applications is October 18th, 2021 & April 1, 2022.

This initiative is coordinated by Prof. Vina Goghari, Vice-Dean Research and Program Innovation. Please do not hesitate to contact her with any questions or feedback (sgs.vdeanprograms@utoronto.ca).

Professor Joshua Barker,
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and Vice-Provost, Graduate Research & Education
Division of the Vice-President and Provost, University of Toronto

August 11: Annual Funding Letters for Graduate Students

Date: August 11, 2021
To: Graduate Chairs; Graduate Coordinators and Graduate Administrators

With the recent renewal of the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Collective Agreement which is now in effect until December 31, 2023, I am writing to share with you an update on the preparation and review of annual funding letters for graduate students, and associated publication of departmental funding practices.

As you will recall, through the 2018 Collective Agreement with CUPE 3902, Unit 1, the University agreed that every student in the funded cohort who is also a bargaining unit employee would receive a funding letter from their graduate unit annually. This requirement is still in place; however, in addition to other funding specific revisions, the required content of these letters has changed slightly.

While the commitment in the Collective Agreement only applies to those students in the funded cohort who are also employees under the Collective Agreement, the School of Graduate Studies nevertheless encourages graduate units to provide the same transparency and funding information to all of their graduate students in the funded cohort. 

  1. Annual Funding Letters: Graduate Units that include income from Teaching Assistant/Course Instructor positions in their base funding packages, must continue to issue annual funding letters that include specific information required by the Collective Agreement (please refer to section on Funding Letter Structure below for information on new and existing letter requirements). Graduate students must still receive this letter between August 15th and September 30th of each academic year. If a student in the funded cohort becomes a bargaining unit employee after September 30th of that academic year, the graduate unit will provide a funding letter no later than 30 calendar days after the start of their appointment. In the event that your 2021-2022 annual funding letters have already been issued based on the previous requirements, a new revised letter should be issued prior to September 30th.
  1. Publishing of Departmental Funding Practices: Under the revised Article 16:02 of the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Collective Agreement, Departments are no longer required to create and post Departmental Hiring Policies. Each Department is however required to continue publishing “Departmental funding practices” (which were previously required as part of the now deleted Departmental Hiring Policies). These practices must reflect the normal funding practice of the graduate unit, including the amount of bargaining unit work that forms part of the base funding package and/or the planned variation in the amount of bargaining unit work according to year in programme. This is consistent with SGS principles around improving funding transparency, wherein we recommend that graduate units inform students about their funding practices so that students better understand the terms and conditions under which their funding is provided.

This requirement can be fulfilled by publishing your local funding information and practices on your departmental website and including the relevant link(s) in your annual funding letter to students.

Funding Letter Structure

Information in red indicates the minimum required information to be compliant with the Letter of Intent: Information to Employees in the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 collective agreement. Information that is not in red is not required but highly recommended. The new requirements are also highlighted in yellow.

Student Information

  • Name
  • Address
  • Graduate Unit
  • Program of Study
  • Years of Funding/Current Year of Study
  • Portion of the year covered by funding
  • Supervisor/Advisor of Record
  • Student ID

Funding Package Information

  • Funding amount, source and composition (in a table)
    • University of Toronto Fellowship (UTF) funding
    • Other internal awards, specified by name, where practicable
    • Research Assistantships and/or Stipends (T4A income)
    • Research Assistantships (T4 income) counted towards base funding
    • Teaching Assistant and/ or Course Instructor positions (accepted or declined)
    • Other T4 income counted towards base funding
    • External Scholarships, specified by name, where practicable (e.g. NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR, OGS)
  • Tuition and fees for the funded period
  • Amount of stipend
  • How students are paid
  • Who pays tuition (student or grad unit)
    • You are responsible for paying your tuition and fees to the University
    • Your tuition will be paid directly by the Department of ——–
  • Projected schedule of payments
  • A statement that “this letter may be used in support of an application(s) for funds available to employees from the Union, including the Trans Fund, Survivors Fund, International Workers’ Fund, Childcare Fund, Healthcare Plan Funds, Research Assistants’ Fund, Tuition Assistance and Funding Top-Up Funds.”

Please email a copy of your revised 2021-2022 annual funding letter to Laura Stathopoulos, Director, Graduate Awards and Financial Aid at laura.stathopoulos@utoronto.ca. Ms. Stathopoulos is also able to serve as a resource for faculties and graduate units regarding the funding letter templates. Do not hesitate to reach out to her. 

Should you have any questions about publishing departmental funding practices requirement and/or changes to the Collective Agreement, please contact your Labour Relations Consultant or labour.relations@utoronto.ca.


Joshua Barker, PhD
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

August 3: SGS “Conversations Series” for Graduate Faculty Leaders

Date: August 3, 2021
To: Graduate Chairs; Graduate Coordinators and Graduate Administrators

The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) is pleased to launch our new “Conversation Series” consisting of two initiatives this Fall: Conversations with the Dean and Conversations with SGS.

Conversations with the Dean is a series of informal and small group meetings with leaders of graduate units from various divisions to share experiences and discuss strategies for the advancement of graduate education, research and professional training at the University of Toronto. If you are interested in participating in a session, please complete the following electronic form to document your interest. I look forward to seeing many of you during the Conversations with the Dean series. If the proposed times do not work for your schedule, please do reach out to sgs.dean@utoronto.ca and I am happy to find an alternative time to meet.

Conversations with SGS is a series of monthly sessions for faculty in administrative roles in graduate education to come together to share experiences and incorporate best practices into our work. The goals of this initiative are to:

  1. Further foster tri-campus graduate collaboration
  2. Learn from and amplify the current exceptional work in graduate education in our programs
  3. Anticipate and respond to large scale changes in the graduate education landscape 
  4. Facilitate the reciprocal flow of information between graduate units and SGS

Programming for the Fall will be online, on Tuesdays, from 9:00 to 10:30 am. Please mark your calendars and share with other graduate faculty leadership in your departments, including, Graduate Chairs; Associate Chairs, Graduate; Graduate Directors; Graduate or Program Coordinators, are all welcome.

September 21, 2021 – Re-imagining Graduate Education – Joshua Barker, Dean, SGS and Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

October 19, 2021 – Inclusive Pathways: Spotlight on Graduate Admissions – Panel

November 16, 2021 – Ask your SGS Team & Updates – Decanal Team and Staff 

December 7, 2021– Program Innovation: Fostering Interdisciplinary Work – Panel

Winter programming will be announced in late Fall. In the Fall, you can also expect a survey that will allow SGS to better determine future programming, learn about the innovative work you are doing that we can amplify, and identify potential working groups you would like SGS to spearhead. 

The programming for the Conversations with SGS initiative will be coordinated by Professor Vina Goghari, Vice-Dean Research and Program Innovation. Please do not hesitate to contact her with any questions or feedback (vina.goghari@utoronto.ca).

I would also like to take this opportunity, to express my sincerest gratitude for the efforts and energy of this dedicated graduate community. We, at SGS, are very much looking forward to working with you more closely.


Joshua Barker
Dean, School of Graduate Studies &
Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education

July 29: Requirement for all Graduate Chairs to establish a Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee (GDAAC)

Good Afternoon,

We are writing to remind all Graduate Chairs of the need to establish a Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee (GDAAC) for their graduate unit and communicate to members of their graduate units about this committee’s existence and procedures.   

In her most recent annual report (at page 13), the University Ombudsperson observed that not all divisions provide transparency and clarity to students regarding their right to appeal academic decisions. In particular, the Ombudsperson noted that divisions should clearly indicate the separate appeals processes to be followed by undergraduate and graduate students.

In many years, a graduate unit may not actually receive any appeals.  Nonetheless, the graduate unit must maintain a standing appeals committee, and clarify for graduate students what the process for bringing an appeal would be.

We are therefore requesting that by mid-September, all Graduate Chairs kindly undertake the following: 

  1. Strike a Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee, to be in place at the beginning of the fall term of 2021-22:

It is usually helpful to appoint members of this committee as part of the normal assignment of service commitments to faculty in the late summer.  The Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee should be added to the normal list of committees requiring appointees every year.

To assist members of this Committee in understanding their role, we will be offering a Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee workshop this fall or early winter. In the interim, however, you may find it helpful to review the Guidelines for Chairs on Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee that can be found at this page on the SGS website.

  1. Provide information on your departmental website about the Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee:

At a minimum, we would ask that you provide, in a clear location that students will easily find, reference to your Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee; contact details for the Secretary of that Committee; and a link to details regarding such committees’ procedures on the SGS website.  If you wish to provide additional detail regarding your committee on your departmental website, we would recommend that you primarily rely on the language from that SGS webpage, altering where necessary to reference your own committee. Please have your websites updated with this information by September 30, 2021.

We thank you in advance for assisting us in providing clarity to our graduate students on appeals procedures. Should you have any questions regarding graduate academic appeals, please contact Prof. Charmaine Williams, Vice-Dean, Students at sgs.vdeanstudents@utoronto.ca or Ms. Angelique Plata at sgs.vdeanea@utoronto.ca.


Joshua Barker
Dean, School of Graduate Studies and Vice-Provost, Graduate Research & Education
Division of the Vice-President and Provost, University of Toronto

Email: sgs.dean@utoronto.ca