Teaching at U of T: Policies and Resources

Understanding your responsibilities regarding University of Toronto policies

The University has developed a variety of policies intended to protect both you and your students. This page highlights some of the key policies that relate to the work of TAs.  These come under four broad areas of responsibility for TAs:

  • How to respect confidentiality
  • How to avoid conflict of interest
  • How to safeguard equity and safety
  • How to uphold academic integrity

RESPECTING CONFIDENTIALITY
What are my responsibilities as a TA with regard to students’ personal information?  How can I ensure a reasonable expectation of privacy while still collecting the information I need to do my job?

The University of Toronto is covered by Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA). FIPPA carries implications for many aspects of TAs’ interactions with students, including taking attendance, handling assignments, posting grades, organizing group work, and sending emails.  Students’ names, ID numbers, email addresses, and grades are all considered personal information that should be kept confidential as much as possible.

Taking attendance:

Students’ attendance or non-attendance is their own business. Don’t pass around a sign-up sheet asking students to fill out their full names and student numbers.

Do ask them to sign in with the last four digits of the ID numbers.

Handling student assignments:

  • Don’t write grades on the front page of an assignment, where they are easily visible.  Instead, write them on the inside cover. Don’t leave assignments in a pile at the front of the room or in the hall outside your office for students to retrieve.
  • Do return them to students individually.

Posting grades:

  • Do use the Blackboard Portal to enter grades.
  • Don’t reveal a student’s grade to anyone else without the student’s written consent.

Assigning group work:

  • Where possible, do use the Blackboard Portal to assign groups, and encourage students to communicate with each other through Blackboard.

Emailing:

  • Don’t “reply all”
  • Do use BCC instead. Alternatively, email students through Blackboard.
  • Do protect your email and Portal passwords.

A note about small classes, student interaction and group work:
If you are a TA for a small tutorial, where students are expected to know one another or collaborate on group projects, some of these best practices might not be necessary or practicable. Use your best judgement and err on the side of protecting privacy.

A note about email:
The University has a Policy on Official Correspondence with Students, which stipulates that students are expected to check their University of Toronto email address on a regular basis. It is good practice to reinforce this expectation by asking students to use their University of Toronto account when emailing you.  Likewise, you should always use your University of Toronto email account when communicating with students.

AVOIDING CONFLICT OF INTEREST
I’ve hit it off with one of my students. There are still two months to go in the term. Is it OK to start a relationship?
When I was given the student lists for my tutorial sections, I realized my cousin is in one of my sections. Is this a conflict of interest?

The Provost’s statement on Conflict of Interest and Close Personal Relations addresses situations like these. Any close personal relationship with a student whose work you’re responsible for assessing – whether they’re a family member, a friend, or a romantic or sexual partner – creates a conflict of interest. As a TA, you’re bound to immediately disclose such conflicts of interest to the Course Instructor. Further, you can’t be responsible for any part of the student’s grade: all grading of this individual’s work must be transferred to another TA or to the instructor.

If you become involved in a romantic relationship with a student, don’t hide it. In disclosing it to the Course Instructor, you don’t need to provide details about personal matters and you don’t need to feel ashamed. The Provost’s statement stresses that there is “no automatic opprobrium” associated with a conflict of interest. Nor does university policy prohibit sexual relations between consenting adults.

That said, it’s important to recognize that a close relationship with one student has the potential to disrupt the classroom dynamic or create an imbalance in your interactions with other students. As a TA, your relationship to your students is above all a professional one, and you should strive to keep your conduct beyond reproach. Also, as the Provost’s statement points out, becoming romantically or sexually involved with a student can leave you open to allegations of sexual harassment.

SAFEGUARDING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: EQUITY AND SAFETY
A student in my tutorial got angry and threatened to punch another student.  How do I handle this?
One of my students keeps emailing me with unwanted advances. How can I make this stop?

In its Statement of Institutional Purpose, the University affirms its commitment “to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principle of equal opportunity, equity and justice.”

The University of Toronto is bound by the Ontario Human Rights Code, which specifies that “Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability.” The University has also put in place several policies to protect its institutional purpose.  These include:

While you should be aware that these policies exist, also know that they’re not practical guidelines for crisis situations. Should you or one of your students feel threatened, discriminated against, or harassed, here are some places you can turn.

  • In case of emergency, call Campus Police at (416) 978-2222.
  • In your capacity as a TA, you can also contact Student Crisis Response at (416) 946-7111 for advice in urgent situations, such as when one of your students threatens harm to self or others.
  • In non-emergencies, your first step is normally to report the situation to the Course Instructor.

There are several equity offices on campus that can provide additional support and guidance to you and your students.

The main thing to keep in mind is that your responsibility as a TA is to report problems and to refer students to appropriate resources, not to resolve these problems on your own.

EQUITY & DIVERSITY

UPHOLDING ACADEMIC INTEGRITY
I think a student might have plagiarized his/her assignment.  What do I do?

Matters of academic integrity are covered by the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters.  As a TA, you are bound by the Code and by your employment with the University to report all offenses to academic integrity to the Course Instructor.

You should also consult the University of Toronto’s Academic Integrity site.

HEALTH & WELLNESS

  • Health Services  (416-978-8030): Provides family physician care, health education and counseling, Travel immunizations and education, referrals for specialized treatment, and diagnostic lab facilities are also available.  Can provide documentation for missed exams and/or missed deadlines. Including counselling services