Day-care issue remains unsolved

By Ulli Diemer

As the new term commences, one of the major problems facing the university community remains the issue of the day care.

It exploded at U of T in the spring of 1970 when day care supporters occupied Simcoe Hall to force the administration to provide the money needed for renovations at the 12 Sussex under-two centre. The building at 12 Sussex itself was illegally occupied by a group of women’s liberationists after prolonged negotiations for a building with the administration failed to produce any results.

The sit-in at the time finally produced what months of going through “the proper channels” had failed to get: minimal financial backing from the university.

At the same time, however, the administration under then President Claude Bissell, took pains to emphasize that it considered its backing a response to a specific situation, not a general policy implying continuing commitment for the provision of day care of U of T. Also in order to relieve student pressure, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Social Responsibility was sent to recommend on the university’s responsiblities to its own and the surrounding community.

The committee, although seen as an attempt to co-option by many of those involved in the sit-in, produced recommendations that the administration found unacceptable. It recommended that the university carry out a comprehensive survey of campus daycare needs and accept a major share of responsibility in meeting those needs. Finally, last winter, all the members of the committee resigned en masse, declaring the committee ineffective because of inadequate funding and other obstacles.

Meanwhile, another issue had come to forefront. The successful Campus Co-operative Day Care Centre (the Sussex Centre) had produced twenty ‘graduates’ – children over two years of age whose needs could not be met by the under-two centre. (Provincial law requires the two age groups to be separated.) Parents from the Sussex Centre now sought another building within the university which could house a centre for these children, and for other children aged two to five.

The university’s response to their requests, however, was bureaucratic inertia, while all the while professing sympathy. There were no buildings available, it said. The matter would have to be “studied”.

Finally, in April, after months of red tape and runaround, and after an intensive publicity campaign of lobbying, leafleting, newspaper articles, and demonstrations, parents and supporters took matters into their own hands. They occupied an empty clubhouse behind the Meteorology Building at 315 Bloor St. W., a building the administration later acknowledged was “eminently suited” to day care. According to the university it was slated for unspecified other uses, although it had stood empty for a year.

The new location was rapidly turned into a well-functioning, albeit illegal, over-two centre. The university officially took no action other than to warn the occupiers that they were trespassing. Since April, however, parents volunteers, and sympathizers have maintained a 24 hour occupation of the building, fearing that they would be locked out by university police if they left it.

For his part, U of T Registrar and Vice-President Robin Ross, who negotiated on behalf of the administration, told the occupiers that he would not discuss the future of the over-two centre until the clubhouse was vacated. He also stated that he did not recognize their negotiating committee as a legitimate body.

At the same time, however, the administration continued discussions with SAC, and a Day Care Board created in the spring by the administration, met to consider the problem. In mid-May, the university produced a document which admitted that there was “a clear and undeniable need for increased day facilities,” while professing uncertainty as to the university’s responsibility and ability to meet this demand.

By a remarkable coincidence – Ross denied the occupation had anything to do with it – the document suggested the use of the “available” clubhouse at 315 Bloor as the best site for a centre. It made no reference to the fact that a day care centre was already occupying the premises, nor did it explain why the building, which earlier, according to the administration’s claims, had been slated for other uses, was now suddenly available.

It proposed that any centre to be established there must be licensed, and that it be managed by a board of directors composed of representatives from SAC, GSU, APUS, the U of T Faculty Association, the U of T Staff Association, the university administration, and the Social Planning Council of Toronto. It further proposed that students have first priority in using the centre, staff (both faculty and support) have second priority, and that remaining space, if any, go to community members.

The university would meet the cost of renovations “not directly the result of adapting the building as a day care centre” and would make it available rent free for the first three years. Users would have to pay for changes required by the province, and for operating costs.

Finally, it suggested that ‘graduates’ from the Sussex Centre and children from the St. Andrew’s Centre which was scheduled to close within two or three months because its building was being taken over, share the clubhouse facility.

Although the administration attempted to present the proposal as a major concession to day care, it came under immediate attack. Members of the occupying group pointed out that at present 63 children were being served by the two centres, while the university’s proposed centre would lower this number to 30 – less than half. This at a time when, for example, a random survey of university workers taken in March by Cheryll Seaman indicated that twenty-six families with thirty-two children would place their children in a centre. In married students’ residence alone there are 550 children in need of day care.

As well, the financial burdens imposed by the need to pay renovations would have been too heavy for many low-income families on campus or in the surrounding community. Costs for the centre, presently $40 per month minimum per child, would have risen to an estimated $100 per month under the university’s plan.

The university’s proposal would also have removed the feature of parent control of the centre, replacing it, as the Campus Co-operative Day Care Centre put it, with “an official alphabet soup day care board” with no experience.

Finally, the requirement that any centre in the building be licensed was seen as an attack on the philosophy of the Campus Co-operative group, which has been unable over three years to yet win a license for its centre. The reason for this lies in the government’s requirement that any centre have trained staff, with credentials which can only be obtained in training courses based on a completely different philosophy of child care than that favoured by the Campus Co-operative group.

Day care supporters also pointed out that the adoption of this proposal by the new Governing Council, coming into office July 1, would in all likelihood mean that the university would then accept no further responsibility for day care. They claim that the university’s role as an employer and residence for thousands, and as a landlord and builder makes it responsible for the social welfare of all those within its boundaries. As an educational institution committed to the education of all society, the university must play a special role vis a vis women, given the care than that favoured by the Campus Co-already unequal role which they face, co-op.

In the face of opposition from the St. Andrew and Campus Co-operative group, and from the GSU and SAC, the administration proposal was held in abeyance, and the entire matter went to the Internal Affairs Committee of the New Governing Council.

The committee brought down policy recommendations which provide that the university provide capital subsidies but not operating costs for day care facilities for the university community, that the centres be licensed, and that admission to them for university parents be on the basis of need.

Although the new proposals mention the principles of access on the basis of need and “parental involvement,” opponents point out that the proposed form of day care would have significantly less parental and volunteer involvement, and considerably higher operating costs.

Although the Internal Affairs Committee had unanimously recommended this policy to the Governing Council, there was considerable debate at the council meeting of Aug 31. Faculty conservatives, like Charles Hanly and William Coutts, and others who admitted they believed the university had no day care responsibilities, realized they had lost that battle.

Published in The Varsity, September 11, 1972

Keywords: DaycareUniversity of Toronto