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The History and Development of Woodsworth College

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Woodsworth College was founded on January 1, 1974. While the history of Woodsworth is only 40 years old this year, the history that led up to its creation is almost as long as the history of the University of Toronto. Based on research from Woodsworth College’s archives, below is a summary of these archives, telling the story of how the part-time students found their place at the University of Toronto and how eventually, Woodsworth became an inclusive and welcoming college for all students.           

By Gianna Leggio

In 1973, a Memorandum of Understanding was issued at The University of Toronto. This consolidated the various departments that the colleges had with their counterpart departments within the Faculty of Arts and Science. By doing this, the University of Toronto was finally ready to create a college for part time students, as now all non-special programs were hosted by the central faculty, thereby allowing accessibility to all students from all colleges, regardless of their student status.  This action also allowed for the already established colleges to accept part time students. This was a huge deal, as before this, students who had started as regular full-time students and later wanted to change to part time status would be dropped from their college and “shunted into the Division of Extension”. The Russell Report, and Recommendation 18 proposed that a new college, temporarily dubbed College X, be formed on the St. George Campus, and designed to facilitate primarily to the part-time student body at UofT. This was the first time it was formally suggested by a non-student lobbying party that a college should be created and opened for part-time students. After a call for student recommendations for the new college’s name, a student submitted the idea that it be named after J.S. Woodsworth, the first leader of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, which later morphed into the NDP, who had been a graduate of Victoria College.

Interestingly, in parallel with the founding of Woodsworth, the other colleges at UofT were made to accept and facilitate both full-time/direct entry and part-time/ mature students. Why then was Woodsworth even founded, it could be asked. It was because there needed to be a way to ensure there was not a mass influx of the then termed “irregular” students into the other colleges. The older colleges simply did not have the infrastructure that could deal with multiple types of students. Woodsworth started out with an infrastructure that could deal with all types of students. Because of this focus, the College was then able to create events and try initiatives such as a babysitting pool for students who had children.

From the beginning, Woodsworth was different from the other colleges at UofT, as there was immediately more emphasis on counseling, an aspect of student services that the other colleges were still struggling to put in place. This was largely due to the needs of the part-time, mature students, who were now considered full members of the university community. That meant that more than ever all of the rules and regulations applied to this cohort of students. In recognition of the fact that most full-time students learned the ropes from their full-time colleagues, part-time students only came to campus for classes and did not have the same exposure to the rules and regulations. This made counseling a very important facet of services offered by Woodsworth. This need was also apparent because the new college had a much lower retention rate compared to the other colleges. This could be partly explained by the fact that many of its students did not know about regulations that afforded the possibility of dropping out of a course before flunking the course by default.

Woodsworth also felt it necessary to continue to reach out to the Toronto community, just as the Division of Extension had previously done. This outreach was received warmly by most of the community. Woodsworth also, like the other colleges, formed special programs that the college hosted, and its diploma translation program was recognized as the best program in Canada within the College’s first decade.

Despite quickly forming special programs and hosting classes in the business district, Woodsworth integrated very rapidly into UofT, including integrating into the regular timetable, though this was largely due to financial constraints. More and more courses were open and available to students of all types. This allowed full time students to take courses offered at night for primarily for the part-time student body. This enabled even more integration of the part time students into the University community.

The Faculty of Arts and Science was cooperative in all of this by assigning very good lecturers to all the night courses. Woodsworth continued to be unique even as the new way of accepting both fulltime/direct-entry and part-time/mature students became the norm and counseling in all colleges became more prevalent. For example, Woodsworth was the only college to have not one but three separate Alumni associations. The first forty years of the College are filled with notable names of persons who dedicated their careers to the development of the College, and past students who have gone on to achieve great things. Considering it took 83 years of development, the College has very earnestly made up for lost time and today is by the largest college at the University of Toronto, offering a wide array of courses for all of its students and the larger UofT community.

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Pictured: Jenny Zhang is a Woodsworth College Alumni, a former Mentee and has participated as a Mentor. 

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