York University needs more — and better — student space on campus and should promote open dialogue on contentious issues, says a task force report released this morning.

The 13-member Presidential Task Force on Student Life, Learning and Community and York University today submitted its report to president Mamdouh Shoukri, which he created in March after several incidents on campus where students clashed. One student described the political atmosphere at the school as “toxic.”

In particular, last spring York was taken to task for several controversial protests, including shouting matches and protests between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian student groups. The task force was asked to “improve the learning atmosphere” and how to best promote discussions on campus.

“We have worked together constructively to create ways to promote genuine and respectful debate on campus,” said Patrick Monahan, York’s vice-president of academics, who chaired the task force. “We have been able to reach a strong and unanimous consensus on the recommendations, which we believe will encourage a more positive learning environment for students at York.”

Shoukri has asked university staff to identify what recommendations could be implemented and will report back to the task force in a month’s time. The task force included students and faculty members.

In March, Monahan told Torstar News Services that simply calling security when protests get out of hand isn’t the answer.

“In my view, calling the police or security forces is the last thing that we should do on a university campus,” said Monahan. “If you are having to call security forces, you know right away you haven’t done the kind of work at the front end to encourage the type of dialogue and exchange of ideas that we want.”

“Controversy and debate is natural and inevitable on a university campus,” says the report.

"Indeed, some would maintain that controversy is the lifeblood of an institution of higher learning.”

The report says that in the past 10 years, the number of students at the university has increased by more than 50 per cent, but student space — to study or to socialize — has “proportionately decreased.”

“This is because many of the spaces that had formerly been available for student use have been converted to academic or program use, in order to accommodate the increase in the overall size of the student body. This has resulted in a severe shortage of appropriate informal study or social space for students on the York campus.”

“…The need for more undergraduate and graduate student space for study and social purposes is one of the highest priorities for students on the York campus.”