“Boundless” U of T campaign misrepresents the realities of university life

University advertisements misrepresent the constraints on student life

“Boundless” U of T campaign misrepresents the realities of university life

I own this shirt. It is navy blue with a white trim, a nice looking shirt. Perhaps you’ve seen this shirt. I wear it to the gym sometimes, especially the one back home where I show it off as if to say: why yes, I do attend university. Maybe you even own it too, I got mine for free and I know I’m not the only one. What really draws attention to the shirt is the message written across the chest: “I am Boundless.”

Now I’ll admit it’s a great slogan. The first thing you can say about “Boundless” is that it fits all the criteria you would expect from a university slogan. Ambiguity? Check. Opportunity? Check. Infinite horizons? Check.

From a marketing standpoint, the obscurity of this term is what makes it so effective. It carries the idea that school is what you make of it, putting you in the driver’s seat. What’s boundless? Is it the diverse mix of research programs, exchanges, clubs, teams and all manner of opportunities that are readily available at U of T? No. It is you. You are boundless.

“Boundless,” perhaps more than anything else, denotes freedom. One could argue that this is exactly what potential students are looking for. The meaning of the slogan is twofold. It first posits that the university will help provide the necessary environment for you to explore your freedom, while at the same time, the slogan suggests that this environment will not restrict or bind you in any way.

On an academic level, this slogan seems to fit well with U of T’s culture. After all, this school offers some outstanding opportunities. Ironically — perhaps intentionally — this motto runs contrary to some of the popular beliefs about this university. Barring any outside criticism, many students at this school report that the academic demands on their time are too strenuous, and that they invade too deeply into their social lives. This is of course merely the price one pays for attending a top school. Still, the fact that our slogan seems to run contrary to what many of us believe about this university is somewhat troublesome.

If this slogan only meant that we are boundless in the academic sphere then perhaps there would be no issue. However, the various ways in which this slogan is delivered play up both the academic and social advantages of the school.

In one sense, this is a must for the university’s advertising. In an age where the value of any given university degree has shrunk, social networks are becoming increasingly important for many prospective students.

Accordingly, university ads seem to be advancing the social merits of their schools more than ever. In these ads, the message that the social value of the degree is tantamount to academics is not only promoted, it’s unequivocal. After all, how do you think alumni get to the top? When you play Frisbee in the shade of the campus quad with women in sundresses and men in Oxford shirts, yes there is great fun, but there is also an opportunity to make profitable connections.

The reality for many students is that the academic rigors of this school overshadow the social benefits of university. In this sense, our slogan is contradictory. We are not boundless, but heavily bound. We can only hope, then, that this hindrance to social freedom will be worth it in the long run.

 

Breen Wilkinson is a second-year student studying English, history, and American studies.

U of T building beyond its means

University lacks infrastructure roadmap

U of T building beyond its means

New University of Toronto president Meric Gertler wasted little time expressing the university’s dissatisfaction with provincial levels of funding for post-secondary education, citing funding pressures as a key challenge for the university in his installation address. The Varsity has recently highlighted the alarming growth of deferred maintenance at U of T, as well as the interaction of provincial funding structures and donor priorities with what gets built and fixed at the university. Despite the constant talk of funding levels and priorities, questions around deferred maintenance are still rarely discussed.

For many students, the first of these questions will be: What is deferred maintenance? Deferred maintenance occurs when the university spends less on maintaining its buildings in a given year than it thinks it should. The Facilities & Services department monitors how much upkeep has been delayed until future years in this manner, and their reports make alarming reading.

As of 2012, the university has some $484 million in deferred maintenance. If U of T were to decide to do all that work today, it would cost them one quarter of the university’s endowment. Amazingly, that’s not the alarming part of the problem; even if U of T were to spend that money catching up on maintenance this year, we would still have significant levels of maintenance necessary next year.

It is not difficult to see how the university has arrived at this point, and U of T’s administration is not doing anything that other large Canadian institutions have not done. Every year, U of T has to spend more than it earns — something that it cannot do. Many public institutions — including the ttc, school boards, and the provincial government itself — face this yearly dilemma. The province makes ends meet primarily by incurring debt, but other institutions often make up the funding gap by deferring spending on maintenance. If U of T were to defer other expenses — such as salaries, heating, or financial aid — people would notice. However, the university can easily get by unnoticed without spending millions on removing the asbestos from Sidney Smith, or other projects that are advisable in the long term but not immediately necessary.

It is important to note that deferred maintenance does not pose any immediate danger to the people using these buildings. Facilities & Services monitors the university’s infrastructure, and urgent repairs are carried out before they become a hazard. The problem, however, is that while the asbestos in Sid Smith can be safely contained for now, it will eventually have to go. The same is true for every job that can, for the time being, be safely put off until next year. Deferring maintenance also provides short-term savings at the expense of long-term costs, since labour, material, and evaluation costs increase every year.

Until 2008, U of T was slowly improving the situation; from 2005–2008, the amount of deferred maintenance decreased from about $300 million to less than $200 million, as U of T actually spent more on maintenance than the annual requirement. Since 2008, however, the trend has reversed. Both the rate of increase and the amount of deferred maintenance are now growing every year. Even though U of T’s contribution to maintenance has actually increased steadily since 2008, provincial funding has been declining, and total funding is not keeping pace with need.

This problem of ever-increasing deferred maintenance is compounded by the fact that donors and politicians alike want to fund exciting new projects, particularly innovative or glamorous new buildings. By going along with these plans U of T maximizes the total amount of grant and donation money it receives, and continues to grow its infrastructure and enhance its reputation. All of these are positive developments, and they often lead to tangible benefits for students. The downside is that the university can’t quite afford to maintain the buildings it already has. While some donations fund renovations, which include maintenance or revival funding, new building is almost always part of the deal, leading to even more maintenance cost as those buildings age.

Administrators have argued that U of T can neither tell donors what to fund nor change the government’s mind, and that it has to take advantage of these opportunities or risk falling behind its global competitors. This argument ignores the reality that, eventually, deferred maintenance will catch up with us. The university can devote more money to innovation and growth today by deferring maintenance spending. By doing so, however, administrators ensure that at some point in the future, U of T will have less to spend less on these goals as it is forced to divert funds to urgent up-keep spending.

Allowing donors and capricious provincial grants to set the university’s agenda for growth also puts decision-making in the wrong hands. The university certainly benefits from exciting new buildings, but it needs money for maintenance, as well as more classrooms, residences, and student space. We expect that the provincial government will spend money where it is needed, whether it is glamorous or not. The university and its students — who donors always express a willingness to listen to — must ask that donors provide money for what faculty and students are really asking for, rather than what benefits their reputations or desires for legacy projects. Gertler is a world-renowed urban geographer, and we hope that his academic background will inform a more comprehensive and thoughtful plan for the university’s development.

The Goldring family’s support for the Goldring Student Centre is an excellent example of donor funding for student space. This kind of support is very rare, and has been totally absent from the Student Commons fundraising process, which places the whole burden of funding on students.

The question of deferred maintenance is a question of leadership. The university is sabotaging its long-term growth to further its short-term growth. By incurring an enormous and growing amount of deferred maintenance, and by allowing donors and grants to set a haphazard course for growth, we are undermining the university’s future. University and provincial leaders are taking credit for the university’s current strength and growth, while ensuring a weaker future.

A mental meet-up

Rendezvous with Madness' program aims to use art to educate and raise awareness about mental health issues

A mental meet-up

One in five children under the age of 18 have a diagnosable mental health issue. 70 to 75 percent of mental illnesses appear before the age of 20. Only one in six have access to the treatment they might need.

MEDIA PHOTO

MEDIA PHOTO

All of these are reasons that youth mental health is an important topic of discussion, according to child psychologist Dr. Marshall Korenblum. He was speaking at the Youth Mental Health Symposium on the last day of Rendezvous with Madness, a six day festival showcasing films from Canada and abroad with a focus on mental health.

“The goal of the festival is to sort of expose people to mental health and to decrease stigma, eliminate discrimination and prejudice that goes toward a lot of people with mental illness and addiction,” said program manager Jeff Wright in an interview with The Varsity. The festival is presented by Workman Arts, a local organization that provides training and opportunities for artists with mental illnesses.

While the festival explored a variety of angles and perspectives on mental health, it was bookended by art representing the experiences of children and adolescents.

The opening night was a screening of Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12, a startling and engrossing film about a foster care facility. The main character, Grace (Brie Larson), herself a survivor of abuse and her own mental health challenges, sees much of herself in new charge, Jadeyn, and goes to great lengths to reach out to her. The talented ensemble cast brings each characters’ story to life, creating a highly relatable and human portrayal.

Saturday afternoon’s symposium featured a pair of films, both documentaries, of treatment facilities and the experiences of the young people who go through them. Echoes of Short Term 12 were apparent in Allan King’s Warrendale, despite the latter having been made almost 50 years prior. A documentary filmed for the
CBC — which for decades refused to air it ­—  Warrendale is an observational look at the treatment centre in Etobicoke, showing reactions of the children and the attempts of the staff to restrain and console them. In a subsequent discussion, Korenblum  pointed out that it shares many themes with Short Term 12, and the other films show “how much has changed and how little has changed” in the field of mental health in the past 50 years. The second film, Nuria Ibañez’s The Naked Room, continues with the theme of emotional realism by presenting a series of interviews with children in a mental health facility in Mexico. The camera remains trained on each child’s face, even when their parents are the ones speaking, revealing every reaction and creating an remarkable amount of empathy.

The whole festival aimed to instill empathy in its audience members, as emphasized in the panel discussions following each screening designed to create conversations about mental health. “If people aren’t that familiar with mental health issues to come see a film, they might have thoughts or questions they might want to ask, and we sort of give that platform for them to ask and we have people there who can answer better than going home and googling,” said Wright.

Rendezvous with Madness certainly succeeded in making me think more consciously about mental health. Statistically, six of the 30 people on the streetcar ride home with me deal with these kinds of issues on a daily basis. I thought about what Wright said about what he learned while programming the festival: “You see people in the street and it’s a lot more evident how many people are affected by it, and that’s just visibly. And to think that so many people are suffering from mental illness without it being a visible thing, and maybe the stigma or prejudice that goes towards people with mental illness, not being able to speak about it or get help.”

U of T researchers invent functional “cloaking devices”

Researchers build revolutionary device for under $2,000

U of T researchers invent functional “cloaking devices”

Two members of U of T’s Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering have invented a functioning invisibility cloak. Professor George Eleftheriades and PhD student Michael Selvanayagam used the principle of wave interference to conceptualize a thin “cloak” of atennae that renders an object invisible to radar. To accompany the research, published last week in the journal Physical Review X, Selvanayagam built a functioning model of the device for less than $2,000.

Radio devices read the appearance and position of objects by interpreting the waves that bounce off object ­— the same principle behind human sight, but in a different spectrum. The cloaking device built by Eleftheriades and Selvanayagam  radiates a field that cancels out the waves bouncing off the object it covers, rendering the object invisible in the radio spectrum. The device can also alter the appearance or the apparent location of the object when viewed through radar.

The device was created in an effort to improve upon existing research, says Selvanayagam. “The idea of cloaking an object was first proposed in 2006 or so by a group at Duke University… they were the ones who first showed that cloaking is something that you can actually do using specially designed materials and structures.” A structure of metamaterials shields the object inside from rays by bending light around the object. The problem with these structures was their relative scalabilty and complexity: early structures were large and awkward, and techniques designed to shield smaller objects weren’t very modifiable. Eleftheriades and Selvanayagam’s research has solved these problems ­— their device is scalable and flexible, and can also be retuned to work with different wavelengths.

Though for a functioning invisibility device an under $2,000 cost seems impressively cheap,  Selvanayagam didn’t view the budget as a limitation. “The reason it was a small budget was because we wanted to do everything as simply as possible,” he says. “So all the components are discrete parts, we didn’t try to integrate anything into a package, we did everything very modularly, very system level, very part-by-part, so we could switch things in and out for the ease of the experiment.” A larger budget would allow experimenters to fully integrate the device ­— or make it more reactive. Currently, the device must be manually tuned, but in the future, the device may contain a mechanism that would allow it to detect radio waves and then automatically tune itself to the approproiate frequency.

The most obvious applications for the new device are military ­— hiding or disguising objects from prying eyes. “But in general, there are some more basic, not-very-fancy, but more down to earth applications,” points out Selvanayagam. “If you think about the city of Toronto, there are antenna towers all over the city, that’s just how our wireless system works. And some of them are being blocked by various objects, there are buildings in the way.” The device could cloak buildings that interrupt cellular communications. “If you pinch around them with these antennas, the buildings disappear.”

Further applications — especially those that would require use of the technology in the visible spectrum, including medical imaging applications ­— are a matter of technology. “We did it with radio waves because the technology is mature enough that you can apply established technological ideas like atennas,” explains Selvanayagam. “At higher frequencies, as you approach the visible spectrum or the region beyond x-rays, the technology is very different, so there are some serious challenges in taking what we did and moving it up.”

Undergraduate research opportunities take learning beyond classroom

Research opportunities abound for U of T’s undergraduates

Undergraduate research opportunities take learning beyond classroom

As a science student, it can be easy to forget where all of the theories and equations encountered in class come from. The long days of trial-and-error, of running experiments, and of chance discoveries can be hidden by the passage of lecture slides. Going behind the curtain and participating in the actual research process can be extremely rewarding for an undergraduate student; thankfully, a research-intensive university provides many opportunities to do so.

WILLIAM AHN/THE VARSITY

WILLIAM AHN/THE VARSITY

Participating in an undergraduate research project is an early opportunity to be exposed to the inner workings of your chosen field. An “early opportunity where an undergrad can be exposed to research in the lab, outside the classroom, would be a good experience to understand more what [the field] is,” said Armando Marquez, undergraduate counsellor of the Department of Chemistry, “and possibly develop that interest so that … students would continue and do research, go to graduate studies, do a lot more research down the line.”

It can be hard to know if a research career is right for you unless you try it, and the wide range of opportunities at the University of Toronto make undergraduate years the perfect time to give it a whirl.

The experience can certainly boost a resume. “When students get involved with this, it gives them a better opportunity as an experience, that when they go out, when they finish their education here, it makes them a very competitive person when they do apply to graduate studies or work,” said Marquez.

Research InfoYet even if you decide to apply to work in industry, professional school, or change fields entirely, a summer or semester spent doing research provides benefits that will stay with you for years to come.

Some of these wide-ranging benefits are detailed in a document by the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology (LMP) department, and include gaining important lab skills, learning how to design an experiment, critically analyzing data, and communicating results. Students gain a deeper understanding of course material and will also have a wide-range of work opportunities after graduation. These important skills can also be taken back to the classroom.

Not only can research enhance scientific knowledge, it can also contribute to one’s personal development. “One of the opportunities for the students who get involved in research is that they are able to network with the grad students [and] with the faculty, and are given the opportunity to do presentations,” said Marquez, adding that, “students who go through this develop a more critical way of thinking instead of just what is fed to you in the classroom.”

Ishita Aggarwal, campus ambassador for the pan-discipline Undergraduate Awards program, pointed out that doing research can affect your world view. “When you participate in research, even at the undergraduate level, you really are able to better interpret claims that are made, not only in the academic setting, but also in popular media and everyday life,” she said. “I think it’s really important not only to be a producer of research, but also to be a better consumer of research.”

U of T offers a wide variety of opportunities for undergraduates to do research, including the second-year Research Opportunity Program (ROP) courses and summer research positions aimed at second- and third-year students. Each department awards positions differently:some require an application to the department as a first step, whiles others require the interested student to email potential supervisors before applying.

In the Department of Chemistry, students submit a résumé, cover letter, and application to the department before the supervisor selection process. “The competition is so fierce that we could probably have between 150 to 200 applications for an average of 25 positions,” said Marquez, who then insisted that he encourages all students to apply, as even the application process is beneficial to them. By applying, he says, students learn how to present themselves professionally on paper, an important post-graduation skill.

If one application is not successful, students should remain positive and keep looking, even if that means investigating opportunities outside of U of T ­— Toronto’s hospital system is a great place to start, for example.

According to Aggarwal, persistence is key: “One of the things that really prevents undergrads from getting involved in research is that they don’t know how and they’re just too scared … the key is not to get discouraged … if you keep attempting to contact the people whose research you’re genuinely interested in, eventually you’ll hear an affirmative answer. But you need to keep trying.”

A tale of two presidents

U of T's presidential transition provides opportunity for further growth

A tale of two presidents

David Naylor stepped down as U of T president on Friday, ending eight years in the university’s most important office. For almost a decade, Naylor has filled the president’s office with remarkable energy and has often been in the public eye. It is hard to assess Naylor’s personal legacy, but the university has certainly benefitted from his efforts.

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

At the time of his appointment, Naylor’s successor, Meric Gertler, emphasized Naylor’s achievements in raising U of T’s international reputation: “I am following in the footsteps of President Naylor — a leader who has combined vision, hard work, and dedication to propel the University to compete with the best institutions in the world.” Under Naylor, U of T has placed among the world’s top 20 universities in both the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Although Naylor himself has questioned the accuracy and significance of university rankings, they are just one indication of U of T’s growing international standing. Naylor can claim a great deal of credit for this achievement. The “Boundless” fundraising campaign, launched in Naylor’s second term, is the largest in Canadian academic history and has bolstered the university’s global connections. Again, Naylor’s personal involvement has been substantial.

Although Naylor has been good for U of T’s public image abroad, he has been less successful closer to home. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the proposed student residence that was to be built by Knightstone Capital Management Inc. on College Street. The university’s negotiations with Toronto City Council and with community groups opposed to the proposals were less than cordial. The university released an unsigned statement accusing city councillor Adam Vaughan of “uncharacteristically threaten[ing] to use his office to damage the University’s interests in various ways,” while Harbord Village Residents’ president Rory (Gus) Sinclair threatened to “[go] to war” with the university. The incendiary back-and-forth over the residence contributed to Toronto City Council’s rejection of the proposal. It would be unfair to lay the blame for this fiasco on Naylor alone, but as president, community and public relations were part of his responsibility.

It seems fortunate, then, that incoming president Gertler’s academic background is in urban geography and economics. Gertler seems well-suited to ameliorate the often-strained relationship between the university and surrounding communities. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Gertler stated that he sees “a real opportunity for the U of T to play an expanded role in city-building, and working with civic leaders.” If U of T is to continue to expand, particularly if it is to finally build new residences, effective communication and compromise with its neighbours must be a priority. This is one promising area where Gertler has the opportunity to make his mark.

There are also areas where Gertler seems poised to build on Naylor’s successes. Gertler has already helped raise $175 million towards the Boundless campaign. He seems eager to pick up where Naylor left off in the university’s fundraising efforts, saying in one interview that he enjoys fundraising. Private donations have met or exceeded expectations for several years, but this is not the only funding question that the new president will have to manage. As president, Naylor repeatedly stated that government funding is unsustainably low. In addition to expanding and improving community relations, Gertler should focus on continuing to persuade governmental bodies to invest in the university. One of Naylor’s approaches to this issue has been to emphasize entrepreneurship at the university. Gertler may well continue this, but should be cautious to prevent excessive commercialization of research and ideas.

Gertler’s history as dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science means he does not assume the presidency with an entirely clean slate. The controversial 2010 review of the faculty, which proposed major budget cuts that included the termination of the university’s Centre for Comparative Literature, drew outcry from students and faculty alike. Gertler also played a major role in implementing the university’s unpopular flat fee policy, which has been a major student grievance since it was introduced. Some tension between the university’s students and its president seems inevitable. Yet these high-profile and unpopular decisions mean Gertler could have an uphill battle to convince skeptical students of his good intentions. This should not, however, preclude constructive dialogue between the new president and student leaders.

The impact of the president on the university is difficult to measure. Like any leader, the tone a president strikes and the example they offer can be as important as specific policies and initiatives. Gertler should model transparency and willingness to consult and compromise in the many challenging situations he will undoubtedly face. The university has, on the whole, been well-served by Naylor, but there is always more work to be done.

U of T St. George defends two-day fall break

Policy maintained in spite of increasing number of Ontario schools implementing week-long breaks

U of T St. George defends two-day fall break

This year marks the first year that Carleton University, Brock University, MacMaster University, and Western University will be providing their students with a fall break. The trend of introducing a second break in the school year comes in part from student leaders demanding an additional period of mental rest, similar to the reading week that already exists in the winter term for undergraduate students.

WILLIAM AHN/THE VARSITY

WILLIAM AHN/THE VARSITY

These four universities contribute to a total of 11 out of Ontario’s 20 publicly funded universities that now have the second break. Within the city of Toronto, York University provides three days, and Ryerson University provides a full week . While an increasing number of schools seem to be adopting the concept, the lengths of the breaks vary between universities, and even within U of T’s own three campuses. U of T Mississauga (UTM) has no designated break at all, whereas U of T St. George (UTSG) has a two-day break, and U of T Scarborough (UTSC) receives a four-day break following Thanksgiving Monday.

According to both the University of Toronto administration and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), many studies have shown that a fall reading week boosts the morale of students and offers relief from the “pressure cooker” environment of university. For this reason, an increasing number of universities are implementing a fall break. But why not five days instead of just two?

Ali says that the two-day break was created to enhance the student experience, and that two days is enough to achieve a boost in student morale. The two-day fall break originated in 2009, when the university’s administration reformed its previous five-day policy. Dominic Ali, a media representative for the university, stated: “The changes that took place in 2009 allowed students to better prepare for their exams by having more time to meet with professors, review material, or hold study groups. These changes also allowed the summer session to have the same number of instruction weeks as the fall and winter session.” In essence, the university’s argument is that the two-day break is a compromise to allow for mental reprieve and time to catch up on work while aligning the summer, fall, and winter sessions to the same time frame.

The UTSU disagrees with this position, saying that if some schools can reasonably have five-day breaks, so too should the St. George campus. UTSU president Munib Sajjad noted that the university used to have a five-day fall break, but this was changed to a two-day break in 2009, around the same time that many other schools instituted the break in the first place. Sajjad explained that the UTSU believes that: “Part of the reason for this trend is that institutions are realizing how important it is to address mental health issues proactively.”

The UTSU also cites studies that show that a five-day fall reading week would be particularly effective in improving students’ mental health and general happiness. It was, however, unable to provide the specific studies in question.

When asked why UTSG does not have a five-day, Ali did not give a reason, but cited the changes that occurred over the years, saying: “In 2009, a two-day fall break and a two-day December study period were introduced that parallel the breaks in second term, plus a commitment to end the fall/winter session by April 30. Consequently, the April study week has been reduced to a two-day study break.” By implementing a two-day fall break, the administration has therefore cut down the amount of study time available for students in the winter term between the end of classes and the beginning of exams. Ali did not comment on why it was deemed necessary to have a full week break in the winter, but not one for the fall term.

Ali further stated that the Scarborough campus has a longer break because “Academic schedules [sessional dates] are set independently by division, since different departments have different needs and conditions. A few years ago, few schools had fall breaks at all. Schools with longer breaks tend to start earlier or have more compressed exam schedules.”

Representatives of the UTSU find this response inadequate, and feel that it is not unreasonable to expect a five-day reading week for all three campuses at U of T. The union has met with the university this year about the issue, but did not receive a positive response. “The university administrators seem reluctant to consider this option,” stated Sajjad. “If the administration can see how important this is for students on one campus, we are confident we can show them that it is equally important for the other two.”

 

Streeters

Question: How do you feel about the length of U of T’s mid-term break this year?

IMG_4320

Jaskaran | First-year, University College

“We only have two days! I mean, that’s horrible.”

 

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Albert | First-year, St. Michael’s College

“That’s horrible! I have two mid terms right after”

 

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Jo Anne | Grad Student, OISE

 

“I think it should be at least a week (because) we have a week in the spring.”

 

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Chris | First-year, University College

“I’m satisfied with a two-day break, maybe three days.”

Build new structures, or renovate?

Maintenance on existing infrastructure neglected as donors choose to contribute to new projects

Build new structures, or renovate?

The parking lot on St. George Street behind Convocation Hall will soon be covered in scaffolding, with work on the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering’s Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CEIE) scheduled to be completed in late 2016.

U of T’s $2 billion Boundless campaign aims to fund a large number of new buildings and capital projects, including building the Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the expansion and renovation of the Faculty of Law, and the renovation of the north building at UTM. Some university figures, however, have suggested that the way the university tries to attract donor contributions and provincial funding structures for capital projects incentivize building new over maintaining the infrastructure the university already has. This could be problematic, as buildings in need of repair go ignored while funds are diverted to new construction.

The Engineering Society (EngSoc) has contributed $1 million towards the costs of the building. Rishi Maharaj, former president of EngSoc, says the money came from the Skule Endowment Fund, set up in 2010 to establish a permanent endowment for the society, with the aim of eventually replacing the society’s annual fee and the student contribution to the faculty’s operating maintenance budget. Engineering students contribute $100 a year to the fund. “One of the provisions was that the capital could potentially be spent for something major like a new building,” he explained.

Infra Graphs

Maharaj said that initial plans for the CEIE did not include any student space, and that EngSoc’s donation to the project, an initiative begun last year, is partly an attempt to remedy that situation. “What eventually emerged during my time, was that we would be much more likely to be able to get not all the things we wanted, but a substantial number of them, if we were willing to come up with some money. That was the genesis of the idea to give the university some money.”

Direct student contributions to capital projects like new buildings show a sense of ownership and an acknowledgement that students benefit from these projects, said David Palmer, U of T’s vice-president, advancement and the person behind Boundless. Palmer said that voluntary one-time donations — as opposed to the referendum-supported levy, used to partly fund the Goldring Student Centre at Victoria University, for example — are also a great motivating tool for donors. “That type of student giving is one of the most powerful incentives for donors and alumni to give,” he explained.

 

Build new or renovate?

Tamer El-Diraby, an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Civil Engineering, says that the university’s focus on new building is partly pragmatic. “There is no politician that I am aware of that wants to cut the ribbon for the renovation of a building instead of placing the foundation stone for a new building,” he said.

Many of the capital projects currently underway at the university include significant renovation or maintenance components, including the north building and 1 Spadina projects. Palmer says that donors do not express a preference for new buildings at the expense of renovating the university’s existing infrastructure. “I’ve never had a donor express to me a preference for new versus renovated [buildings],” he said. “In fact many of the biggest capital projects that we’ve had donors give money to are a combination of both.’

The provincial government has provided $417 million in capital funding to U of T since 2003, according to figures provided by the ministry of training, colleges, and universities (TCU) (see graph above). New buildings and construction accounted for $224 million of those funds. Universities need to consider the maintenance costs associated with new buildings when they apply for funding said Brad Duguid, minister of TCU. “[When] we invest in a new capital project for a university or college, the expectation is that the maintenance of that facility will be covered under the operating budgets of the institution,” he explained. “If an institution doesn’t have the capability of maintaining a facility, they ought to not be applying for funding for us to build it.”

Palmer admitted that donors often have a similar attitude. “Deferred maintenance is often seen by people as the responsibility of the system, of the university, to maintain things correctly,” he explained. “I have never had much success in going to a donor with a pitch to have their funds allocated towards deferred maintenance.” Last week, in responding to questions about deferred maintenance, the university administration indicated that it believes provincial funding levels are currently insufficient, and that it is lobbying the Ontario government on the matter.

 

Why are we expanding?

Duguid says new infrastructure is key to maintaining the reputation and ranking of Ontario’s universities. “There’s no question that the deferred maintenance issue is a pressure,” he admitted. “At the same time, we also have the pressure of ensuring that we’re continuing to provide a globally-competitive education experience to our students.”

Infra Graphs2

Enrollment at the university has increased significantly in recent decades, with the total number of full-time students at U of T growing from 55,127 in 2000–2001 to 80,899 in 2012–2013. Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of strategic communications and marketing, said in an email that “demand for PSE has increased due to population increases combined with increasing participation rates,” leading to a growth in enrollment.

These new students need new space, faculty and infrastructure. “U of T cannot say to students, ‘We will not have classrooms for you.’ We cannot say to a chair of a department, ‘We cannot have a secretary for you.’ We cannot tell students, ‘We will not have professors to teach you,’” said El-Diraby. The result, he said, is that maintenance gets deferred because it is the only cost that can be delayed.

Palmer emphasized that the Boundless campaign reflects the priorities set by academic units within the university. “All the priorities for the campaigns begin with academic priorities, that are approved in academic plans by the divisions, and they have to be approved by the provost.”

The ability of a project to attract funding does play a significant role in the planning process, however. Maharaj said that during the initial planning stage for the CEIE, the faculty created a document detailing how the building’s space would be used, broken up into four or five blocks. “Each one of those blocks was based on some type of concept of some type of donor that they would be able to reach with the idea for that space.”

The university has repeatedly emphasized that donors do not try to interfere with the academic priorities or planning of faculties or departments. Brad Evoy, external commissioner of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), however, says that donor participation affects what the university is able to fund. “It’s much more about building a new program, building a new thing — something that seems cutting-edge,” he argued. “But it’s not so much about the bread-and-butter basics of the university.”

Palmer said attracting and retaining donors is dependent on their willingness to give to specific areas of the university’s need. “It is almost impossible to steer a donor to an area of interest where they have no interest,” he said. “It essentially is not sensible to even try, because donors — it’s their money, they can give it to whatever worthy charitable cause they wish, and there’s plenty of competition out there.”

 

What are the implications of this system?

The current system of donor contributions and government funding could lead to unforeseen problems in the future, according to Maharaj. “Over the long term you won’t have a master-planned university, you won’t have a university that evolves according to academic or educational goals — you’ll have a university that evolves towards what people are willing to pay for.”

The university’s Governing Council and Business Board approves capital projects, including new buildings and renovations. The Business Board meeting on Monday, November 4, will include the university advancement division’s quarterly report on gifts and pledges above $250,000.