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.

Lack of interest in science is hurting the economy

Reduced enrolment in STEM subjects restricts career choices for Canadian youth, women remain underrepresented

Lack of interest in science is hurting the economy

How much does it cost the country when high school students drop out of math and science courses? Too much, says a recent “Spotlight on Science Learning” report by Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization committed to fostering engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in children and youth.



In Ontario, as in most provinces, math and science courses are optional after Grade 10. As a result, fewer than half of Canadian high school grads actually complete senior-level STEM courses, despite the fact that 70 per cent of top jobs and well over 50 per cent of university and college programs require at least some stem background.

The result? Huge costs, both for students — who may have to go back to school to make up prerequisites or miss out on potential job options and future earnings ­— and for Canada’s economy, since a decreased interest in these fields leads to a smaller talent pool and the loss of potentially key workers and innovators. Ontario alone “loses $24 billion in economic activity annually because employers can’t find people with the skills they need to innovate and grow,” according to the Let’s Talk Science report.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that students are often unaware of how many doors they close when they drop out of math and science. If students are not fully aware of the benefits of pursuing STEM courses throughout high school, taking them can seem like a waste of time and effort. Yet many university and college programs, even those in fields like culinary arts, technical theatre, or fitness ­— at first glance fields unrelated to STEM ­fields — require Grade 12 math and science courses as prerequisites to admission.

Science GraphsIn a 2012 report, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) also emphasized the importance of early math and science education in the development of Canada’s future researchers: “Young Canadians lack sufficient knowledge about educational requirements for future careers, as well as a clear understanding of what PCEM [physical sciences, computer science, engineering, mathematics] careers entail… Evidence indicates that there is a disconnection between the educational choices some students make at the secondary level and their post-secondary or career goals.”

Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, president of Let’s Talk Science, stresses in the report the importance of science literacy in any of a student’s potential careers, and emphasizes that if educators are to engage children and youth in STEM fields, that engagement needs to start early: “We need to inform our youth of the importance of STEM courses for their future careers, engage them in experiential science learning from an early age, and sustain their interest in science throughout their studies.”

Another contributing difficulty highlighted in the Let’s Talk Science report is the need to engage all segments of Canadian society, including groups that have been traditionally under-represented, such as women and Aboriginals. According to Statistics Canada, women currently account for 53.7 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 with a university degree. However, women represent less than one third (32.6 per cent) of Canadians with a university degree in STEM subjects.

The CCA also noted that women’s representation, not only at the undergraduate and graduate level, but also in research careers and academic positions, varies significantly by discipline. Although women are comparatively well-represented in the humanities, social sciences, and life sciences, they account for only 24 per cent of students enrolled in university programs in computer science, engineering, or mathematics or the physical sciences, and only 14.8 per cent of faculty members in these disciplines.

There is a clear need for more outreach and education, and U of T has recognized this need for some time. A number of programs on campus actively work to combat this lack of interest by getting elementary and high school students involved in exciting, hands-on projects. For instance, U of T works with Let’s Talk Science to mobilize undergraduate, graduate, and faculty volunteers, who run science activities for children and youth at both the St. George and Scarborough campuses.

The Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering has a range of programs in place, like the the Da Vinci Engineering Enrichment Program (DEEP). The DEEP Saturday workshops are classes “designed to introduce students in grades nine to 12 to graduate-level research in science and engineering.” Engineering Outreach also runs Jr. DEEP, aimed at students in grades five to eight, as well as March Break and summer programs. Sample activities include making slime, building model cars, rockets, and roller coasters, or creating musical instruments.

U of T is also leading efforts to address the gender gap. The Jr. DEEP program offers sessions for girls in grades three to eight. On October 19, U of T participated in Go ENG Girl, a province-wide program that invites girls to visit a local university and learn about opportunities for them in engineering from current female engineering students and graduates. Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) at U of T is a co-ed student organization that sends volunteers to high schools across the GTA to encourage and inspire students to pursue science and engineering at the postsecondary level.

A great deal of work is being done to address the lack of interest and lack of knowledge about stem subjects that both the CCA and Let’s Talk Science have identified. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that Canada’s potential for innovative excellence in these fields depends on students’ talent ­—and if they aren’t interested, everyone loses.

Ontario faces potential nurse shortage

While most of the country saw an increase in the number of registered nurses per person between 2008–2012, Ontario’s numbers are falling

Ontario faces potential nurse shortage

Ontario may soon face a critical shortage of nurses, affecting wait room times and the quality of health care, according to the Registered Nurse Association of Ontario (RNAO).

A recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found that, while most of the country has experienced an increase in the number of nurses per 100,000 people, Ontario’s numbers decreased from 718 to 699 between the years 2008 and 2012 — leaving it second-last in the country. British Columbia currently ranks the lowest in nurses per population. Registered nurses are front-line caregivers who have a university degree. While the majority work in hospitals, they can also work in clinics, schools, management, and policy fields.

Dr. Lianne Jeffs, scientific director, nursing health services research unit and associate professor of nursing at the University of Toronto, said the situation must be monitored closely over the next few years in order to ensure the safety of patients in Ontario. She said that while there are some positive aspects of the CIHI report, such as the rising number of nurses working full time hours — 66.6 per cent up from 62.9 — and the number of Ontario nursing graduates remaining in the province at 93.6 per cent, there are still concerns about the decreasing number of registered nurses.

On October 9, the Registered Nurse Association of Ontario (RNAO) quickly released a statement regarding the findings of the CIHI report. Doris Grinspun, CEO of the RNAO, said that the results of the report are nothing new.

“We have consistently over the last three years been warning the minister and the premier that the numbers were dipping,” she said. “But now we are reaching the very grave proportions of shortage.”

The RNAO states that the province will likely need to find at least 9,000 nurses by 2015 in order to keep pace with demand. If numbers are not met, Grinspun said the implications on our health care system could be far-reaching.

“Emergency room departments become fuller and fuller, and the implications will be that people will not have same day access in primary care,” Grinspun said.

A spokesperson for The Ministry of Health responded to the CIHI report via email, saying that: “while the CIHI report noted that Ontario’s Registered Nurse-to-population ratio was the second lower [sic] nationally, RN-to-population ratios are only one indicator of supply and should be considered along other metrics.”

The ministry statement added that the actual ratio and needs of members of the community are hard to measure, and that such changes as advances in health technology, population demographics, and the effectiveness of care delivery models are all important factors.

The statement also adds that while Ontario may have the second lowest registered nurse levels in the country, thanks to government initiatives such as HealthForceOntario, the province’s nurse workforce has increased 5.8 per cent between 2008 and 2012, and outpaced the population growth of 4.4 per cent.

Critics, however, are not entirely convinced that government initiatives are enough to attract more nurses to the province.

Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliott. TREVOR KOROLL/THE VARSITY

Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliott. TREVOR KOROLL/THE VARSITY

Christine Elliott, MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and Progressive Conservative health critic, said that the shortage is part of the larger economic problem of the province. “Because our economic situation is so dismal that we really have a debt that’s doubled under the Liberal government and a huge deficit that is really holding us back from making important investments in health care,” said Elliott.

The healthcare system in Ontario is growing at six to seven per cent per year, a rate that is unsustainable, said Elliott. “Within the next 10-15, years health care will consume up to 80 per cent of the provincial budget.” This would severely limit the investment in other areas such as education and infrastructure.

France Gélinas, MPP for Nickel Belt and the NDP health critic, agrees that something has to be done. Speaking with The Varsity on a trip to her constituency, Gélinas said that she hears many complaints about the rural health care system, and not just from patients.

“Work that used to be done mainly by nurses in an environment with lots of oversight now gets transferred to the community, most of the time to a for-profit and most of the time this work is picked up by people who are not nurses,” said Gélinas.

Gélinas said community services generally fall outside the coverage of the Canada Health Act, which lets citizens have free access to hospitals and physician care. She said the CIHI report is a good indicator of the state of the health care system, but added that: “it indicates to us that things have to change; unfortunately things are changing for the worse, not the better.”

“The hospitals are worried; the nurses are worried, and basically everybody who cares about medicare is worried. That includes a lot of physicians who see the changes coming forward and know what that means,” she said, referring to the trend of community care being picked up by private health care workers.

Jeffs said the CIHI report doesn’t include numbers on the number of private workers who may be unregulated. The sectors in which the shortages are occurring are another point of interest for Jeffs are. She said the report raises questions as to whether “we actually having the providers where they need to be to ensure that patients and families in Ontario are getting the best care possible.”

Grinspun said that while the number the RNAO is calling for may not be met, the organization has a responsibility to bring the numbers to light and make sure that the public has knowledge of the situation.

“The research points very clearly to the impact of registered nurses, of hours of patient care, of registered nurses on patient, and population outcomes. At the end of the day, governments need to be accountable for their policies,” said Grinspun.

The web grows up

Tracking the evolution of social networks

The web grows up

Online social networks have been around for a long time. Well before Mark Zuckerberg built the Facebook empire and his former partners were told to “lawyer up,” sites like TheGlobe and Classmates gave users the ability to connect with friends online.  The early emergence of social media and the exponential growth of its user population is a testament to the power of community — even when isolated to their offices or homes, users of these sites are dedicated to connecting with others through online networks.

Yet despite the siren call that causes people to periodically join social networks in droves, these sprawling online empires eventually collapse. Social networks tend to implode when their users are seduced by the novelty of competitors, site infrastructure isn’t updated, or their funders never quite find a way to monetize human interactions and end up bankrupt. Whatever happens, an abandoned site is rarely taken fully offline; it becomes a virtual ghost town where the only interaction between users are crude offers of free porn to inactive accounts from spambots unhindered by the site’s out-of-work moderators…

Article and illustration by Dan Seljak.

About the cover

We have to confess, this magazine’s cover idea isn’t entirely original — but then again, these days, what is?

Back in 1989, a peculiar anthology film was released in the US. The film, New York Stories, was split into three segments, each with its own director (hence the “anthology film” moniker). All three were cinematic heavyweights at the time: Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen, who had taken home an Academy Award for his screenplay for Hannah and Her Sisters two years previous. Though not an especially memorable film — Scorsese and Allen’s pieces were positively received by critics, and Coppola’s was torn to pieces — New York Stories has become iconic for its poster, depicting a simplified illustration of a classic New York City brownstone, with the World Trade Center towering above.

The original poster for New York Stories.

Using the poster as inspiration, The Varsity’s design team got to work on transplanting the idea and giving it a Toronto spin. Though several buildings were offered up as options (City Hall? Robarts? the Manulife Centre?), the Gooderham Building at the intersection of Wellington and Front ultimately won out. One of the few classic “flatirons” in North America, the Gooderham Building has been an iconic landmark for Toronto for over 120 years — that’s just 12 years after The Varsity was founded!

Sexy Time at U of T

We asked hundreds of students how they like to get dirty. Apparently you're all panthers in bed.

Sexy Time at U of T

Click to enlarge

The divine code

text and illustration by Mushfiq Ul Huq


How to design your ideal meal

A tasty infographic