By Vanessa Thomas
Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse sold Ryerson to The Empire Club of Canada last week, asking for private sector support while stressing that universities need to be accountable to their stakeholders.
Lajeunesse spoke to a crowd of about 530 invited guests at the $40-a-plate-luncheon hosted by the club last Thursday.
Addressing the business community at the IBM-sponsored luncheon, Lajeunesse asked for financial support to Ryerson’s educational programs, research activities and students.
He told the audience — about 20 of whom were invited to Ryerson students representatives — that students graduate with an average debt of $17,000, but Ryerson’s job placement rate six months after graduation is 93 per cent.
Lajeunesse said Ryerson will increase financial aid to help students in need.
Marella Bahadur, a fourth-year business student, was invited to the gathering as president of the West Indian Students Assocation of Ryerson.
She said the president’s speech was important because it focused on the relevance of Ryerson programs for potential employers.
“Ryerson often gets a back seat to American universities,” said Bahadur. “I was glad that someone was finally explaining to the business community why we’re different.”
The Empire Club of Canada, established in 1903 as a speakers club, has 1,500 members mainly from the business, labour and government sectors.
Members of the head table included Ken shaw, national editor of CFTO and director of the Empire Club, and David Crombie, Ryerson’s chancellor and the Empire Club’s honourary secretary.
Lajeunesse told those attending the sold-out even at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel that Ontario’s poorly funded education system, inaccessibility and student unemployment are challenges that can be solved.
He said universities “can only succeed by being fully accountable to all stakeholders — the students, the public, employers, government and taxpayers.”
But Terry Bryam, a Ryerson history professor, said Lajeunesse’s speech lacked concrete ideas.
“I thought it was an appropriate speech for the occasion, but it wasn’t an exciting address,” said Bryam.
“I thought a more critical approach was needed — he spoke about the challenges, but didn’t offer any real solutions.”