By Hamida Ghafour
A neon poster shows a man bent over in a hard hat shovelling garbage and, if you look carefully, the Bank of Montreal’s mbanx logo. That poster, taped on the window of an office nestled among Spadina Street’s small buildings near U of T’s campus, represents an urban revolt against what’s being called the corporatization of university campuses.
“Corporate culture, to me, is a bombardment of corporations, their advertisements and their attempts to get loyalty on our mental landscape,” said Brian Sharpe, member of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at the University of Toronto, a non-profit organization. “I find that offensive.” The poster is a symbol of the group’s mandate to educate students of corporations’ increased role on campuses.
Part of what Sharpe, 23, calls the bombardment of companies are the exclusive deals universities have recently made with companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola which allow them lucrative access to the 18- to 24-year-old demographic, which at the same time, brings the school millions of dollars in needed money.
Ryerson just signed a so-called “preferred deal” with Coke, which means students will be seeing more of the slick, red and white vending machines around campus. With the exception of Oakham House, the International Living and Learning Centre and the yet-to-be-built student campus centre, Ryerson will be selling Coke everywhere.
The federal and provincial governments cut funding to Ontario universities by $280 million in 1995, which has made Ontario’s university system one of the most poorly funded per capita in North America. This has forced schools, including Ryerson will be selling Coke everywhere.
The federal and provincial governments cut funding to Ontario universities by $280 million in 1995, which has made Ontario’s university system one of the most poorly funded per capita in North America. This has forced schools, including Ryerson, to explore new ways to fill in the funding gap.
Enter the private sector.
While corporate donations and joint research ventures between schools and business is nothing new, the blurring line between business and academia is. That’s concern for people like Sharpe, who believe schools are slowly becoming private research playgrounds and commercial centres for business while the integrity of the university slowly erodes. Based on 1995 figures, private funding (gifts, cash donations and research grants) to Ontario universities has shot up 180 per cent from 1985. In 1997 private funding was worth $443 million, according to the Council of Ontario Universities, compared with $388 million in 1995.
And there are no signs of slowing down.
Corporate Influence Calls For A Transparent System
Although there is nothing wrong with transferring private dollars to public universities, schools need to have a transparent system of making deals to make sure that money doesn’t come with a set of strings attached, as U of T learned the hard way, said Deborah Flynn, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.
The Joseph L. Rotman School of Management is a startling post-modern building on St. George St. near Bloor St. Its modernity is evident from the politically correct recycling boxes for Styrofoam, glass bottles and paper, to the gleaming, beige marble floors. The soaring ceiling topped with geometric skylights overlooks the central atrium where U of T business students mill about, read or eat lunch. From the high level chatter it’s hard to tell that recently the building was at the centre of a controversy that in a way epitomizes what private funding to a public university can mean.
In 1995 the Rotman Family Foundation gave an $18 million donation to the school to build the new centre. The building is named after Joseph Rotman, CEO of Clairvest Group Inc., one of U of T’s most prominent — and deep pocketed — alumni. His company provides merchant banking to fund emerging companies. A backlash erupted around the wording of the deal, which stated that the faculty must stay consistent with the “vision of the program” as outlined in the confidential contract that Rotman had a hand in creating. Clairvest also has the right to launch an independent investigation of faculty if a peer-based review finds there are problems with the direction of the program. On top of that, the foundation committed $15 million to the school over an 11-year period, but it can draw further funding any time they wish, which makes the planning of long-term project difficult, Flynn said. Although the school hasn’t had any problems yet, she worries that these rigid terms may set a precedent for future trials.
Retail Program Responds To Market Demand
Donna Smith, director of the school of retailing at Ryerson, is sitting in her sunny office on the second floor of the International Living and Learning Centre. She is talking fast, and excited that the interview will give the small program some exposure. She breathlessly explains how the new retail program was created after Eaton’s approached Ryerson with the idea and when Wal-Mart, the U.S. discount conglomerate, decided to expand in Canada. “The centre tired to see how it could raise the level of competitiveness. The answer: more education. It became clear to Ryerson we should be the university to do this,” said Smith.
The school of retailing, the first of its kind in Canada, was developed in 1993 by the school of business and major retailers such as Eaton’s and the Hudson’s Bay Company who wanted management to be “professionally trained,” said Smith.
Companies like Eaton’s used to send employees to company subsidized night classes in retailing at Ryerson. In 1995, The Eaton Foundation gave the school of business $125,000 to set up its CD-ROM program in retail math — a mandatory program in retail. These steps set up the infrastructure for what is now the school of retailing.
Smith doesn’t believe the program, relevant to 1.4 million Canadians in the industry, caters to the private sector because “the retail industry is changing so quickly so we have to teach [students] interpersonal skills and critical thinking skills.” Students must take liberal arts courses, including one course on labour relations. Although the advisory board had a say in curriculum, they don’t anymore.
The advisory board is made up of 25 CEO’s and executives from major retailers such as Eaton’s, Hudson’s Bay Company, Chapters, Sears and Lansing Buildall.
But the fact that corporations can play a big role in crewing a program boosts the idea that schools are training grounds for business, not a centre where critical thinking skills are taught, said Sharpe.
Programs like the school of retailing are needed, but if business wants a stronger partnership with schools, then new policies need to be in place to make sure the school’s interests are served first, said Michael Doucet, president of the Ryerson Faculty Association, which represents professors. Although faculty members have not voiced concern to him about the growing role of business in schools, Doucet says it may come up in the future and schools need to be ready.
He suggests that the school start a transparent system of making deals with companies for research centuries or even just donating money. It may mean having a strong negotiator that ensures students and faculty members are protected. Or having a publicly committee to approve deals.
But Dr. Michael Owen, director of Ryerson’s Office for Research Services, says creating another committee simply adds another level of bureaucracy. When a business, whether it’s for- or non-profit, approaches a faculty member to do research, the process is rigorous. The application, which puts publication freedom above all else, must be approved by his office and the academic council, he said. Doucet also says a research contract should be flexible enough so students and faculty “aren’t locked into a particular way of doing things.” This means ensuring that students learn skills they can take elsewhere.
Dr. Dennis Mock, Ryerson’s v.p. of academic affairs, says “there are discussions around these topics,” in the continuing contract negotiations with the RFA union, but wouldn’t elaborate.
Ryerson has about 100 research contracts, worth $2.3 million, that are active and $400,000 of that total is from the private sector. That number is up from last year when research contracts were worth $1.9 million with $300,000 coming from private sources. In any case, these figures are insignificant compared with the approximately $120 million U of T gets in research funding from the private and public sector every year.
For the OCUFA’s Flynn, these growing numbers reflect a “scary” trend since the province introduced new rules in funding which push universities into partnerships with the private sector. The policy stipulates the province will give a third of the research funding if the university can come up with another third from its own resources and get another third from the private sector.
“The government is basically just saying ‘go to other sources.’ They are pushing us to [get money from private sector,]” she said.
Universities And Firms Take Advantage of Tax Laws
Corporations are donating money because it makes good business sense. In the late ‘80s, the federal government changed tax laws to encourage big business to donate money in exchange for bigger tax breaks. By giving large donations, companies can claim lower profits, which in turn could lower their revenue-based tax to 23 per cent from the usual 38 per cent paid to the government, according to the Income Tax Act.
U of T and corporations milked that law when the school launched an ambitious eight-year fundraising campaign, targeting major corporations in 1995. A target of $400 million was set — an unheard of sum for a campaign at the time. But thanks to U of T’s high profile fundraising team, the school has surpassed its goal and donations are expected to pass the $500 million mark.
Their successful campaign has set other universities, including Ryerson, scrambling to start their own. In fact, Ryerson recently took out an ad in The Globe and Mail to find a v.p. chief development officer, whose job will be to cozy up to the monied and powerful and rake in cash for the school.
Although Flynn applauds U of T’s campaign, “no institution should be dependant on donations because it doesn’t allow for long term planning,” she said. This means schools can’t plan new programs if they aren’t sure the money will be there.
The latest high profile donation Ryerson got was the $2 million Rogers Communications Inc. gave the school in 1991 to build the state-of-the-art steel and glass building on Gould St. by the same name. That money, from Ted Rogers Jr., was given in his father’s name, who was a pioneer in the broadcasting industry. But the company’s ties with the building are in name only: Rogers doesn’t have rights to use the centre for private use and it doesn’t play any part in the programs that are housed here (RTA, journalism and computer science).
Ryerson’s deals aren’t always as impressive as the ones its richer neighbour U of T manages to pull off, but the school still makes agreements with the industries it has close ties to. In this way, Ryerson gets used equipment like sewing machines or computerist that a company don’ts want because they are updating, said Dr. Michael Murphy, director of the Rogers Communications Centre.
“They’re not always glamorous donations, like Rogers, but they are important,” said Murphy.
U.S. Model Unlikely To Work in Canada
These trends show that universities are moving “to publicly assisted rather than publicly funded system,” said Flynn. The province wants to move Ontario, which ranks last among the provinces in university funding, toward a U.S.-style, private education system where schools rely heavily on business for funding, she added.
Howls of protest and alarms sound off any time anything American is mentioned.
Besides the fact that U.S. schools are better funded than ours (public universities in the United States get 36 per cent more money from the government and private schools get twice as much from the private sector when compared to their Canadian counterparts) there are sound reasons why we shouldn’t model our system after theirs, said Flynn.
Our businesses are a fraction of the size of U.S. companies so our universities can’t depend on such a small business culture. Our tax system is also radically different because U.S. companies have greater incentives to donate, even with the changes in tax laws. Pushing our universities towards a U.S. model without the structure of the U.S. system will only create more instability, she said.
Schools also need to realize the private sector isn’t giving money for nothing, said Sharpe.
York, for example, learned that the hard way after it invited corporations to sponsor on-line courses for $10,000 in 1997. In exchange, the company would get its logo stamped on course outlines. The idea was dropped after it created outrage with several organizations on campus.
The Cola Wars Bring Ethics Into the Equations
The shaggy-haired server behind the counter pours the black, steaming liquid into a Styrofoam cup. “It’s by far the most popular coffee we have,” he says, moving his body to the reggae beats of Bob Marley. Bob Marley sounds strangely out of place in this dark sounds strangely out of place in this dark Victorian building. But Diabolo’s, a small coffee shop at U of T’s campus, is an unusual place. It’s the only place on campus that sells fair trade coffee in the midst of big corporate name brands. Fair trade coffee means that the coffee plantation workers in Third World countries who produce it get a fair share of the profits to build their poor communities.
And fair trade coffee is something OPIRG’s Sharpe wants to promote since the brand name companies that sell their products on campus, such as Nescafe and Nabob, pay workers low wages under working conditions that wouldn’t meet labour standards in the rich nations. It’s all part of making students aware of unethical practices of big corporations, like Coke or Nike, who market their products on U of T’s campus.
In fact, U of T is in the midst of making an exclusive deal with Coke — the largest maker of carbonated beverages in the world — that will give millions of dollars to various campus organizations. Their deal is different than the preferential, five-year deal Ryerson just signed with Coke after long negotiations with their competitor, Pepsi. John Corallo, director of university business services at Ryerson said 37 per cent of the money will go to athletics and bursaries (half of that 37 per cent goes to bursaries) and the rest will go towards Ryerson’s capital debt. Although Corallo won’t say how much the deal will bring, it’s a “significant” amount that will benefit all students, he said. A preferential or exclusive deal allows the company a way to impress brand loyalty on a young consumer group. This means students to buy a particular brand, as Coke and Pepsi own other popular drinks such as Snapple, 7-Up, Crush, Fruitopia all of which are sold on campus.
But it’s these cola wars that promote companies with horrendous human rights records in the Third World on university campuses that are supposed to be institutions of unbiased learning, adds Sharpe.
Companies like Coke and Pepsi sell their nutritionally useless products in areas of the world where food is scarce and famine is rampant.
In January, 1997, Pepsi pulled out of Burma — where the undemocratic government forces its citizens to work without pay — after international pressure. After massive boycotts from several North American universities such as Carleton, Berkeley and Harvard, Coke and Pepsi reluctantly left Burma. Coke is under mounting international pressure to pull out of Nigeria, where the company co-sponsors events held by the military regime of General Sanni Abacha.
These are campuses where students take classes about labour rights and the impact of human rights abuses around the world. That’s a contradictory message, said Sharpe.
York students understand this too well, after they protested Pepsi’s monopoly on campus and unethical business practices during a football game last fall. The two students involved were asked to leave by security after they held up anti-Pepsi banners and later sent letters of reprimand by the school. Pepsi has an exclusive deal with York worth $7.5 million over 10 years, and students complained that the deal, which was made in secret, stifles freedom of expression.
The cola deals are made largely behind closed doors, and without much consolation with students, which makes it hard to figure out what exactly the limits of the contract are. Ryerson’s contract was actually agreed upon last September but the school didn’t publicize it until March because there were “commitments” Coke had to make. Corallo, who says the incident York had nothing to do with Ryerson not signing an exclusive deal, won’t say how much Ryerson will bring in because of the confidentiality clauses. And when pressed, he admits the secrecy is to protect Coke’s business interests.
RyeSAC doesn’t take any corporate sponsorships during school events because they don’t want the hassles that come with having a company sponsor an event, said Jason Power, the student union’s v.p. of administration.
“I don’t want to be bothered with whether our sponsors are pleased,” when organizing RyeSAC events, he said. Although this year, RyeSAC made $1,500 from Market Source, who gave away promo items like Calvin Klein perfume, chips or deodorant during frosh week.
But every student knows about the Ryerson Rocks logo on the students agenda that bears an uncanny resemblance to Molson’s Molson Rocks.
That logo was designed by RyeSAC, after it got permission from Molson, said Power. In fact, Ryerson used that slogan a few years ago, but they just wanted to spiff it up this year, he said, pulling out a 1994 agenda showing showing a jungle scene and the same slogan in cartoonish writing. Yet Power doesn’t think it’s free advertising for Molson, who also donated 750 T-shirts with the same logo.
Commercialization An Inevitable Part Of Campus Life
But the question remains on where the limit is on the commercialization of the school. Corallo admits this can be a problem but point out that Ryerson’s explicit policies on advertising say ads aren’t allowed in the classroom. Those ads, including Zoom Media and Campus Market, bring between $28,000 and $30,000 a year in revenues. The vending machines also bring in about $27,000 a year, and numbers are as high as they’re going to get, said Corallo, adding the money goes to pay the school’s mortgage.
Although it seems you can’t go to the toilet anymore without being seized by an ad for jeans, cars or perfumes, Corallo said it doesn’t interfere with the academic culture of the school because they are placed “discreetly.”
He has a different perspective on the issue anyway. “You say [ads] everyday. You see them on the subways, you read them magazines,” said Corallo.
“We live in a commercial age and it’s not realistic to cocoon ourselves from commercialism.”