Surviving the funding game

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Opinion by Kenny Yum

Jon Dellandrea sat across from me, his lanky frame towering over the chair and table set up at the posh hotel’s club room. U of T’s chief development officer — the university’s funding head — offered me a cup of tea, which I declined, as I’d just come in from the 33 Celcius degree heat from outside.

Moving the interview along, Dellandrea proceeded to talk about his fundraising and recruiting efforts, explaining that the university sends him half a world away each year.

It was May, 1996, and I’d only been in Hong Kong for three weeks. Two Canadians, we were both surprised to be talking to one another so far from our usual stomping grounds: myself, a member of Ryerson’s press on an internship at a Hong Kong broadsheet, Dellandrea, a university administrator on a mission to fundraise and to oversee the Hong Kong alumni office.

“It’s enormously competitive and that’s part of why in anything we do in our activities in Hong Kong, we have to work extraordinarily hard,” Dellandrea told me.

I’d been working on a tory on foreign students and, upon finding out that Dellandrea was in the territory, I sough to ask him why universities wanted to draw students to Canada.

I was already armed with information. I knew that international students pay three times as much as Canadian residents. I knew Hong Kong’s transplants contributed more than $250 million to the Canadian economy. And I knew that 20 per cent of foreign students in Canada were from Hong Kong.

I was confident that I knew the story.

Perhaps not the whole story.

As it turns out, on one trip to Hong Kong, Dellandrea came away with about $12 million in fundraising, a sizeable amount of the university’s $400 million goal.

The fundraising game is not new to the university circuit. The fact that governments are cutting payments and grants to postsecondary education has made the game more like a survival of the fittest.

In this test, Ryerson doesn’t have it easy. It has to compete against history, clout and respectability, which institutions like U of T have in droves.

It’s sad but true that universities don’t only have to try to fundraise but to succeed at it. How’s $400 million for a goal?

And it’s a match that Ryerson has to enter. Although the president’s office of university advancement — the school’s fundraising department — remain mum on its future framework, we have no doubt that the planning stages are over.

Critics of fundraising will bring up real concerns with academic independence and free thinking that are the enduring characteristics of postsecondary institutions.

Our latest Uncoverage series, Drive for Dollars, which started last week, looks at our attempts to deal with shortfalls in our budgets. It confirms that there are problems with corporate dominations as frameworks surrounding academic freedoms have yet to be solidified.

But the game goes on.

A few days after I met Dellandrea, I was invited to Hong Kong’s Canadian consulate where Paul Davenport, the president of the University of Western Ontario, was making his pitch to a group of students and parents. How peculiar, I thought, to bump into so many university administrators in one week.

Our own president Claude Lajeunesse made a trip to Hong Kong in November, 1997, to launch the school’s alumni society.

Although universities are at different levels, they are playing the same game.

May the strongest survive.

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