By Shane Dingman
In the business world, the announcement of a spending and operations review spark panic, suspicion and fear. In the bizarro world of Ontario’s universities and colleges, the announcement of the Investing in Students Task Force is being met with smiles, high hopes and discussions of “success stories.”
Last week, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities appointed a five-member task force to investigate the efficiency of administration practices at post-secondary institutions in the province.
The committee’s recommendations are due back Jan. 31.
“I think Ryerson can provide success stories to the task force, in terms of co-operation and saving measures,” said Ryerson’s president, Claude Lajeunesse. “I think whatever they recommend will take into account the special case of Ryerson, which has been underfunded for a long time.”
Ministry spokesperson Dave Ross said this is the first review of university and college administrations.
Ross said the “experts in different fields” who sit on the committee will look at administrative cost-saving measures such as co-ordinating purchasing departments to get better deals, or library sharing.
Administrators from across the province seem sceptical that the group will find any major ways of saving money after the funding drought post-secondary institutions have been in the past decade.
Kerrie-Lee Clarke, director of institutional analysis and government relations at Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University, said the school’s administration doesn’t overspend.
“There is certainly already a lot of information out there that shows we are operating at high levels of efficiency,” Clarke said.
Michael Finlayson, the University of Toronto’s v.p. administration and human resources, said the school has been cinching its belt tighter over the past decade.
As an example of a service cut to the bone, Finlayson points to the caretaking staff, which has been slashed by 70 per cent in the past eight years—a situation that obliges professors to empty their own trash bins and leaves classrooms dirty for days at a time.
Lajeunesse—who told Ryerson’s board of governors Monday evening he knows four of the task force’s five members personally—said all members are committed to education. “I don’t see them recommending cuts. There is no way this group will recommend cuts.”
Finlayson said it will be difficult for the committee to suggest too many changes after spending such a short time at each school.
“I’m not frightened of it, U of T is not frightened of it,” he said. “They’ve got what, 10 or 12 weeks to do this, which isn’t a lot of time.”
Clarke, however, is hesitant to predict what the task force will find.
She expressed concern over the fact the task force’s chair, Jalynn Bennett, and executive project director Glenna Carr, both run consulting businesses that specialize in public-private ventures.
“The make-up of the board is not consistent with the way the government has forced theses partnerships, like SuperBuild, on the universities.”