Business faculty aims to chart own course

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By Jennifer Kwan

As he waits for an elevator to take him to his seventh-floor office near the top of the Business Building, Lee Maguire peels away a poster hanging on the wall on front of him.

The tape on the flyer takes the paint with it.

Just another sign of the wear and tear on this former brewery warehouse, Maguire says, and that’s why posters aren’t allowed on the walls. The school can’t afford to repaint.

“People in business know you can’t separate the feeling of the quality of a product from what the customer sees as the physical product,” says the associate dean of business management. “Students going into a rundown, beat-up classroom with beat-up chairs think what’s presented in that classroom has little value.”

So little value, in fact, Maguire thinks it’s time the faculty of business take its destiny into its own hands. After being denied new space for years and being over looked when the university made its pitch for funding under the province’s SuperBuild program, Macguire says, independence seems like the only viable option left. Let the faculty’s programs control their own budgets instead of watching students’ tuition funds disappear over at Jorgenson.

“In the business world if you’ve got a hostile takeover, you find the white knight to save you,” Macguire says. “He’s the guy with the millions who will help us find independence.”

Splitting away from Ryerson is a far-fetched idea, administrators in the faculty agree, but there’s no denying the feeling that Ryerson as an institution isn’t doing enough to support Ontario’s largest undergraduate business program.

“I’ve always said actions speak louder than words,” said Tom Knowlton, appointed dean of the faculty of business in August.

One of the first things he noticed was the deplorable shape of his new home away from home. “This building is an embarrassment,” he is quoted as saying in the most recent edition of business management’s weekly flyer, which is distributed in the building and across the university.

“The faculty are waiting for something to happen as it relates to the business building and the support the faculty gets,” Knowlton said. “That’s feedback I get and some [opinions] are stronger than others.”

One of those opinions belongs to Maguire, who has envisioned a new business building for years. He’s already crunched the numbers—it could potentially house 6,240 students in its 27,000 square metres, although construction costs would approach $80-million.

But talk of moving out of 285 Victoria Street has been happening for the past 30 years—almost as long as the faculty has been housed in the eight-storey edifice.

While business management is centred in the Business Building, the faculty’s three other programs are scattered across campus. Retail management and hospitality management are housed in the International Living/Learning Centre, and information technology management is based in South Kerr Hall. The whole faculty has an enrolment of 4,033 full-time students.

Trips to classes in the business building take students through dimly lit hallways and scuffed walls. Especially pitiful, says Eric Filmer, president of the Business Students Association, are the sixth-floor BSA offices and the basement bunker where students converge to study and chat, with its low ceilings, chairs, tables and freestanding lockers.

Filmer is lobbying for renovations to the basement and trying to collect 1,000 signatures from students over the next two weeks for a petition he plans to bring to administration.

For Knowlton, even though moving into a new building is a top priority, the faculty is up against financial and space challenges. In the meantime, he’s plotting short-term cosmetic fixes that will improve the building’s appearance. “I think people who are progressive and focused on growth want to latch onto a grand vision, but we must be realistic.”

His solutions include renovating the building’s entrance, seventh and eight floors, faculty offices, corridors, lighting and basement. Discussions with campus planning and facilities are in the works, but approval or a budget has yet to be secured.

Renovations are now overdue. The building was originally a bottling plant for O’Keefe Breweries in the 1930s. The university bought it for $3.5-million in December, 1966, along with the surrounding three acres of property—the brewery stood on parking lot land, and the Image Arts building was part of the warehouse. That year, business moved in.

Since then the building has had two major facelifts. To rid it of mice and upgrade the elevator control systems, an estimated $150,000 worth of renovations for each floor was approved in 1985.

In 1990, $425,000 was donated by CIBC, Bramalea Ltd. And Ernst & Young to build a lecture theatre and two classrooms on the first floor.

Last February, Ryerson announced its $100-million SuperBuild initiative to build three buildings on campus in time for 2003, when Grade 12 and 13 classes graduate high school at the same time. The buildings will house computing and engineering, graphic communications management and community health, a program being run jointly with George Brown College.

Many people who ride the Business Building’s elevators everyday wonder why they were left out of the SuperBuild windfall.

“It’s an old story but it is a new one because nothing has happened,” said Ken Grant, director of information technology management. “The university considered a number of options [for SuperBuild funding] and chose not to include the business building.

In July 1999, the faculty was working on a proposal for a new building. Linda Grayson, v.p. administration and student affairs, says this was separate from SuperBuild, and at the time, administration moved forward with what they thought were the strongest proposals—the ones the government was most likely to help fund.

“I don’t think anyone would disagree we need a new business buiding,” Grayson said. “It isn’t that the business building isn’t a high priority or that it was left out—it isn’t any of those things. We have to look at the university as a whole in order to move the programs forward.”

Lacking location, cash, and partners, the business faculty had little clout when it came time to apply for SuperBuild funding. Engineering had a location at the corner of Church and Gould Streets mapped out, GCM had strong support from industry leaders, and community services had backing from George Brown College.

Gordon Cressy, Ryerson’s v.p. university advancement, says if business wants more money, they must also seek support from government and university sources.

This year, each student paid a standard fee of $4,335.16, which amounts to more than $17-million in tuition alone. The faculty is allotted approximately $8-million of that to cover salaries and expenses.

Business management has an operating budget of around $5.5-million a year. Maguire says students are paying close to $15-million to get one-third less in services and facilities.

“We’re a cash cow,” said Maguire. “That’s our value and that’s what [administration] sees us as.”

Offering naming opportunities has helped other business schools bring in the cash. In 1997, the University of Toronto received a $15-million gift, matched by the university, from Joseph L. Rotman. Rotman is chairman and CEO of Clairvest Group Inc., which provides merchant banking for emerging companies.

Bringing in that kind of cash takes a good reputation though, said Peter Pauly, associate dean at Rotman. “Donors are attracted by the possibility to contribute to a school of international recognition,” Pauly said. “It would be incumbent to make a value proposition to [Ryerson’s] students and donors—you have to stand for something.”
Maguire for one, looking at the paint chipping off the walls, doesn’t believe the Business Building stands for much right now.

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