Photo: Tom Sapiano

Forget polytechnic for now

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By Siri Agrell

Students applying to the university next year may not be flipping through brochures from Ryerson Polytechnic University.

The university will still be sending information to potential students, but under a proposed new marketing campaign, the world “polytechnic” may be cropped from the school’s name.

“For most people, the term polytechnic confused rather than defined,” said Gordon Cressy, Ryerson’s v.p. university advancement, who thinks the change will improve the school’s image.

The campaign boasts a new slogan for the school: Ryerson University: Wisdom. Applied.

Although the decision isn’t official yet — it still has to pass a board of governors vote Nov. 27 — it’s already generating heated discussion.

If the school decides to drop “polytechnic,” the new title will start appearing on all university signs, publications, Web sites and banners as early as next spring.

Although Ryerson Polytechnic University will still be the university’s official name, it will only appear on official documents such as degrees.

At a Nov. 7 academic council meeting, Cressy and Errol Aspevig, Ryerson’s v.p. academic, presented their plan, which was followed by a debate about the relevance of keeping the term “polytechnic.”

One vocal opponent was Joe Davenport, a student member of council. He says “polytechnic” is essential to Ryerson’s identity, and helps set it apart from other schools.

“Instead of conforming back to a university, we should take the lead and show people the great applications of what we do and why we’re different,” Davenport said. “Maybe other universities should try to be polytechnics.”

Davenport said removing the term is dangerous because it would allow programs to become less applied and more focused on theory like at other more traditional universities.

Ira Levine, dean of applied arts, was also initially opposed to the idea of removing the term.

“Polytechnic kind of represented for me what was different about our missions as a school,” Levine said. “I have a personal fondness for the word and it took me quite a while to come around.”

Levine says he feels it’s still important to stress Ryerson’s applied nature.

Ryerson has changes its name before. In 1993, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute became Ryerson Polytechnical University after receiving degree-grantings status.

July Okten, a third-year business student and RyeSAC board member, wrote a letter to Cressy about her difficulties with the term “polytechnic.”

“There’s an underlying assumption that Ryerson is still a different kind of technical institute, and not a ‘real’ university,” she wrote. “This undermines our education and creates defensiveness.”

Cressy said these misunderstandings are the motivation behind dropping the name from the marketing title.

The word “polytechnic” can also have a negative connotation, said Jack Perone, a Ryerson business graduate and director of strategic planning for J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency who helped develop the marketing plan.

“There’s a notion that Ryerson isn’t quite as good as other universities, that it’s somewhere between a university and a college,” Perone said.

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