By Natalie Alcoba
A white Ryerson Polytechnic University banner ripples in the winter wind. Pegged on the overpass between Jorgenson and Kerr Halls, it marks a spot on campus that often goes unnoticed amid the bustling city landscape.
The sign, like others scattered across campus, is representative of days gone by, sporting a logo that many say has clouded Ryerson’s reputation as an institution of higher learning.
It’s the job of Gordon Cressy, v.p. university advancement and the man behind the university’s new marketing campaign, to cut the white sign’s length by dropping the word polytechnic.
If Cressy and his team of marketers are successful, in a short while everything you will see, read and hear about the school will be the bold, succinct “Ryerson University.”
Cressy said dropping the word “polytechnic” would help clearly project Ryerson’s image as a university. “There was confusion in the public of how we were perceived. The media reported us in different ways — we were still seen as an institute.”
But the point isn’t to lose Ryerson’s reputation for applied programs. Cressy said the school’s new slogan — “Ryerson University. Wisdom. Applied.” — accentuates Ryerson’s polytechnic qualities, helping distinguish it from other universities.
But for some of the students and faculty that make the university their home away from home, dropping a word from the logo won’t change Ryerson’s defining edge. They say its reputation hinges on its individual parts.
A school of many names
As defined by the dictionary, polytechnic refers to “an institution of higher education offering courses in many subjects, at degree level or below.”
President Claude Lajeunesse said Ryerson’s evolution in the past few years has led to dropping the polytechnic from its name. “We now have seven graduate programs, while we had zero a year ago. We now have $7 million in research funds, we had nothing five years ago.”
Lajeunesse said this finally gives Ryerson the visible characteristics associated with a university.
Ryerson’s humble beginnings in 1948 were as an Institute of Technology. In 1964, RIT became Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. In 1993, the provincial government let the school start offering university degrees, and the name changed to Ryerson Polytechnic University.
A 1989 planning report by Ryerson’s administration, which examined the feasibility of becoming a university, says Ryerson ‘provides undergraduate university-level education for entry into professional occupations.” The university “provides curricula based upon the educational philosophy that theory and practice should be blended together and liberal studies are a vital, integral part of professional education.”
What’s in a name?
Ryerson’s theory-based instruction has helped it stand apart in the Ontario university system. It’s the only polytechnic.
This year, when Cressy tried to drop the polytechnic moniker for a new brand name — Ryerson University — he faced opposition from colleagues who said polytechnic articulated the practical education that characterizes Ryerson.
Ira Levine, dean of the faculty of applied arts, always had an affection for the term polytechnic. “It helped symbolize for me Ryerson’s differentiated mission within the Canadian university sector.”
But Levine said many university officials feel Ryerson has grown out of its polytechnic label. “The decision to move away from polytechnic is seen by many as a measure of Ryerson’s maturation as an institution.”
It’s this maturity that has led Ryerson to be recognized for its individual programs rather than a campus-wide atmosphere.
Mary Black, chair of graphic communications management, said GCM’s reputation precedes that of the institution. “The reason why they’re in this school is because they want to learn about the printing industry, and that’s their main focus. Whether they’re called Ryerson Polytechnic University, or Ryerson University, it doesn’t matter.”
Black said it’s time for Ryerson to upgrade its image. “I think too often we’ve been called Rye High, and I think that’s often been associated with the polytechnic label, and I think that’s a hard thing to live down,” Black said. “Dropping polytechnic will not do us any harm.”
Black has raised $3.5 million in corporate sponsorship in the past year to offset the cost of building a new facility for GCM students. She said investors aren’t going to be deterred by the name change.
Chris Rudge, president of Quebecor World Canada, part of the world’s largest commercial printing company, is one of the corporate donors for the new GCM building. He said employees who are hiring don’t look at the name of the university. “In this industry, we fight for graduates from your GCM program,” Rudge said. “I don’t care if you call it Ryerson Boot Camp, as long as the program quality is maintained.
Vince Carlin, chair of the school of journalism, said the name change won’t alter life in the journalism program. Carlin said the school’s good reputation across the country has little to do with Ryerson itself. “What distinguishes us as a school of journalism is the school of journalism.”
Sharon Burnside, assistant managing editor at The Toronto Star, is in charge of recruiting employees for Canada’s largest daily. She said what matters is the program students graduate from, and the name — with or without polytechnic — has no bearing. “I deal mostly with the school of journalism, and I never link the word polytechnic with that school.”
The students’ perspective
Kimberly Newton, a second-year business management student, doesn’t think dropping polytechnic will change the opinions of prospective employers. “Businesses know that Ryerson has a good business school,” she said. “If anything, it’s the opinion of the general public that might change.”
Second-year information technology management student Francis Contiga said the university’s reputation isn’t that important to him. “Someone that goes to York or U of T goes for reputation,” he said. “At Ryerson it’s the program that matters.”
Although it will be a few months before the signs around campus read Ryerson University, other changes have already begun. Ryerson’s telephone service and website have adopted the new name. Letterhead, business cards, recruitment material, continuing education and graduation literature have also crossed over to sans-polytechnic.
But the changes are only cosmetic. Legally, Ryerson’s name will not change. Ryerson Polytechnic University will still appear on official documents such as degrees and contracts.
Levine said he expects the name to go through a legal modification in the future. ‘Change in the legislation takes more time. The university decided to move informally in the short term, and formally in the long term.”
Cressy said it is unnecessary to take this to the provincial legislature right now. “It’s a two-step process. First thing is to get comfortable here, then we might go to Queen’s Park.”
Although the legal change will come eventually, Lajeunesse said Ryerson should be cautious of moving too quickly. “We want to make sure the individuals who have brought this institution from an institute of technology to a polytechnic university feel comfortable, and that we don’t appear too rushed to totally change what they worked so hard to achieve.”
Lee Maguire, associate dean of the school of business management, said any name is critical to success, whether it’s that of a product, corporation or institution. But success doesn’t come overnight. “It takes years to get your image out there, and to get your name established.”
Ryerson plan to invest more than $1.3 million over the next five years on its communication campaign, of a $10 million fundraising budget.
Cressy doesn’t expect any change in the public’s perception for another two to three years. He said the aesthetic changes are not meant to be a substitute for substance. “You have to deliver quality education — otherwise a name is just a name.”