By Jonathan Fowlie
With proposals for widespread budget reductions due March 1, faculty members across Ryerson remain uncertain about how ready we are for the quickly approaching double cohort.
“We are in this schizophrenic thing where we are going to have to expand, but in the meantime we are in this budget cutting exercise,” says Carla Cassidy, dean of the faculty of arts. “We’re cutting, but we also have to gear up for growth.”
Because of the elimination of the OAC year in Ontario, in September of 2003 universities are expecting to have to make room for at least 31,500 additional students. This is the double cohort.
As part of this plan Ryerson has committed to admitting an extra 740 students in 2003-04 and another 770 students in 2004-05. And while about 1,500 extra students in a campus of close to 14,000 doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, there are currently no official plans to place to make room for these new students.
“We’re going to increase by 750 so that’s roughly a 17 per cent increase in current enrolment,” says Michael Doucet, head of the Ryerson Faculty Association. “That doesn’t sound like much but what we don’t know is where those 750 are going to go.”
He is also quick to point out that even before the double cohort, Ryerson is already shouldering a large burden in the form of almost 2,000 students who are not being funded by the government. Doucet estimates that if these students were being subsidized, “Ryerson would have approximately $12 million more in its operating budget.”
While this problem of unfunded students is affecting other universities in the province as well, Doucet points out that when added to the financial implications of the double cohort Ryerson may have a more difficult problem then others when it attempts to balance the books. He points out that most universities have the “cost-efficient safety-valve of the arts program,” which can be delivered into large classrooms at the same time. However, due to Ryerson’s dedication to mostly technical programs, it cannot rely on these measures.
Most programs, says Doucet, have a “choke point” that limits the number of students that can physically be in the program. In Doucet’s geography department, that limitation is the 30-seat computer labs where courses like geotechnology are taught. Most other departments have similar factors and unlike other universities, there are many programs that simply cannot take even one more student in the classroom.
“I think a lot of people would like to know who the students are and what programs they are going to be involved in so we can accommodate them,” says Doucet. This request seems to echo across the campus as many members of the faculty try to prepare curriculums for the incoming double cohort.
Although the double cohort is a large enough problem on its own, the university is currently in a process of cutting the budget significantly in order to avoid what it predicts could be a $20 million deficit in just three years. As a result, the v.p. academic’s budget paper calls for all faculties to submit their cutback proposals by March 1. According to the projections, the university needs to cut $4 to $6 million in 2002-03, up to $4.6 million in 2003-04, and up to $4.2 million 2004-05.
This dichotomy of having to do more with less has created what Cassidy is calling “a tough juggling act.”
“We are having to undergo serious cost-cutting measures just for last year’s cuts,” she says, “”and yet we’re having to gear up to deliver this new program in 2003.”
Doucet is further frustrated because he feels that “we have little guidance as to how we are supposed to respond to this. We have a global target, somewhere between four and six million, but nobody knows what the contribution of his or her academic unit should be.”
Despite this uncertainty, however, faculties across the campus have been pushing ahead with planning for the double cohort in hopes that the resources will be available where and when they are most needed.
This planning has taken two major forms. Faculties have been looking to assess what the actual “choke point” of each program is to see how many more students can practically be added. Also, many proposals exist to add whole new programs to the curriculum that can increase capacity, without putting undue pressure on existing programs.
The department of journalism in the faculty of applied arts put forward a proposal in February 2000 to add an online stream to the existing journalism program. The new stream would make room for 30 more students per year, but required extra funding from the government.
Professor Joyce Smith was hired last year to direct and design the new curriculum for the online stream. The proposal now lacks the funding and the lab space for 2003 and therefore it won’t be ready in time. And though Smith would still like to see the program get off the ground as soon as possible, its future remains uncertain.
“We can’t offer something if there is no money,” says Smith. “It’s very difficult environment to start up something new.
“The universities have had to do [some] long-term planning on the assumption — and in fact from what I understood to be an inferred promise — that the funding was going to come through. It’s really frustrating since that was one of the big reasons why I came here.”
As Smith waits to find out the future of her program, she has had to “find more creative ways,” of working online content into the existing programs in the department. She views this as a decent stopgap but is clear to say that it isn’t ideal.
“I don’t want to be the poor cousin in the school,” she says.
While academic expansion and government funding remain uncertain, one thing that is clear is that many of the services on Ryerson campus do not intend to scale up with the growing demand.
Ryerson residences, for example, currently house only 840 students, and no plans exist within the foreseeable future to expand this capacity.
“I think the university recognizes that housing is an issue,” says Liza Nassim, manager of student housing. “But in the current financial situation more residences at the time are not in the cards.”
Meanwhile, the Ryerson Athletic Centre is planning only a small addition before the double cohort years. The plan is to convert two squash courts into cardio rooms by knocking down the walls and improving the ventilation.
And while this will no doubt add much needed space, Dave Dubois, program director of sports and recreation says that “our membership is increasing and there is a need for us to expand. We do have a plan that was submitted some time ago that looks at a major expansion, but we haven’t been considered a priority, which I understand.”
With demand outpacing growth at student services, funding from both the government and from within the university remaining uncertain and curriculum decisions up in the air it appears that, for the time being, Ryerson is not ready for 1,500 new students.
Nevertheless in a report released last week entitled Report to Ontario Taxpayers, the government upheld that, “the Ontario government is doing its part by ensuring that every willing and qualified Ontario student will secure a place in post-secondary education.”
Rosario Marchese, MPP for Trinity Spadina and education critic for the Ontario NDP party, thinks this is an unreasonable claim. “Students will not be accommodated in my view. Many will not go and we have no way of knowing because they just won’t get accepted and they’ll be working.”
Marchese thinks the problem of improper funding will only grow larger if the universities don’t start fighting back. “We have a problem. And how is the university sector solving it? They are saying we have to raise tuition fees, and we have to deregulate.” She says this is an “irresponsible position to take.”
He believes the only way to solve the problem is for the university presidents to tell the government “this is the wrong way to do it.”
“I’m saying [to the universities] ‘You have the credibility with the public, and you can and should publicly say we need government to step in and keep the right amount of money in the system so we can keep tuition low,’ and they’re not doing it.”
Doucet agrees with Marchese on this point. “The tactics that have been employed by the collective of university presidents has been wrong,” says Doucet. “I think they had to be far more outspoken and outspoken in public.”
He likens this overall situation to the TTC campaign for more funding. “The double cohort is like that,” he says. “It’s big. It’s real and it’s heading our way and we don’t have the resources to properly handle it. A lot of students are going to be disappointed too because the quality of their university education is bound to be discounted.”