Lajeunesse to Tories: show me the money

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By Jordan Heath-Rawlings

Ontario’s provincial government has come to the province’s universities asking for a favour, but Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse is skeptical enough not to jump at the promise of more funding in return.

“The provincial government last week asked all Ontario universities to accept more students in 2002, 2003, and 2004 than originally planned,” Lajuenesse wrote in a letter to the Ryerson community. “The government has told the universities that they can presume that any additional students will be fully funded.”

Despite the government’s assertion that those students will be funded, Lajeunesse isn’t confident. “Our experience tells us that assurances of full funding do not necessarily translate into the amount required to do the job,” he wrote.

Ryerson’s government funding is calculated through Basic Income Units (BIUs). Based on the cost of delivering their curriculum, students are assigned a BIU value number, which translate into a dollar figure that the provincial government gives to the university.

While the province has made up $4.8 million in unfunded BIUs to try to keep Ryerson at current levels of funding while its enrolment increases, Lajeunesse says that, there remains $13 million in unfunded BIUs that Ryerson has carried since the early 1990’s that the provincial government has left untouched.

Ryerson’s infrastructure is fragile as it is. And Lajeunesse says he is worried about taking on additional students when, “for many years, funding levels have not even addressed normal growth in our everyday expenses, such as heat, power and salaries.”

The extra students Ryerson is being asked to accept would be piled on top of the approximately 750 extra students the university will accept in each of 2003 and 2004, in an effort to accommodate the double cohort. No figures on how many additional students the government wants to enrol at Ryerson were available.

Regardless of numbers, however, many educators at Ryerson don’t think the school can handle it.

“They’re not ready and they’re not able,” said Ira Levine, dean of communication and design, of the programs he oversees.

“You’ve only got X number of square feet in a classroom, you’ve only got X number of seats in a computer lab, you’ve only got X number of staff and faculty, and you have been given no resources to improve any of those things,” Levine said. “I think (the extra students) we’ve already signed on for are fine.”

Robert Gardner, chair of radio and television arts, agrees with Levine.

“Since programs like RTA are so equipment based, we’ve never entertained the idea of opening our doors very widely,” Gardner said. “It just can’t be done.”

The result, Gardner said, will be a lot of disappointed students. “There will be a number of students who are really interested in journalism or Radio and Television, and there will just not be any room for them. It’s just impossible.”

“This is the kind of issue that can bring down a government if it isn’t properly handled,” he said. “I think (Ontario’s Tories) are just starting to realize that.”

Despite the already cramped quarters at Ryerson, and the government’s questionable history on funding issues, Lajeunesse isn’t ruling out accepting the extra students altogether.

“We would love to take in all qualified students who would choose Ryerson for their university education,” he wrote. “Ryerson will have to think long and hard about how it will respond to the government’s request.”

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