Rye prez sits on $3.1M

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By Jonathan Fowlie

After denying he knew Ryerson would receive more than $3 million in government funding for two months, university president Claude Lajeunesse revealed on Monday night that he’s had the money for almost a month.

The funding was meant to pay for extra students Ryerson took in last year who had not already been subsidized by previous payments from the provincial government to the university.

“An additional #3.1 [million] for last year had now been received this year,” Lajeunesse said at the finance committee meeting on Monday, adding the money was received on either the 25th or the 28th of September.

But in an interview on Sept. 30, just days after receiving the money, he said that he had no idea if the funds would arrive.

He said that he had met with Dianne Cunningham, the Ontario Minister of Training Colleges and Universities responsible for doling out the money, three days earlier, but still did not have any new information.

Ryerson has been waiting for this money since last year when the Council on Ontario Universities determined that post-secondary schools in the province needed an extra $28.8 million to pay for an unexpected increase in enrolment.

In a letter to the Ryerson community in June, Lajeunesse acknowledged this funding was on its way.

“The government will fully fund last year’s $28.8 million shortfall in grants to universities,” he wrote. “At this time, we do not know the exact allocation for each university.”

That was the last mention of the money until Monday night. While student government leaders and campus media have been asking Lajeunesse about this money since the beginning of September, he has had little or no comment until Monday night at the finance committee meeting, maintaining all along he had no idea when the money would come.

“The timeline is not finalized yet,” he said in another interview earlier in September. “The government said that this would be done by now, but these are complex issues.”

A document obtained by The Eyeopener last Thursday afternoon, however, revealed that Lajeunesse knew this funding was coming since the end of August.

In a letter dated Aug. 30, 2002, addressed to all the heads of provincially assisted universities in Ontario, including Lajeunesse, Cunningham said that the provincial government would definitely pay out the $28.8 million the council asked for last year.

“I have asked ministry staff to flow the additional $28.8 immediately,” read the letter.

When asked about this letter at the Monday meeting, Lajeunesse said he didn’t know until recently what the #3.1 million from the government was for.

“We got an extra $3.1 million in our September 25 or 28 payment from government without any explanation except for that they told us that this was for the additional students last year.”

“We so far have received no written explanation as to what the money covers for Ryerson,” he added after the meeting.

He later added that he did not mention the funding after receiving the letter because he did not know exactly what Ryerson’s share of the $28 million would be.

When asked whether he thought it was odd that the government gave the university $3.1 million for no reason, he replied, “I don’t think about that. I just cash the cheque.”

He also said he didn’t mention the $3.1 million when asked because it wasn’t the full amount of funding for all the extra students taken in last year.

“It’s not full funding, so what’s the explanation for it?” he said.

“[Cunningham is] saying ‘we’re providing full funding’ and we get something that’s not full-funding, so what does it mean?”

The $3.1 million Ryerson received from the government was two per cent less than the $3.2 million it needed to fully fund last year’s extra students.

On Monday afternoon, before Lajeunesse’s announcement, Cunningham was surprised to hear that Ryerson’s president had yet to acknowledge receipt of the funds.

“He should have that by now,” she said. “I’m assuming when you flow money on the first of April, they would have it by now. You may have opened a Pandora’s box here.”

After the meeting, Ken Marciniec, RyeSAC vice-president of education, said he still had questions about why Lajeunesse had waited so long.

“Given that there is a document signed by the minister announcing that this money was coming through immediately on the 30th of August, it’s odd that [Lajeunesse] wouldn’t mention it until nearly the end of October.”

While Marciniec said he wasn’t sure why the president waited, he pointed out that Lajeunesse and the Board of Governors unexpectedly moved the State of the University address from the winter term to Oct. 29, adding that he thought there may be a connection.

“I suspected there would be some sort of funding announcement,” said Marciniec, “because he wanted to have something good to say at the state of the university address; something good to say of substance.”

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