By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse confronted the multitude of problems the university faces in his State of the University Address yesterday, but still faced criticism from student politicians over his lack of initiative in solving the school’s funding crisis.
“Ryerson has suffered and continues to suffer from underfunding,” Lajeunesse told the crowd composed mostly of Ryerson administration, faculty members and student politicians. “It is evident in our classrooms, in the state of our library, in the level of faculty salaries and in the support we provide to our human resources, finance and other administrative departments.”
Though the address didn’t provide any startling new announcements, Lajeunesse did attempt to run through the litany of challenges the university faces and reinforce his commitment to solving each one.
He touched on achievements by members of the Ryerson community, the new Bachelor of Arts program the university is scheduled to begin offering in fall of 2003, the departure of chief fundraiser Gordon Cressy, and the possibility that fundraising for the SuperBuild project may take an extra year to reach completion because of a poor economic climate.
Lajeunesse singled out funding as a major concern and said that, though the school received an unexpected $10 million this year due to increased enrolment and improved retention rates, Ryerson is still teaching 2,000 students for which the school receives no compensation from the government.
However, RyeSAC Vice-President Education Ken Marciniec questioned the validity of Lajeunesse’s retention figures.
“It’s interesting to see where that $10 million comes from,” Marciniec said. “Three-point-one million came from the government last June. The rest came from students who they thought would drop out but didn’t.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they intentionally underestimated the number of students who would stay.”
Lajeunesse said that he understands that there is only so much a student can pay to attend school, but that a lack of government funding means that he cannot promise that fees won’t rise.
“I wish it were possible to stand here today and call for a tuition freeze,” he said. “But I can’t do that as Ryerson President.”
In a brief question period following the address, Lajeunesse was challenged by other RyeSAC executives for failing to take the initiative in lobbying the government for more funding, making it necessary for Ryerson to increase tuition fees.
RyeSAC president Darren Cooney offered Lajeunesse an example of lobbying: Presidents of two Washington state universities who have begun a campaign that aims to publicize a lack of funding from the American government.
“The campaign includes public meetings, media outreach and even a speaking tour,” Cooney told Lajeunesse. “Will you encourage Ryerson to take a position in favour of such a campaign?”
The president replied that he has been very vocal in interviews about the need for increased government funding, but that didn’t satisfy the student government.
“He’s responding to the press when they come knocking on his door,” Marciniec said later, “But these guys have put together a speaking tour and they’ve got a campaign going.”
“He undermines his own position when he suggests fees can continue to rise,” Marciniec said. “That merely allows the government to remove more funding.”
Lajeunesse also acknowledged a breakdown in communications between him and the Ryerson Faculty Association and vowed to correct the process as he wsa mandated to do in his last contract renewal.
“Our inability to resolve significant issues like workload had resulted in tremendous frustration, both for the RFA and the administration,” Lajeunesse said. “I believe the process of collective bargaining needs to be improved so we can address matters more effectively.”
Members of the RFA agreed that matters could be addressed better, but didn’t think that Lajeunesse’s speech did that.
“It’s nice to talk about morale,” said politics professor Neil Thomlinson, “but there was no expression of commitment from him or anyone else … I would have liked for the address to contain a concrete ‘this is what we’re going to do.’”
Michael Doucet, president of the RFA, wasn’t able to attend the speech due to an executive meeting conflict but said he’s heard promises from the president’s office before.
“He said he was going to do certain things before to improve relations but he never did,” Doucet said. “It’s easy to say these things, but what is he going to do?”
With files from Stephen Huebl