By Joe Friesen
The Liberal tide which swept Ontario last week brought a lukewarm wave of hope to the Ryerson campus.
University administrators, faculty leaders and student politicians were cautiously optimistic that the new government would deliver on its promises for post-secondary education.
But Dalton McGuinty’s pledge to create 50,000 new spaces at Ontario universities could exacerbate Ryerson’s overcrowding problem.
“We’re already bursting at the seams,” said President Claude Lajeunesse. “Compared to the standards of the Council of Ontario Universities, after the new business building is in we would be at about 70 per cent of the space standard.”
That means Ryerson is currently more than 30 per cent short of the recommended physical space standards for universities.
“We still haven’t found a way to print money legally,” said Lajeunesse. “But we will make the case very, very forcefully for Ryerson in terms of the particular needs Ryerson has.”
Ryerson’s most pressing particular need, according to Lajeunesse, is the $13 million shortfall in provincial operating grants resulting from the acceptance of unfunded students. These acceptances, which are outside the admissions corridors prescribed by government, have limited Ryerson’s funding since it became a university in 1993.
Lajeunesse is also cautious about the tuition fee freeze promised by the new government.
“I think the incoming premier has said he needs to look at the books,” said Lajeunesse. “This [tuition freeze] will mean $100 million less in the system. We will have to wait and see how this revenue loss will be handled.”
RyeSAC President Ken Marciniec said he thought Lajeunesse and the rest of the Council of Ontario Universities would be pushing McGuinty to further deregulate tuition fees.
The challenge for students, Marciniec said, would be to hold the Liberals to their promises. He drew particular attention to the pledge which called for a 50 per cent tuition reduction for the 16,000 neediest students in Ontario.
“At last we’ve got acknowledgement of the fact that student debt is too high, student fees are too high,” said Marciniec. “It’s a much better position than we were in before, that’s for sure.”
Faculty association president David Checkland said it was too early to say whether a Liberal government was good news for Ryerson.
“I’d be surprised if things got worse, so in that sense it’s hopeful” said Checkland. “But a lot depends on the financial shape the province is in.”
But Checkland remained sceptical about the extent of Liberal spending plans.
“Their policy does talk about giving more money to post-secondary education, and that will be an improvement,” said Checkland. “But I don’t think it will be a sudden return to the great days when money flowed like wine, the days of Bill Davis.”