Rye Higher Learning

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Dominique Blain

I can’t focus!

I sit in my brand new office and I have so many things I want to tell you, dear frosh, but I just can’t think over the blasting sound of a jackhammer jackhammering away under my window.

So annoying — and so Ryerson. Our so-called campus looks more like a poster child for a destroy-and-rebuild movement every day. And now the rumour is the hole they are boring under me might uncover disused gas tanks from the gas station that sat here eons ago. Let the decontamination games begin!

Perversely, this reminds me of a quote by Sir Isaac Newton. “If I have seen further,” Newton wrote, “it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Why are my giants potentially contaminated land?

When I was growing up in Montreal, I used to look up at the noble McGill buildings up the street and envision myself sitting in a classroom with dark, hardwood floors and bookcases rising to the ceiling, their shelves creaking under the weight of the heavy and important tomes.

In my nerdy fantasies, I was an eager student; I was on the fleeting cusp of brilliance. I woke up early every day, eager to return to a paragon of higher learning. Teach me!

Instead, almost accidentally, I have ended up at Ryerson, where I sit in large concrete rooms at dilapidated desks that are used as old gum storage areas and classified ads (“For a blow job that’ll blow your mind, call Joel Wass”).

The setting is so uninspiring that even the best profs have a hard time reaching the students, who are increasingly viewed as apathetic and lazy. Education standards seem to lower with every passing year and it gets to a point where you really have to question the validity of your $20,000 piece of paper.

“But I can’t think that way,” I try to convince myself. Meanwhile, the peeling paint on the walls and the dots in the ceiling tiles become impromptu Rorschach Tests and I realize that I see faces everywhere, staring at me with “What did you expect?” smiles.

Well, to be quite frank, I was expecting to be standing on the shoulders of giants.

And yet with the noise of the construction comes promise. Rye High might yet be on its way to becoming Rye Higher Learning.

The constant building chaos of the last few years has yielded impressive results (though they have all been abysmally late and haphazard) and there’s no reason to think the current construction won’t be, well, just as constructive to our education. To be fair, last year I sat in as many brand new classrooms as gross ones.

And then there’s the culling of the Ryerson administration. If our admin is a forest, there has been some serious selective management cutting going on. Of course, some of us who have been around for a while might have argued in favour of a clear cut, but at this point we’ll have to believe in the theory that leaving pockets of old growth allows for healthier new growth.

One of the first and most important cuts was that of former president Claude Lajeunesse, the man of little answers whose term finally came to an end. He was replaced by Sheldon Levy, who has already shown himself to be enthusiastic and open to suggestion (see here for details), which is an attitude change of such dramatic proportions that resident vice presidents must be a little nervous.

I’d hope for eagerness on their part, but I’m expecting anxiety.

Then, there are many new chairs — that’s about as close to your high school principal as you’ll get in university — and faculty deans (your chair’s boss, whom you’ll probably never meet). These are the people that will have much more real-time influence on your stay at Ryerson. Here’s wishing you a great chair.

But enough with the details, let’s get to how you make sure you don’t become an apathetic, pessimistic student. Let’s make sure you don’t wonder where you’re standing.

The moment you enrolled at Ryerson University, you became a member of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU).

Being a member of that union means you have a voice in the university administration. And since our union is part of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) it also means you have a voice in the government.

Having an effective voice means that there’s always a glimmer of hope that your education will be on strong ground in the future.

But the challenge is having your own union hear what you’re saying. Henry Kissinger once said that “university politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” I’d argue that university politics are vicious because the people in charge act like the stakes are so small.

Your union represents YOU. Your interests are not small stakes. Make sure they know that.

First, keep track of what the RSU is doing, whether it’s by showing up on its doorstep every day, or getting involved with a student group, or reading the papers (yeah, that’s a plural… but let’s not talk about it).

Then, do your best to remember the past; it’s often your best weapon.

Remember that the people in charge of your student union have more power than you think and they think no one’s paying attention. It’s a dangerous combination. Are you sure they are working on things you actually care about right now? Go ask.

Also, these people will be involved in the politics “that matter” 10 years from now. Let’s not let them develop bad habits too eagerly or rapidly.

And for now, getting involved at any level will be the best added value to your education. Because what we’re learning in class is not life. It doesn’t teach you about the tendencies of human nature and how far some people will go to get what they want.

Do go to class, do learn as much as you can. But don’t forget to get involved and find out what your voice the student union is telling the world.

Then come in and tell us what you think — or write us a letter. We care.

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