By Drew Halfnight and Adrian Morrow
Jack Cockwell wants to inject corporate money into public education. He is not only a director for the C.D. Howe Institute, but also a key fundraiser for Ryerson, where he helps convince corporations to make donations to the university.
“I see not only the cash they bring, but the prestige,” says Cockwell, who donated millions of dollars to the school over the last few years. “If you can show you’re bringing in dollars, you know you’ll get funds from the government.”
Cockwell is just one of the many wealthy donors helping to cover the cost of Ryerson’s rapid expansion. In the last decade, gifts to the school have more than quadrupled and Ryerson has picked up big-name donors offering everything from a few thousand to several million dollars.
In the next month, Ryerson will wrap up the Invest in Futures Campaign, the push to attract money that, in the past few years, has raked in $103 million for the university. Some of this money has come from controversial companies.
Donors giving over $25,000 have received something in exchange — a building, a classroom, a scholarship — bearing their name, leading some to question why Ryerson is branding its property with corporate names.
The Eyeopener has obtained a copy of the long list of the campaign’s donors, revealing the names of the companies and individuals who are funding the school, the money they’ve given and the price the school has paid to get their cash.
The list of Ryerson’s donors is a mix of high-profile companies and virtual unknowns.
Every major bank donated to the school; IBM and a number of smaller software companies contributed; retailers Mark’s Work Warehouse and Loblaws also opened their pockets.
Wal-Mart gave over $1 million to the school partly to fund awards that bear the company’s name. But not everyone at the school approves.
“Wal-Mart has a record of union-busting, of actually closing their doors to workers,” says Rebecca Rose, a co-ordinator for the Working Students’ Centre, a student advocacy organization. “I don’t think it’s appropriate that Ryerson’s name is associated with that kind of labour practice.”
Robert Ortega, a Ryerson professor who wrote a book on Wal-Mart, says he witnessed the company’s contractors using child labour in Central America. He says Wal-Mart’s donations are an attempt to clean up its public image.
“I would say their donations are calculated to get the maximum PR benefit for the lowest cost,” Ortega says. “Relative to other large retailers, they have historically been exceptionally stingy.”
Andrew Pelletier, Wal-Mart Canada’s VP Public Affairs, says that the company donated to the school to encourage education in retail management. He says the company gets high marks from its employees as a good place to work.
“When you’re a high-profile organization, people pay attention. Everyone is entitled to their opinions,” he says.
Wal-Mart isn’t the only donor on Ryerson’s list to get into trouble over its business dealings.
Forestry company Weyerhaeuser, which donated over $100,000 to the school, has caught flak for buying lumber from the forests of Grassy Narrows, north of Kenora, Ontario. First Nations in the area have been trying to stop the logging since 2002.
“Weyerhaeuser could be getting their wood from other sources without the same environmental and human impacts, but instead they choose to continue buying wood logged at Grassy Narrows,” says Brant Olson, an environmentalist who’s campaigned against the logging.
The school also received money from Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace company that produces engines for military jets.
Bob Baker, the school’s lead fundraiser, doesn’t think any of the people giving them money are problematic.
“I certainly don’t see any issues with any of the companies that have given to us thus far,” he says. “We do have a very high moral and ethical code.”
When the Eyeopener pointed out some of the school’s more controversial donors, Baker was non-plussed.
“Every company’s going to have some kind of controversy … and certainly you can pick those out,” he says.
Part of the reason the school can land the big money is because every contribution over $25,000 buys the naming rights to a piece of the school.
A donation of $15 million bought Ted Rogers the name of the business school; there’s also a STAPLES Business Depot Scholarship thanks to a donation of over $100,000 from the company.
“We like naming because it allows us to gain greater success from that — putting the name Ted Rogers on our school of management has attracted more interest from other people to give,” Baker says. “We’re really getting our donor recognition.”
Others, however, are wary of the encroachment of corporations on education.
“I think it’s sad that we have to go to large corporations to get a quality education, and I think when we do, it weakens our case for more funding and more affordable tuition,” Rose says.
As a result of cuts to public funding, universities have to turn to private donors and compete against each other for money, says Joel Duff, former chair of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, a student lobby and advocacy group.
“Every program is trying to gussy itself up to make themselves attractive to big business,” he says. “I’m not blaming (the school) because they’re just trying to tread water.”
President Sheldon Levy says that the government still puts up the most money for post secondary, but corporate financing is necessary to make up the shortfall.
“The public purse is not deep enough to support everything,” he says. “If we withdrew the money, who is hurt in the process? The students, probably.”
On one occasion, he says, the school turned down a donor who wanted to display its signs on campus in exchange for donations.
Baker personally likes the idea of selling naming rights because it allows the school to recognize the donors.
“I prefer recognizing them because I think it’s just a small token of our appreciation,” he says.
There are only five listed donors who’ve given more than $5 million to Ryerson, and one of them is anonymous. The individual donated the prestigious Black Star photo collection to Ryerson, but won’t have his or her name on a building, a room or a scholarship.
Three of the other donors in that category had buildings named after themselves, and Jack Cockwell thinks it’s par for the course.
“Ted Rogers wants to put $15 million to put up a building and get his name on it, fine,” he says.
He doesn’t see any problems with Ryerson’s donors and trusts that the school can keep its integrity.
“I think Wal-Mart’s a great company. People don’t have to work for them. They can go work somewhere else,” he says. “I guess you’ve got to assume that the academics wouldn’t compromise themselves.”