Ryerson must balance competing priorities under new plan

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By Shannon Higgins

News Editor

Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen referred to our fine educational institution as Ryerson Polytechnic University.

And high up in Jorgenson Hall, hidden underneath his desk, President Sheldon Levy is tearing his hair out.

Ryerson just can’t seem to drop the “Polytechnic” from its image, despite the freshly minted Ted Rogers School of Management on Bay Street and a 12.5 per cent increase in first-choice applications from secondary students in Fall 2008.

But dropping a middle name is harder than it seems. And it’s Alan Shepard’s job to raise academic standards at Ryerson and send nicknames like Rye High running.

Levy isn’t the only man with a plan, it seems. Shepard has big dreams for Ryerson too. But it’s not going to be easy.

The new Academic Plan for 2008-2013 puts Ryerson on the fast track to traditional academia.

But it also wants to maintain the university’s practical approach. It’s a hard balance to strike, but Provost and VP Academic Shepard said Ryerson needs to intensify research in order to compete on a national level.

So, while trying to maintain the benefits of being a career-oriented undergraduate university (like smaller classes, accessible faculty and readily-available industrial equipment), Ryerson is desperately trying to adopt the traditional university model where research is deemed essential.

Two years ago, Ryerson made research a priority when they hired Tas Venetsanopoulos straight from the University of Toronto to head up the research and innovation department. And he’s done a great job raising cash and turning eight master’s degree programs into 27.

But Ryerson isn’t U of T. In fact, we’re quite the opposite.

Part of Ryerson’s beauty is the practical learning style. Many students come here with a specific career in mind.

Most don’t care if their instructor has a PhD or is published in some journal. Students want instructors with up-to-date industry knowledge and contacts.

Admittedly, producing strong research is essential to being a well rounded university.

But most students choose Ryerson solely because of the word “polytechnic.” It means that when we leave Ryerson, we’ll actually have real job skills, along with a fancy degree.

Until 2013, Ryerson will focus on expanding graduate programs and Scholarly Research and Creative Activity (SRC).

The creative activity part recognizes faculty who still work in their industry and who don’t produce traditional research. Some profs think the creative activity is great. Others say it plays second fiddle to the “true” research being conducted at Ryerson.

If Ryerson wants to play in the big leagues, it needs the big bucks. Without the financial resources to back it up, the plan asks a lot from faculty who already work more than their peers do at York University and U of T.

And sometimes, the traditional university model means bigger classes and less access to faculty with graduate students and research taking top priority.

So don’t be ashamed of the “polytechnic” part of our past; that’s the word that’ll get Ryerson undergraduates jobs and send University of Toronto graduates back to college.


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