It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s Ryerson’s new programs!

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Ryerson has been trying to shake the Rye High image since “polytechnic” was dropped from its name eight years ago. The school has revamped and expanded both buildings and programs with some success, but its latest efforts could have it gone for good.

In late 2009 the Ryerson Senate approved plans for a Law Research Centre, an important step towards establishing a full-fledged law program. Two years before that, the provincial government dropped $250,000 to promote a partnership between Ryerson and St. Michael’s hospital, encouraging the university to emphasize its health programs.

Rolling out lawyers and doctors could put Ryerson in the same league as more prestigious universities so long as the school can overcome the obstacles in the way. But rewards rarely come without risk and Ryerson’s gambit could cripple the university’s prospective initiatives — or skyrocket its reputation.

The idea for the Law Research Centre began when Julia Hanigsberg, a legal counsel for the Board of Directors at Ryerson, started talking with scattered groups of law professors about the future of law education at the unversity. Plans were drawn up to build a facility where students could get valuable experience as research assistants and faculty members could get the resources for their research initiatives. After the plans were approved in October 2009, the next step was to determine where the money would come from.

“The law centre was approved explicitly on the condition that it will not draw on any existing Ryerson resources, and so no Ryerson money is used for it,” says Avner Levin, acting director of the Law Research Centre. The centre is still in its early stages of implementation, but Tas Venetsanopoulos, vice-president research and innovation, is certain progress won’t stop upon completion. “Give it another five years and it will eventually evolve into a law program.”

Installing a law program at Ryerson would mark one of the final stages in the university’s growth towards greater respectability.

“In the eyes of people outside our school, it is a step towards showing that Ryerson University is just like any other university,” Levin says.

Ryerson’s dream of a medical program faces much bigger obstacles. Creation of both programs requires approval from the Ministry of Training and Education. The provincial government is currently only listening to bids for medical schools planned outside of downtown Toronto, in areas where doctors are lacking.

“If the university asks for the creation of a medical school outside the city, then the probability of getting it is much higher than if they ask for a downtown program,” says Venetsanopoulos.

But even if the program is flawless, funding is needed and without government support things could get tricky. Though some funding is expected from outside sources, like philanthropists, Ryerson can’t build it alone.

Another problem facing Ryerson’s future medical program is its close proximity to U of T’s behemoth school.

“If you are in the presence of a giant you don’t want to play games,” says Venetsanopoulos. “The only way we can do it well is if we decide to aim for something different.”

Ryerson’s approach towards a medical program will focus on community-based health care and preventative instead of curative measures, as opposed to U of T’s heavy emphasis on research.

This approach is complimented by St. Michael’s hospital, with whom Ryerson has collaborated with for the past few years in areas such as nursing, animal research and health care in the future.

“The idea was that there is strength in both organizations, there is interest in health research and our institutions are close together,” says Dr. Arthur Slutsky, vice president of research at St. Michael’s Hospital. “Let’s do something together to make one plus one greater than two.”

The creation of a medical program at Ryerson will produce more doctors, which means more nurses, nutritionists and pharmacists. But it’s not an overnight project and will take a considerable amount of time before it is completed. Classes will be introduced for students in health-related programs and eventually will be grouped together into a medical package. Students will have time to familiarize themselves with these courses before the medical program is initiated.

The school will have to endure several years of growing pains before it will see the fruits of its efforts, but this is just a normal part of expansion, says Levin. “I see these new developments as positively enhancing Ryerson’s reputation.”

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