Monique Phillips looks at the sometimes controversial method Ryerson is using to pay for all those shiny new buildings on campus — partnerships with the private sector
Go take a walk on cam- pus. Saunter down Gould Street and take everything in. From the quaint interlock and picturesque trees to the brownstone expanse of Kerr Hall, you’ll probably notice a common theme –– new buildings. From the still-sparkling Image Arts Building to the metallic sprawl of the unfinished Student Learning Centre, it’s an open secret that Ryerson is not happy with its current lot in life. It’s trying to shake off the rust of its years as a polytechnic with physical construction on campus. The size of the small, downtown campus has exploded since its humble beginnings in the mid-1900s and the current administration in particular has made construction and purchasing new buildings a major priority. And there’s one thing that ties almost all the growth together –– the way it was financed.
Over the past several years of budget cuts, public-private partnerships, or P3s, as they are often referred to, have increasingly become a part of business as usual at universities, and Ryerson is no exception. Though some critics say that deals with private corporations risk the interests of post-secondary education, much of what Ryerson has done in recent years has come attached to P3s.
Public-private partnerships at Ryerson have allowed the university to extend its reach in the downtown core, and has been at the centre of most of the building deals allowing Ryerson to expand its physical blueprint.
P3s are, in essence, any relationship in which a public sector institution, such as Ryerson and other schools, engages in a relationship with a private company. When used correctly, P3s can offer universities a chance to function beyond the limits of dwindling budgets. But other times, they can be unhealthy and lead a university down the wrong path.
“I am a big fan of private funding to an extent,” says Ryerson economics professor Eric Kam. “Which means I am a big fan of privatization of anything until that privatization takes over a university’s direction.”
According to Kam, some univer- sities in the United States, including Ivey-league Yale and Harvard, engage in public-private partnerships that are unhealthy.
“Some corporate companies who sponsor the university are trying to sit on the board of gover- nors and the board of directors,” Kam says. “And the corporate agenda is starting to govern the direction of the research of the university and that’s a dangerous slope.” He adds that some companies will try to earn prod- uct support from research arms of universities they sponsor when those recommendations have not really been earned.
This is exactly what worries the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), which last year approved by a landslide vote an official motion to oppose the implementation of P3s on an institutional level, and have been outspoken critics of their use.
Today, when it comes to funding projects that are not directly tied to academics, universities receive little to no government funding. This could be one of the reasons why universities engage in public- private partnerships on an increasingly large scale.
“There is a need for the government to fund all aspects of university since students access different areas,” says Rochelle Lawrence, vice-president of education at the RSU. “These areas like counselling services, food services, residence, athletics and recreation and all other aspects of university that students rely on that are outside of just academics are integral to a student’s experience.”
But Julia Hanigsberg, the vice president of administration and fi- nance at Ryerson, believes less focus should be placed on where the funding comes from and more on what it does for students. “The issue with partnerships is less about whether they are public or private, which is a matter of where they get their funding, and more a matter of what are the shared objectives of Ryerson and that partner,” she says.
Wherever you fall on the issue, though, lack of government funding has pushed Ryerson to finance one of its latest projects entirely through a private organization.
Whether or not you’re an architecture student, it’s hard to hav Monique Phillips takes a look at the sometimes controversial method MPI group is a private development company that is partnering with Ryerson on a new student residence project announced February 2012. MPI owns the land that the residence will be built on and is also covering the cost of the en- tire project, something that would have been very difficult for Ryerson to afford otherwise. MPI will retain rights to profits from the building, but Ryerson will operate the residence in the same way that Pitman Hall and the Interna- tional Living and Learning Centre (ILLC) have been run in the past.
Prior to this partnership, Ryer- son had very few options to accommodate its student housing needs (around 850 residence spots for an enrollment of 28,000). “For a number of years we have been trying to determine how we can build more student housing,” Hanigsberg says. “We get no government money to build student housing and it’s expensive to build.”
But Lawrence says that this partnership might not take student budgets into consideration. “One concern that we have is around the cost of rent,” she says. “MPI is a private company, it is in their interest to make a profit from the rent paid by students, which could make it unaffordable.”
That said, Hanigsberg said rent pricing will be competitive with Pitman and ILLC, both of which cost around 1,000 to 1,200 per month in rent.
Kam notes that Ryerson’s space problems expand beyond the num- ber of residence rooms to an increasing shortage of class space. This limits the university’s ability to bring in more students, and in turn more per-student funding from the provincial government. “The problem is you have space constraints, especially with a place like Ryerson University,” he says. “We don’t have a ton of room, so, in theory, you might want to bring in another ten, or 20, or 30,000 students, but where are you going to put them?”
Another recent addition to campus is no exception to this trend of P3s. The Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) building is part of what’s called a “strata contract” between Ryerson and Cadillac Fairview. Ryerson retains control over its academic space on the upper floors, while Cadillac Fairview operates a bank of retail space on lower floors, including Canadian Tire and Best Buy.
The building ran the school approximately $75 million and the provincial government chipped in $12.5 million. Even with support from Cadillac Fairview, though, the building would not have been possible without a generous dona- tion from Ted Rogers, which gave the building and business school its name.
Before the TRSM building popped up, the business school did not have a central hub on campus, and though the new structure is a short walk from campus, its proximity to Bay Street is not lost on its occupants. Ken Jones, dean of the school of business at the time, called the location one that “every other business school would envy” in a press release before the opening of the building in Septemper 2008. Perhaps the greatest accom- plishment of Ryerson’s modern berth as a full-
blown university was the redevelopment of the historic Maple Leaf Gardens as the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC), which was funded by, you guessed it, a public-private partnership.
The deal was initially a three- way partnership between the government, Ryerson and Loblaw Companies Limited. The government and Ryerson pitched in $20 million each and Loblaw donated $5 million to the project. After a lengthy construction process (the project was announced December 2009 and not completed until Sep- tember 2012), Global Spectrum, another private company, stepped in to manage the building’s operations.
But Lawrence says students have some issues with the man- ner in which the company runs the centre. “The fact the building is managed by Global Spectrum has raised issues like students not be- ing able to access the space when needed,” she says. “And programming is geared towards being able to a profit.”
It seems that, as is the case with much of Ryerson’s expansion, Maple Leaf Gardens would never have sported an “RU” without the help of Global Spectrum and Loblaw. Loblaw, in particular, played a pivotal role, Hanigsberg says. “We worked very closely to- gether on the development itself,” Hanigsberg says. “Loblaws was responsible for the base building and we were responsible for the fit-up of our area.”
Whether you believe it’s safe for public institutions to flirt with the private sector or not, it seems that, at least here at Ryerson, they are here to stay. Ryerson shows no signs of slowing its explosive growth in terms of physical space, and as Hanigsberg points out, it’s unlikely to find deals on the scale of Maple Leaf Gardens without some sort of P3.
“Without them,” Hanigsberg says, “we never could have done that project.”