By Sarah Tomlinson
After Ryerson University recently announced that it’d be giving alumni the opportunity to have their degrees reissued and participate in the renaming process, some alumni are saying they feel indifferent towards the prospect of getting new degrees.
On Nov. 10, the university wrote to alumni saying they will all have the opportunity to have their parchments and records reissued with the university’s new name. According to the email, this was done in response to the several questions they received related to the status and validity of degrees issued by the school.
“While the process for reissuing has not yet been finalized, it will be similar to the procedures established in 2002 when Ryerson Polytechnic University became Ryerson University,” the email reads.
“Ryerson kind of bled me dry for my tuition fees… It was a stepping stone for us as much as we were stepping stones for the institution”
Aman Rajwani, a 2011 commerce graduate, said he never received an email, but that he’s moved on from Ryerson and doesn’t care about being involved in the process either.
“Ryerson kind of bled me dry for my tuition fees,” he said.
“I’m not sure that a lot of alumni are looking backwards at Ryerson. They kind of forgot what they needed. It was a stepping stone for us as much as we were stepping stones for the institution.”
Rajwani said the action feels more performative than anything because, he said, since 2011 the university hasn’t made any attempts to connect with him as an alumnus.
“There wasn’t really an attempt to build community with alumni, to keep us engaged as mentors for the students, to bring us back as speakers to inspire students,” he said. “But now that the university is trying to rebrand and relaunch, we’re going to be a part of that because they want the social media likes and reshares.”
Milena Oliva, a 2020 nursing graduate, said she also never received an email from the university. However, she said she doesn’t really care that the university plans on reissuing her degree with the new name.
“I paid thousands of dollars for a piece of paper that just certifies me to work in the field that I work in,” she said. “The only way that I would care is if I had to pay for the degree.”
“It’ll be more meaningful to a large number of people now because it’s a bigger name change”
Sandra Martin, a contract lecturer and 1992 graduate of the School of Journalism, said she’s happy the option exists for alumni to give their opinion.
“If they are looking to get a broad opinion, then it makes sense because the alumni are considered part of the university community so they should be given the chance to have a say,” Martin said. “As an alumna, I get the usual emails from the alumni group keeping me up to date, so it seems fitting that they would keep me up to date on this as well.”
Martin said she remembers that alumni were involved when the university changed its name in 2002.
“It’ll be more meaningful to a larger number of people now because it’s a bigger name change than going from Ryerson Polytechnic University to Ryerson University. There’s a lot more weighing on this name change,” she said.
To address concerns over the reputation loss, the university wrote that its degrees are internationally recognized and will still be valid even after the name changes.
“The changing of the name of the university does not impact the value of the education, experience and credentials earned. We want to assure you that all certificates, diplomas and degrees that have been achieved will continue to be valid, credible and worthy of celebration,” the university added.
Oliva said she isn’t worried about how employers will perceive her new degree, citing the fact that this isn’t the first time the university decided to change its name.
“A lot of people who think that the reputation would be at stake do not realize that reputation is studied by actions and by intention and if the intention of Ryerson is to keep its name as Ryerson University, that intention in itself shows a really shitty reputation,” she said.
Although she said she’s heard many people say the name change won’t help Indigenous communities, she said it’s a step in the right direction.
“Realistically speaking, it’s not really going to do much in terms of them giving money to Indigenous communities. But it’s a start to at least acknowledge that this name causes a lot of damage to this day. And that even just by changing it, it’s already shifting that legacy to end whatever idealization we have for figures who do not deserve it.”
Although Rajwani said he doesn’t feel worried about the credibility of his own degree because he’s since pursued a master’s at the University of Toronto, he said the university will have a hard time building up its reputation to what it once was.
“Ryerson is attempting to flush down any credibility that they had built over the past few decades, moving from a polytechnic to an undergraduate institution to one that confers master’s degrees,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge to rebuild that credibility with a brand new name. That’s not an easy task.”
The university recently announced that community members are able to share their perspectives on a new name for the university through an anonymous online survey. The university also said members can share their thoughts via email at email@example.com, on social media using #NextChapterName or by mail to the research firm, The Strategic Counsel.
“Our alumni community is the largest and growing stakeholder of the university. We sincerely hope that you will work together with us to find a name for your alma mater that aligns with its values and aspirations,” the university wrote.
Although this action might be rooted in good intention, Oliva said it’s more performative than anything else.
“At the end of the day, alumni are just moving on with their lives. We already have so much shit that we have to think about in terms of housing, jobs, the pandemic and our health. I think the last thing on our minds will be this name change,” she said. “But the idea that they are trying to at least involve people in that process is a nice sentiment.”
However, she said the people they should be trying to involve as much as possible is the Indigenous community at the university.
“That’s not to say that Indigenous communities need to be responsible for this. The idea that they have to be responsible for their own reconciliation is really stupid. But at least making sure that the next name isn’t as shitty as the first one would be a great start,” she said.
“This is just really to give people that perception that they have an opinion and that they are involved in the process”
The Eyeopener previously reported that Miranda Black, the only Indigenous student on the renaming committee, stepped down from her role citing concerns over the confidentiality agreement she was asked to sign, which conflicted with her ability to be accountable to Indigenous communities and residential school survivors. Since then another Indigenous student, Julianna Alton, has replaced her.
Rajwani said he doesn’t think he’ll participate in the survey because he thinks his participation won’t have enough of an impact on the actual decision.
“This is just really to give people that perception that they have an opinion and that they are involved in the process. It’s giving people procedural justice, but there’s not going to be any kind of outcome of justice to it because they’ve already probably decided what they’re going to do,” he said.