Threat of provincial election puts university funds at risk

President Sheldon Levy says he's worried election politics will affect Ryerson’s chance to bag cash for new infrastructure projects. (Courtesy Ryerson file photo)

President Sheldon Levy says he’s worried election politics will affect Ryerson’s chance to bag cash for new infrastructure projects. (Courtesy Ryerson file photo)

As the threat of a spring election looms over Ontario’s Liberal government, Sheldon Levy is worried that politics could affect the school’s chances to bag cash for the new faculty of science building.

The Ryerson president voiced his concerns to the Board of Governors members on Jan. 27, saying that decisions on funding for certain infrastructure projects could be shaped by political campaign goals.

He said he’s also worried that new priorities outlined in the government’s Major Capacity Expansion Framework — a plan that guides post-secondary infrastructure expansion plans — will factor in to the decision.

“When you are getting closer to an election, the question is to what extent does the government want to make an announcement of projects that they think are more attractive to an election?” Levy later said.

“And you have to put the science project against a whole lot of others and ask yourself whether or not the politics of an election will have any impact on whether you win the beauty contest.”

Ryerson’s next capital priority is to build a new faculty of science building at 202 Jarvis St., a plot of land the university bought for $29 million in February 2013.To put a dent in construction costs, however, the school needs a commitment from the provincial government.

The funding consideration for the project would be subject to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ new policy. The ministry’s framework emphasizes program “differentiation,” accommodating enrolment growth, and bringing education closer to home by building spaces in “under-served areas.”

The government will favour proposals in regions that experience population growth, a demand in post-secondary education and “are underserved in terms of post-secondary education opportunities,” according to the ministry’s capacity expansion policy launched in December 2013.

This could mean the next major announcement about university funding could benefit regions outside of the downtown core — regions currently facing large urban growth. Levy suggested the Wilfrid Laurier University campus and fast-growing areas like Milton as strong contenders for future capital funding allocations.

But Levy doesn’t know where Ryerson sits in the race for the next round of capital resources.

He told the board that the university could face competition for funding due to the potential “political nature” of these announcements.

“We’re not in a seat that the Liberals are likely to lose, if I can be very candid with you,” he said.

Julia Hanigsberg, vice-president of administration and finance at Ryerson, shares Levy’s concerns about the political climate shaping funding allocations.

“We have a minority government, we hear talk of a spring election, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “That creates some uncertainty and government decision-making is impacted by that. So, of course that’s a risk for us.”
But Hanigsberg also said Ryerson has a “compelling case” to win the government over. The university hinges on expanding transportation that will make it “easier and easier” to get to campus.

“We’ve looked at Metrolinx’s plan for public transit over the next two decades, we’re looking at demographic trends, where people are living … (and) it really puts a bull’s-eye on the Ryerson campus,” she said.

There is concern over the government’s focus on building satellite or new campuses in rapidly growing regions. But Ryerson isn’t considering funnelling its resources into building another campus outside of downtown Toronto.
“I think if you decided that, well, this is a good idea, to become a satellite campus — I think you hurt your chances of getting your science building,” Levy said. “You don’t enhance it.”

A call for proposals from post-secondary institutions is expected sometime in early 2014, according to a statement from the ministry.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 5, 2014.

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