Beyond the Ivory Tower: Making Universities Accountable
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Nov 1998, p. 191-199
Lajeunesse, Dr. Claude, Speaker
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Ryerson's important role to play in the community. A brief story from academia. The unprecedented challenges facing universities today. Being fully accountable to students, society, business and government in order to succeed. A review of the challenges to be faced: student expectations, especially with concern to the job market; the need for universities to open their doors widely and fairly; providing top-quality talent; fiscal responsibility. What needs to be done to meet these various accountabilities, and what Ryerson is doing. Some conclusions.
Date of Original
5 Nov 1998
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
Dr. Claude Lajeunesse President and Vice Chancellor, Ryerson Polytechnic University
Chairman: George L. Cooke, President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Ken Shaw, National Editor, CFTO Television and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; The Reverend Douglas Kramer, St. Phillips Lutheran Church, Etobicoke; Fana Seife, Student, Harbord Collegiate Institute; Nazmin Zaver, President, Continuing Education Students' Association of Ryerson, Ryerson Polytechnic University; Dr. Lorna Marsden, President, York University; Dale Patterson, Chair, Board of Governors, Ryerson Polytechnic University and Executive Vice-President, Canadian Medical Discoveries Fund Inc.; John Wetmore, President and CEO, IBM Canada Ltd.; The Hon. David Crombie, Chancellor, Ryerson Polytechnic University, Chair, Waterfront Regeneration Trust and Honorary Secretary, The Empire Club of Canada; Dr. Anne Golden, President, United Way of Greater Toronto; John Brooks, Chair, Fundraising Committee, The John Brooks Community Foundation and Scholarship Fund; and Ed Badovinac, Professor, Telecommunications, George Brown College and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

Introduction by The Hon. David Crombie

Claude Lajeunesse

Good afternoon. I'd like to thank all of you--friends, colleagues and benefactors of the University--for coming today. Ryerson has an important role to play in the community and we appreciate being able to deliver our message in such a distinguished forum.

Let me begin with a brief story from academia. It's about Albert Einstein, who taught physics at Princeton University. Each year the questions he put on the students' final exam were exactly the same as they had been the year before.

Some of his colleagues became concerned about this approach. One took Einstein aside, and spoke to him firmly. "It's not the right way to make up a test," he told Einstein. "Some of the students will track down the best exam papers from last year."

"I don't think so," Einstein gently replied. "It's true my exam questions remain the same each year. But the answers are constantly changing."

For universities, the questions remain the same. But the times have changed and we must find new answers. In fact, my message is that today universities face unprecedented challenges and to succeed they must show they are fully accountable to students, society, business and government.

I will first look at the challenges universities face and then I will discuss the answers.

Universities face challenges

Today universities face unprecedented challenges that are shaking up older "Ivory Tower" attitudes.

To begin with, we face student expectations that have intensified because of a tough and uncertain job market. Traditionally higher education was the passport to success.

Today all that has changed and good jobs are harder to find. Last year the Toronto Star published a series of articles in which students expressed concern about being unemployed. That's a very real concern and universities have to take it seriously and respond.

The second broad challenge universities face is the need to open their doors widely and fairly.

It used to be that only the elite went to university. But the number of those graduating from Canadian universities has soared--from 1,000 at the beginning of this century to 124,000 in 1997. Today a university degree is necessary for a broad range of jobs. In fact, between 1990 and 1996, jobs for those without a degree or college diploma fell by almost a million while employment for those with post-secondary degrees increased by one and a half million.

Universities cannot simply educate the children of professionals. Less privileged and newer Canadians must have a reasonable expectation that their children can receive higher education.

The third challenge universities face is providing the top-quality talent Canada needs to compete in the twenty-first century. We must satisfy the demands of business, government and the voluntary sector for highly skilled knowledge workers.

The fourth challenge for universities is fiscal responsibility. The public purse is shrinking. Ontario's spending on higher education has been cut much more than outlays for hospitals or K-to-12 education. We must act responsibly in this environment of restraint.

Accountability of universities

Universities, as never before, must come down from their Ivory Tower and take up these challenges. I've been proud to lead Ryerson over the past three years and I believe we've made some forward steps. I'll use Ryerson to illustrate what needs to be done.

a. Accountability to students

First, universities must be accountable to students. If we are to meet their needs for meaningful employment, we must provide a high-quality, relevant education.

To deliver this high-quality education, universities must teach students to think, not simply to regurgitate factual information. The trend toward true/false testing must stop. Our goal must be to provide students with strong, well-developed critical thinking skills and the intellectual confidence to use them.

High-quality education also depends on talented and dedicated faculty and small classes. Most Ryerson professors know their students by name. And I'm very proud of our relatively small class size, particularly in the first and second year, when students need greater guidance. The numbers speak for themselves: 35 per cent of our first and second year courses have fewer than 25 students and 77 per cent have 50 or fewer students. This places us in the top quarter of mid-size universities in terms of class size.

University curricula must be regularly and rigorously assessed. A 1997 study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching argues that teaching should be evaluated with the same high standards that are used to judge research and scholarship.

At Ryerson University we're committed to such standards, which benefit students and professors alike. First, in programmes such as engineering, social work and nursing, we have a format assessment process. External assessors review the programme's content, administrative support, and student evaluations.

For all other programmes we have a Program of Review approved by our senate (academic council). Until two years ago, Ryerson like so many other universities, relied on "self-assessment." But our new comprehensive assessment strategy provides objective measures and feedback. All programmes are assessed every seven years.

There's another way universities need to be accountable to students: We must provide relevant programmes. W E.B. DuBois, an educator and black activist, discussed this social role of education: "The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you and the world's need of that work."

We like to think the "R" in Ryerson stands for relevance. The wide-ranging programmes at Ryerson University allow students to target particular careers. We see our students as future professionals and leaders in business and in the community.

Our mission statement underscores the relevance and practical nature of our programmes. It reads: The special mission of Ryerson Polytechnic University is the advancement of applied knowledge and research to address societal needs, and provide programmes of study that balance theory and application..."

The Centre for the Voluntary Sector Studies is a prime example of our mission in action. Begun by Agnes Meinhard and Mary Foster in 1995 in response to the significant changes to Canada's social system, the Centre has positioned itself as a leading resource for research and strategic planning in the voluntary sector.

The success of our students in the job market proves our relevance, Of all those graduating from Ryerson University, 93 per cent are employed within six months of graduating. The number is even higher in specialised areas. For example, within six months after graduation, a full 98 per cent of our business grads have jobs, as do 96 per cent of those in journalism, 94 per cent of those in fashion, and 100 per cent of those in nursing. The numbers are equally impressive for those in other Ryerson programmes.

b. Accountability to a diverse society

Second, universities must be accountable to a diverse society. We must open our doors to all members of society.

Canada has more university-age people enrolled in higher education than does any other developed country. Unfortunately, today that commitment is being challenged by government cutbacks and higher tuition fees.

Today undergraduates who are forced to take out loans are leaving school with an average debt load of $17,000. We at Ryerson University are determined to increase the amount of financial aid targeted to those students who need assistance most.

We will also help our hard-pressed students by building our endowments. Canadian universities are far behind those in the United States in endowments. Brown University, for example, has an endowment of nearly $1 billion. Harvard's is over $10 billion.

Canadian universities must raise their endowments so they can help students and improve their facilities. Ryerson intends to.

c. Accountability to business and other employers

Third, universities must be accountable to business and other employers. If we are to provide knowledge workers for society, universities must respond to the needs of business, government and other employers. This is no time for Ivory-Tower thinking. Our society sorely needs people who can use their minds and contribute to building the wealth of this nation. And that wealth will come from knowledge.

The excellence and relevance of Ryerson's programmes serve our economy well. We've hired and retained faculty with the expertise and reputation to deliver a quality education.

And we want to keep it that way. For every one of Ryerson University's 33 degree-granting programmes, we have a large group of outside advisors. We have 14 executives who advise us in our aerospace engineering programme, 17 in environmental health, 22 in retail management. And the list goes on.

Because we stay focused on the external world, our grads are very successful. In fact, you know some of them:

Isadore Sharp, Chairman and CEO, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, who graduated from Ryerson University with Distinction in Architecture. Valarie Pringle, well known media executive and Co-host of Canada AM, graduated with Distinction from Ryerson's School of Radio and Television Arts.

James Bullock, President and CEO of Laidlaw, graduated with Distinction from our Business Administration programme.

Lida Baday, Canadian fashion designer with a worldwide reputation, graduated with Distinction from Ryerson's Fashion programme.

Am I making my point? Ryerson University has produced leaders in a broad range of areas and we will continue to do so.

No wonder we have enjoyed the support of the business community.

John Wetmore, President of IBM, has overseen a long-term relationship with Ryerson that has resulted in IBM's donating $3 million towards Ryerson's computer needs.

I am also grateful to the Eaton family, and particularly to John Craig Eaton, who not only donated funds for a Chair in Retailing but also raised $2 million for it. Naturally we call it the "Eaton Chair in Retail Studies." I'm thrilled John and Sally are here today.

I'm also pleased by our partnership with the Rogers Communications Group. Rogers has been a great partner in developing a wonderful facility--The Rogers Communications Centre at Ryerson. It's the best in the country.

Ryerson owes so much to the business community, and we are deeply aware of the responsibility we have to deliver high-quality knowledge workers for the next century.

d. Accountability to government and taxpayers

Fourth, universities must be accountable to the fiscal demands of taxpayers, students and employees. We must steer a responsible course that balances conflicting demands.

Federal and provincial support for education has lessened. This change reflects the need of governments to get their fiscal houses in order after decades of overspending. No one suggests a return to the days of unbalanced budgets--when students may have received fuller support during university, but the national and provincial governments ran large deficits.

We must live with the new, more modest government outlays. But, having said that, we are painfully aware of the pressures that come from these new policies. Students end up bearing some of the burden of these changes--in the form of higher tuition fees. We are determined not to let these changes limit accessibility.

We are also determined that the salaries of our knowledge workers, our faculty and staff will remain competitive. A university flourishes because of the intellectual capital it brings together. Our faculty are the "keepers of the flame." We must recognise the contribution they make, and reward it.

At Ryerson University, our Board is doing an excellent job wrestling with these contradictory demands. We are looking for alternative sources of funding. And we're working closely with the business community and others on a variety of programmes. The Eaton Chair in Retail Studies is a stunning example of the support we have received from the business community. We are seeking partners to support our educational programmes, our research activities and our commitment to students who need financial aid.


Let me conclude by restating my message: Universities today face unprecedented challenges, and can only succeed by being fully accountable to all stakeholders--students, the public, employers, government and taxpayers.

I began my speech by mentioning Einstein. Some days I think the challenges we face are no less difficult than devising the general theory of relativity. Universities occupy an important place in society. And we'll succeed only by seizing the opportunities our position provides. And by measuring up to our many responsibilities.

It's a difficult journey, and one that takes place well beyond the Ivory Tower. But it's an exciting journey. I look forward to the challenging years ahead.

I also look forward to building strong, richly rewarding relationships with all of you. Our commitment must be to refine the greatest natural resource Canada has: its human talent. I hope you'll join us in realising this goal.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Ed Badovinac, Professor, Telecommunications, George Brown College and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Beyond the Ivory Tower: Making Universities Accountable

Ryerson's important role to play in the community. A brief story from academia. The unprecedented challenges facing universities today. Being fully accountable to students, society, business and government in order to succeed. A review of the challenges to be faced: student expectations, especially with concern to the job market; the need for universities to open their doors widely and fairly; providing top-quality talent; fiscal responsibility. What needs to be done to meet these various accountabilities, and what Ryerson is doing. Some conclusions.