Thursday, May 18, 2006

What money would Student activists use to run a university?

Accolade complex renamed after development corporation

Universities require quite a lot of money in order to maintain operations. University costs include paying faculty, administrative support staff (e.g. secretaries, Teacher Assistants, etc.), cleaning staff, maintenance staff, technigal staff, electrical bills, landscaping bills, water bills and much more. Considering the universities house thousands of students throughout the year in classes and in residences.

Where does the money come from? Money to pay the bills comes from one of three sources including government grants, alumni donations, tuition and corporate sponsorships or donations.

Government grants are self explanatory. The provincial and federal governments budget money to for post secondary education which is money being transferred to the universities and colleges.

Alumni donations are also self explanatory. Former students of the universities donate money back to the university. Simple.

Tuition payments come from the amount of money the university's students must pay in order to attend classes and to eventually attain a degree from the university.

But more and more universities have found that the above three funding services still leave a budget gap between the revenue stream and the expenditure stream in a negative way. So universities have turned towards corporate sponsorships and donations for help.

Sponsorships including deals with corporations to supply products to the campus. For example at York University, Pepsi is the only soft drink company allowed to place vending machines on campus. The University of Ottawa has a similar deal with Coke. In return for this right the soft drink companies, respectively, pay the universities money. This money is used to offset operating costs.

Sponsorships also apply to the universities sports teams. These sports teams might have their shirts and shoes supplied by Reebok, sports drinks supplied by Gatorade and the field sponsored by the likes of Air Canada, Ottawa Citizen and others.

Finally, on a capital note universities have found the need to expand the facilities they offer to their students. New buildings for both sport and classes have been created. The University of Ottawa built a new sports complex through the donations of money by companies like Molson Breweries. This particular university has chosen to not accept corporate naming rights for this building as a whole.

York University built the Accolade Buildings. The Accolade Buildings are two (both east and west) that host classrooms and theatres for the theatre arts faculty and others. However, the West Accolade Building has recently been renamed the "Tribute Communites Building".

Student groups at York University have negatively crowed about this name change. For example the York Federation of Students' President, Corrie Sakulk said:

"Our position is the renaming of the building after a corporate entity advances the paradigm of a corporate university. [The building] is for academic and student purposes and the new name does not reflect that," said YFS president Corrie Sakaluk." - Quote Excerpted from here.

What the York Federation of Students fails to know is the budget gap between what the university receives in government funding for the new building and the actual final constructions costs. Where does that money come from? Does York University cut the money from the cost of constructing the building? No because that means students and teachers would have to put up with substandard facilities and equipment (e.g. televisions, computers, conferencing computers, etc.) used to learn. Or does the university accept a donation from Tribute Communities to help close the budget gap and ensure students and teachers benefit from new modern facilities. York University chose to accept the corporate money so that the university could balance the capital budget required to successfully build these two facilities.

The York Federation of Students would love to see the campus rid of "the corporatization" that the Federation claims York has undergone.

Lets take a look at the alternatives to the corporate money York University's administration would have to look at in order to maintain its operational and capital budgets:

1. The university could hope for an jucrease in alumni donations. But this is just not likely to happen.

2. Significant increase in government grants. A "significant increase" is also not likely to happen as governments are more attuned to making sure they do not fall back into a deficit budget. A govening party at either the provincial or federal levels that goes from a surplus into a deficit budget is not likely to last long in power following an election. But government grants are increasing, just not fast enough to replace the removal of the corporate money.

3. Tuition hikes. The student federation would not stand for this. Student federations have been protesting in Montreal and Toronto calling tuition hikes a "debt sentence." So universitities and government have been very careful in only raising tuitions bit by bit as a massive tuition hike wouldn't be palatable to voters at either the federal or provincial levels.

4. A combination of one to three above. Probably the university might be able to get away with this. But universities, as a whole, are unsure what they might receive from year to year from alumni and government. Students are unlikely to go for any tuition hikes and not see anything in return in terms of improved student services.

So the universities are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Meanwhile, student federations, like the York Federation of Students, continue to call for the end of the "corporatization of campus." So here is my question I would love for them to answer:

Considering the financial pressures noted above, how would the York Federation of Students end the corporatization of campus and still maintain a balanced budget?

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