When ‘sorry’ is not enough

Photo by Dom Luszczyszyn

[I]f Gould and Victoria Streets are any indication, Ryerson’s school colours are a slushy brown, a chipped and faded blue and a honeysuckle stand-in for gold.

What began as an innovative attempt to connect the dots on campus—a literal road map with directions to each of the university’s landmarks along Victoria and Gould—during the annual Week of Welcome has become a mess of peeling paint on asphalt, an eyesore.

So much for school spirit.

Last summer, the university told students they’d be painting the roads as part of a so-called beautification project. In reality, it was a hole in front of the school’s man-made Lake Devo, dug up by city workers, that initiated the process: Julia Hanigsberg, Ryerson’s VP, Administration and Finance who headed the project, says the hole on Gould “looked terrible” with “paving stones that didn’t match the original paving.” Alas, the solution was paint: first, a coat of school bus yellow, followed by a top coat of blue (designed after streams of water) that would demarcate university hotspots.

It would look like Times Square, administrators thought. It did, to be fair, sound great in theory: the campus would look good, and so would the spirit-raising administration upstairs in Jorgensen Hall.

That is, of course, until the second coat of paint didn’t adhere to the first, a result of rushed work all coordinated by Hanigsberg’s office to get the job done before the cold weather set in.

In execution, the project was a failure—and an expensive one.

In total, Hanigsberg says, $170,000 from the maintenance budget—including funds from government grants, donations, and yes, tuition—was set aside to make Gould and Victoria Streets beautiful.

And then, just months after it was slathered onto the pavement, the paint was washed away—along with student money.

Hanigsberg was quick to issue her apologia, a blog post aptly entitled “I’m sorry.” In it, she admitted to the faults of the project: that it was rushed, that the work wasn’t up to the university’s standards.

But how can she expect forgiveness from the Ryerson community after our money was tossed down the rain gutter? After all, students weren’t consulted about the job; Hanigsberg said it was “too urgent” to wait for community opinion.

And how can we applaud the efforts of Hanigsberg’s team when they threw copious amounts of that money at a now-defunct project, when it could have been well spent elsewhere: to relieve the ever-growing waiting list at the Access Centre, to upgrade the forever-crashing old computers in our labs, to fix the toilets in Kerr Hall that never seem to flush?

Hanigsberg is quick to defend the rights of students—in fact, she brings up the importance of student voice in administration decisions at least a dozen times in an interview with Folio. But her insistence is lost in the mess we see at street-level. The students who cross the asphalt every day never had a voice; and while the Hanigsberg troupe sits atop the campus, comfy in their 13th floor office with a citywide view, we are stuck footing the bill for an ugly paint job we never asked for.

To Hanigsberg’s credit, Ryerson is the only university in Canada to utilize SoapBox, an online app where students can post suggestions for campus improvements for administration consideration. Pop-up study spots in the Victoria Building, for instance, were a result of student calls on SoapBox for quiet space on campus.

But if admins are connecting online with students about other campus improvements, it’s a wonder why the Gould and Victoria Streets paint job remained so hush, without any student feedback.

What happens to the streets post-screw up, Hanigsberg discloses, is still up in the air. While only a fraction of the $170,000 budget has been paid out to contractors, that money cannot be recuperated. The street remains an eyesore. School spirit and a sense of community­—the entire purpose, one might argue, of the paint job—are depleted.

A university that doesn’t take into consideration the needs of students is not one to be proud of. In the end, those school colours—the dirty browns, yellows and blues now clinging to life on the pavement—are symbolic of the state of school spirit, of student morale. And any attempts to fix that are, perhaps, too little, too late.