They’re watching you! edward cai/the medium

Our campus is unique. If you have ever been here in the early morning, an eerie sense of isolation can punctuate the otherwise friendly atmosphere. The silence, perhaps a welcome change to some, can be oddly unnerving. There is sometimes a strange sensation of being watched, almost as if one is under surveillance. Never is this more apparent than in the brand-new, state-of-the-art Instructional Centre. With 18 cameras in total, security guards, and computerized locks on all classroom doors, the newest structure on campus evokes the spirit of the most unnervingly attentive watcher of all: Big Brother. The technology, especially in how it relates to security, can seem a bit much. However, at the current rate of expansion, preparing for the future may not be such a bad thing. “There is definitely an increased police presence,” said Special Constable Len Paris, a manager with Campus Police Services. “Because of the amount of new equipment, I wanted to make sure that the officers made extra checks to ensure that the building is secure [and] people are safe, and to make sure that persons have left the building after it closes.” These are preventative measures that are currently under evaluation.

Regardless of what effect the security has on the space, one thing is certain about the campus’ newest addition: it’s different. A space built on modern technology and environmental awareness, the Instructional Centre is modern and stylish as well as futuristic and forward-looking. It is a fitting monument to the transition UTM is going through. One of many infrastructure projects on campus, the IB building came with a $70-million price tag. It is the product of a $35-million injection from the Knowledge Infrastructure Plan (KIP), part a substantial $2-billion component in Canada’s Economic Action Plan. Similar government subsidies, such as the recently announced $52.5-million upgrades to the Davis and North buildings, illustrate the rate of growth and development on the Mississauga campus.

In October 2009, Tony Clement, a former Peel politician and the current Industry Minister, spoke of the progressive steps taken at UTM: “At one time, this campus was almost an adjunct to the downtown University of Toronto, but no more… We’re building for growth and it’s going to be a place for research and instruction.” The remarkable 12,000 sq. ft. Instructional Centre includes a 500-seat auditorium, a 350-seat lecture theatre, 25 classrooms, computer labs, and individual student study spaces. That extra room makes a big difference on a small campus that currently provides service to around 12,000 students. But for some, the larger classrooms are difficult to adjust to. Roxanne Vieira, a fourth-year English and history major, finds the new building intimidating: “I prefer smaller classes. It’s a lot more intimate. You become good friends with the students in the class and you actually get to know your professor. It’s not so intimidating when you have a smaller class.” Perhaps we need a building that fosters intimacy but can also accommodate a growing student population and address the inevitable safety needs.

In many ways, the Instructional Centre does just that. With its open concept design, complete with a cavernous atrium and glass walls, the building is open and transparent. However, it is not the sort of place where one would expect such tight security. But it may be that very transparency that calls for an increased police presence. “We do get thefts,” explained Paris. “Last year we did experience an increase in thefts of laptops and other devices.” He hastens to add, though, that it was not a big increase, but it is still an issue that needs to be addressed. “I don’t look to technology for security. I don’t try to fall into that trap—that because we’ve got cameras and because we’ve got card access it’s secure. It’s only as secure as the people who are using it.” To this end, safety is largely the responsibility of the student body. As Paris explains, even though the so-called “Big Brother” effect makes it easier to manage the building, “We really depend on campus police and the students, faculty and staff when it comes to security.” It is the type of interdependence that only a strong community can effectively provide.

In the midst of all this change that togetherness may be profoundly affected. “I definitely feel that UTM is losing that close, intimate feeling,” said Vieira. “When I first started [here] I always found a spot on the bus; nowadays, I seem to be the person [to whom] the bus driver says ‘No room, wait for the next one.’ It’s way too crowed on campus. There’s just way too many people. I’m not at all impressed, but I can’t complain; I’m graduating soon.”

Professor Mark Levene of the English department takes a different view of the changes occurring. “My guess is that an incoming student will feel pretty good about his or her part as opposed to just being a number or financial factor or something like that,” he says. “A student’s sense of the essential activity of why they are there and how they are regarded—that building is going to help rather than hinder all of it.” Perhaps not an Orwellian nightmare, the campus still possesses a privacy and intimacy that might eludes both Scarborough and St. George. Tas Jubran, a fourth-year student with a major in CCIT and minors in PWC and English, feels that the campus is still intimate, but that the heightened security may change that. “Though I understand that this is a security measure, the heightened security makes me feel like the school could easily start feeling a lot like a prison that is being regulated by the school itself,” she explained. “In a way, with the cameras being in class and the students never knowing how the footage could be used—possibly even a research study about students—reminds of a Panopticon prison structure: we know someone is watching, but we don’t actually know when or why.”

For now, however, UTM remains what it has always been: unique. It seems a professor put it best: “If the security presence were prominent and the building very chilly, kind of non-human, that would be one thing, but I don’t find it that way,” said Levene. “For what it is, it seems to have been done extremely well.”

  • Darren Savage

    There are more than a few errors in the article.

  • Darren Savage

    Whoever wrote it should be more attentive.