I sat down with the three most recent principals of UTM: current principal Deep Saini and former principals Ian Orchard and Bob McNutt, to chat over Chartwells-catered muffins about the past, present, and future of the little green campus. I discover what the biggest challenges have been for UTM in the past nearly two decades, the principals’ proudest moments, and that there is actually a secret fourth U of T campus tucked away at Dufferin and Steeles for aerospace studies.
Larissa Ho Shall we get started?
DS Yes, but will we be on our best behaviour?
LH What were some of the challenges facing UTM at the time, from your perspectives as principals?
BM In my time, the main challenge that came up towards the latter part of my term was the double cohort. In 2003, we had the double cohort of graduates and the decision was made—and we spent a lot of time figuring out how to handle it, but the decision was made to finally grow UTM and Scarborough. So that decision was made during my term, and then I left, and I left that problem to Ian, of actually handling the growth and building the buildings. When I left, the student population was around 6,000 and now it’s 12,000. It’s doubled. So that was the main event, that I say, of the time. Ian was working in the provost’s office at the time and we spent a lot of time figuring out how many students we were going to take, so when the decision was made to grown Mississauga and Scarborough, that set a lot of things in motion. One of them was the CFI grant.
IO Let me follow up with that. Maybe we can go in order of age?
So, I think decisions around the double cohort were also impacted by the fact that the survey showed there was going to be an increase in demand for university places over the following 10, 15 years. So in fact we didn’t just plan for the double cohort, which would then be a blip. We planned for the fact that that blip would continue on and then lead to a doubling of the enrolment. And I guess all of our challenges, which are not unique to UTM but to all universities, are to do with finances from the government, and how do you cope with an expansion doubling student enrolment and creating the space, hiring the faculty and staff, within a certain funding framework. And I think the main challenge that all of us had was to do with funding and the timing of that funding. Often that funding came after you took the students. And so the building always came afterwards, and we were always catching up on space.
DS I could simply say what he and he said. It’s actually, in some ways, the present challenges that we are dealing with today were created by these two gentlemen. During their terms, we decided to seize the opportunity of more students coming to UTM and that growth; we knew very well back then that we didn’t have that space and those resources to support them, and the strategy was that we would build that space and build those resources as we go along. So that’s what we’re busy doing right now. The enrolment didn’t simply increase as the result of the double cohort; as Professor Orchard said, it was projected to increase in response to the demand in the western GTA and elsewhere. So we’ve had this embarrassment of riches when it comes to student numbers, but we have to deal with that embarrassment by dealing with this challenge of the space that is needed. So we’re building as fast as we can, both in terms of as fast as the money can become available and our physical ability to build. Aside from the two major projects we have going now—the construction of the North Building and the expansion of the Kaneff Centre—there are probably around 25–30 smaller projects going around campus. This is going to continue for the next, perhaps, five years. That’s our biggest challenge: to keep the money coming, and to have the physical ability to manage all these projects that are happening.
There are a couple of additional challenges. There is an increasing interest in UTM from international students. So the numbers started going up, and they have really taken off. For the last few years, we have been hovering around 20% intake every year in terms of international students. And that puts a different type of pressure, not only simply pressure of space and facilities, but also meeting the needs of these students. These needs tend to be very different from the needs of local Canadian students. So providing for that is not going to let off anytime soon. My guess is that if we chose to do that, we could actually go as high as 25% international. The demand is there. UTM is seen more and more as a campus of choice for international students. And then the last thing I would also say that is challenging is that we have positioned ourselves as a comprehensive university for the western GTA. We are that university, but there is increasing expectation from the university that we should continue to expand the diversity of programs that we offer. That adds another challenge now in this financially constrained environment on how to bring in those new programs, how to put the money on the front end to support the creation of those programs. Money, money, money!
BM I remembered some interesting discussions in [Erindale] College Council when we talked about the growth. Some faculty didn’t want growth. They wanted to stay the same size. They thought 5,000 was a lovely size for a little campus, a beautiful campus, lots of space, lots of greenery. But I kept saying it wasn’t a viable economical model because you couldn’t continue to survive. Those small numbers, particularly when in those days we tried to have the same arts and science programs that the St. George campus had. St. George campus had considerably more resources to put on the programs. It was tough for a small campus, but the growth I saw was critical, and I think I’ve been proven right. It’s allowed for a lot of things to happen. But a lot of people liked the way it was. A lot of students like it the way it was. I’ve met some alumni from that time who’ve said, “Oh, UTM’s gotten too big.”
DS That’s an interesting comment. I think there’s another challenge coming our way and you have hinted to that challenge. And that is how to contain growth now in future years. There are attractive elements of UTM that are bringing better students, more students, and so on, and eventually we could lose that if we continue to grow indefinitely. So at some point, we have to determine what is the optimal size of UTM. We are at 13,500 and counting undergraduate students now, and we have to determine what the sweet spot would be. My opinion is it’s somewhere under 20,000 students. Once you go beyond that—and I saw Waterloo going through that, actually—you lose that close-knit community that we are coveted for. That’s a challenge we’re going to have to face because the pressure to grow isn’t going away anytime soon.
BM Is Scarborough around the same size?
DS Scarborough is slightly smaller—it’s around 11,000, I’d say. But growing again. It’s interesting. When you start digging up the stats, you get surprises. I got a surprise yesterday. Fifty-seven percent of all undergraduate growth plan is happening at UTM. Fifty-seven percent of all growth. So, there is that pressure. And I think we would do well now to start thinking of a way to stop.
LH I guess we’d lose UTM’s status as a wildlife sanctuary too if we were to continually grow.
IO So, interestingly, some years ago, there was a decision that we’d only build on parking lots in order to preserve the green space. So you’ll see the Instructional Centre went on parking spots. The CCT Building used to be a parking spot. And so the campus is very green, ideologically, I think, as well as physically. And so that decision was made to preserve the space using parking lots. Then we ran out of parking. Hence, we built an above-ground parking structure, which can be extended further back into all the surface parking layers behind it. I think if you looked at the green space compared now to 15 years ago, we have as much green space actually.
DS This is not embedded in the Master Plan.
BM Yes, you’re staying outside the outer circle.
DS We’re planning for doubling the building space on campus, but pretty much not cutting a tree anywhere. It’s all through intensification within the outer circle road, with the exception of one parking area behind the Alumni Hall—there are no trees there. There’s no parking. That’s about it. The only parking outside the outer circle road, where something could go up, is the football field. And if we build anything there, that would be a sports facility.
I0 There’s also the soccer field next to the Instructional Centre and the North Building, and we take pride in the fact that that can never be built on. Ever. Because we built geothermal underground the instructional Building. Being British, I preserved the soccer field.
DS All we need is a cricket pitch now somewhere and then everything will be fine.
I0 So, in front of Lislehurst there is an area that I thought would be fantastic for a cricket pitch. You could have the principals, 11 versus…
DS You could at least have practice. If you put nets all around…
I0 I would be all for that.
DS So would I.
LH So what were your priorities coming in as principal for UTM, for each of you?
BM Well, for me, I thought it was an exciting job. I was the dean of science at McMaster when I was interviewed for this job, and I thought this was a chance to run a campus, with not only arts and science, but arts and science and business. So I have to admit I came in and I thought I understood the University of Toronto but I didn’t. And I had the first year learning of what a complicated, convoluted institution it was—and I assume it still is to some degree—but the relationship between this campus and the Faculty of Arts and Science was something I had to learn. So I guess my goals were the same as anyone coming in late, which was to have the best academic programs you can, hire the best faculty you can, and make the place a viable place to be. And then my goal was to get more faculty doing more research on campus. There was a group in science—biology, psychology, chemistry. Some people were doing research here. But most faculty taught undergraduate here and then they spent their time at St. George. That made it a twofold kind of faculty member. I tried to work on that one. Again, I think growth helped that one. I really came to the challenge. It was the best administrative job I ever had, quite frankly. I really enjoyed myself. There was never a dull day working here in the seven years I was here.
DS It’s interesting you should say that, because one of my mentors said to me when he was provost here, and I was considering the position, he said, “Deep, it’s the best position at the University of Toronto. You should take that position.”
BM I agree.
I0 Yes. So, I arrived in 2002, and what Bob had started at the end of the ’90s and leading into that time was that planning for growth and in the longer term, increasing the population that was going to double. Bob then started a process that was going to continue on, in which UTM had to alter its relationship with the University of Toronto and with the Faculty of Arts and Science. So, this is a little bit before your day, but Bob was principal of what was called Erindale College, and then Bob changed the name of Erindale College to University of Toronto at Mississauga, which was then changed to University of Toronto Mississauga. That was to emphasize was that this campus was part of the university system, and not a college in the context of what a college is. Also before your day, and what Bob lived through and that changed—the course of this growth was that formally, this college was part of the Faculty of Arts and Science at St. George. And because we were part of the Faculty of Arts and Science at St. George, we were not able to have a dean or formally have chairs of departments or even departments. And so there were no departments at this campus. There was a biology group, there was a chemistry group, there was a physics group and an English group. And so the priority was to change our relationship. So we formally seceded from the Faculty of Arts and Science. So we became a division in our own right. That then enabled us to create departments, have a chair of each department, have a dean, have vice-deans, and so on. So that process was the priority in the first year or two.
BM This position of principal also allowed you to become vice-president, which allowed you to interact on a different level with the university.
IO Precisely. So this just used to be principal of Erindale College or principal of University of Toronto at Mississauga. But in the restructuring, this position was elevated to vice-president of the whole university. Now because we were a university system with three large campuses, plus there’s a fourth campus… up on… Dufferin and Steeles? There’s a department of aerospace and other things. People often forget about that. But there’s actually a fourth campus. But it’s really just a department plus other environmental things. But three large campuses, which is essentially a system of U of T, rather than the notion of Scarborough and Mississauga being called suburban campuses, or…
BM “Satellite campuses”, which I never liked.
IO President Naylor then banned the terms “satellite campuses” and “surburban campuses”, and said you refer to it as “the Mississauga campus” and “the Scarborough campus”, because it’s equal with the St. George campus. And so those were the priorities in the early 2000 era, started I guess around 1999 with Bob, the planning for it. And we managed to implement the change and we actually created the departments. And that led into what Deep was referring to, which is that we can create critical mass. So you suddenly have departments of critical mass faculty, which can then do critical mass research and so on. So, that was a huge change of the history of this campus, and interestingly, the U of T wrote a rather thick book called The History of the University of Toronto and are doing an update to the history that will begin with Scarborough and Mississauga’s change of status, becoming divisions in their own rights.
BM Yeah. One of the reasons why I wanted to change the name was I was asked to do some fundraising. I had to go out to the major CEOs of major corporations and they did not understand that Erindale College was not like Appleby College. I had to explain that this was a campus of the University of Toronto, right? People said it was like one of the colleges at the St. George campus, which it is not. It is quite a different beast. They were called principals as well downtown, the same title, but the principal of Scarborough and I had different jobs than the people at St. George. I also, quite frankly, satisfied the mayor. She wanted to see the word “Mississauga” in the title of this campus.
IO I think it also emphasized that you come to this campus, you get a U of T degree.
DS Exactly. Yes.
IO And that wasn’t so self-evident when it was called Erindale College. I think people questioned, was it the same as the St. George degree? And it absolutely is. So that was a critical change, although you’ll also meet people who call this place Erindale College.
BM It’s still the official name.
DS It’s still officially Erindale College—yup, in the charter.
BM It’s Erindale College, also known as the University of Toronto Mississauga. I think it was good that you took out the “at”. We had this debate in the council of “at” and “of”… which preposition were we going to put in this name? But the important thing was the University of Toronto was put in.
DS That evolution continues and it’s actually very interesting to hear Bob and Ian. The institution-building is such a multigenerational thing. So now we’ve left off where Ian left campus. We recognized that there was the opportunity to transform this campus into a fully comprehensive university. A very different type of comprehensive university, which is part of a larger system of three universities, essentially. So that’s what we’re working on. And there is another unique opportunity here, which is to turn this into a unique campus, almost an elite campus, of the University of Toronto, because of the smaller size and everything we have available—the environment and so on. I would use, you know, informally, a term such as “Mount Allison at the University of Toronto” where you have a strong emphasis on undergraduate training, but also in the context of the University of Toronto being a very research-intensive university—Canada’s leading research-intensive university.
That’s what we are focused on now, to see how we can expand this campus’ offerings, make them as comprehensive as possible. The Academy of Medicine was one major step started during Ian’s period.
BM That was a great move.
DS Now we’ve just created an Institute for Management and Innovation, which is a de facto business school but different from the downtown business school, Rotman. And we are now starting to work towards expanding and building the Institute for Communication, Culture and Technology, which has existed since… 2000?
DS 2000. But the time has come now for us to take it to the next level. So that’s a high priority to expand that. The space is there. It’s the people that are needed there. So we are rapidly creating positions there and programs will be expanded there, and exploring other opportunities of that nature. How do we create this larger structure that looks like faculties and schools and so on, but have a very different flavour from what you would see at other universities? They are very interdisciplinary. They bring departments together rather than rule over other departments, like faculties do. So that’s the next phase.
LH What were some of your successes?
IO I think the campus gained a lot of self-confidence, and despite the growth and development and the massive increase in population and so on, we elevated entry requirements. So we became very much what was described as a “university of choice”. Students were choosing to come to UTM rather than like in other eras, when they were getting in there because they couldn’t get into anywhere else.
BM When I was there, the faculty and staff were loyal to U of T, but they felt they were not quite equal.
BM That was very hard for me to live with. Because nobody badmouthed U of T. Everyone really wanted to work here and be part of it. You’ve done away with that and it’s fantastic.
DS Actually, we’re starting to go from the next step from there. It’s a campus of choice, and we have a significant number of transfers to here after the students have experienced both campuses.
LH Did you or do you buy food on campus and from where?
BM Did I buy food on campus? Right downstairs. When I was here, they changed the food vendors. The students were fed up with that one that was handling the food so we got another one in. And then they got fed up with that one in six months.
IO So my entire life—my entire working life—I’ve always brought sandwiches from home. But the rare occasions that I have food on campus it’s at the pub.
LH Oh, really? The Blind Duck Pub?
BM Yeah. I used to eat there too. Yeah.
IO Yes. Especially when soccer was on TV.
LH (to DS) And I see you in line at Tim Hortons all the time.
DS I buy food here all the time. So, we are actually eating campus food right now.
IO When I arrived, faculty complained that you couldn’t get good coffee on campus. Yes, there was Tim Hortons on campus, but you couldn’t get good coffee. So we brought Second Cup and Starbucks to campus.
DS Yes, and they’re expanding. But what you may not know is that I occasionally pick up a dog at Mike’s.
LH Did you or do you exercise on campus?
BM I did. Down in the basement. This beautiful facility didn’t exist at the time. There was the basement and it was crowded and it was smelly. And they had the weight machines and I used to get around there and work out.
IO I’d jog around the track occasionally and used the squash courts.
DS If you are a person who wakes up before 6:30, you’d see me at the RAWC before 6:30.
LH Wow, so that’s a good time to catch you for a word.
DS Actually, there’s a small group of students who actually wake up that early and are at the gym.
IO No, they’ve just not gone to bed yet.
DS So it’s a good place to meet students and a good place for them to meet me.
LH Can you recall any episodes with the Medium?
BM Oh, I can. I can recall episodes with the Medium. There were times I wouldn’t read it and I would have someone else read it and I’d say, “What’d they say about me this week?” One year, ball hockey got out of hand on this campus.
IO Oh yeah! I remember…
BM I banned it. Not female hockey, just the male hockey. They’d get the fights. It was the sport on this campus. Everybody played it. And it got racial. So I stopped it.
So the Medium started writing articles saying “This Year in Ball Hockey History”, because there was no more ball hockey. So they would write about what score there was a year ago, what a great lead we had and everything. But I had to do something. The physical director created a code of conduct for behaviour and everything. Another thing that made it bad was that I didn’t stop the females, so the men were really irate.
Another thing: the parking. I decided that parking was an administrative decision to cover revenue. And so I said I’m raising parking. I’m just doing it because we have to, to raise that money. We need the money. So, the student reps would come with tape on their mouths because they said democracy had been destroyed, you couldn’t talk about these things… but it passed. Because if you had people voting on increases, it wouldn’t happen. People who came here from St. George had to pay for parking there and then here again. I don’t know if you ever sorted that one out.
IO Bob built a building that didn’t have a name. And it was to do with a program at Sheridan College. And the building was built and, by default, the building took the name of the program: Communication, Culture, and Information Technology. The CCIT Building. So I decided it should be named and I ran a competition to rename it. And the suggestions were so useless. We didn’t want to name it after a program. So we named it the Communication, Culture and Technology Building. Just removed the “Information”. So CCT, not the CCIT Building.
So the Medium thought this was really funny and so they renamed Kaneff and spelt it with one “f”. I thought it was very funny as well.
DS Well, the Medium has been very kind to me, and I actually can’t recall anything that…
IO Well, we solved all the problems! There were no problems to inherit.
DS So I’ll have to think about doing something pretty…
DS Yes, like close the Blind Duck or something.
LH Who is your favourite UTM alumnus?
BM Oh, I couldn’t do that one. I couldn’t pick a single one.
IO I’m going to be diplomatic as well and say all of them.
LH What’s your proudest UTM moment?
BM I don’t have one. I think at my going-away party they had at Lislehurst, I had a tremendous feeling of satisfaction, that I had accomplished something. And that I did do something here. And that was a good feeling. And I think I felt I left it in a better shape than it was in when I came. So that’s all you can ask.
IO Deep’s going to have to think of a different answer because I’m going to say the same one: the farewell party. When you’re in the job you’re not sure whether you’re doing a good job, but when you leave people have to say nice things, so you think you’re appreciated.
DS Yes, I will have to wait for my moment… No, actually, I would have a hard time picking one moment because I can tell you that I—and I mean it, this is truth—I was just telling this to somebody yesterday… I get up every morning and I can’t wait to get to the office. So every moment is a proud moment.
IO But it’s really the gym you’re going to.