During the first townhall of the new year, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull gave an update on the arts, culture, and technology building, and commented on the Ontario government’s recent tuition and OSAP announcements.

According to Krull, the university cannot disclose the specific costs associated with the construction projects due to the working relationship with contractors.

“What I can tell you,” stated Krull, “is that these projects, with the construction, with the equipment going into the building, with the hiring that we’re going to do over a period of eight years, […] will be something around $200 million dollars […] it’s a very significant investment.”

According to Krull, the new building will be the most expensive construction project U of T has ever done.

“UTM is taking a leadership position within U of T,” said Krull.

Krull also talked about the future of the campus’ business ventures by discussing the university’s policy framework dubbed the “four corners strategy.”

“The [four corners strategy] is not new, it’s just new to the University of Toronto. We have a business plan that demonstrates how one can generate funds with very little risk associated with it. The idea here was to take it slowly and methodically and take it through governance. This passed through governance just before Christmas. The official university decree now is we are in the real estate business […] We’ve already bought properties on Mississauga road in front of the campus. It’s our property, we will not sell it, we will think about what we can do in the future with it.”

The principal also expressed worries about UTM’s funding prospects after the Ontario government’s announcements.

“The central campus has a much greater pool of endowed funds. UTM is not nearly as old, which means we are much more reliant on the […] tuition from our students. That said, it’s a disproportionate hit on us, and we have to think of ways to financially create new sources of revenue not on the backs of students, in terms of how we actually operate.”

“The lower tuition that’s been offered to our students, I think, is good news overall in terms of the direction. The question that needs to be posed is whether or not the change that’s been suggested to OSAP makes sense. More than half of U of T students are eligible for OSAP. That’s a lot of people. And if you look at households with less than $50,000 in income, you have it representing a quarter of our students.”

Krull also commented on the city of Mississauga’s possible decision to cut funding for UTM. In 2013, the city of Mississauga decided they would invest $10 million over 10 years into the Innovation Complex. However, the budget committee recently had a meeting and voted against continuing the investment.

“Whether that will be the final decision in council remains to be seen,” said Krull, “but it doesn’t seem like much will change, because the people in the budget committee are also city councillors.”

“In a personal sense, they’re likely following a lead that’s been signalled by the provincial government in terms of an austerity budget, and they’re looking for opportunities where they can control their own budget and their own commitments,” said Krull. “The university, in this city, is one of the economic drivers, and we will not walk away from that responsibility.”

During the question period, current member of the UTM Campus Conservatives (UTMCC) Ethan Bryant raised concerns regarding students’ unions that he alleged have failed to provide adequate services and student representation across Ontario. Bryant cited recent incidents including the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), and the University of Toronto Scarborough Students’ Union (SCSU).

“Here at UTM accusations of blatant partisanship, and a failure to represent student interests are not new to our student union,” stated Bryant. “Will the university administration do anything to make sure our student governments are held to standard with regard to their use of student funds and representation of the student body?”

“There is a great deal of respect for the students’ union being an independent authority,” Krull responded. “It is not the University of Toronto, it is an independent students’ union. There’s no right for the university to simply step in and decree what the union should be doing or not.”

“That being said, the university has shared its expectations of common business practice. The idea of having legal representation, the idea of doing audits, both are the sorts of things that should be keeping everything on the straight and narrow. Beyond that, it would be up to the students’ union to actually find mechanisms to do its own internal audits, just like the university. We all go through [internal audits], and whether the students’ union arranges for that is something that would be recommended to any organizations that carries financial responsibility.”

The next townhall meeting is scheduled for February 26th, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the Deerfield Hall Café seating area.