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A Tale of Two Campuses

Suburban knock-offs no more, Mississauga and Scarborough are rapidly emerging as distinct institutions with their own unique approaches to teaching and research

It was the best of times. It was the dustiest of times. Just weeks before the start of the 2003 academic term on the Scarborough and Mississauga (formerly Erindale) campuses, bulldozers claw at the ground and massive cranes scrape the sky. As the clock ticks down to start of term, senior administrators push 65-hour workweeks into 70 – to fit in building inspections and last-minute meetings with architects and contractors. Temporary road signs tell the tale – “No construction vehicles beyond this point,” “Construction personnel only” – of two verdant campuses attempting to retain an air of academic repose amidst a jackhammer shot of growth.

Yes, with $100 million of development underway at U of T at Scarborough (UTSC) and $96 million at U of T at Mississauga (UTM), the suburban colleges are growing up, in a hurry. Targeted to accommodate the bulk of this year’s “double cohort” and an enrolment surge expected to last through 2010, UTM and UTSC will nearly double in size over the next five years to some 11,000 students each.

But the two campuses are also growing up in more profound ways. Recent changes in governance at U of T have granted UTM and UTSC the ability to chart more independent courses – to develop distinct undergraduate programs and add graduate studies that will bolster their reputations internationally.

U of T’s emerging tri-campus structure is unique in North America. In other models studied by U of T administrators, satellite campuses were either junior “feeder” colleges without graduate programs, or virtually independent schools of varying quality. U of T chose to make UTM, UTSC and the Faculty of Arts and Science at the St. George campus separate but equal undergraduate schools, united by a single School of Graduate Studies that ensures consistent standards in scholarship and research.

UTM and UTSC are both seizing the opportunity to shake off the image of second-tier colleges in the shadow of St. George. UTSC has positioned itself to become Toronto’s co-op university, expanding its already extensive work/study opportunities into virtually every undergraduate program. Across town, UTM is building on its strength to become internationally competitive in several strategic areas. Already a force in biotechnology and communications, Mississauga is adding more faculty, research facilities and graduate and undergraduate programs in these areas, as well as reshuffling its resources and concentrating faculty to build a critical mass of expertise in new fields.

Speaking from his office in Simcoe Hall, U of T President Robert Birgeneau can barely contain his excitement for the fledgling schools. “They won’t begin with the constraints that an older university has. They’re starting [to develop new departments and courses] in an era when everyone agrees that multidisciplinary study is a good thing. This is a real opportunity for UTSC and UTM to grow and expand and introduce new programs not possible downtown. It is only the limits of their ambition and imagination that will limit what they will be able to accomplish.”

So what the dickens is rising from all that dust at UTM and UTSC? Herewith, a tale of two campuses.

Scarborough: Co-op Community

Slab of concrete. Dungeon. Bomb shelter. And these are the more endearing nicknames students have given the heart of UTSC’s campus, the 38-year-old grey bunker designed by architect John Andrews. It’s not that students aren’t proud of the hulking modernist landmark in their midst – “ a late masterpiece of New Brutalism,” says The Thames and Hudson Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture. It’s just that the grey behemoth with its spare geometric lines and space-pod protrusions was never meant to be the heart, brain and soul of U of T’s eastern outpost. But when provincial funding dried up in the early ’70s, subsequent development was abandoned. For three decades, no new academic buildings were constructed at UTSC.

From here on, though, UTSC is in charge of its own destiny. The principals of UTM and UTSC have both been named U of T vice-presidents, reporting directly to the president on matters of campus management. Formerly, UTSC reported to the provost, as it still does on matters academic and budgetary. (UTM used to report to the dean of Arts and Sciences on academic matters; now it reports to the provost.) Ted Relph, UTSC’s associate principal for campus development, says the new system gives local administrators more responsibility for expansion of the two campuses. “Before, we had a less effective voice.”

A stroll to the front entrance and then to the east wing offers views of four new buildings: the new $16-million Joan Foley Hall student residence; the three-storey, 48,000-square-foot student centre, which will form the front entrance to campus when it is completed next fall; the just-finished $20.5-million Academic Resource Centre (ARC), a digital-age town hall that integrates library, teaching, study and computer services; and the $15.5-million management building to be finished by fall 2004.

Even with all this new development, the Andrews edifice will remain integral to the campus. “The students are really proud of this building,” says Relph, “but what they told us is ‘no more concrete.’” He points out complementary exteriors of the new buildings – copper skin on the ARC, titanium cladding on the student centre, the soaring glass atrium of the management building – along with geometric lines that reference Andrews’ work. Rather than rejecting it, the new additions are expected to invigorate it.

One quality everyone at UTSC is determined to preserve is its intimacy. And that includes Kwong-loi Shun, UTSC’s new vice-president and principal, and a former dean at University of California at Berkeley. “The nature of the campus is that it’s smaller than a public university, but it’s not a small liberal arts college,” says Shun, a scholar in Chinese philosophy who took office January 1. “It’s connected to a huge research university, yet it’s an intimate community, and we need to be very cautious we don’t lose that.”

To meet the career needs of potential students in eastern Toronto, UTSC started offering co-operative education in the early 1970s. In co-op programs, students study toward virtually any degree – in business, science or arts – while gaining work experience during three paid four-month placements at companies, not-for-profits and government offices in Greater Toronto. It’s win-win: employers receive motivated, temporary help for key projects and tasks, while co-op students make valuable contacts and learn important workplace skills such as goal-setting and teamwork. Last year, about 1,200 UTSC students were enrolled in co-op programs.

UTSC has also doubled its offering of joint programs, which enable students to attain the intellectual advantages of a university degree along with the applied training of a college diploma, all within four years. For instance, in the new paramedicine program, students graduate with a bachelor of science and can continue on to graduate school or medicine, yet they are also certified to work as paramedics. Other joint programs include journalism, new media, health informatics (combining health studies and computer sciences), industrial microbiology, and environmental science and technology.

Clearly, UTSC sees its more career-oriented programs as the secret weapon in its quest to attract the best and brightest students, even if it means pinching people who might otherwise attend St. George. This tack seems to be working: students coming into UTSC’s division of management from high school have among the highest entering averages at U of T. The management division, in fact, is serving notice that its ambition is to be recognized as the best undergraduate business program in Canada – although chair Michael Krashinsky denies that’s a shot at the bachelor of commerce program at St. George. “The health of the university requires that each program be the best that it can,” he says. Still, he adds, “there’s nothing wrong with a good-natured rivalry.”

Mississauga: Mission to the World

Some 33 kilometres west of U of T’s downtown campus is Pill Hill. Not to alarm the parents, but the local nickname says much about how UTM is evolving. The former Erindale College is becoming as important to Mississauga as U of T is to Toronto, developing closer relationships with its neighbours and becoming a catalyst for new scholarly and economic activity. And with its new focus on multidisciplinary studies, UTM is now starting to compete on an international scale.

To differentiate itself, UTM is looking to its strengths – and it doesn’t have to look far. “Pill Hill,” for instance, refers to the roughly 400 bio-related and pharmaceutical firms in Mississauga that, along with similar firms in Toronto, make up Canada’s biggest biotech cluster. UTM has forged a strong partnership with this industry in hopes of becoming an international player in biosciences and biotech teaching and research.

In 2002, with funding from the private sector, government and U of T, UTM opened the $10-million Centre for Applied Biosciences and Biotechnology (CABB), which houses a nuclear magnetic resonance suite, high-tech labs with instruments for gene screening and sequencing, and advanced imaging technologies. CABB is the first investment of the new Biotechnology Convergence Centre (BIOTECC), which brings together academia, government and private industry to support joint research and training initiatives. Working with such partners as the City of Mississauga, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Innovation Trust, UTM’s BIOTECC offers infrastructure and programming to support researchers who are exploring the various genomes, strategies to improve health in cities and workplaces, and new technologies to accelerate drug discovery.

Partnerships such as these have already spawned UTM’s new master of biotechnology program, which just graduated its first class of 14 with a 100 per cent placement rate. This fall, UTM also launched a new biotechnology stream in the pharmaceutical sciences undergraduate program.

UTM’s recent separation from the St. George Faculty of Arts and Science has created additional opportunity: a chance to build new academic departments unhampered by tradition or past practices. In its restructuring last summer, UTM took a multidisciplinary approach, merging fields to create unique and larger departments that will be better prepared to tackle bigger questions and identify new areas of study. For instance, chemistry, astronomy, earth sciences and physics joined forces to create the new Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences. Similarly, math, statistics and computer science have become a new Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences.

These mergers aren’t intended to save money on stationery. They are designed to create new intellectual excitement by linking people in complementary fields, says UTM vice-president and principal Ian Orchard. “The goal is to unite in one department individuals with slightly different expertise that can be brought to bear on distinctive new programs.” He says these new relationships are already bearing fruit. In his meetings with faculty members, research vice-president Ulli Krull is already being inundated with proposals for new research centres that could lead to new undergraduate and graduate programs as well as research.

UTM’s growth has also aided its multidisciplinary mission. In the past two years, it has recruited 47 new faculty members. Many have been selected with an eye to creating the critical mass that will enable UTM to compete in key areas on an international scale.

The campus has already had considerable success with merging disciplines. Mississauga drew on faculty expertise from a number of departments to create Communication, Culture and Information Technology (CCIT), an interdisciplinary program that combines theoretical studies (“What is culture?”) with hands-on technical courses.

To develop the CCIT program, UTM teamed up with the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning (formerly known as Sheridan College), with which it had previously created joint programs in drama and art and art history. After just two years, there are already 750 students registered in CCIT courses. Later this year they will all move into a new $34.5-million CCIT building, complete with smart classrooms that allow students to plug into the Internet, an e-gallery to display multimedia art, and media labs to create and edit digital sound, film and video. Program director Bill Thompson believes CCIT fills key needs, both for students and industry. “One industry leader said that while an engineer or computer scientist might be good at creating new technology, what we really need are people with a broader understanding of how culture and technology work and how to deploy new technologies.”

Many UTM residence students will also have an opportunity to explore the world outside the classroom, through new “living-learning communities.” In a pilot project running in four residences, students can choose to live in a space directed to multiculturalism, health, creative arts or community service. Such communities are designed to nurture strong bonds among residence students – and extend a sense of community into the campus as it expands. “We always want to be the ‘Cheers’ at U of T, where everyone knows your name,” says director of residence Chris McGrath. “This will create opportunities to be connected.” It will also, McGrath contends, “create an environment that sees academics and out-of-class experience as two parts of a whole…. Research has shown that students who live in these environments are more successful academically.”

Environment, of the natural variety, is another priority at UTM. Environmental studies was one of its first interdisciplinary courses, and no wonder: the campus sits on 224 acres of lush parkland in the Credit River valley, where deer and waterfowl roam. “We placed a heavy emphasis on environmental considerations,” says chief administrative officer Paul Donoghue. He is responsible for overseeing UTM’s growth plan, which includes upcoming construction on a $34-million library and a $24-million athletic/wellness centre. The plan focuses development in the inner circle, revitalizes green space and wetlands, and favours above-ground parking garages over sprawling surface lots. Donoghue says that during the development process, planners constantly asked, “What is the legacy we want to leave behind? Once a natural area is gone, it’s gone.”

Along the same lines, last year UTM landed the world’s largest solid oxide fuel cell power plant – a pre-commercial testing project by the Ontario Power Generation and Siemens Westinghouse. The fuel cell, which produces electricity with close to zero emissions, will supply eight per cent of UTM’s electrical needs as well as hot water – equivalent to the consumption of 200 households.

Clearly, UTM is shaping up to offer future generations of students and academics greener pastures, in more ways than one. The academic restructuring and hiring have come off surprisingly smoothly. UTM beat out several outstanding universities to land such internationally renowned scholars as philosopher Michael Glanzberg, organizational behaviour specialist Soo Min Toh and Wambui Mwangi, an expert in African politics. The campus is buzzing, says principal Orchard: “I genuinely believe I have the best job at U of T…. When people come here to be interviewed, they see the excitement, they see the building projects, the list of next building projects. They see the vision of trying to create unique areas of study. They feel UTM is really going places.”

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