The students now reeling from the energy and loud music of Welcome Week and settling into another school year at the good old University of Toronto Mississauga will have passed the new sign—alternately hailed on the student union’s Facebook page as “a true triumph and the guiding inukshuk of Erindale College” and “the Stonehenge of Idiots”—on their way in.
Although projects of its magnitude and cost are by no means uncommon at UTM, the refurbishing of the Middle Entrance has become the centre of a miniature controversy, perhaps because of its high visibility and the discrepancy between its cost—$998,000—and its value in the eyes of students. As you can read in the news section, UTMSU posted a photo of the statue that saw thousands of views and hundreds of comments.
Much of this attention constituted a fascinating passing around of blame. Most of the commenters feel somebody should have scuttled this idea before it could get away, but nobody can agree whose fault it is that it escaped. The obvious target is the administration—to most of us, just as indivisible an entity as that—who approved the project’s design and cost. Shouldn’t they have solicited students’ opinions? students reason. A few commenters turned it around and asked UTMSU (not unreasonably) why they were making such a fuss about it after the fact rather than lobbying against what they were so eager to demonstrate students disliked.
Raymond Noronha, the president of UTMSU, responded that the project’s details were “secretive”. The planning began two years in advance and was mentioned in more than one council meeting before and during construction. From what I can gather, it wasn’t so much secretive as it was mundane; it failed to come up on the radar because it was hard to predict that this would be the eventual reaction.
To be fair, members of the union have also alluded to the fact that the Medium failed to cover the development early on. This is a reasonable observation, and the only explanation is that the news stories we had selected eclipsed what we would have found in the minutes of these meetings. Since there are often conflicting leads for our small staff to investigate, we follow the lead of many publications in offering an anonymous tip line on our website.
When you take a step back, some of the public reaction is certainly a little over the top. Its eyesore status is subjective, and realistically, the cost of this sign would not—as some commenters suggested it should—go very far in subsidizing everyone’s fees. But for all that, the administration’s serene lack of acknowledgement could be mildly unsettling to some.
Then again, a Facebook post isn’t the best forum for lodging complaints. Noronha alleged that the forum that is—the Strategic Management and Planning Committee, which approved the project—was missing its student seat last year, and even rejected UTMSU’s request to fill it. Then again, student presence at ECC meetings, where the project was also discussed, was apparently not enough to deter its approval.
My question is: what would have been?