Welcome to campus, or back to campus, depending on who you are. For me it’s back to campus—and in kind of a strange way, too, since I officially graduated in June. Like many of us, I have a few lingering ties that bind me, for better or for worse, to the campus. Well, okay, mostly for the better. Anyhow, for those for whom today is a return to UTM, the changes sure seem significant. Huge new buildings, heated bus shelters, and tunnels through which we can pass like moles from building to building. Cool.
The impression one gets is of so much happening so fast. Case in point: the UTM Students’ Union had just barely created a committee for heated bus shelters and signed a petition when they were told that the administration had one in the works already. What is this sudden turn of events in which we all get along?
Actually, I’m of the opinion that changes like these are superficial in the end. Anything done in the space of a year has to be. The real changes, the ones that make the most difference in the long run, are smaller and take place more slowly. There don’t even have to be a lot of people who notice it. A building can go up and be a whole new space in which we all frolic for a couple of years, but when enrolment catches up, the essential quality of life for a student is the same as it was in the beginning. Not to say, of course, that new buildings aren’t nice and more space isn’t nice. But the real difference-maker was hinted at, for example, in something Principal Deep Saini said in an interview for our retrospective magazine: maybe we have to cap enrolment at 20,000 students. Yes, 20,000 is a long way away. But if you recognize that building a new structure and then having enrolment catch up is just part of the same pattern every year, then capping enrolment is the pattern-ender, and that’s the interesting part.
Such changes, as those who are new to this campus will soon find out, are few and far between. There are many more of the flashy kind without as much substance for all they do to improve student life. Not to be too critical, but UTMSU’s hobby is proposing things that are more or less unfeasible or (in the longer view) undesirable and then battling with the administration for years in the hopes that they’ll change their stance. The heated bus shelter is a surprising case because it’s a break from this pattern. And it’ll be trumpeted as a success in student handbooks for years to come, I predict. But it won’t have actually changed the pattern, and I say that because the modus operandi of the union hasn’t really changed, and some key players haven’t changed and are unlikely to do so for years yet. So enjoy such wins when they come.
In fact, I’d say that a change of cast or scene is indeed the biggest chance for differences to be made, for better or for worse. When you have a turnover time of only a year, for example, you introduce plenty of opportunities both for beginner’s zeal and for ineptitude. Contrariwise, a longer turnover time lends itself both to competence and to apathy. As for me, I prefer the former set of problems.
Why? How can a shorter turnover time be better despite the risk of, say, knowledge not being passed on or growth being delayed? Why is more change of a riskier sort better than more stability?
Because this is a university, and its function is to change. We’re here not only to learn what was done previously and pass on the same, but also to research—to push into new territory and try things out for the first time and see how they work. Take The Medium. The temptation, especially for an old guy like me who’s been here in one way or another for years now, is to look at the organization and turn it into a perfect, well-run newspaper forever. Yes, we all strive for our best and we try to leave our work in good hands when we move on. But to really do it up proper would require that the cast not change for years on end. Then we would have lost the quality of a student paper—part serious publication, part training ground.
Hence it’s actually a little unfortunate that an editor-in-chief, a grad in particular, is back. (Options were few this time around.) The point I’ve been trying to make is that UTM, like any institution concerned with growth, has, over the years, developed ruts. Habitudes. Roles to fill and familiar scripts to play out.
That’s why the most exciting changes for me are the ones in which the lines are rewritten, purposefully or accidentally. New physical amenities are nice things to have and and give us more of a sense of being a “real campus”, but they don’t do much to the underlying dynamic at UTM. We have to both be grateful and yet keep from being starstruck—and remember that the real changes are subtler.