Universities under fire for buying ads to thank government for funding - Macleans.ca

Universities under fire for buying ads to thank government for funding

Ryerson and U of T bought full-page advertisements after province funded separate projects

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Ryerson University and the University of Toronto are under fire from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations after placing advertisements thanking the Ontario government for recent funding announcements.

Ryerson placed advertisements in the National Post, The Globe and Mail, and Toronto Star a month ago following the announcement of $45 million in provincial funding for the university’s new Student Learning Centre.

University of Toronto purchased full-page advertisements in Tuesday’s The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star following the announcement of $15 million for the revitalization of the John P. Robarts Research Library.

“At a time when universities are critically short of resources, we have two stark examples of poor use of scarce public money,” said Brian E. Brown, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. “To spend upwards of $80,000 on full page colour advertisements to thank the government for funding, as was done by both the University of Toronto and Ryerson University, indicates poor judgement.”

The universities both defend their decisions to purchase the ads. “As a public institution, we have to open ourselves to the community,” said Robert Steiner, assistant vice-president (strategic communications) of University of Toronto. “We placed the advertisement to make sure the city of Toronto, the province and the country can consider Robarts [Library] their own.”

“We wanted to say thank you in a very big way and to express our thanks for the transformative funding,” said Janet Mowat, Manager, Public Affairs at Ryerson University.

“It is not the university’s job to advertise on behalf of government. There are much better and less expensive ways university administrators can thank government and it certainly should not be done with public funds,” Brown said.

Both Mowat and Steiner said the money for the advertisements came from funds already designated for promotional advertising directed to the community and not from public funds.

Steiner contested the cost stated by OCUFA for the advertisement. “Their number is way out of the ballpark. They are exponentially above the real cost,” says Steiner. “We negotiated a much lower rate for the advertisement.” Due to a confidentially clause in the contract, Steiner says he cannot disclose the discounted cost.

Both University of Toronto and Ryerson have embarked on ambitious plans to better integrate themselves in the community and have been advertising events on campus in major Toronto newspapers.