Volume 92, Issue 89

Wednesday, March 18, 1999


Back to Western's future

Back to Western's future

By Jael Lodge and Ciara Rickard
Gazette Staff

Change, whether for better or for worse, is inevitable. As Western moves into a new school year and a new millennium, changes are being made not only to the physical university, but also to the student body and the programs offered.

Administration and programming

One of the greatest challenges facing Western, according to deputy registrar Rob Tiffin, is the so-called "double cohort," of the 2003/04 year when the Ontario Academic Credit year is eliminated and Ontario universities could face double the number of applicants.

Tiffin suggests the problem may be in fact a longer term one. "The growth period is longer than what the provincial government suggests," he says, noting the potential admissions bulge may last until 2010.

The change to Ontario's high school system is also creating problems in terms of planning. "We have yet to have a clear picture of what the high school curriculum will be," Tiffin says. This makes it difficult to plan programs, as it is still unknown what types of courses high school students will have completed.

Tiffin says Western is attempting to plan for this problem, but more input is still needed from the province.

From the standpoint of administrative support areas, Tiffin points out the budget is still a big concern and the registrar's office is looking at providing service in a "different way" as opposed to cutting services. For example, he says there may be a web-based registration system within the next two years.

There is also the further challenge posed by retiring faculty members. Tiffin points out demographic evidence suggests from 2004 to 2015 there will be many faculty members reaching retirement. Faculty renewal has therefore been prioritized by not only Western, but by schools across Ontario and Canada.

"Other Canadian universities are in the same situation," Tiffin says. "We will have to be competitive." Priority will be given to Canadian candidates in the hiring process, but Tiffin says the university will probably have to look beyond domestic borders because of competitiveness in hiring.

Ted Hewitt, the associate dean of social science and director of the administrative and commercial studies program, says in terms of academic issues, programming needs to become increasingly what he terms, "value added."

"Our basic philosophy is one whereby we want to strengthen traditional areas, such as history," he says, but points out students are increasingly able to pursue certificates or diplomas which complement their degree program, such as sociology combined with a certificate in addiction studies.

"ACS has always been a more applied program," he points out, but also says since its creation as a four-year program, practical areas have been strengthened.

Physical changes

Western's campus has grown a great deal over its lifetime and the growth continues. The campus is constantly in the throes of renovations and additions, while blue prints for new buildings are stacking up.

One of the biggest changes to Western's campus in the near future will be a new stadium. J.W. Little Stadium has had its day in the sun – 70-plus years – and many feel it's time for a new playing field. Construction for the new stadium is scheduled to begin this summer, says Orlando Zamprogna, special project coordinator for physical plant and capital planning services and it will be built on the field south of the Huron Flats parking lot.

"The university has had to cope with an aging facility – something has to be done," Zamprogna says. "The Canada Games are coming here, so we'd have to upgrade or build a new one and it was more economic to build a new one. And by relocating further south, we are releasing existing land for academic building in future."

The school won't be rid of all its old football ghosts just yet, however. Zamprogna says J.W. Little will be left standing until the land upon which it sits is needed for other purposes. The new stadium is scheduled to be finished in the summer of 2000.

There are other physical changes going on around campus, with renovations already in full swing in Somerville House and design underway for a large new classroom in Talbot College, says Dave Riddell, senior director for physical plant and capital planning services. By September, Riddell says, Somerville House will be sporting four new classrooms and three new computer labs.

"Another major project is renovations to the Medical Sciences Building," he continues. These renovations have not begun yet, as they are waiting for funding to come through.

The building which occurs on campus tends to stay with tradition, as even new buildings have that old look and meld well the rest of the campus.

"We've always had a reputation for having one of the most beautiful campuses in Canada," says Ian Armour, University Students' Council president. "The bricks for Elgin Hall are in the same style as other buildings. It's more expensive but it's beautiful and it adds uniformity," he says, noting the residence was paid for with a loan which will be gradually paid back through residence fees.

Armour points out consideration was given to the issue of the loss of green space with the building of the new residence and the new stadium, but even with the new buildings, there is still considerable field space for students and they are trying to compensate for the loss by expanding existing fields.

"It's definitely something we want to maintain and protect," Armour says.

Challenges for students

University life could get competitive for students in a few years with the double cohort, in both an academic sense and in the job market.

"It's common sense that there would have to be a problem – there's a job shortage now, it's only going to get worse with an influx of students," says Sharon Lee, coordinator for employment services and the Internet Employment Cafe in the Student Development Centre

"Even though there have been more jobs because of the economic boom in Ontario, we still are faced with the biggest problem – the gap between what students can earn and what tuition costs. We're trying to build on programs to help students. It's hard to grow those kinds of programs with the escalating need for jobs for students," Lee says. "The group of students who would normally not be competing with university students for jobs will be in the same group that year."

Another problem for students could be housing. As of September 1999, Western will have enough residence beds for every first-year student, says Susan Grindrod, senior director of housing and ancillary services. However, the impact of an increased number of students is not yet known nor is it known for how long first-year students will be able to rely on guaranteed residence.

"We've added 900 beds in the last three years," Grindrod says. "But we don't really know what the impact of the double cohort will be."

As for competition for places in the universities, it is also not yet known how the double cohort will affect cut-off grades for admission.

"It's too early to tell, but the goal is to increase the overall quality of students at the university," Tiffin says. The cut-off this year increased from 75 per cent to 77 per cent for early admissions. "The university wants to look at having a cut-off that's very competitive."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999