A cunning plan

Carl Bray

Carl Bray of the consulting firm Berridge Lewinberg Greenberg explained aspects of the draft campus “master plan” during an open house in Federation Hall on a January Sunday afternoon.

I take pride in having been present when just about everything of any importance happened in the history of your university. For instance, I was in a dark corner of the Physical Activities Complex that afternoon in October 1991, away from the attentions of grim-faced Korean security men, when UW gave an honorary degree to Tae-Joon Park, the immensely powerful chief executive of the Pohang Iron and Steel Company, sealing the university’s determination to make its links with east Asia a priority. I was even able to mingle with the elite at the little dinner he gave for his hosts at Janet Lynn’s afterwards. A troll would never be so uncouth as to hang inquisitively around the cash register at a first-class restaurant, but I can report that the meal cost cost rather less than Pohang’s annual profits, even without the GST, which was a new little burden on everybody’s expenses in 1991. (Since then, Park has gone through a period of exile from his homeland and finally, such are the tumults of Korean public affairs, ended up a prominent member of parliament.)

Likewise, I was there in the arts quadrangle on a sunny June afternoon when the Community Campaign was launched, a sort of hat-in-the-ring for Campaign Waterloo, which was about to go public as the university’s biggest fund-raising effort. About 1,000 people, plus two or three trolls, were there to hear the speeches. A fashion scorecard on the platform party noted four neckties, one pair of earrings (on Judy McCrae of the athletics department), and the insouciantly baggy shorts of John Leddy, president of the Federation of Students. I was glad to see one of Waterloo’s real old-timers in the spotlight—well, two if you count Doug Wright, but the one I meant was Ted Batke, at one time a vice-president, now a retired professor of chemical engineering and pressed into service as a co-chair of the campaign. He’s still building Waterloo, I thought; old habits die hard.

Yes, I pride myself on having been present for nearly all the university’s defining moments, including the dinner to honour long-time supporter and pillar of the community Walter Bean, but I missed two of them in 1991. One came in March, and the event happened not in Waterloo but at Toronto’s Varsity Arena, where the Warriors were playing Alberta’s Golden Bears in a nationally televised game in the semifinals of the national championships. (They lost, 5-4, in double overtime.) A couple of Waterloo students, having perhaps consumed more than hot chocolate, decided to play to the crowds and the television cameras a little, at the same time making fun of the “No means no” campaign against date rape that had been taking place intermittently at Waterloo and on other campuses. “No means harder,” said a sign they held up for the world to see. Among the world who saw it was your university’s dean of students, who was less than amused. The affair was a nine-day wonder—except among trolls, who have long since ceased to wonder at anything human beings do—but simmered down after the two students, tracked down and hauled in by the dean, apologized. They had no idea anybody would find the sign offensive; far from it.

So I missed that incident—I may have been huddling under my bridge trying to forget about the world outside, trying in particular to forget about the war against Iraq, which had officially begun a few weeks earlier, though the serious bloodshed hadn’t yet started. The busiest man on campus just then probably was Ernie Regehr of Project Ploughshares, beset by reporters wanting a coherent explanation of the non-violent Mennonite approach to conflict resolution in the middle east. The least busy? That would be Daniel Sahas of the religious studies department, who had planned to be in the middle east leading a study tour, which had to be cancelled because of the war.

My excuse for missing the other important incident of the year is even simpler than that: I didn’t know it was going to happen. My shrewd knowledge of human psychology might well have told me that there would be an incident sooner or later, but who could have known it would come on August 2, the Friday before the civic holiday weekend? Who could have known that Jack Edmonds, who had had angry words with colleagues and administrators in the faculty of mathematics many times before, would lose control a little more than usual that day and scrawl a note addressed to the dean: “I resign in personal disgrace from my position here…”? Whether he meant it, and whether the dean, Jack Kalbfleisch, should have assumed that he meant it, would become the consuming issue at Waterloo for most of the following year. The “Edmonds affair” really belongs more to 1992 than to 1991, as negotiations and statements and lawsuits and political pressures multiplied, but I mention the original confrontation—and the court hearing that followed, and the letter-writing campaign that followed that—chiefly to assure you that even your resident troll, with experience in observing human nature over several human lifetimes, can’t foresee everything, and certainly never foresaw this horror.

Horrors: oh, there were a few in 1991, including the protracted, tedious, nitpicking negotiations over Policy 53, your university’s tenure policy, which time and again was ready for final approval until somebody raised just one more point that needed to be reconsidered and rewritten. Even after the senate approved it there were more delays, so that it didn’t actually get through the board of governors until the following year. Another horror was “Scooter,” the PC clone developed specially for customers of the university’s Computer Store, which unfortunately didn’t exactly satisfy the customers.

And a third, more prominent than the other two, was the October 21 issue of Maclean’s magazine, which attempted, for the first time ever, to rank Canada’s universities in order of quality, from first (McGill) to 46th (Cape Breton). Where did Waterloo rank? Er, 22nd. There were howls of outrage, some on general principles, others based on even the most superficial reading of the magazine’s data. It hardly seemed fair, some said, to penalize UW for its poor provision of residence rooms by counting correspondence students as part of the total enrolment. The magazine’s editors soon said they were prepared to take a second look, but the authorities of your university took no chances and sent a letter to high school guidance offices across the land, warning students not to believe everything they read. Perhaps there was some comfort in the news that the magazine had done a separate “reputational ranking” based on a survey of corporate presidents, and in that one Waterloo ranked twelfth. Twelfth! I crawled back under my bridge.

But for all these troubles, it was in some ways a year of confidence at Waterloo. There was a surge in the enrolment of foreign students; there was the opening of an “electronic classroom” linking Waterloo to the University of Guelph with interactive video; there was the news that the Fields Institute, a rarefied atmosphere for mathematicians to rub together and do whatever mathematicians do, would make its home at Waterloo for at least the next three years. There was even a new air of enthusiasm in the food services department, whose new manager said he was charging only 55 cents for coffee, compared to the 75 cents that was typical at the two dozen restaurants that had sprung up within a stone’s throw of the campus, and he was sure he and his people could compete with any of them.

Administratively, there were two new deans (Brian Hendley for arts, Pat Rowe for graduate studies) and a new associate provost (Peter Hopkins for student affairs). There was also a new policy on graduate student financial support, a new policy of conflicts of interest, a new sexual harassment procedure, a program of “bridge funding” to help departments hire young faculty members before the old ones retired. (The provost set a goal of 148.5 women faculty members at Waterloo, and I wondered who the unfortunate half-woman was going to be.) There were new drafts of the university budget after the Ontario government did something it had never done before—“claw back” several hundred thousand dollars of grants in mid-year—and the federal government introduced a three-year freeze on transfer payments to the provinces. “Ottawa goes crunch,” said a big headline on the Gazette. With all this paper being used, there was plenty of work for Patti Cook, the university’s new waste management coordinator, who tried to explain to the campus that it was now against the rules to put corrugated cardboard into the trash. One day she even found a group of architecture students disposing of surplus bricks by tossing those into a dumpster. Not at eighty dollars a ton for disposal fees she said, diverting them somewhere more appropriate—a building site, maybe.

While 1991 wasn’t a year of major construction, there was at least talk of new buildings. Conversations about an “Environmental Science and Bioengineering Building,” east of the existing science complex, continued to keep the campus warm in winter. Beyond that, 1991 was the year of the “campus master plan,” developed by a Toronto-based firm of consultants—and oh, you could tell that they were from Toronto, as the first draft of their plan was full of imaginative predictions about improved public transportation and the elimination of parking lots, which wouldn’t be needed any more. “Oh yeah?” was the gist of the response, and the predictions were moderated in the second draft, which eventually went to the board of governors to become writ in stone. The general idea of “infill” on the south campus, putting new academic buildings between the existing ones rather than spreading out over more and more territory, was more acceptable. The report’s real ambitions, though, had to do with the north campus, carving it up with streets and introducing housing, hotels, research facilities, and small-scale factories. I could almost see Gerry Hagey beaming; it was like his vision of a university built on farmland, all over again. I wish I could tell you that the whole project had my support, but I was sceptical about the airy promises of an “environmental reserve” along my creek. I could, and can, easily imagine culverts instead. However, the master plan was audacious enough to catch the imagination, and I’m sure we’ll see the first results from it any day now.

In 1991, though, people weren’t about to wait for the hand-waving to become reality. The university seized the opportunity to buy a nondescript Columbia Street building from B.F. Goodrich Canada and make it a home for parts of the earth sciences department.

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