Excerpt from the introduction to The University of Toronto: A History, Second Edition (U of T Press, 2013), Martin L. Friedland.
The Colleges and the Student Experience There is a picture of University College in a recent issue of a London newspaper, The Telegraph, listing beautiful universities around the world. Toronto is placed sixth, one ahead of Cambridge University, but once again behind Harvard, the only other North American university in the top ten. A major addition to University College, constructed in the past decade, is Morrison Hall, a thirteenstorey residential tower on a three-storey podium on St George Street. ‘University College,’ stated philosopher Donald Ainslie on his appointment as principal, ‘is really the heart of arts and science and thus the heart of the university.’ It may be beautiful and the heart of the university, Ainslie later said, but the college is not being effectively used by today’s students. This could, however, change with the college’s imaginative planned renovations. The college proposes that the underused library in the Laidlaw Wing at the north end of the quadrangle move back to its original home in the grand East Hall and that the East Hall and the equally fine West Hall be changed into state-of-the-art student study centres. The site of the library in the Laidlaw Wing could then be used for other purposes, such as a 500-seat lecture room. The college’s largest lecture room now contains fewer than 150 seats. The colleges serve to give arts and science undergraduate students – and there are over 26,000, including about 3,000 part-time students, on the St George campus – a way to identify with a
smaller unit on the campus. Bringing students into the college for classes and providing good study space helps achieve this purpose. Other colleges have taken similar steps to update their student facilities. Victoria College, for example, completely renovated its Pratt Library and is doing the same for its student centre. Woodsworth College recently converted the old drill hall into student facilities. The main university libraries across the campus were also revitalized over the last decade. The Gerstein Science Information Centre, as it is now called, on the east side of King’s College Circle was modernized, and a new structure, the successful five-storey Morrison Pavilion – which almost doubled the study space – was added to the side facing Queen’s Park. Major improvements have also been made to the Robarts Library by increasing student study space and enclosing the often cold and wind-swept open spaces on each side of the entrance steps. The changes to the Robarts and Gerstein libraries and the Morrison Pavilion were made possible by substantial donations from two alumni, Russell and Katherine Morrison, who had also made the lead donation to the University College residence. He was trained as an economist and she received her PhD in literary studies and taught literature at the university. On the opening of the revitalized Robarts Library in 2011, Provost Cheryl Misak stated: ‘The Morrisons are the most generous benefactors to student space in Canadian history.’ …
The availability of good social and athletic facilities also improves the student experience. It is usually hard to find a free elliptical bike in the athletic wing of Hart House, and Sammy’s, the relatively new restaurant in the Arbor Room, is often packed. Not everything is overused, however. In the age of the iPod, the record rooms are no longer needed and have been closed. The other day I saw that the Great Hall was open for what is called a ‘5-buck lunch,’ probably testing whether to bring back the once-popular Great Hall lunch. The debates room is used every Friday for Muslim prayer, as are a number of other places in the university, including a relatively large space in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology on St George Street. There are many interfaith areas around the university, such as the Multi-faith Centre for Spiritual Study and Practice in the Koffler Building on Spadina Road. Catholic students also have a number of places to practise their religion, as do Protestant students. With the opening in 2004 of Hillel House’s Wolfond Centre at Harbord and Huron streets, Jewish students also have a place for prayer. Another student centre, the Student Commons, has recently been approved by the University of Toronto Students’ Union and by the university. It will be located on College Street in the present architecture building. The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design – recently named for a graduate of architecture and major developer who gave $14 million to the faculty – will move to One Spadina Crescent, the former Knox College building, taking the Daniels name with it. One Spadina will be further renovated, with a new structure at the north end. Additional space is needed for the faculty in part because the arts and science undergraduate program in architecture was moved back to the faculty of
architecture and because of the faculty’s involvement in the university’s relatively new Cities Centre. Students had earlier voted for a student levy for a student centre as part of a sports facility on Devonshire Place, but that space is now occupied by construction of the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, which will also have various academic uses. The fairly recently renovated architecture building on College Street would appear to be a more desirable site. Both the students and the university are contributing to the project, with the details still being worked out. The Student Commons will be run by the students. The website of the University of Toronto Students’ Union – the name was changed from Student Administrative Council several years ago – states in language reminiscent of the 1960s: ‘Students will retain full control over the facility and its operations – preventing the promotion of corporate and private interests over student use and management.’ The facility, the website goes on to state, ‘will house club offices, levy group space, meeting rooms, commuter space, lounges, rehearsal space, construction space, a student-operated cafeteria with vegan, Halal and Kosher food options and U.T.S.U. services including a cheap copy shop, food bank and a permanent used textbook exchange.’ Having finally gained a student centre, what is the next student campaign? It is likely to be closing all or part of St George Street to all but emergency traffic. Last September, the street – from Harbord to College streets – was successfully closed for a one-day street festival. Willcocks Street between St George and Huron has now been closed for a five-year period. Why not permanently close St George
Street to regular traffic, suggests Shaun Shepherd, the student president, who ran for office on a platform which included closing the street.
Martin L. Friedland (BComm 1955, LLB 1958) is University Professor and Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Toronto. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1990 and was awarded the Molson Prize in 1995. This excerpt from The University of Toronto: A History, second edition, was reprinted with permission of University of Toronto Press.
Excerpt from Martin Friedland's The University of Toronto: A History (second edition)