Tom Thorne: Alternatives to Changing Ryerson University’s Name

As an alumnus my best media and public relations advice is to keep the Ryerson University name. Those imbued and engaged in the world of political correctness will be horrified but let me tell you why this is the way to go.

The risk of changing the name under the conditions set by the news of 215 indigenous graves linked wrongly to the life and work of Egerton Ryerson  is serious. The truth or any reconciliation is not present in this situation.  It is a lose-lose situation where no good outcome can develop. This story is now being questioned by scholars and journalists. It will ultimately blow back on any name change.

Let me carefully explain. The issue is already divisive. No university name change what ever it is will alter the pent up emotions of indigenous exploitation, hurt and the years of the residential school pain. The name change connected to this issue will not enhance  or focus the university’s values and in fact may compromise them. 

Using Egerton Ryerson as a lightening rod will also not alter the residential school issue one centimetre off centre. It will reconcile none of this horrible situation of indigenous people and for that matter the angst of Canadians of any identity on this issue. Finally, the situation has been loaded with ignorance, bias and plain lies. It sits like a libel of hatred, ridicule and contempt. It is no place for the birth of a new name and identity for a university.

That residential school problem is much bigger than a university name change. The Ryerson experience is linked into this one issue. Tying the current name change process to it solves nothing. It is an exercise of form rather than substance. Bigger forces than Ryerson University need to take this on. Any good intentions will be lost because this action will not change the intent of the loudest protestors or how all this finally shakes out.

It takes solid management to really keep the Ryerson University name. To this point we have seen a weak response to the street violence when Egerton Ryerson’s statue was pulled down. Then we saw the task force committee formed to salve the wounds of protest and relate to the pent up emotions on campus largely brought to Gould Street by outside forces.

Then as the new 2021-22 academic year started President Mohamed Lachemi received their report with 22 recommendations that call for a name change. Then the Board of Governors endorsed this report and its 22 recommendations. Hopefully there was some debate. On top of this we now have another large Lachemi committee to come up with the new name. In all of this we have heard that the views of all groups associated with Ryerson University are sought. This report is a biased document that never mentions people who want to keep the Ryerson name. Over time this document it will come to haunt the university.

Then anticipating the name change the journalism program slavishly announced new name for their Ryersonian paper and their Ryerson Review of Journalism academic publication. It all looks like a done deal. A rebranding is already underway. They should have been covering the story and its implications from all sides. They have failed in their duty to properly cover the story and therefore failed their students and readers.  Their journalism standards are clearly in doubt. 

The student paper The Eyeopener has also been covering this story with an pro name change editorial bias. Every student interviewed in their video was for the name change and didn’t separate Egerton Ryerson from the 215 alleged graves story. The only story showing some journalism was the indigenous student on the new name committee who quit because felt she was being ignored by the other name committee members.  An opportunity to open up the deliberations of the new name committee was lost. 

This is the Gordian knot of a politically correct bureaucracy. It is all tied so tight now that there is no flexibility to really solve anything. Members of the name change committee are speaking to the campus press (The Eyeopener) saying they are worn out and feel uncomfortable. I predict mainstream media will start covering this story. 

This can possibly snowball into a debacle. Getting a consensus from 17 people may prove difficult if there is any real debate. This process will yield a new name or the five choices for President Lachemi and the Board of Governors to mull over. However it will not change the dial on indigenous issues one centimetre. And when the new name is announced there will be media coverage and of why it all happened. And what will be Ryerson’s story of that process? It will be sold as part of President Lachemi’s plan to bring Ryerson from its alleged colonial past into the new world of inclusion.

So here is a way forward. Of course it will take management not the bureaucratic neutral approach to problems we have seen to date that shifts blame to large committees and biased reports. 

After examining the problems and costs of rebranding  Ryerson the committee has recommended creating Reconciliation Scholarships instead for indigenous students of all identities. Exploring the career of Egerton Ryerson further the committee has found that the real truth offers paths to reconciliation and inclusion. Those paths are there but untrodden by this process at this time. If they do this we can perhaps hang up this no win situation.

By Tom Thorne RTA’68