My friend Neate and I got into a bit of a debate today over a project at Queen’s, my alma mater, that’s got a few people I know pretty annoyed.
Queen’s has unveiled a new football stadium plan. The new field will be built adjacent to Richardson Stadium, with Richardson being torn down and being replaced with practice fields. Apparently, this field plan was released at a charity golf tournament.
Queen’s is undergoing what could be called the largest capital expense plan in the university’s history right now. In the wake of all the new buildings on campus in the past eight years – the revamped Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the two new residence halls, the BioSci Complex, the new Commerce and Engineering buildings to name a few – the university is making a concerted effort to put its money where its mouth is and to show that “quality” can’t simply be demonstrated through students and reputation alone can’t ensure a constant flow of students and new faculty, research grants, et al.
The new projects on the horizon include the $300 million Queen’s Centre, the complete re-building of University Avenue and Union Street and finally, this football stadium.
Buildings like these cost a fortune, and you’re not going to get the money to pay for it strictly through government operating grants. You’re going to need alumni donations.
One of the big problems with alumni donations at Queen’s has to do not only with scale of donations, but how the money has been earmarked. The vast majority of folks with the funds to donate en masse – those wealthy Commerce graduates, for example – will donate to projects, understandably, that fit their interests. The Commerce buildings and Engineering buildings, for example.
In this particular example, Queen’s football does indeed need new facilities. Richardson Stadium is falling apart and decaying, so any new home for the Gaels would be useful.
The problem has to do with priorities. There’s one distinct group here that has been sorely neglected at Queen’s in terms of alumni donations – the Arts.
Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of extremely wealthy Arts graduates out there who can pony up the millions required to build a brand new Arts building Queen’s so desperately needs. The Arts programs are housed in several key areas: John Watson Hall, Mac-Corry Hall, Kingston Hall, Convocation Hall and Ontario Hall. While Kingston Hall and Convocation Hall are in relatively good shape, John Watson is definitely not. Ontario Hall, the home of the Fine Arts program, is one of the oldest buildings on campus and structurally unsound in some areas.
In other words, the homes of several key programs at Queen’s – those same programs trotted out in admission books as examples of the Queen’s Advantage – are in a very sorry state.
I don’t blame Queen’s for this. The money programs, like Commerce or Engineering, clearly will take the lead on alumni donations because of their perceived “value” in translating into wealth later on. Arts doesn’t do that as easily (although it’s a misnomer to assume Arts degrees are less valuable than a Commerce degree) on paper. Those wealthy millionaires from companies that donate to their alma mater aren’t all made of Bill Gates-esque stuff that ensures a social conscience first – they will donate to things that benefit them and a broader canvas of students who fit their interests.
On the other hand, it’s a bit morally and financially convenient for those donors to make donations for a football field. These donors, the ones who complain about the decline in quality of Queen’s, are the same ones who voted for the Tories in the mid-1990’s, the same ones who voted in a government that cut government operating grants, made mammoth tuition hikes a reality and then put tax breaks in place that allow them to write off such colossal donations to their alma mater for something that benefits them more than current or future students. Must be nice how you can say how you’re supporting Queen’s by donating money to programs and projects that reinforce an ideology of turning Queen’s into the Canadian version of Harvard, sans public money.
What bothers me so much about this football plan is how it feels like an act of pandering to wealthier alumni who are putting the proverbial cart before the horse; football is a luxury for Queen’s. Education comes first, and this action can’t be seen as positively benefiting Queen’s in the long-term.
First off, let’s look at the main problem with this: the student population. While Neate seems to think games at Richardson Stadium are populated with 5,000 people per game, let’s look at the reality. The vast, vast majority of those fans are alumni and not students. Queen’s students may go to one, possibly two games during the year. While Neate likes the idea of a world of the past when community-driven football games were major events at Queen’s, the reality is that world is gone now. Football is not a long-term investment like it once was at Queen’s, and students shouldn’t be blamed for that either.
Second, football is a male-only domain at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level. With a campus that is more and more turning towards a female majority, what sense does it make to invest in a sport that doesn’t always reflect them? If anything, why isn’t Queen’s making a stronger effort to earmark alumni donations into a “general” pot of money that can be put towards programs like the Fine Arts or Drama, which clearly have a larger female population? How is this considered long-term thinking?
Finally, athletics in general at Queen’s are important. Yet this is also predicated on the idea of accessibility for everyone, not for a sport that, at its heart, excludes people. Why is a football field being considered instead of, say, that long-rumoured Phys.Ed Field House that could house a multitude of sports that everyone can do? Why football?
I know I’m talking about a fantasy world. I also know football is an easy sell to older alumni who remember those days of Frank Tindall-run Gaels clubs that dominated university football and feel that glow of nostalgia. I’ve only donated to Queen’s once since graduating and that was for CFRC – my old radio station that I hosted at for three and a half years. But after everything I’ve done for Queen’s, I’ve decided I won’t donate any money to the school until some kind of plan is set out for the Arts. Every other sector of the campus has gotten support, capital projects and loads of money – it’s time for the Arts to get some.
I know I’m not alone in this department; many folks I’ve known won’t donate either due to their interests – ironically, the largest majority of students at Queen’s – not being listened to. While it’s easy to say, “if you’re not donating, you’re part of the problem and creating a vicious cycle,” I can assure you if Queen’s released a plan for a new Arts building, the donations would definitely be in.
Finally, I know the argument goes that once you create a project like a new football stadium, the alumni whom have had their interests satisfied through a project like this will likely help to create more opportunities for more projects in the future. Problem is, has that been proven? What studies indicate that is the case? And more to the point, would the money even be there? Donor fatigue is a very real problem here.
I don’t think the idea of a new football stadium is bad. I encourage the idea if it is cost-efficient. Yet priorities are important for Queen’s. The real Queen’s Advantage is not on the football field, but in the classroom.