The process of getting “yourself” or your department a building at a university is an enigma to most. The projects can vary from being a complex to house a major academic unit, to an infrastructure that suits your own “pet project”, albeit an institute, a research center, a power plant, or an exhibition hall. I say, “yourself”, because any project of that sort needs a champion, a dedicated and determined person (preferably a megalomaniac), who is willing to go through all the hoops. There are however a few “tricks” that can help move the process along, an “underground guide” if you will. Take it from a seasoned observer who has been witnessing a bunch of these things lately. “BoG noblesse et experience oblige”.
So here are the secrets that you always wanted to know but you were afraid to ask about how to push your department higher on the university’s priority list.
- First, get your foot in the door by finding a private donor who will give some cash towards your future building. You will be surprised how little you need.
- Squeeze a “wet research lab” into the future building, so as to get some cash from CFI, which in turn is matched by the provincial government.
- Make sure to add a lecture hall or two, so that the provost can justify divvying up some cash from the university’s general purpose operating fund.
- Add another student fee –surely not tuition– towards a “learning space contribution”, which will apply to all the department’s students … all the way till 2035. The university can then get a loan payable from these fees. This is applicable, especially if your department has a professional –or any cohort type—program.
- Arrange to lease a part of your future space to a corporation for a long period of time (say 25 years), with the understanding that the cash for the rent will be paid upfront. This becomes another (corporate) contribution. But make sure not to accept the “private elevator clause” for the corporate users. This got some nameless university in Ontario in trouble.
- Make sure you have several “namable” sections of the building: Fancy lecture rooms, research labs, exhibition halls, etc. You will then be able to get some extra cash from additional donors who enjoy seeing their names flashed around venerable institutions such as yours.
- Finally, and back to 1), get your initial donor to put a time limit on his/her donation, which will force the university to take it (and build) or leave it by a certain date. This will get the wheels moving fast.
This said, keep in mind that none of this will help unless you have the support of someone in high places at your institution. And if none of this works, get back to me, though I may have to charge a consulting fee if you do.