It might seem odd to call U of T Scarborough’s biggest department a “hidden gem”.
But it is an apt description for the Department of Management, the campus's largest by number of faculty and now celebrating its 25th anniversary. It is a major success story in the highly competitive world of academic business programs. Its 2,400 students are the kind who could gain entry anywhere—the average acceptance grade is 90 per cent, one of the highest in the U of T system. Faculty come from top schools around the world. Its innovative co-op program is the envy of—and model for—universities across Canada. And its more than 12,000 alumni commonly work at top companies in Canada and globally.
From the start, the department tried to be different from other business schools—catering especially to people from the local area, and providing a holistic education that includes courses in all aspects of management. “We were the disruptive element,” chuckles Public Management Professor Sandford Borins, recalling his time as the founding chair from 1991 to 2003.
Yet in its quarter century of existence, the department has flown a little under the radar—nationally, internationally, and even in Toronto. But that situation is likely to change soon.
“We really are a hidden gem on the UTSC campus and in U of T as a whole,” says Department Chair David Zweig. “But we’re starting to talk more about how successful we’ve been and the success we have to come. We’re looking to continue to build on our strengths.”
On the immediate horizon are the first graduate programs for the department—master’s degrees in Accounting and Finance and in Behavioural Management Research. Even more exciting for leaders is the prospect of Management becoming its own faculty or school, a first for UTSC, which so far is organized as a single faculty of U of T. As pan-university discussions continue, that restructuring could come within two to three years, says Vice-Principal Academic and Dean William Gough.
All of this was in the warm air on Friday evening, June 23, when the department hosted a sold-out 25th anniversary bash at Miller Lash House. Greeting the crowd in the facility’s outdoor tent, Principal Bruce Kidd said that as U of T Scarborough progresses in a number of areas, “We’re aligning ourselves with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Department of Management.”
Zweig noted that this year, the department received the highest number of applications ever—6,500 from 118 countries, for only 500 spots.
Indeed, this past year the department found its offers oversubscribed, getting 600 acceptances for the 500 spaces. “And these are students who could be accepted anywhere—they chose to come to UTSC,” says Christine Arsenault, Managing Director of the department.
A little over half come for the popular co-op program—people like Scarborough-raised Precia Darshan (BBA Finance 2014), who this year completed an MBA and a law degree simultaneously at Queen’s University and won a Trailblazer Award for an Ontario female law student taking a leadership role in business and the law. “The technical background I received at UTSC was second to none,” she says, “and co-op was fantastic. I don’t think I’d be where I am if not for co-op.”
To establish the department in 1991, Borins was hired away from York University’s Faculty of Administrative Studies (now Schulich School of Business). “At the outset I conceived a program that would look a lot more like an MBA program,” he says. “At the time, the commerce program was mainly producing accountants. We made a set of core courses that covered all the parts of a modern management program—accounting, finance, economics, marketing, organizational behaviour and strategic management. This gave more context for students in accounting, and also offered something for people who had other interests. It prepared people for a variety of management jobs.”
Borins also revamped what was then a small co-op program of 10-15 students, reducing the number of terms to make it more appealing and quickly expanding it to some 50 participants. “From very early on, co-op was very important,” he says.
Zweig notes that the department has long sought to “level the playing field”, providing a boost in the Canadian business world for students in Scarborough who often come from immigrant families and may be the first to attend university. In recent years, too, the foreign-student component of the department has risen to 45 per cent, with about four fifths of those coming from China.
One of the earliest entrants in the new department was Scarborough-raised Andy Li (BComm 1996), who started in 1992 and believes he was “one of the first Chinese students in co-op”. Now based in Hong Kong, he notes that students today get co-op placements around the world (14 countries last year through the Management and International Business program). “UTSC’s strategy execution has been so good that I think it should be shared as a case study for management students,” Li says.
In the observation of another successful alumnus, Satish Kanwar (BBA 2008), who became vice-president of product at Shopify after the global e-commerce firm acquired the company he started with two other Management grads, “the school has shown continuous improvement throughout its history. I’ve seen a commitment to strengthening the program, expanding its reputation and reinvesting in its alumni. It’s a proud moment for all of us and an exciting milestone for the future.”