The close-knit community at the University of Guelph-Humber (UoGH) has become too close for comfort as students face difficulties navigating busy hallways and finding spaces to study around campus.

Fourth-year psychology student Hannah Derue explains how students have begun to question whether the overcrowding issue will comprise UoGH’s close-knit community.

“For a lot of people, they’re frustrated that class sizes are growing and there’s more people on campus. You’re not getting the same small school feel you signed up for four years ago,” she says.

Derue often has to go to Humber’s Learning Resource Commons in order to find a place to study. “Anytime you’re on campus, I think it’s become a joke amongst students that it’s pretty much impossible to find a place to study or even have lunch.”

Experiences with overcrowding at UoGH are not uncommon. Second-year Justice Studies students Aniqa Mujahid and Rebecca Walls expressed their frustrations trying to find spots to sit and study.

“We walk up and down the stairs for 30 minutes just to find a spot,” Mujahid says. “There’s never a place to sit. We sit on the floor sometimes in a corner.”

Two students sit at a table in a lecture theatre

Rebecca Walls and Aniqa Mujahid sit in their classroom for Federal Legislation in GH126. They say the overcrowding in the classroom has caused them to skip classes to avoid the discomfort.

Classrooms with too many students and too little seats to accommodate them have also become a problem at UoGH.

Walls and Mujahid describe learning in an overcrowded classroom for their Federal Legislation class taught by Peter Skrypka in GH126.

“You have a headache all the time in that class,” Mujahid explains. “Everyone is so close together all the time.”

“There was this one time I felt like I was going to pass out,” Walls says.

Students complained to the professor who told them that he could do nothing about it as that was the only available room at the time of the class.

There are 60 registered students for the class  – the maximum number of students in a full class – however, GH126 does not accommodate for that amount.

There are no open windows to provide ventilation and students have described sitting elbow to elbow with the person next to them.

UoGH doesn’t believe overcrowding is an issue

Vice-Provost John Walsh, who is in charge of the joint venture at Guelph-Humber, released a statement via Communications Manager Elissa Schmidt saying, “We do not believe there is an overcrowding problem on campus.”

Contrary to the university’s statement, former Humber president and co-founder of UoGH Robert Gordon says he acknowledges that overcrowding is an issue at the university.

“They really shouldn’t admit more students into the present facility, its overcrowded.”

Although he has been retired for the past 10 years, Gordon occasionally consults on issues regarding the university in an unofficial role.

When pressed further whether or not it was irresponsible for UoGH to be accepting more students into a facility that was meant to house only 2,000, Gordon says, “If you’re a purist, then yes it is irresponsible in terms of getting the perfect education for the student.”

He does not believe that the overcrowding issue takes away from the benefits of the university.

“When all is said and done, I’m not hearing from Guelph-Humber graduates that they are discouraged when they go out into the world. That’s worth a lot more than: ‘did you have a larger classroom?’”

“The success has been overwhelming, which has created new problems,” says Gordon.  

In 2002, the first class of 200 students was held off-site in buildings around Humber’s North campus according to Gordon.

By 2004, the construction of UoGH’s building was completed thanks to the government’s SuperBuild Growth Fund which funded almost $30 million to the project.

In their application, the “number of new student spaces” was listed as 2,000.

By 2007, Guelph-Humber’s student population was already past capacity at 2,500 students. Recent numbers from the 2017 academic calendar list the total amount of Guelph-Humber students at a little over 4,900.

Student sits in front of laptop typing in public space

Cal Campos studies in the crowded cafeteria at Guelph-Humber.

Cal Campos, a fourth-year Media Studies student who also works as a Student Transition and Resource Team (START) leader, often takes families on tours around campus. He recalls a time he had difficulty leading a tour because of an excess of students.

“It was really hard bringing two families around because there were so many people in the hallways,” he says.

As a graduating student, Campos admits that the overcrowding will not affect him in the future but acknowledges how it will impact future students.

“I’m concerned for the wellbeing of students coming into Guelph-Humber.”

When asked why Guelph-Humber was taking in more students than the building was built for, Schmidt says, “The University of Guelph-Humber has grown in its capacity over the years with the development and use of additional floors in the building.”

According to Schmidt, in 2004 only “floors 1-3 were operational with a variety of classroom and office spaces available.”

The use of the fourth floor was phased between 2004-2008 that created more classrooms and offices available to students and staff.

Student populations have nearly doubled since the phasing in of the fourth floor. With no current plans for expansion, students are left wondering what the future of Guelph-Humber will look like.

Plans for expansion unclear

Gordon doesn’t believe there’s much hope for expanding Guelph-Humber. He explains that the only way for expansion is if Humber acquires more land and constructs another campus nearby.

“There’s a huge piece of property on the corner of Humber College Blvd and Finch, I think its owned by Purolator. It’s 65 acres or more and used for storage,” he explains. “We tried to get it several times, but we could never get them to sell it.”

When asked about the likelihood of an expansion in the near future, Schmidt responded with, “We will continue to speak and work with our partners about other opportunities, should they arise.”

Students want their concerns heard

“I think the best thing they could do in terms of considering student interest is to hold a referendum of some sort of focus group to see what students want,” explains Derue.

In the fall of 2017 and winter of 2018, the University of Guelph and Humber College issued their first joint review into UoGH since its creation almost 20 years ago.

For stage one, students and faculty were consulted to examine programs, practices and to eventually create a development plan.

 During a phone interview, Rani Dhaliwal, Senior Vice President of Transformation and Strategic Partnership at Humber says, “It was timely only because of capacity.”

Students might recall an email sent to their Gryph Mail in November 2017 looking for students to take part in the review through focus groups.

Screen grab of written text

Screen grab from Nov. 27, 2017 email sent to students from UoGH’s Student Life account.

When contacted, Schmidt failed to provide documents related to phase one of the review, that Dhaliwal says were “made available” to students.

The next stage is to develop a strategic plan with the executive committee in January 2019 that will discuss issues faced on campus, including overcrowding. Students, faculty, and staff will again be consulted for input.

Students are encouraged to take an active role in the review process, especially if they feel overcrowding may be an issue. More information on the review of Guelph-Humber can be found on humber.ca and guelph.ca.