The recent controversy over the Sam the Record Man sign, Ryerson University and the City of Toronto is interesting on a number of levels. There is the heritage aspect of the matter and there is the legal contractual element – Ryerson agreed to find a place to hang the sign, then decided that it didn’t want to do so.
What interests me personally, and as an adjunct professor at a law school, is the ethical element.
Ryerson is an institution of higher learning. It teaches students.
And so, call me old-fashioned, but I believe that such institutions should be held to a very high standard when it comes to honouring legal contracts.
We’ve entrusted these institutions with the minds of our youth – they are teaching the leaders of the future.
And so what do our youth see in the Sam the Record Man sign saga?
They see that institutions of higher learning, populated by really smart people, with really smart advisors can enter into contracts, then decide later that they don’t wish to be bound by them.
The take-away is that contracts are made to be broken.
That it’s OK to make deals – then break them when they no longer suit you.
Is that really the behaviour that Ryerson wants to model for its students?
Is that really the reputation that Ryerson wants at a time when it's expanding and entering into contracts with many different entities? Are those entities now thinking about the risk of Ryerson reneging on, or renegotiating their deals?
Is this really a good reputation to have when pitching to be an LPP provider for Ontario law students which will include an ethics component?
The best clients I ever had were the straight-shooters – the ones who felt that their word was their bond. The ones who never reneged on a deal or attempted to renegotiate a deal. They lived with mistakes because reputation was more important than dollars.
Sadly, the youth of today are learning the opposite.