All grown up now

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By Caroline Alphonso

It’s hard to choose between learning The Charleston and laying the foundation for enlightened student representation. 

That’s just how Ryerson’s student government started: as a dance committee for a small group of students paying $25 in tuition.  As the number of students increased, the little dance committee that could grow to form a new kind of student government on campus.

In the ‘50s, Dr. Howard Kerr, then principal of Ryerson, formed the Ryerson Union, which consisted of faculty administration and students.  Kerr had the final say in all decisions.  Kerr maintained this iron grip when the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC) was created a few years later; SAC members were forced to maintain at 66 per cent grade average and follow a strict dress code.

SAC eventually broke away from the administration’s hold in 1969-1970, when Barry Hales became the first student president elected by the student body.  In addition to breaking the tradition of an administration appointed SAC president he was able to turn gain control of student fees and use them as SAC’s budget.  As a final act Hales changed SAC’s name to the Students’ Union of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (SURPI).

The power of the student government has increased over time.  Moreover, every president continued the fight of its predecessor for the same issues and services.

50 years of Beer

A group of students relaxing at a pub was no different in 1971 than it is now.  The only difference is a beer cost 45 cents then.

The lower ground floor of Jorgenson, now taken by the Games Room and the computer store housed the Filling Station.

SURPI requested a permanent license in 1973 from the LCBO that would prevent them from reapplying every time if they held a function.  The LCBO ruled that administrators, not unions, would run pubs.

In holding the license, administration took on a parental role with the pub, said Liz Devine, of Student Services.  “The pub was closed every afternoon in the ‘80s so students would not drink and instead go to class.”

The pub underwent a name change, just like the student government did.  The Filling Station was later renamed The Edge, after a bar on Gerrard and Church Street called Eggerton.  In fact, Jim Carrey played at The Edge one night for $600.

The popularity of The Edge grew.  In the early 1980s, the pub began to break sales and profit records.  When they renovated it, a fifth-year applied chemistry and biology student remarked “they got rid of all the crap that was hanging on the ceiling like some old woman’s underwear.”

The Edge’s profits began to dwindle and it was eventually closed in 1995-1996 as competition from bars around campus, and the fact that smoking wasn’t allowed created challenges.  At this time, Patrick Hynes v.p. finance and development and Donna MacNeil v.p. administration, initiated negotiations for RyeSAC to take over the management of Oakham House, without the consent or support President Paul Cheevers.  The next year under President Victoria Bowman RyeSAC assumed control.

“Today, the Ram in the Rye is more of a business approach taken by the student government.  [The Edge] was treated like a party room,” said Devine.

It is estimated that over $500,000 was spent revamping Oakham House in order that it might turn a $22,000 profit last year.

Old Dudes Act Rude

As the student government increased the services it provided to students, they have also collided with administration on countless issues.  “There has been an increased strain in the relationship,” said Denis Loney, executive assistant at RyeSAC.  This mostly has to do with a competition for the support of the students. Administration has realized we can make decisions.”

With this autonomy, Ryerson’s student government has politically matured in handling issues.

The government has protested and showed their disappointment in how administration deals with concerns students bring forward.

In one instance, Tim Fehr, president from 1981-82, held a sit-in in the faculty lunch room because the staff and faculty had better food than students.

Just last year, a vote was held on tuition at an academic council meeting.  The support from faculty to stop tuition hikes was not existent, said Loney.  The students were the only ones supporting this motion.

There have also been times when the student government has tried to make decisions on issues that have their roots off-campus.  In 1983-84, the issue of a student sanctioned public stand on abortion came up.  Huge fights split the Board and they the made the decision that the Board should refrain from attempting to make any political statement, pro or con, unless it deals with Ryerson’s education policy directly.

The student government’s relationship with administration has experienced many ups and downs.

“It is too cozy for my taste,” said Leatrice Spevack, campus groups administrator.  “I came from the ‘60s where we question authority all the time.  I think sometimes student executives lull themselves into thinking that have respect from administration.  This is not true.  We should continue to be a thorn in their sides.”

That bloody Student Centre crap, again. 

Looking for a space to house the student centre has been a continuing issue  that is almost as old as Ryerson itself.

Just after the Second World War, a converted airplane hangar which housed a gym, pub, tuck shop, barber shop and lounged served as a student centre.  It was torn down when Kerr Hall was built in the ‘50s.

Every student government since the 1970s, except Paul Cheevers’ mandate in 1995-96, has resurrected this topic.  Proposals to build a $4 million student centre in 1985 fell through as other projects became a priority.

In 1991, the student government spent close to $200,000 on promotion, planning and design, but a referendum asking students to contribute $48.75 to the student centre fund failed.  “There was a lot of misinformation as to what was going on,” said John Fabrizio, general manager of RyeSAC.

President Tony Francescucci was nicknamed “Tapin’ Tony” by the press because he taped his own interview so as to not be misquoted.  His unpopularity led the media to personalize the student centre issue saying Francescucci was doing this for his own motives.  “They forgot the issue [of the student centre] was going on for years,” said Fabrizio.

After this the student centre was put on the backburner until 1994 when the student government decided to hold another referendum asking students for $21 per semester.  Ryerson Student Union (RSY) president Bob Crane had made all preparations, but the question never made it to he referendum.  Fabrizio recalls sitting in a room with Crane, Ryerson’s president and the Chair of the Board.  The Chair refused to hold a referendum citing concerns about the effect of long-term interest rates..  “All the word we did went down the drain,” said Fabrizio.

When Paul Cheevers became president in 1995-96, he did not support the student centre for financial reasons.  He wanted at least 50 to 60 per cent of the funds necessary for building the centre in the bank before anything else was done.

The plan was resurrected last year with a new approach.  Students voted in a referendum to redirect funding no longer needed to pay off the RAC’s mortgage (which was paid almost ten years ahead of schedule) to the construction of the student centre.  Finally, discussions are now taking place on designing the building and what it will house.

“In 1987 [when he was v.p. administration], I’d have liked to see the building of a student centre.  Now that I’m an employee here I’d still like to see the student centre built,” said Michael Durrant, communications and services manager.

Through the years most services provided at Ryerson have been initiated by the student government.  In fact, a barber shop was located on campus in the 1950s and early 1960s.

“RyeSAC is not its own corporate entity.  It is comprised of everything under it.  Everyone is a piece of the puzzle.  It is the thread of government that is Ryerson,” said Durrant.  “RyeSAC doesn’t always do things right, but we try.”

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