By Vanessa Thomas
David Steele took a rare break from his job as Ryerson’s student council president this week, but only because he was sick. On Monday, after ignoring his flu-like symptoms for two days, a bed-ridden Steele was forced to get some rest.
But while at home Steele continued to perform his duties as president of Ryerson Students’ Administrative Council (RyeSAC). He dutifully called into his office for messages, re-scheduled meetings and fielded calls from zealous student reporters.
This level of dedication and commitment is expected from the most effective RyeSAC executives. Though their work may go unnoticed by students, who each pay $83.96 a year to fund RyeSAC, their activities reach out to all aspects of university life.
Armed with a $3 million budget and a mandate to represent students’ political, academic and social interests, RyeSAC’s executives direct the inner workings of their blue and white-painted offices in the lower ground floor of Jorgenson Hall.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you this job is not rewarding, but you can never prepare yourself for the sheer pressure of it,” Steele says.
Fair warning for the eight candidates vying for positions on RyeSAC’s next executive. On Feb. 8 and 10, Ryerson students will chose from among eight candidates who will take over as RyeSAC’s new president, vice-president education, vice-president administration and vice-president development and finance when the current executives’ terms end in May. Any RyeSAC staffer will tell you these are no Mickey Mouse positions.
“These jobs are very demanding,” says John Fabrizio, RyeSAC’s general manager. All candidates elected to RyeSAC must be full-time students, but individuals may be granted a reduced course load to handle the job.
“There are a lot of things that we do that are invisible,” Fabrizio says. “If students knew what we’re responsible for they probably would get out and vote.”
As RyeSAC’s president, Steele is the official representative of Ryerson’s more than 12,000 full-time students. The theatre technical production student, who is paid a $26,000 salary including benefits for his yearlong term, says he takes his role of ensuring Ryerson students’ interests seriously.
“I didn’t take this job for the money,” Steele says. “To be able to sleep at night I need to know that I put in the time to do the best job I could.”
Steele’s job description requires he work 34 hours per week, but he says he usually works more than double that time, without any regrets. He sits on more than 30 Ryerson committees to represent students, from the president’s advisory committee to the cult awareness committee.
He is responsible for managing RyeSAC’s affairs and operations and ensuring that all of council’s commissioners, directors and vice-presidents carry out their duties.
RyeSAC’s three vice-presidents serve as the president’s back-bone working to promote students’ interests and ensure the corporation’s operations are successful.
The trio made up of v.p. education Erin George, v.p. administration Jason Power, and v.p. development and finance Vladimir Vasilko each receive a $17,000 yearly salary including benefits, and are required to work 32 hours a week.
But overtime hours are inevitable. George says serving students is the main reason she usually works more than 40 hours a week.
George is responsible for understanding how education issues affect students, her $27,500 budget funds, dealing with education issues within and outside Ryerson, acting as a liaison with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and developing campaigns and strategies to promote students’ needs.
“We have focused a lot this year on external issues because (governments’) education cutbacks are the most important issue for students,” says George, who is in her fourth year of journalism.
Power, a business marketing student, knows how to sell RyeSAC to students and the outside community. The v.p. administration is responsible for planning the two-week orientation in September and weekly events at the pub, as well as monitoring the activities of Ryerson’s 60 student groups and course unions.
The self-proclaimed “good time fun guy” programs RyeSAC’s social events with an $81,000 budget. As part of his job Power has brought in at least $42,000 in revenue, mostly from corporate sponsorship — selling advertisement space in RyeSAC publications and charging companies for selling their products and service at Ryerson.
Bringing money into RyeSAC is music to Vasilko’s ears. But the v.p. development and finance says he does more for students than just prepare financial reports.
Vasilko monitors RyeSAC’s financial operations and allocates student funds to different student programs and services.
“The hardest part of the job is having to refuse to give money to students who need it,” says the third-year industrial engineering student.
“Someone may approach us about an idea, but we cannot provide funding if it doesn’t follow our mandate. But I will send individuals to the appropriate sources.”
Helping students is a main part of each RyeSAC executive’s job.
On a typical day, students stream in and out of the RyeSAC offices, asking questions or seeking advice.
The four students waiting to speak with Vasilko on Monday afternoon are evidence of this.
One asks Vasilko to attend a meeting he is holding and another asks him to promote his discount jeans business.
Steele can barely stay away from all this action for one day. He is eager to return to his presidential duties despite his illness.
“Sometimes I wonder how long I could do this before I collapse,” he says.
But if Steele or any of his vice-presidents are ready to collapse, it’s not noticeable because they continue to do their job, with or without students’ recognition.
Where the money goes
Every year RyeSAC has about $3 million of your money to play with.
RyeSAC is a non-profit student corporation and operates by collecting fees from more than 12,000 full-time Ryerson students. Each full-time student pays RyeSAC $83.96 in fees, $15.22 more than the average across Ontario.
Last year full-time students at Brock University paid the lowest student council fees in the province at $10, and University of Windsor students paid the highest at $173.80.
RyeSAC collects about $900,000 from students and allocates this money to fund programs and services such as CopyRite, the Used Book Room and the Games Room.
“All profits go back to students,” says RyeSAC’s general manager John Fabrizio. “The student fee we receive hasn’t gone up in 10 years. The profits stay in the system to keep the fees down.”
RyeSAC-run services employ more than 45 students part-time.
Last year RyeSAC made $78,000 from the Used Book Room and CopyRite together, plus $15,000 from the Games Room. That year 3,151 students gave in 14,111 used books for resale. Students bought 9,760 of those books — $287,000 in total sales of $340,000.
RyeSAC also manages Oakham House and the Ram in the Rye pub. Since taking over control of Oakham in 1996, RyeSAC spent $500,000 on renovations and turned it into a money-making venture, and the first popular pub on campus in years. RyeSAC made a $22,00 profit from Oakham last year, and is projecting a $65,000 profit this year.
The other major chunk of RyeSAC’s operating budget is the $109 collected from each student a year to pay into the health plan, for a total of $1.3 million. About 4,000 students opt out of the plan, which covers prescription drugs and other health services. Of the roughly 8,700 who stay, Fabrizio said half use the health plan’s services.