By Jessie Stones
Months of disagreement between RyeSAC and administration over $700,000 in student centre fees have left the student president so frustrated she’s threatening a legal battle.
RyeSAC president Erin George said if administration doesn’t explain what happened to fees collected from students to build a student centre, she’ll take legal action.
In September, the university collected $60 from each student, after RyeSAC initiated won a 1998 referendum to redirect money for the Recreation and Athletics Centre’s mortgage, which was paid off last winter. Students voted to put the money toward building a student centre, and RyeSAC expected the money to go into a fund controlled by student council and the university.
But administration is controlling the money and RyeSAC doesn’t know where it is.
George believes the referendum spoke for itself, and the fees belong to RyeSAC. “The referendum was a legally binding document,” she said. “There is a question of accountability here.”
Lawyers for both parties looked over the document at the time, George said. “[Administration] should stand by the agreement.”
Following a 1975 fee agreement, administration collects money on RyeSAC’s behalf and transfers it to the council at the start of the school year. The student centre fees agreement was based on that model.
But Ryerson’s v.p. administration and student affairs, Linda Grayson, who is also the university’s chief student centre negotiator, said only a portion of the fees will pay for the student centre. She refused to comment on how the $700,000 collected so far is being used.
Grayson disagrees with George’s opinion that the fees belong to RyeSAC.
“I may believe the sky is orange, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so,” she said. “In their recent fee-increase referendum [last week], they listed all their fees [except that one]. If it is a RyeSAC fee, why wasn’t it listed?”
George said it wasn’t listed because it’s separate from the fees that were part of the referendum.
Building a student centre has been a dream of student councils at Ryerson for almost 50 years. Funds have been set up to finance the project, but it wasn’t until the 1998 referendum that a serious financial commitment occurred.
The proposed student centre, which would house retail, information, and support services, as well as most of the student organizations now scattered in Jorgenson Hall, is to be built on land beside Oakham House.
George said she isn’t out to start a war, but she wants administration to know she’s taking the fees issue seriously. “If administration were an elected body,” she said. “Their misappropriation of funds would be grounds for impeachment.”
If Grayson doesn’t let RyeSAC know what happened to the cash—and refuses to acknowledge the council should control it—before a planned meeting with RyeSAC’s general manager John Fabrizio on April 17, George said they’ll take the issue to another level.
“[Legal action] is not where we want to go,” she said. “But I want administration to understand that we want to find a solution that is satisfactory for both parties. We should find it together.”
Although the building is years away from construction, George said planning cannot go further until the fee issue is resolved.
Grayson said administration is missing data on “numerous issues,” but once she has collected that data she will meet with Fabrizio to discuss those issues.
SHe said she wants students and the university to be protected in the deal. “The university shouldn’t worry about who is going to pay the mortgage,” she said. “And students should feel empowered to run the centre.”
George agrees, but said the university is trying to protect itself because it is afraid it will be left with a bill and no money to pay for it. She alleges administration paid off the RAC mortgage earlier than expected by transferring funds from other areas—which may have included the $700,000 student centre fund—to avoid paying interest.
“I’m sure students would understand if the administration miscalculated something,” George said. “But they need to be accountable. This is a bigger issue, it has bigger repercussions.”
If administration doesn’t honour this agreement, she said, not much would stop it from breaking other fees agreements.