by Maurice Cacho
Every year when you pay your tuition, $60 of it is set aside and put into a special account. By the time you graduate, you’ll have contributed an average of $240 towards this special cause. The money, collected from students since 1998, is being used to fund the new Student Campus Centre.
Who will be responsible for this money and how it will be used is something students, staff, faculty and alumni groups have been negotiating for the past 10 years. With all parties in agreement, a document was to be signed that would have put student-saved money to work last April.
The operating agreement would have created the Student Campus Centre, the business that would manage the building. It would involve the people who have been working hard to build a campus centre at Ryerson: the University, RSU, CESAR, Ryerson Centre and Palin Foundation.
At the last minute, two groups changed their mind and backed down from the agreement, preventing the Student Campus Centre from operating to its full potential. But why, after the conclusion of many years of negotiations, go back to the bargaining table?
Like any other commercial facility, the SCC needs to be under some sort of management. And, because it’s a student centre built with student money, students should have a role in its management.
In effect, a third-party company comprised of representatives for these groups would be created and be responsible for managing the building.
The current RSU and CESAR exec see this as a problem. The two groups ran a full-page ad in NightViews, voicing concerns about the SCC’s management structure and competition of services in the building.
One of their main concerns is that student-related services are being taken away from student unions by the SCC, a company they claim has “no democratic mandate to work for students.”
According to official documents, this is not the case. Students would have a controlling interest in the SCC. The corporation’s Board of Directors would be comprised of 11 voting members that decide how the SCC will run.
Eight of these members are student representatives from both the RSU and CESAR; two are from the University; and one is from Ryerson Centre. With a more than two-to-one representation on this board, the student unions control the “third-party corporation” they’re afraid is stealing their services and events.
If, as the campaign claims, events are being appropriated by a third-party corporation, Dirty Bingo was one of the first. However, it was handed over to the SCC with student union consent. An ad-hoc committee with student representation decided to let the SCC organize the event, which used to be presented by the RSU, instead.
According to Alam Ashraful, RSU vice-president student life and events, the programming committee decided to divide events between three groups — the RSU, CESAR and the SCC.
“RSU will focus on doing club events, while the SCC will do Dirty Bingo,” he said.
However, a key player in SCC negotiations is confused by the unions’ decisions.
“In effect, they’re fighting with themselves and they don’t acknowledge this,” said Ron Stagg, chair of the Palin Foundation.
What surprises him most is the change in attitude of the student unions. For more than six years, he said, former student unions have approved of an agreement the current unions reject.
“Most of the agreement was the work of student unions. Most of what’s in the agreement is their ideas. So (RSU and CESAR) executives have come along and said ‘No, we don’t like that.'”
Moreover, RSU and CESAR’s past is bumpy: the unions have not always worked well together, questioning the ability of the groups to work in concert down the road.
“I can’t discuss the details of how it would work, or how it will work in the future,” said current RSU President Rebecca Rose.
Rose said she just wants the SCC to work for students and not against them.
“I would hope that all of the other groups were as concerned with serving the students as we are, and that’s all I can really say,” she said.
“This has been our driving project since we were created,” said Liz Devine, president of Ryerson Centre. “I have been active with Ryerson Centre for the last 20 years, since I was a student.” She is also a former RSU VP.
The tug-of-war is taking a financial toll on Ryerson. Over the summer, the university had to loan $300,000 towards the facility’s operating costs, said a source close to the negotiations.
The university had set aside money for the SCC to use in its budget, but since the SCC doesn’t yet exist as a legal business, the account couldn’t be accessed. Money was taken from other sources to make up for the financial shortfall that resulted.
RSU and CESAR’s campaign to “Save Student Space” also calls on the university to sign a document preventing the SCC from offering competing services. These include a copy centre, used book room and discounted transit fares.
If a competing used book room did open, wouldn’t it try to compete by offering even lower prices and better services than RSU’s, saving the students’ money?
“I really don’t feel like I need to answer that question,” said Rose.
The RSU and CESAR also want to control the front desk so they can sell services from a convenient spot. RSU used to have a Member Services office in the Podium Building, where they sold things such as discounted TTC passes.
According to documents obtained by the Eyeopener, RSU and CESAR’s proposed operating agreement would limit the amount of funding Oakham Societies would receive.
The original agreement guaranteed the societies at least as much funding as they had been receiving in the past, leaving the door open for increased funding.
However, in the proposed operating agreement, Oakham Society funding would be “equal to” what the groups currently receive. There would be no provisions for more funding. Rose said she doesn’t know anything about this, adding that she doesn’t “want to get into that nitty-gritty stuff.”
Until an operating agreement is signed, who’s managing the SCC?
A transition committee was in place — until Monday, when Rose dissolved it. She said the SCC will now be managed by the Palin Foundation Management Committee.
“The SCC and Oakham House are the same building, and we believe that…the Palin Foundation Management Committee is a legitimate body,” she said.
But that committee doesn’t exist, according to Stagg.
“With the transition committee gone, the Palin Board is the only thing sitting there that has any kind of legal authority” over the SCC, he said. Rose might have meant the Oakham House Management Committee, but even then, it can only have control over operations of Oakham House and not the SCC.
Rose maintains the union she leads and her counterparts at CESAR are working for students, no matter what happens next.
“We care a lot about this building, and we care a lot about what happens to it, and that’s why we’re fighting so hard on these issues because we want to make sure it’s serving the students.”
But if RSU and CESAR have their way, Stagg fears the average student may not necessarily benefit.
“The student unions, not the students, will be in complete control of the SCC.”
Ryerson President Sheldon Levy said he hopes the groups will be able to resolve things themselves. But if it comes down to it, he said he’s prepared to intervene.
“If my coming to the table would help the process, I think I would do it but I hope I don’t have to,” he said.
With files from Melissa Dunne and Amanda-Marie Quintino