By Jake Scott
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) held a media conference detailing their alternative budget plan and revealing the findings of its independent economists. According to the alternative budget, if Ryerson University used $6.3 million of its yearly “surplus,” the school could halt the the increase in tuition fees for a year.
“[The] RSU and CESAR have worked over the past few months to look more closely at Ryerson University’s current budget,” said Jesse Root, RSU vice-president education. “We have identified $16.7 million dollars in savings in the Ryerson University budget, as well as a structural surplus to the tune of an average of $14 million per year for the past 5 years.”
The term “surplus” is a point of contention between the RSU and Ryerson University, illustrated both in Ryerson’s response to the RSU’s media conference and in an interview with Ryerson Provost Mohamed Lachemi.
“I don’t use the term surplus because that’s not right because they’re giving an impression that doesn’t represent the reality,” Lachemi said. “We always set aside some funds and those funds are always dedicated to some big projects. For the SLC it’s a project that costs a lot of money but it’s also a project that you have to do within a number of years … Of course in this case we have to put funds aside in advance.”
Lachemi also said that using $6.3 million of that money to freeze tuition increases wouldn’t work.
“My reaction to that is that it’s not doable or we would do it. If it was, we would do it,” said Lachemi.
Root, however, believes that information provided by in the alternative budget proves otherwise.
“They haven’t done it, and it is possible. I mean, these are independent economists who have looked at the same numbers the university is using and have come up with a plan to show that it is possible,” Root said.
He also believes that using that money for large projects like the SLC is an improper use of these funds and that “savings” isn’t the proper term.
“I dont think that it’s fair to say that this is savings … We know that if indeed money is an issue we should be covering the basic things. To us what that means is hiring more full time teachers who have time to spend with students, fixing the buildings that are falling apart on our campus, ensuring that tuition fees are lower and making sure that international students aren’t being made cash cows for the university,” said Root in an interview after the conference. “The SLC is a great building, it’s beautiful and students like it, but that should not be funded from an unaccountable pot of money that students don’t have an input [on].”
The RSU hired independent economists Sean Geobey, project manager for MaRS solutions lab and Anthony Piscitelli, director of Your Neighbourhood Credit Union and supervisor for planning and research for the Region of Waterloo, to help create the alternative budget. Both also work, or have worked, for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The two examined publicly accessible Ryerson budget documents to advise the RSU in the creation of its alternative budget.
The RSU will be presenting the alternative budget to students at a town hall meeting on March 12. They will be then present it to the Finance Committee of the Board of Governors on March 24. If it is approved by the finance committee they will bring the alternative budget to the Board of Governors meeting on March 30.
Ryerson has released a statement refuting claims made by the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and Continuing Education Students’ Association at Ryerson (CESAR) about what it refers to as the university’s “massive hidden surplus.”
“The RSU wrongly calls the savings the university requires to build a strong Ryerson for the future a ‘surplus,’” reads Ryerson’s press release. “The university is required to save funds every year in order to be able build its future … For example, the land Ryerson purchased for the Student Learning Centre cost Ryerson more than $30 million – funds that were set aside in advance.”
RSU claimed that the university has been “withholding millions that could fund a tuition freeze fees for all students,” in their March 9 press release. The RSU has called a media conference at 4 p.m. March 10 in Ryerson’s Oakham House to “release more details of the independent research.”