By Jacob Dubé
This year’s Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) Board of Directors have been on the job for eight months now, but some of them still aren’t showing up to meetings—putting their positions at risk and leaving students under-represented.
Board members are students elected to the RSU who represent faculties or groups at-large, like residences and student groups. The crux of their job description is that they have to attend RSU board meetings and vote on behalf of the students they represent.
“If they aren’t attending board meetings, they can’t fulfil most of their job,” said RSU vice-president education Daniel Lis.
According to the RSU bylaws, if a board member misses three meetings—even if they give notice beforehand—their positions will be deemed vacant, which means they will be removed from the board.
Last year, the positions of five board members were deemed vacant and consequently removed.
Lis said that there are some members this year that are already close to losing their positions.
RSU president Susanne Nyaga said they’ve been able to gather enough people at almost all their meetings to make quorum—the minimum amount of people needed at board meetings for it to be allowed to run. And though there’s a solid group of members that attend every meeting and participate, the lack of full representation is limiting the diversity of voices in the room.
“It’s impacting the voices around the table,” said Nyaga. “Students elected these folks to represent them and if they’re not present and speaking on behalf of the students, it’s an issue.”
To encourage board members to show up to meetings and participate in events, the RSU has an honorarium program where members can receive up to $1,000 per semester. They can register the hours they spend in board meetings (which can go over three hours) as well as volunteer hours working for different events or campaigns.
As opposed to past years where board members were paid solely on the number of hours they worked— that, according to Nyaga, led to some instances of people exaggerating their numbers for a higher pay. The current executive team decides how much a member should be paid depending on a number of hours as well as the diversity of work they’ve done.
“We’re literally paying them to come to board meetings, and they’re still not coming,” Lis said.
Nyaga said some board members have missed meetings for legitimate reasons like if they’re out of town, have a midterm or exam, or dealing with mental health issues. But others simply don’t communicate with Nyaga about their absences. “There are people who I think, ‘Are you still on the board?’”
Nyaga said she thinks the reason that some board members aren’t showing up to meetings is because they didn’t fully understand the requirements for the position when they ran in the election.
“I think it’s just people not being able to manage their life and these meetings. It’s understandable, but if you can’t fulfil this role, there are students that want to and students that can, and you should be giving way to them,” she said.
Course union representative Salman Faruqi said though it seems attendance might be low, board members also have the option to call into the meetings through an RSU-run Google Hangouts page.
Board member Maryan Issa said board meetings can be a lot to handle, which would make it difficult for members to interact and participate properly with the rest of the board.
“The fact that it’s overwhelming makes me not want to participate in [meetings],” Issa said. “For me, it does act as a barrier.”
She said the meetings can be very tense, and not enough time is given to properly prepare and decide on votes. “When things are consistently tense like that, it makes a pretty toxic environment, in my opinion,” Issa said. “I don’t think that high-intensity situation is good for the board members, the executives or the student body in general.”
One of the main reasons that the meetings have been tense, according to board member Andrew Hight, is because the RSU is comprised of a split slate team. Hight added that board members are often in opposition to members that ran on a different slate from them. “We’ve been stuck in this cycle where we see Spark and Elevate and Ohana and nothing besides that,” Hight said.
This has resulted in a number of contentions during board meetings.
The “toxic environment” was especially evident in the summer, after the launch of the Colonialism 150 campaign.
If a board member reaches the three-absences threshold, it’s up to the president and the executives to decide whether or not to enforce the removal, which can be difficult depending on the member’s situation.
“There could be a good reason. but if folks just aren’t showing up… it’s really hard to be empathetic,” Nyaga said. “This is the position you ran on, this is the position you said you’d fulfil, you can’t just disappear on students.”