By Valerie Dittrich
Some Ryerson University alumni are speaking out against the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), following allegations of misspending on two corporate credit cards in the names of the union’s president and vice-president operations.
Several alumni have shifted their perspectives after the scandal and said in light of these allegations against the RSU, they wouldn’t consider donating to the university in the future—even though their donations would not be going to the union itself.
Ryerson University told The Eyeopener in a written statement that it is withholding fees to the RSU until a forensic audit of their finances and spending is completed, citing that “greater transparency and confidence that the RSU is managing student fees responsibly and for their intended purposes” is needed. A motion to conduct a forensic audit was approved and passed at a Feb. 1 Board of Directors (BoD) meeting.
The average full-time undergraduate student pays around $130 to the RSU each year.
The Eyeopener previously reported both credit cards were a violation of the union’s financial policies.
For a former RSU vice-president of finance and an urban and regional planning grad, the whole situation shouldn’t have even happened. “It is so far removed from the practices [of the RSU] and the conduct of what my group and team [of] elected folks worked for,” said Chris Drew.
Drew served on the RSU board of directors (BoD) for three consecutive terms from 2002 to 2005. He was then elected vice-president finance for another two terms until his graduation in 2009.
“The idea, even jokingly, that I, Chris Drew, should have a credit card, an [RSU] credit card—if I had suggested it I would have been walked out of the building and impeached by my executive colleagues.”
“I would check up on [the RSU’s] track record, making sure they aren’t spending a quarter of a million dollars on clubs”
The RSU spent 273,000 between May 1 and Feb. 1 on credit cards held by president Ram Ganesh and vice-president operations Savreen Gosal, according to the union’s financial controller Dharshini Jay.
The Eyeopener confirmed financial statements which show purchases at various locations around the city of Toronto, such as a $2,280.89 charge to the club EFS Toronto, $2,507.18 at a Cineplex Rec Room and $1,375.21 at Nick’s Sports Shop.
At an emergency board meeting on Feb. 1, the union’s BoD provided notice that a motion to remove all four RSU executives from office would be presented at their next meeting on Feb. 4.
The meeting has since been cancelled by Gosal as she said there was no need to discuss redundant motions that were previously discussed, such as hiring an external financial auditor. Jay must also present the BoD with the credit card purchases by Feb. 6.
Adrian Yong, a mechanical engineering grad from the class of 2018, said he’s disappointed but not surprised by the RSU’s actions. “I have no faith in the RSU [to do] anything responsible. They just threw student money out the window. I don’t see any way [for] them [to] ever [recover] from this,” he said.
Yong is not currently donating to Ryerson, but said if he was in a situation where he was giving money to the university, he would hold off for a while. “I would check up on [the RSU’s] track record, making sure they aren’t spending a quarter of a million dollars on clubs.”
Chelsea Lecce graduated last spring from Ryerson’s journalism program and is a reporter for Global News. She said she thinks the school isn’t doing enough to resolve this issue, but is aware of the university’s uncertainty.
“[The story has] blown beyond [Ryerson’s] campus. Their main priority is probably just containing the reputation of the school and avoiding any sort of outbursts or riots or anything like that on campus,” she said.
Lecce currently doesn’t donate to Ryerson and said she wouldn’t do so in the future. “I wouldn’t even think twice about it. Unless they can provide me with some sort of proof that [the money] is going back to students and not paying someone individually.”
“I refuse to let a few bad apples ruin it”
Ryerson Alumni Relations did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
“The RSU is a separate corporate entity to Ryerson University,” said Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi. “The RSU has a duty to act honestly and in good faith to be the best interest of our students.”
Lachemi said the university works hard to maintain a positive relationship with all their donors. “Alumni are really proud [to be from] Ryerson and we want to make sure there is trust. I think the actions that we’re taking show that we want to make sure there is trust between the university and its stakeholders.”
As for Drew, he said he would “absolutely not” stop giving to the school. “I refuse to let a few bad apples ruin it. The average student had nothing to do with this and it’s really a breakdown in leadership and processes and those things can be fixed.”
Drew said the news of the RSU’s alleged financial mismanagement actually gives him a better reason to keep donating to the university. “This just gives me more passion to give more to Ryerson, to give students a better experience.”
Correction: A previous version of this story stated Drews was elected vice-president finance for three terms. Drews was elected for two terms. The Eye regrets the error.