By Madi Wong and Emma Sandri
Ryerson has terminated its 1986 Operating Agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), according to vice-provost, students Jen McMillen.
In a statement posted to Ryerson Today on Jan. 24, McMillen wrote that the university “no longer recognizes the RSU as the official student government representing Ryerson students” and that the university has “lost confidence” in the RSU’s ability to represent and serve students.
According to a Ryerson spokesperson, the “transfer payment agreement” between the university and the RSU recognizes the RSU as a separate corporate entity from the university with its own corporate governance structure.
In January 2019, The Eyeopener obtained photos of financial statements showing food, clothing, alcohol and club purchases—some upwards of $2000—with a credit card under the former RSU president’s name.
According to McMillen, the university notified the RSU that they would be withholding the fees they collect from students until the RSU met the following conditions: conduct a forensic audit, share the audit results with the university and negotiate a new operating agreement.
The financial mismanagement allegations breached the 1986 Operating Agreement with the university and according to McMillen’s statement, Ryerson gave the RSU “ample time to rectify the situation, but the RSU has failed to do so.”
In response to the university, the RSU released a statement that said they do not accept this termination as valid under their agreement with Ryerson.
“The university’s attempted termination of the operational agreement, and added threat to support an entirely new student government, actively undermines the autonomy and democratic rights of students,” the statement read.
The Canadian Federation of Students publicly stated via Twitter that they “condemn” Ryerson’s “attack on student democracy.”
According to CFS national executive representative Kayla Weiler, the RSU remains a member of the Federation until further notice.
“[The CFS] can provide…training sessions around good governance, fiduciary duty, good financial practices and best practices of how to operate a student’s union,” said Weiler. “We as an organization see that it’s the students’ unions responsibility to deal with the matter at hand,” she added, referring to allegations against the RSU stated by the university.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) also released a statement condemning the “ill-conceived and short-sighted decision” to terminate the agreement between the university and the RSU.
“Ryerson is acting against its own students, who stand to lose important services that student unions advocate for and provide,” stated OFL secretary-treasurer Ahmad Gaied.
The termination’s impact on the RSU’s seven Equity Service Centres is not mentioned in the university’s statement. They include the Good Food Centre, RyePRIDE, RyeACCESS, the Centre for Women and Trans People, the Trans Collective, Racialised Students’ Collective and the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support.
When asked how they will be affected, McMillen told The Eyeopener that the university is “committed” to ensuring that essential programs and services continue to support students so that there isn’t a “significant disruption to students for the remainder of the academic year.”
McMillen added that the university has had concerns about the “recent public turnover” of leadership positions within the organization.
Since Dec. 10, four out of six executives that were on the Refresh slate have left office with the vice-president equity, vice-president marketing and vice-president education resigning and the vice-president operations being impeached.
“This decision was not made lightly. The university wants to assure that we remain committed to working in good faith with a student government that demonstrates a commitment to good governance and sound financial management,” wrote McMillen.
The RSU is a separate entity from the university, with its own Board of Directors (BoD).
According to McMillen, the university will ensure that services like “health and dental benefits,” which are provided by the RSU, continue to be accessible to students for the rest of the academic year.
The RSU was planning on releasing the forensic audit and a report on the audit at the upcoming Semi-Annual General Meeting on Feb. 3
Corey Scott, executive director of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), which is a sister student union to the RSU, said the move by Ryerson is “premature” due to the semi-annual general meeting being just around the corner.
“Honestly, the university is moving hastily and undermining student democracy,” Scott told The Eye. “We’re currently in a hangover period with the RSU, and everyone knows that. There was an issue that happened last year and that issue is still being resolved. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Scott said due to the fact that the forensic audit has been advertised to be released at the SAGM, the university “should ideally have been told—and to my understanding, it has been told.”
“It certainly seems premature for the university to just arbitrarily and without any consultation with sister student unions terminate an agreement that threatens equity service centres, health and dental plans, full-time and part-time staff, and so many other vital campus services.”
“It’s downright wrong,” Scott added.
“What concerns me the most is the staff who work at the RSU and the students who rely on their services. The situation is sad,” said Maklane DeWever, former interim president of the RSU.
The university said they will keep students “informed throughout this period of transition.”
In their statement, the RSU also mentioned that they “will continue to operate and support students.”
The proposed SAGM will still take place on Feb. 3. The RSU stated they encourage students to participate in the general elections.
Vice-president student life and events, Joshua Wiggins and vice-president equity Melania Tryhub did not respond to comment in time for publication.
More to come.
With files from Libaan Osman, Alexandra Holyk and Sarah Krichel.