By Sarah Krichel
As of Jan. 24, Ryerson University no longer recognizes the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) as the official student body government. This sets a dangerous precedent for what is supposed to be an independent organization on this campus.
“The university has lost confidence in the RSU’s ability to represent students with good governance and to supply the services that students pay for,” wrote Jen McMillen, vice-provost, students, in the press release.
This essentially means that, if you’re an independent, on-campus group of any sort, pissing off the university is not in your best interests, because apparently, to Ryerson, being autonomous comes with a limit.
For context, the RSU has not recognized this action as valid. According to a Jan. 27 statement from the RSU, the university has also infringed on their 1986 Operating Agreement, a contract between the two institutions outlining their transfer payment relationship. According to the statement, the school has allegedly withheld student fees it collected for the union since October 2018. Now, the student union has filed a legal claim against the university with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
“We’re deeply disappointed that we have to take this action,” RSU president Vanessa Henry said. “Over the past year the RSU has had to deplete its resources so that it could continue to provide essential services to students.”
It’s no secret that RSU executives in recent years have caused severe student mistrust in the student union due to issues almost always relating to money. And for a while now, it’s easy for the average student to feel not listened to, as we always seem to end up in a similar situation.
So over the last year, the RSU has had conversations with the university around regaining trust through three conditions: conducting a forensic audit, sharing the results with the school and negotiating a new agreement. The school claims that the RSU did not meet these conditions, and attributes the termination of the agreement to this.
But what does reaching a solution mean to Ryerson, exactly?
The day they terminated the contract happened right around the one-year anniversary of the RSU credit card story from last year, and since, the RSU has in fact advertised the audit results were going to be shared at the Semi-Annual General Meeting, set for Feb. 3, just a few days away. Henry has also said the RSU was “in fact, hours away” from sending a new draft of their agreement when they received notice from the university of their termination. And since the executive elections in May, the RSU has worked at regaining the trust of the student body. They have launched various initiatives and mandates, such as campaigning and running programs related to transparency and regaining trust.
Rightfully so, since regaining the trust of a student body doesn’t just happen overnight.
Although I wish we had more answers around how we got to the point of a divorce between our mom and dad, from the perspective of a journalist, murky details were always expected. As the independent student newspaper of this campus, we’ve been asking both the union and university questions to clear things up. How did this happen? What is in the operating agreement? How will it impact equity service centres? What will happen to the funds from October 2018 that the RSU has allegedly still not received?
But there’s a bigger picture here. Student autonomy has officially been given a limit on Ryerson campus. When the school decided to terminate the agreement and a 34-year-long agreement was thrown out, a precedent was set.
But, Ryerson: Student autonomy has never meant “perfect.” No organization is exempt from being taken over by persons who will try to take advantage of positions of power. The RSU knows that it is no exception to that rule, and the university should especially know that. Need we remind the school of their own long history of fuck-ups?
I won’t comment on whether this was the right decision. Reactions to the split are mixed, but one thing remains clear—whatever our opinions, students were not consulted on this decision.
The only mention in this entire debacle of student concerns was in the statement: “members of the student body have shared with the university that these issues are of great concern to them,” referring to the recent impeachment and resignations of RSU execs and internal conflict concerns raised about the RSU.
The fact that this is the only mention of you, the student, to whom the union belongs—should be alarming.
It is to Adam Asmar; self-identified “kid who really loved the RSU.” Last week, Asmar tweeted about his experiences with the flawed union, and why he still defends it. “Do we need restructuring? Yes! Do we need more adults in the room with 20-something year old kids that become in charge of a 2.5 million dollar budget with 5-25% of students voting them in? Yes!!!! But don’t you dare think that I believe the RSU & it’s services are unnecessary.”
“[The termination] is heartbreaking, point blank end-of-story,” Asmar added. “It’s an attack on student life, an attack on the marginalized, and I do not trust the lip service they’ve given to a potential new student union.”
If there’s one thing I hate more than being a union-less student at a university institution, it’s knowing any one of us could be next.