RSU student groups, unions left in the dark following Rye termination

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Rye cut ties with the RSU, leaving student groups to pick up the pieces—since they were never consulted in the first place, Tyler Griffin reports

When Ryerson announced the termination of their agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) on Jan. 24, the RSU’s seven Equity Service Centres were never mentioned.

In an interview on the same day, Jen McMillen, vice-provost, students, told The Eyeopener the university is “committed” to maintaining essential programs and services without “significant disruption…for the remainder of the academic year.” But she did not say how Ryerson would support these services.

According to the RSU’s website, the RSU also supports more than 200 campus groups, course unions, clubs and affiliate groups.

According to an email obtained by The Eye, RSU student groups and course unions have been barred from promoting their services and events through the RSU e-Newsletter.

“We will do our best to assist you by posting on the RSU site on our events calendar and our social media pages,” said campus groups coordinator Dawn Murray in the email.

To this day, the RSU does not accept the agreement’s termination as valid. “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,” they said in a statement.

While circumstances remain up in the air, student groups and unions are facing uncertainty, causing detriment to their ability to serve, represent and advocate for students. 

For the past year and a half, there have been shifts to the academic world, that have as a result, created a culture of fear on post-secondary campuses. This includes the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative—which threatened funding and accessibility of student services, and Ryerson’s termination of its agreement with the student union. 

On Jan. 28, the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) released a statement citing concerns after the RSU’s academic advocate—who guides students through findings of academic misconduct—was turned away from representing a student. 

Following this, CESAR president Nicole Brayiannis claimed they received communications from the Senate, students and the Ombudsperson that full-time students were being directed to the CESAR student advocate. The statement alleges this was done without any prior consultation with CESAR, during “the busiest time of the year for academic appeals.”   

“One advocate is not enough for a campus of this size and it is in the best interest of students to have advocates from their students’ union to objectively challenge the university,” reads the statement. 

CESAR represents 16,000 continuing education, distance education and part-time degree students at Ryerson. The union employs full time unionized staff to provide services, campaigns and events. 

In a statement, McMillen said Ryerson is aware of the issue and as of now, five students were impacted.

McMillen’s statement adds that the university offered to provide CESAR with “additional resources to increase the number of students the CESAR advocate is able to represent.” But CESAR declined their offer.

“It seems that the fallout of this [is Ryerson wasn’t] prepared and didn’t have the proper supports in place to ensure that students wouldn’t be affected by the decision that they made,” Brayiannis told The Eye.

“Everyone is pretty much waiting for the university to outline next steps and how it’ll affect anyone involved”

In addition to Brayiannis, other student leaders on campus have been searching for ways to support their student groups and course unions. 

Duaa Zahra, president of the Ryerson Communication and Design Society (RCDS), said the RCDS hasn’t been impacted by the decision as they are independent of the RSU. “Right now we’re in constant communication with our course unions and student groups to see how we can best support them at this time,” she said.

Zahra said most of the groups and unions under the RCDS have raised concerns about funding and what the news means for those that operate under the RSU. “Everyone is pretty much waiting for the university to outline next steps and how it’ll affect anyone involved.”

Charmaine Reid, president of the Ryerson Debate Association (RDA), said their membership feels anxious in the aftermath of Ryerson’s decision. RDA runs weekly debate practices and attends tournaments to compete against other universities. 

The FAQ section in Ryerson’s termination statement says “the university is not involved in the process of establishing or recognizing RSU student groups, associations and clubs.”

“It’s clear that the university will not be taking on that responsibility,” said Reid, “and that student groups will be independent with no direction.”

Reid said RDA’s concerns include finding funding, meeting spaces and ensuring long-term sustainability. 

Reid said it would’ve been beneficial if the university had consulted students—so they could express how integral students are to not only the RSU but student life on campus. 

“I think they knew how this would impact student groups and student life, [but] they just, you know, don’t care as much,” Reid added. 

“But we can show them student solidarity and the ways that [this] will impact the university’s reputation from our point of view, rather than the ways they want it to save their reputation.”

Moving forward, CESAR is focusing on educating students on what the effects of this decision will look like at Ryerson—Brayiannis takes the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) as an example. In September 2018, uOttawa terminated their contract with the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) following allegations of fraud, although Brayiannis said “[uOttawa] showed that prior to this termination that arrangements were made to ensure that students would not be heavily affected by the decision.”

“Ryerson knew how this would impact student life, but they, you know, don’t care as much”

But according to Matt Gergyek, editor-in-chief of uOttawa’s news outlet The Fulcrum, campus life has changed drastically as a result—despite their new union, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU), being “democratically healthy, for the most part.”

Gergyek said uOttawa’s statement on the termination of their students’ union was “almost identical” to Ryerson’s statement. Both cite financial mismanagement, improper governance and internal conflict. 

“It’s like a spider’s web connected to so many things you don’t even think about, and if you shut it down, that has a domino effect and impacts every part of campus,” said Gergyek.

In April, uOttawa’s 12 service centres closed along with the SFUO. Gergyek said none of the services were running when students returned the following semester.

“The upside to this is students.They don’t just roll over and let it happen or let it die. That was one silver lining to this whole thing, that out of nowhere this new student union started so fast…[in] three months they got fully mobilized and regulated, wrote a constitution and had all these new ideas,” he added.

In a previous statement posted to CESAR’s social media on Jan. 24, Brayiannis called Ryerson’s decision “heavy-handed and premature” and called for the university to reverse their decision and await the results of the forensic audit. But instead of releasing the promised audit, the RSU revealed a “financial review” that looked into its credit card statements.

In the statement, Brayiannis also addressed the RSU’s numerous victories throughout its 72-year-run. This includes the creation of the seven equity centres, the creation of a TTC Metropass discount and the ability for students to pay tuition fees in two installments, alleviating the financial burden of paying yearly fees upfront.

“The victories of previous RSU committees continue to be enjoyed by students today, and have proved to be invaluable.”

Brayiannis added that without that engrained memory of the union’s support for students on campus, there can be a disconnect in recognizing “what will really be lost by setting up a brand new students’ union.”

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