By Alexandra Holyk
Ryerson graduate students could have their own students’ union if the referendum to remove them from the Ryerson Students’ Union’s (RSU) membership passes on April 16-17.
At the RSU’s emergency Board of Directors (BoD) meeting on March 12, a motion was passed to organize the referendum. This comes after an initial motion to create a graduate students’ union passed at the RSU’s Annual General Meeting in April 2019.
Graduate students have been trying to separate from the RSU to form their own union for more than three years now. The first motion to create a separate union was put forward in April 2017. At the time, a committee was created to oversee the graduates’ union, but plans to implement the Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union (RGSU) only began this year.
“Throughout this year, with the support of the RSU, the Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union has continued to work toward separation,” said Amber Grant, RGSU vice-president of education, adding that her team began discussing the idea of separating with vice-provost, students Jen McMillen in September 2019.
Currently, the RSU represents all full-time undergraduate students and all graduate students. According to Grant, the issue with this is that there are only two out of 42 BoD seats reserved for graduate students.
“This means that graduate students hold virtually no decision-making power, making it difficult to appropriately support graduate students at Ryerson,” said Grant.
RSU president Vanessa Henry said this year’s RSU executive team was supportive in the graduate students’ decision to separate.
“The [graduate students’] union was always intending to run a referendum so that they can separate from the RSU. Not because it was bad, it was just because having undergrad students looking after grad students and making decisions on the behalf of grad students wasn’t necessarily fair and the best process,” Henry said.
Henry added that most schools across the province have two separate unions for their undergraduate and graduate students.
When Ryerson terminated its 1986 Operating Agreement with the RSU on Jan. 24, the RSU was no longer recognized as the official student governing body. McMillen later announced in an email that students would have the opportunity to put forward proposals for new student government structures.
On March 6, the RGSU’s proposal was selected to represent graduate students. It was one of two student government structures that were voted in. A few days later, the RSU won their injunction against Ryerson—recognizing them as the only student governing body and putting the university’s new student government plans on hold.
Despite not being able to form a graduate students’ union through Ryerson’s new student government model, Grant said graduate students still wanted to find a way to separate from the RSU.
“At that point, we felt we had to attempt to move forward by whatever means were still available to us.”
According to RSU bylaws, members must be notified about a referendum at least 30 days in advance. However, the announcement was posted by the RSU on its Facebook and Instagram pages two days before the referendum will take place.
Grant said the motion to hold the referendum was passed on March 12, abiding by the rules. But the RGSU only received the university’s approval to host the referendum through the my.ryerson portal a couple of days ago.
“Graduate students are the members truly impacted by this referendum. There is actually no real impact for undergraduate students. Most graduate students are aware of this whole process through our own separate media channels,” Grant added.
Henry said the referendum was a follow-up to the elections held by the university.
“In terms of letting the membership know, it’s kind of unclear because I feel [that] grad students who did vote want this to happen and they showed that already,” Henry said. “So in a sense, they had 30 days notice because they already voted on another election.”
If students vote in favour of the separation, Grant said the RGSU plans to hold an election for next year’s executive team and BoD. According to her, the current team will then work with incoming executives to negotiate a new operating agreement with Ryerson—separate from the RSU.
“We hope that by September 2020 the RGSU will be fully recognized by Ryerson as the new student governance structure for full-time and part-time graduate students,” Grant said.