By Alexandra Holyk
The Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union (RGSU) is still not officially recognized by the university or the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU)—meaning graduate students will remain under the RSU’s membership for the 2020-21 academic year.
At the union’s town hall on Tuesday, RGSU vice-president education Amber Grant claimed a clause in the new operating agreement between the RSU and the university says the RGSU must be approved by Ryerson’s Board of Governors (BoG) before separating from the RSU.
“The RSU is representing and controlling all graduate fees…until the RGSU is legally acknowledged by the university,” said RGSU vice-president operations Charlotte Ferworn. She added that even if the motion is approved by the BoG, the RGSU won’t be implemented until fall 2021.
The RGSU and 2019-20 RSU executive held a referendum to separate graduate students from the RSU membership on April 16-17. According to the results, 681 students voted in favour of a separate union for graduate students out of the 730 votes cast.
Grant claims the 2020-21 team led by Ali Yousaf, however, doesn’t recognize the referendum that took place.
“They don’t see graduate students as a separate organization on campus,” Grant said.
Yousaf told The Eyeopener in an email that “the RSU has never (on the record) said that it does not recognize the Graduate Students Union as graduate students’ representative body.” He added that the RSU is speaking to its lawyers and can’t provide further comment until “we know how to properly proceed on this path.”
Yousaf also said the winter 2020 referendum was “considered a survey that helps the Board of Governors decide if the following referendum should be allowed to move forward.”
With graduate students still under the RSU’s membership, fees collected from graduate and undergraduate student levies will be included in the RSU’s budget. According to the RGSU executive team, there was no election held for the two graduate student positions on the RSU’s Board of Directors, therefore graduate students will not get a say in the budget.
Yousaf said when running for the RSU elections in February, the “RISE” slate he campaigned with put forward nomination forms for graduate student representatives, however, he claims they were rejected by the CRO.
RGSU president Angelique Bernabe mentioned that the RGSU does not have any funding, but hopes graduate students will find a way to be included in the RSU’s budget. “Right now, the undergrads are monitoring the financial status of the…grads,” she said.
Grant said that one of the main reasons the RGSU doesn’t have funds is because of the RSU’s lack of support. “The RSU might be the only organization on campus that doesn’t acknowledge us,” she said.
Looking forward, the RGSU executive team said it plans to focus on its proposal to the BoG and encourages students to volunteer to help look over the paperwork, as well as reach out to the RSU to push for the transfer of graduate student fees.
“Getting that official status and then being able to operate as an independent graduate union… is the main goal,” RGSU vice-president student life and events Alicia Kassee said.
Once the separation is finalized, Grant and Bernabe said they will be looking into getting better health coverage for graduate students than what the RSU provides now.
“If this gets approved by the university, [there will be] a base coverage by the graduate students’ union for much better benefits,” Grant said, adding that TAs and GAs would receive more coverage than they had previously.
In the meantime, Ferworn said she encourages students to spread the word about the RGSU.
“Please go out, tell people that we exist…that’ll be hugely helpful,” Ferworn said, addressing the graduate student attendees. “And tell people that you want a budget, too,” Grant added.
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that only one referendum was held regarding the separation of graduate students from the RSU membership, organized by the RGSU and the 2019-20 RSU team. The Eye regrets this error.