‘It’s been a long time coming’: RGSU to represent grad students next academic year

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By Heidi Lee

The Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union (RGSU) will be representing full-time and part-time graduate students at Ryerson starting September 2021, after a referendum was passed on Friday to establish the RGSU as the official representation of graduate students. 

The referendum also passed an annual RGSU membership fee of $123.84. 

In a post via Facebook, the RGSU revealed that 310 out of 526 graduate students voted in favour, while 211 voted against and five declined to vote. 

RGSU vice-president operations Charlotte Ferworn said the executive team is very excited about the results given the RGSU has been trying to form a separate students’ union from the Ryerson Student’s Union (RSU) for almost a year.

“It’s been a long time coming, so we’re all pretty elated,” said Ferworn.

In March, the RGSU was elected as one of the new student governing bodies after Ryerson terminated its 1986 Operating Agreement with the RSU. But after the RSU won its injunction against the university, the plan to form a graduate students’ union was put on hold.

From April 16 to 17, a referendum was held by both the RGSU and the 2019-20 RSU executive to determine if they would separate the graduate students from the RSU’s membership. It resulted in 681 out of 730 students voting in favour of a separate graduate students’ union.

However, RGSU vice-president education Amber Grant said in a town hall meeting back in June that the union was not recognized by the university and the current RSU executive due to a clause in the new operating agreement between the RSU and the university. The clause said the RGSU must be approved by Ryerson’s Board of Governors (BoG) before separating from the RSU.

In an email to The Eyeopener, Jen McMillen, Ryerson’s vice provost, students, congratulated the RGSU on a successful referendum result, adding that the university looks forward to working with the RGSU on an operating agreement. 

“We will reach out to the RGSU team in the coming days to discuss their transition to a fully autonomous and separate student government,” the email read. “In accordance with the referendum results, Ryerson will look to implement the approved student fees in its next consolidated budget.”

According to Ferworn, the RGSU will start negotiating its operating agreement with the university starting this month. 

She said now that the referendum has passed, the union will work on establishing a health plan for students. 

According to the RGSU’s website, 63.3 per cent of graduate students surveyed are willing to pay more for a health plan with greater mental health and dental coverage. 

“Everything we have said about the health plan so far was based on previous research and some unofficial discussions…until we met the referendum stage, there wasn’t a lot we could do…Other than surveying graduate students to see what they wanted,” she said. 

Ferworn added that the executive team hopes to share more information with the student body and talk about the details of the health plan with the RGSU membership by organizing town halls, orientations and sending newsletters to students. 

The RGSU is also hoping to hold its first election in February 2021 for the 2021-22 executive team. Ferworn said the team plans to negotiate several agreements with the RSU and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) in March and April 2021 to maintain some access to services for graduate students. 

The current RGSU team is expected to onboard the new executives by May 2021.

Ferworn said what they’re looking for in an executive member is “someone who is enthusiastic, passionate, has a plan and is ready to move forward.” 

“We want somebody who is excited to tackle challenges and excited by them because it is going to be a rocky start. Every new organization’s start is rocky…It’s pretty difficult at the beginning, but it is very rewarding because you are building that organization from the ground up.”

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