RSU BoD meeting addresses full-time staff layoffs, statue removal, unallocated budgetary funds

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By Alexandra Holyk, Heidi Lee and Libaan Osman

At the Ryerson Students’ Union’s (RSU) Board of Directors’ (BoD) meeting on Tuesday, RSU president Ali Yousaf began his opening remarks by addressing the “fake propaganda” circulating around the RSU. 

Yousaf was referring to supposed allegations that the RSU was “abandoning students and student groups” by laying off staff members from the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support (C3SVS) as well as the campus groups coordinator.

“All of us, especially this entire executive team and management team, have been working tirelessly to address every single person’s needs and we are doing what we can,” said Yousaf. 

Although the meeting proved to be heated for the entirety of its 4 and a half hour duration, motions were successfully passed to allocate surplus funds in the RSU’s 2020-21 budget and to publish a letter in solidarity with Indigenous student efforts in the removal of the Egerton Ryerson statue. A motion to capitalize the “I” in “Indigenous” in RSU policies was also passed.

However, a motion to reinstate Dawn Murray as the campus groups coordinator, after she was officially laid off in October, went in-camera—according to Yousaf, the motion failed. 

Yousaf said he called for the board to go in-camera because they were discussing the employment of individual staff members, which is a legal matter. Yousaf previously told The Eyeopener that he cannot provide live commentary on the matter since he anticipates that the RSU will be in arbitration as a result of the layoffs.

Before the discussion went in-camera, Faculty of Arts director Alexandra Nash said there were many students and student group representatives in attendance at the BoD who deserved to know what was going on.

Board of Governors’ student representative David Jardine also pushed for an open discussion, saying “This is an issue that students are worried about…I absolutely think we can have a conversation without compromising information about individuals’ employment.”

“Things don’t look good right now,” Jardine said, adding that the more that is closed off to students the worse that makes the RSU looks as an organization.

Nonetheless, the motion to go in-camera passed.

Murray was temporarily laid off in the spring due to reduced workloads according to RSU president Ali Yousaf. She was offered a part-time position along with the RSU’s graphic designer coordinator Vanessa Lee. In October, her contract was terminated along with other employees who were temporarily laid off.

During the meeting, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1281 tweeted that Murray was not laid off, but terminated.

Murray shared her testimony in an email to The Eye after the meeting, confirming she was terminated without cause on Nov. 6. 

Murray worked at the RSU for more than 20 years and said she was only given eight weeks of severance pay at part-time hours for her part-time contract—she said she received none as part of her full-time contract agreement.

“During my tenure I have been a loyal, dedicated employee,” Murray said in the statement, adding that she “considered [the] RSU [her] second family.”

At the meeting, Yousaf said any claims that the RSU was “abandoning student groups” by terminating Murray’s contract were false.

Here’s what else you missed at the latest RSU BoD meeting: 

Motion to allocate $504,845 of unallocated funds in the RSU’s 2020-21 budget: PASSED

A total of $504,845 currently unallocated funds will be put toward new RSU initiatives, according to vice-president operations Liora Dubinsky. 

Initially, the motion called for the allocation of $154,845—$75,000 toward a new mental health and wellness grant, $50,000 for giveaways and collaborations and $25,000 for an honorarium for all BoD members. It is not yet known where the remaining $4,845 will go.

Dubinsky said she noticed a significant number of students raising mental health concerns due to the pandemic while reviewing the RSU’s COVID-19 relief grant applications.

The application process and eligibility of the mental health and wellness grant will be similar to the RSU’s COVID-19 relief grant in September and October, Yousaf said. It is not yet known when the grant will become available to students.

During the meeting, Dubinsky amended the motion and added $350,000 to go toward virtual student engagement. She added that the funds will go towards a variety of activities for the remaining fall 2020 semester and the upcoming winter semester. 

Several board members asked where these funds were coming from.

Dubinsky said this year’s RSU executive took a conservative financial approach when planning the budget due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Dubinsky added that the RSU’s revenue this year is “higher than anticipated” because the RSU received more funding in student levies. Additionally, since CopyRite is not operating during the school year, the RSU did not need to spend money on expenses, such as supplies.

The RSU’s 2020-21 budget is approximately $2.2 million—a 10 per cent decrease from the 2019-20 budget. Although the RSU said they used a conservative model when setting out their budget, RSU financial controller Priya Paul said the university transferred $3 million in student levies from the fall and winter semesters.

Nash pointed out that some money in the budget should remain unallocated in the event that emergency funds are needed. Dubinsky said this was taken into account and $200,000 remains unallocated in the RSU’s 2020-21 budget.

Motion to support Indigenous students’ effort to remove the Egerton Ryerson statue: PASSED

After a one-hour discussion, the board decided the RSU will write its own letter to the university’s Egerton Ryerson task force in support of Indigenous students’ demand for the statue to be removed. 

Egerton Ryerson played a significant role in the creation of the residential school system in Canada. The task force was announced earlier this year with plans to also look into how other universities have handled memorializing controversial figures. 

Senate representative George Carter, who pushed the motion forward, said it was in an effort to publicly acknowledge the efforts of Indigenous students and show support in recognizing their sovereignty. 

“I feel like actions in this motion are at least some good first steps that we can take as a board to show our students that we care about their interests and needs,” Carter said.

The motion called on the RSU to make a public announcement in solidarity with Indigenous students and their commitment to addressing issues regarding Egerton Ryerson, as well as supporting their efforts to remove the statue on campus.

It also mentioned a request for RSU vice-president equity Vaishali Vinayak to organize an anti-Indigenous racism training for all members of the board, with separate training also offered for RSU members. Additionally, it called for the RSU to sign the Continuing Education Students’ Association’s (CESAR) open letter demanding that the university remove the Egerton statue. 

Yousaf was against signing the open letter from CESAR, noting that CESAR and the RSU are their own separate entities. Other board members argued that CESAR being its own entity shouldn’t prevent the RSU from signing the letter. 

“Students are just asking, ‘Will you support Indigenous students? Will you condemn a statue that represents a racist colonial history?’ It’s really the least we can do,” said Steph Rychlo, a Faculty of Communications Services director.

Yousaf said the RSU will get in touch with the task force and plan on raising concerns from Indigenous students with Ryerson.

Instead of signing onto CESAR’s letter, the board voted to amend the motion and have the RSU draft its own letter within a week—dedicated to supporting Indigenous students and calling on the task force to remove the statue. 

On Nov. 10, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi released the names of the 14 individuals that make up the task force.

The creation of the task force came after the statue on Gould Street was defaced several times over the summer and a petition for its removal was circulated, which now has nearly 10,000 signatures. However, students, faculty and members of the community have been calling for its removal for several years.

Follow-up stories will be published on the restructuring of the C3SVS and discussions regarding the RSU’s stance on the Egerton Ryerson statue.

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