By Alexandra Holyk and Heidi Lee
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executives were under fire at Tuesday’s Board of Directors’ (BoD) meeting for terminating staff members from the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support (C3SVS).
In an email to The Eyeopener on Nov. 14, RSU president Ali Yousaf said all of the C3SVS staff were terminated because “the centre was being managed poorly.”
The Eye also obtained an email thread that revealed the centre’s full-time coordinator was terminated on Nov. 6, along with two part-time coordinators on Nov. 11. It also mentions the individuals were told they were terminated due to a “lack of work” for employees and low student engagement, and that the RSU is “restructuring the centre.”
In his statement, Yousaf stated the layoffs were strictly due to the centre’s management and not due to the lack of work.
At Tuesday’s BoD meeting, Yousaf said the RSU would be re-launching the C3SVS in the coming weeks.
Yousaf said the executive decision to terminate the staff members was not made overnight. He added it came after reviewing the centre’s activity over the past couple of years and was “solely being based off the performance of the staff members working there.”
According to Yousaf’s emailed statement, the centre will be restructured “to ensure that we are using the referendum monies responsibly to help serve as many students as possible.”
At the meeting, Yousaf said every service that the C3SVS has been providing students with is still being delivered, except for the Sexual Assault Survivor Support Line (SASSL) which, according to Yousaf, has “barely received any calls in the past few months.”
Board of Governors’ representative David Jardine said they don’t think restructuring a centre requires firing all of its staff. They also asked if the layoffs were “absolutely necessary.”
Yousaf replied, “Yes it was extremely important…and I worked with the legal team on that.” He added, “[The C3SVS] staff members should’ve been terminated right away.”
Shoaib Ahmed, chairperson of the BoD meeting told Jardine their question is “a whole different topic” and asked them to take the issue regarding the C3SVS “in-camera or have a separate meeting.”
Jardine said they were confused as they were told they could bring this up out of camera.
Yousaf said Jardine could send him an email so the two can set up a time to talk, adding there is a lot the RSU “cannot disclose because it is a legal matter.”
In a follow-up interview with The Eye, Jardine said they, along with Faculty of Arts director Alexandra Nash, tried to organize an informal discussion with board members based on the information surfacing around the layoffs before a formal BoD was scheduled.
Jardine added that they also called for a one-on-one meeting with Yousaf, but nothing was arranged.
They were told that their emailed questions would be addressed at the BoD meeting, despite also being instructed to email their questions to Yousaf once the meeting was in progress.
A letter from the student coalition
During the meeting, Shany Raitsin, a fourth-year English student presented a letter addressed to the RSU executives.
The letter says the RSU administration “has failed” its membership following the termination of the C3SVS staff as well as the other full-time staff members.
Raitsin said a student coalition has been formed due to the transgressions, which include the dismantlement of four Equity Service Centres—the C3SVS, the Good Food Centre, the Trans Collective and the Centre for Women and Trans People.
Yousaf told The Eye in an emailed statement on Nov. 26 that all the Equity Service Centres are operating—holding virtual events and office hours despite being impeded by the pandemic.
“No one has acted as a watchdog over the RSU in quite some time; thereby allowing the RSU to breach their own bylaws without the student body ever taking notice,” the letter reads. “We have decided to address president Ali Yousaf and the RSU executive team of their obligations to the student body.”
Raitsin added that dismantling C3SVS due to a decrease in calls is “a blatant disregard for students’ needs; it is ignorant, and frankly, it is irresponsible.”
In his emailed statement on Nov. 26, Yousaf said the RSU executives “recognize and empathize with the intentions of Raitsin’s remarks,” but insisted that the team cannot provide any “unwarranted claims or comments” due to legal reasons.
While reading the letter at the meeting, chairperson Shoaib Ahmed asked Raitsin to present her closing statements and keep her statements brief. He reinstated that the board meeting is for board members. Yousaf asked Raitsin to forward the letter to him and he would communicate with her over email.
Raitsin responded by asking why she couldn’t speak for 10 minutes after around four hours of board members speaking.
Yousaf said she could continue reading the letter and they’ll respond to her via email. “You gave me permission to finish reading my letter so I think I’ll do that,” Raitsin said.
The letter addressed several initiatives planned by the centre before its staff members’ termination, including virtual SASSL volunteer training, which was expected to take place between Nov. 22 and Dec. 13.
Additionally, the C3SVS was planning to implement a text-to-chat support line, hold a community general meeting and create a student-led task force called RU Supporting Survivors to address sexual violence on campus, according to the letter.
A former employee of C3SVS also told The Eye that ongoing initiatives and campaigns have been put to a halt due to the sudden termination of staff members and that they “were left with so many questions.”
In regards to the four non-operating Equity Service Centres, Raitsin said in the letter that she struggles to understand why they were dismantled “when there seemed to be so many opportunities to avoid such disasters.”
“If the RSU truly values the well-being of the student body, I struggle to understand why equity centres were tossed to the side like garbage,” the letter reads.
Yousaf responded to this in his Nov. 26 statement by repeating that the RSU executives “recognize and empathize with the intentions of Raitsin’s remarks,” but added that they believe Raitsin’s comments are inaccurate.
“We certainly disagree with them on the matter,” Yousaf said, mentioning that the Equity Service Centres have contributed to several grants, events and initiatives throughout the fall semester.
“The [Equity Service Centres] have been fully functional and are making great strides towards creating a better campus for the students,” Yousaf said in his statement. “Equity is the priority for the executive team, always has been, and always will be.”
During the meeting, Raitsin also mentioned that she is worried about the equity centres’ budgets for the 2021-22 academic year since they are calculated on how much they spent the previous year.
“By shutting down the Good Food Centre and C3SVS, around $180,000 of student fees are left unaccounted for in an RSU expense account, with no oversight of a full-time coordinator,” the letter reads.
In Yousaf’s emailed statement, he said this was incorrect. He explained that the budget of the centres and RSU operations are overseen by the executive director, financial controller, executive team and BoD members.
“The ‘full-time coordinator’ is not management—they are a union employee who follows management direction,” Yousaf said. “The role of the RSU is not to spend student fees on RSU employee salaries if the demand is not there.”
Ahead of the BoD meeting, Yousaf told The Eye in an emailed statement on Nov. 14 that “the revenue generated by C3SVS through the student levy will only be used for C3SVS’s operations and marketing; we are not allowed to utilize these funds for any other purpose.”
At the meeting, as Raitsin began talking about how the RSU executive team dismantled the C3SVS without the involvement of the BoD—which goes against RSU policy 14.6 on the dissolving of Equity Service Centres—Ahmed once again asked Raitsin to wrap up her statement.
Raitsin went on to continue presenting when Yousaf stepped in, saying “it’s been over 20 minutes.” Raitsin continued and her microphone was muted as a result.
The Ryerson Senate student representative George Carter pointed out that BoD meetings are for all of the RSU’s membership, not just board members. Yousaf responded saying students can attend BoD meetings but as spectators, not speakers.
Nonetheless, Raitsin was able to finish her statement.
“As a student, I want to trust my student union,” the letter reads. “I stand with my fellow students and their right to basic equity services in a pandemic,” Raitsin added, asking if the RSU executives also stand for this and what they plan to do to show for it.
None of the executives orally responded to Raitsin’s presentation of the letter.
According to Yousaf’s Nov. 26 statement, the RSU has yet to receive Raitsin’s letter, but will draft a response once they do.
However, Yousaf said the response is “contingent on receiving the green light from [the RSU’s] legal team” because some of the matters have to do with the union’s upcoming arbitration.
In a follow-up interview with The Eye, Raitsin said she was shocked when her microphone was muted at the BoD.
“I would think that if a student is speaking from the heart, telling you they feel failed by your administration, the least you could do is listen,” said Raitsin.
She added that although she doesn’t want to make this issue about gender, as a woman, she is used to being “steamrolled, silenced and muted” by men.
“But it is Ali Yousaf’s obligation to listen to his student body and, whether he likes it or not, I am part of that student body.”
A plan of action was also included in the letter, however Raitsin was unable to read it due to the time constraint. It calls for the immediate release of “a clear transparent statement/explanation from the RSU as to why they decided to terminate the entire C3SVS staff and why they terminated the Good Food Centre.”
Additionally, it asks for the equity centre staff to be reinstated and for the RSU’s policies to be updated online and be made publicly accessible. It also requests that moving forward, all equity centre staff should be hired internally by the equity centre itself.
“No other RSU executives besides the vice-president equity should be allowed to interfere with the [centres] in any way,” the letter reads. “There should only be interference on behalf of the RSU if the executives and the board agree the Equity Center Hiring Committee is not operating correctly.”
Several Ryerson community members have pledged their support for the letter, however, it is not clear how the RSU will move forward.
DISCLAIMER: David Jardine is a volunteer writer with The Eye’s fun and satire and communities sections.