By Alexandra Holyk
On Jan. 24, 2020, Ryerson University announced it was terminating its 1986 Operating Agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU).
In the statement posted on Ryerson Today at the time, vice-provost, students, Jen McMillen wrote that the university “no longer recognizes the RSU as the official student government representing Ryerson students” and that the university has “lost confidence” in the RSU’s ability to represent and serve students.
McMillen went on further to explain that between the allegations of financial mismanagement and the RSU’s failure to meet conditions set out by the university—which included conducting a forensic audit, sharing the audit results with the university and negotiating a new operating agreement—Ryerson had to pull the plug on the 34-year-old agreement.
One year out from the breakup, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at all the fun we had over the past two years, as well as what it’s resulted in for current students.
In the beginning…
To get the full picture of how we got to the termination, you’ll need a little context. In January 2019, The Eyeopener obtained photos of financial statements showing food, clothing, alcohol and club purchases—totalling more than $250,000—with a credit card under then-RSU president Ram Ganesh’s name. Ganesh and then-vice-president operations Savreen Gosal, who was also a signing officer on the RSU’s expenditures, were suspended by the executive team.
It took two votes to impeach Ganesh at the Feb. 11, 2019 Board of Directors (BoD) meeting—the first vote failed, surprisingly. Student groups director Maklane deWever was elected interim president for the rest of the term in a secret ballot election.
At the Feb. 1, 2019 BoD meeting, the RSU passed a motion to renegotiate the operating agreement with the university at the request of the school. However, as of October 2019, the new RSU executive—the Refresh slate—and the school still hadn’t finalized a new operating agreement. Given that four out of six executives allegedly weren’t working their full-time hours, one could understand why work on the agreement wasn’t being done.
Issues among the executives
In late 2019, three RSU executives were up for impeachment for allegedly failing to work full 40-hour work weeks throughout their term.
On Dec. 10, vice-president equity Naja Pereira and vice-president marketing Victoria Anderson-Gardner resigned from their positions, citing an “unhealthy” environment.
Ahead of the winter 2020 semester, Kwaku Agyemang resigned from his position as vice-president education.
In mid-January, a petition calling on RSU president Vanessa Henry to resign due to alleged discriminatory behaviour and misuse of funds garnered over 1,000 signatures. However, RSU bylaws require that a motion to impeach someone be brought before the BoD, so Henry was never impeached. By the end of the month, Henry and vice-president student life and events Joshua Wiggins were the only two executives from the original Refresh slate left standing—and the year was only halfway through.
The RSU files a police report
We’re almost at Jan. 24—bear with us. Following the credit card scandal, the RSU hired PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to conduct a forensic audit as per Ryerson’s request.
Once the investigation was completed, the RSU filed a police report with the Toronto Police Service (TPS) on Jan. 20 following the alleged “financial mismanagement.” TPS confirmed the investigation is still open and ongoing in an email sent to The Eye on Dec. 30, 2020.
The RSU gets dumped by Rye
According to McMillen, the union’s financial mismanagement allegations breached the 1986 Operating Agreement with the university.
In response, the RSU released a statement on Facebook saying it didn’t accept the termination as valid under their agreement with Ryerson.
Before they found out they were terminated, the RSU said it planned to release the forensic audit and a report on the audit at the Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) on Feb. 3, 2020.
RSU files legal claim against Rye
The girls are fighting! Four days after the termination, Henry announced the RSU had filed a legal claim with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against the university. The RSU wanted to legally obtain the bag—$2.7 million in damages for breach of contract, the release of the student fees withheld by the university, $100,000 in punitive damages and a declaration that Ryerson is in breach of its agreement with the RSU.
At a press conference held that morning, Henry said the RSU was “in fact, hours away” from sending a new draft of their agreement when they received notice from the university of their termination.
Rye’s new student government plans, RSU elections
In the same way I simply do not see my deadlines, Ryerson was seemingly unfazed by the lawsuit. In several statements shared between Jan. 29 and Feb. 3, McMillen announced that Ryerson would be moving forward in establishing a new student governing body. Proposals for a new student government structure were to be submitted and voted on by Ryerson students.
Expecting to prevail in their legal claim, the RSU still held its elections for the 2020-21 term. The Rise slate won the majority of votes, electing Ali Yousaf as the RSU president.
RSU SAGM reveals financial review, not forensic audit
At the RSU’s first SAGM after being dumped by Ryerson, the Tecumseh Auditorium was filled with students anticipating the executive team’s premiere of its forensic audit (students wanting to attend an RSU meeting? Who would’ve thought).
However, Henry and RSU executive director Reanna Maharaj presented a “financial review” conducted by PwC that only looked at the union’s expenditures made between May and December 2018. Since the full forensic investigation would have been expensive and taken a “significant amount of time,” the RSU asked PwC to investigate only the union’s credit card expenses.
When a student asked why a forensic audit was not conducted, as was required by the university, Maharaj said she couldn’t comment due to “legal reasons”—everyone’s favourite non-answer.
Plans for new student government continue
Almost a month after terminating the agreement, McMillen released a statement with updates surrounding the new student government process. McMillen also addressed the RSU’s services that would be preserved, which included the Good Food Centre (GFC) and the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support (C3SVS).
The proposals for a new student government structure included: Ryerson Undergraduate Students’ Alliance (RUSA), Ryerson First, the Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union (RGSU) and the Ryerson University Student Collective. On Feb. 26, campaigning began for the new student government structures.
During the campaign period, Ryerson First was suspended from campaigning online and on-campus for two days because the team allegedly violated campaign rules. Though the university wanted to create a new student government to avoid the RSU’s drama, it seemed as though the student politics ~spice~ never sleeps, regardless of who’s involved.
A few days later, David Jardine, the student who put forward the proposal for RUSA, dropped out of the campaign process due to concerns about their mental health.
When elections came around at the beginning of March, students were still able to vote for all four proposals.
Injunction and new government elections
On March 6, Justice Markus Koehnen heard the RSU’s legal claim. The union sought an injunction—requiring the university to refrain from terminating their agreement with the RSU.
Even though Rye and the RSU were in court that day, the university didn’t forget to remind everyone about its plans to replace the union. Ryerson announced that RUSA won the election for the student government structure and graduate students voted in favour of the RGSU, which would’ve been the first governing body solely representing full-time graduate students.
On March 9, Justice Koehnen ruled in favour of the RSU, which meant the university had to release the withheld student fees and reinstate the union as the student representative body. In addition, Koehnen awarded the RSU partial legal fees of $68,657.82.
A new operating agreement
In the final days of the RSU BoD members’ 2019-20 term, the union and the university were able to negotiate a new agreement that includes provisions for the RSU to record revenues and expenses, provide the university with its operating budget and audited financial statements, and designate a liaison between the two parties to improve communication.
The new agreement has a fixed term of five years with both the RSU and Ryerson being expected to renegotiate and agree on its renewal nine months before the end of its term.
As for RUSA and the RGSU—once the injunction was granted, everyone went back to not caring about student politics, including Ryerson’s attempts at replacing the RSU. Eye editors were relieved they would be reporting on one student governing body instead of three. That being said, the RGSU will officially represent all graduate students starting in fall 2021.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RSU has significantly cut back on its operations and laid off several full-time and part-time staff members, including its events coordinator, CopyRITE printing service manager, GFC coordinator, campus groups coordinator and graphic design coordinator. All of the C3SVS staff were terminated, as well.
We can only guess what will happen next.
With files from Heidi Lee, Libaan Osman, Madi Wong, Emma Sandri, Valerie Dittrich, Raneem Alozzi and Sherina Harris.