By Tyler Griffin
The Eyeopener doesn’t typically endorse Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) candidates and that will not change this year. But based on what we’ve seen while reporting on the RSU this year, we think it’s important to let you know that we’re very concerned about this year’s election process and what it means for students.
This unnecessarily tight election schedule, paired with its, frankly, undemocratic parameters, has made it impossible for us to adequately give students the information they need to make informed voting decisions.
Ahead of Tuesday’s election debate, we repeatedly asked chief returning officer Jenna Rose to allot time during the debate for student reporters to ask their own questions to candidates. Rose repeatedly denied our requests, stating that she’s “not comfortable forcing any candidate” to speak to our news team and she “will not be allowing The Eye to put students on the spot and force them to answer questions.”
Rose’s job description states that she is to “ensure the election process is fair, efficient and democratic.” I personally can’t recall any democratic and fair elections where journalists were barred from asking politicians questions about their platforms in lieu of pre-submitted, reviewed questions. Especially when those politicians are responsible for handling millions of dollars of your money.
Tuesday’s virtual election debate was a farce. Most of the ‘Revolution’ slate, endorsed by last year’s RSU president Ali Yousaf, didn’t bother to show up. Candidates from current RSU president Siddhanth Satish’s ‘Forward’ slate showed up and gave monotonous speeches. They then answered questions that appeared tailor-made to their platforms and appeared to be reciting answers from pre-written statements. When the debate was over, someone asked Rose if candidates were given the questions beforehand and the meeting abruptly ended. (Rose later clarified that questions were not given to candidates ahead of the debate and she “assumes candidates had pre-written answers before they came on.”)
All of this comes after the union broke their own bylaws by failing to notify students of election dates 14 days in advance of the nomination period, despite our repeated requests for election information. The RSU ratified an anonymous Election Appeals Committee at the last Board of Directors’ (BoD) meeting, where they didn’t even have enough board members to make quorum, technically rendering this whole election invalid.
All of this is especially concerning because this year’s RSU executive team has, for the most part, not been answering our many emails requesting comments and interviews. For months now, we’ve had virtually no communication with RSU executives and very little idea of what they’ve been working on and what they’ve accomplished.
On a regular year we would head up to the third floor of the Ryerson Student Centre and knock on their doors for answers, but COVID-19 has made that impossible (and when we did go last semester, no one answered).
So here’s what we do know:
- In July, the RSU passed a motion to update its website to make it more accessible and user-friendly, noting that the site would be live in three weeks time. Satish continued to delay these website updates at subsequent BOD meetings and eventually forgot about it entirely. The new RSU website has not yet been revealed.
- In August, Satish promised to hold a by-election to replace faculty directors who resigned citing allegations that Satish’s previous slate, ‘Adapt,’ pressured students into voting for them using contact information from the RSU’s food box program, breaching students’ privacy. The by-election was never held and the positions have been vacant all year.
- The RSU was nowhere to be seen or heard during the federal election in October, despite the loss of the Vote on Campus program. Only the Continuing Education Students’ Association of X University had voter information tables set up and were directing students to their nearest polling stations.
- At an October BoD meeting, the RSU established a rebranding committee to rename the union. To date, it’s not clear if this committee has done anything. Satish’s ‘Forward’ slate is campaigning on a promise to rename the union.
- The RSU also shut down their CopyRite service in October—an essential and affordable printing service for the Ryerson community—with no explanation, as school-run newspaper On The Record (OTR) reported. The RSU did not respond to requests for an explanation from OTR and many requests for comment from us.
- In November, the RSU held their semi-annual general meeting. 100 students needed to be present for the meeting to continue, but the Zoom meeting was capped at 100 participants. Once a new meeting link was set up, a number of students—including Eye editors—were left in the waiting room, despite Satish’s claims that there were no students left in the waiting room. The RSU also advertised incorrect dates for the meeting and were accused of “creating obstacles for…attendance.” The meeting was eventually shut down after too many students left the meeting and thus no updates were given by executives.
- That brings us to this January, when the RSU broke their own election bylaws by failing to notify students of election dates 14 days ahead of the nomination period opening. At last month’s BoD meeting, the RSU ratified an anonymous Election Appeals Committee, as Rose claimed that students and campus media “harassed” members of last year’s committee.
Other than that, they’ve hosted roller skate nights, trialed questionable services, gotten students discounts to Wonderland, as well as to a Popeye’s in Whitby, Ont. They added a text-to-chat line for sexual violence support, but only after last year’s executive team fired all staff members at the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support. To their credit, the RSU has continued its RSU food box program and introduced a (now-closed) transit grant—but the scales aren’t exactly balanced here.
This is not an anti-RSU editorial. Historically, the union has won us the Ryerson Student Centre, made Gould Street pedestrian-friendly and even implemented the fall reading week. I believe the functions of a student union play an integral part on any campus, acting as a unified voice advocating for students, which is really their only power when it comes to dealing with money-driven university administrations. I’m just not sure this year’s RSU executive team believes that.
Ryerson students don’t need free Grammarly subscriptions, discounts to a Popeye’s in Whitby or funnel cakes. Students need actual organizing and advocacy to address larger problems and systemic issues in their education system. Students need a union that will engage with students and advocate for them on issues like delayed return-to-campus announcements and paying full price tuition for Zoom classes.
But this year’s RSU executive team doesn’t seem to have time for any of that, or to respond to questions from concerned students and journalists, or to follow through on their campaign promises. They do, however, seem to have time for fancy blazer headshots and a sleek new campaign website.
Such blatant disregard for the institutions on campus that have time and time again kept this union accountable, should be insulting to all students under their membership. Satish ran on a platform of increased financial transparency and accountability to membership, yet his entire term as RSU president has been a push against transparency and accountability.
Thus, our editorial team cannot in good conscience recommend any student vote for the ‘Forward’ slate which features incumbent candidates, or anyone associated with Siddhanth Satish’s leadership. Let’s call it an anti-endorsement, if you will.
Now, the hard part: for any of this to change, students need to actually vote. Every year we write a call to action to improve voter turnout, and every year it falls flat. Last year’s election was decided by a difference of only 653 votes.
The RSU thinks you’re stupid. They think that if they put a few obstacles in your path, that you won’t take five minutes to log into my.ryerson to cast your ballot before voting closes on Friday at 4 p.m., to let them know what you think of the job they’ve done.
This time, I hope you prove them wrong.