Ryerson University has terminated its agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and will no longer recognize it as a student government, nor support it in any way, effective immediately, its vice-provost, students, announced today.
“Ryerson University has lost confidence in the RSU’s ability to represent students with good governance and to supply the services that students pay for,” wrote Jen McMillen on the school’s website.
In an interview with the Ryersonian just after the statement was released Friday afternoon, McMillen said: “This was not a course of action that the university took on lightly, nor was seeking.”
She said the university had taken steps over the past year to negotiate a new agreement with the student union, but without success. “The university felt we were out of options to do that and thought it was important that students have the voice now to determine what should be next.”
Approached by the Ryersonian just after the university’s announcement, the RSU’s vice-president, operations, Jamie Fotak, declined to comment.
In January 2019, The Eyeopener reported that credit card statements under the names of the RSU’s president and vice-president operations showed purchases totalling thousands in food, alcohol, clothing and entertainment.
In response, the university set out conditions for the RSU, including that a forensic audit of RSU’s finances be conducted and shared with the university and that a new, operating agreement be negotiated.
This week, the RSU announced it had filed a report with Toronto police regarding the allegations.
Neither of the aforementioned conditions have been met to this day. Ryerson has tried to negotiate an agreement with the students’ union since February 2019, but, “the RSU has ceased responding to the university’s efforts to reach common ground,” wrote McMillen.
The university has still not seen the audit results and learned of its completion from campus media, McMillen said.
McMillen told the Ryersonian that the RSU was notified Friday, by letter, that the university was terminating its relationship. At the time she spoke, she said there had been no response from the student union.
McMillen also wrote that the university has been concerned for the well-being of its students due to the recent turnover of several RSU executive positions. The turnover began last January with president Ram Ganesh’s impeachment, following the union’s alleged misuse of funds.
McMillen said that the university will ensure that students still have access to services like health and dental benefits for the rest of this academic year. The statement does not mention the RSU-funded equity centres, which include the Good Food Centre, Centre for Women & Trans People and Racialised Students’ Collective.
Kwaku Agyemang, the RSU’s former vice-president education who resigned in January, said he was disappointed by the news.
“There’s a lot of young people who work in the RSU, the equity service centres, there’s a lot of senior staff who work in the union and a lot of student group execs and student groups on campus who rely on this funding for campus life,” he said.
He said he was concerned that the university didn’t mention equity service centres in its statement.
However, McMillen said in an interview with campus media: “The university remains committed to doing everything we can to ensure that essential services and programs remain available for students.”
Maklane deWever, who took over as president last year after Ganesh was impeached, called Friday’s news surprising. He said during his time as president he worked in good faith with the university on the restructuring agreement, but only received a draft from the university toward the end of his tenure.
He added he wasn’t consulted much about it by the new RSU executive team during the transition in May.
“That’s what concerns me the most — the people who rely on the services and the staff of the RSU,” he said. “They shouldn’t be penalized because of other people’s egos and it’s sad to see that that’s what’s happening.”
McMillen also wrote that the university has been “concerned with the recent public turnover of several leadership positions within the current executive” and allegations of “improper governance, mismanagement and internal conflict within the RSU.”
Since December, three RSU executives have resigned and one was impeached. The RSU is also currently the subject of a Ministry of Labour investigation regarding an alleged lack of procedures to handle workplace harassment reports.
“Students’ unions are autonomous organizations run by and for students,” the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students posted to Twitter, adding that they “condemn [Ryerson’s] attack on student democracy.”
McMillen encouraged students to begin thinking about forming a new students’ union and said the university is going to be releasing more information about how students can get involved with the process.
“The university is committed to facilitating a process to ensure students have the opportunity to determine the structure of their representative government,” she wrote.
The RSU’s elections were set to take place in February.
On Friday afternoon, Ryerson students were left responding to the university’s decision.
Jeremy Chisholm, a fourth-year public health student, said students need a student union.
“It doesn’t feel great, because they represent the students and without them we really don’t have someone that we can go to to talk about our concerns [and] what we need,” he said.
Ashley Flores, a second-year hospitality and tourism student and part of the Filipino Canadian Association of Ryerson, said she wasn’t sure how the university’s decision would affect her student group. But she said she wasn’t surprised to hear the news.
“It was just a matter of time for Ryerson University to do something about it because the RSU wasn’t really doing anything to address it,” she said.
With files from Katie Swyers, Nathan Halnin and Latoya Powell
This is an updated version of the story first posted at 3:59 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24.