It is impossible to discuss every aspect of the student union’s work, especially during the first semester. So this report will largely focus on the major promises the executive team campaigned on and what became of them. It will also focus on the team’s most significant responsibilities and what has happened since the executive team took office in May. In the report, references to the “RSU” means the executive team and its actions, not the entire board of directors.
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executive team has broken many promises made during the elections last February. Despite commitments for a more transparent and accountable union, the RSU has failed to deliver on these promises and has managed to become even more opaque than ever before.
One of the major campaign promises made by the Rise slate, which would go on to win all the RSU executive positions, was to survey Ryerson students at the beginning of the academic year. The purpose of this survey was to gauge student opinions on how the RSU should be run, according to president Ali Yousaf. So far, no survey has been sent out to students.
“First and foremost, we are going to ask the students what their stance is (on the students’ union). Depending on what their stance is, that is the direction we will take,” said Yousaf during the RSU election debate in February.
Another major promise that the Rise slate campaigned on was increased financial transparency. The promise came after Ryerson University announced in January 2020 that it would cease to recognize the RSU as the official representative of the Ryerson student body due to allegations of financial mismanagement from former RSU president Ram Ganesh.
So far, the union’s finances are opaque at best. During the Nov. 24 board of directors meeting, vice-president operations Liora Dubinsky put forward a motion to allocate additional funds to various RSU initiatives. This included $25,000 for an honorarium for all board members, despite claims of “lack of work” from the union that led it to lay off five full-time employees in July. Initially, the motion called for the allocation of $154,845, but Dubinsky amended it to add $350,000 towards virtual student engagement. When asked where the additional funds came from, Dubinsky said that the union’s revenues were higher than anticipated because of the closure of CopyRite, the union’s print shop. Dubinsky also said that the union had an extra $700,000 due to higher numbers of student fees. David Jardine, a board of governors representative for the RSU board of directors, said the board was not informed about the additional $700,000 in the union’s budget.
“If we have an extra $700,000 because the student levies were more than we expected, it looks like we don’t have any more financial issues. Why are we laying off the staff?” asked Jardine at the meeting.
During the RSU elections in February, the Rise slate was very vocal about being more transparent to its student body. It did not follow through on this. An RSU board member raised concerns over the union’s track record of moving motions in-camera in October, which makes it difficult for students to hold the union accountable. Concerns about union transparency were raised again during the Nov. 24 board meeting when a student coalition expressed concerns over the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support (C3SVS) and equity centre layoffs. Ryerson student Shany Raitsin was interrupted repeatedly by chairperson Shoaib Ahmed and Yousaf while presenting an open letter addressed to the RSU executive team. Several board members also raised concerns over Yousaf’s conduct during the meeting.
“I would like to raise concerns about the president talking about passing a motion before we vote on it and not allowing the board to publicly discuss matters before the board has voted on whether to go in-camera. I think that’s concerning,” said Faculty of Arts director Alexandra Nash at the meeting.
The RSU also has not done a good job advocating for students this semester. Notably, the union has been silent on Indigenous issues, especially regarding the Egerton Ryerson statue on campus. The union’s silence on these issues has not gone unnoticed: an Inuk advocate and Ojibwa student raised concerns over the union’s stall on the statue and university’s name change. During the Nov. 24 board meeting, several board members grew frustrated at the executive team’s silence and refusal to sign the Continuing Education Students’ Association at Ryerson University’s (CESAR’s) open letter calling on the university to take down the Ryerson statue. The union’s silence and debate on the issue means that it is unwilling to condemn colonialism, they said.
“I am completely offended that we’re talking about surveys for something that’s right and wrong. We’re talking about genocide… This should be common sense at this point,” said Faculty of Arts director Gabriele Douglas at the Nov. 24 meeting.
There were still some good things that happened this semester, though.
The RSU did do some good things, despite the bad. Earlier in the semester, the union established a few bursaries for students struggling with food insecurity and financial insecurity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The union invested $100,000 into its COVID-19 relief grant and $20,000 into its food relief grant. Dubinsky said nearly 2,000 students applied for these grants in the Nov. 24 board meeting.
The RSU also established an emergency housing grant for students affected by the fire in Neill-Wycik Co-operative Housing in November. A total of $50,000 was invested into the grant and applications are open on AwardSpring.
The executive team has also worked hard to expand benefits for students under the union’s health and dental plan. According to the union’s Facebook page, the union has negotiated new eye care benefits, expanded its prescriptive birth control benefits and added tuition insurance to the health and dental plan to date. Members are covered for up to $75 in eye exam costs and up to $150 for new eyeglasses or contact lenses. Members can also get their prescription birth control fully reimbursed or get up to $75 reimbursed for copper IUDs annually. Members who need to discontinue their studies due to sickness or injuries can request up to $10,000 in tuition reimbursement.
The union also announced additional funding for student groups and course unions in September. According to a release on the RSU’s Facebook page, the union will provide $600 in base funding per semester. Every student group will also receive $3,000 in grants each semester. Course unions will get $500 per semester in base funding and $2,000 per semester in grants.
The RSU is currently working on developing a mental health grant for students struggling with isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We noticed that a significant amount of students mention mental health as a struggle due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we are going to develop a grant to help impacted students. I think this will really help students,” said Dubinsky at the Nov. 24 meeting.
The executive team will also be publishing an open letter to voice its support for Indigenous student initiatives and advocacy campaigns. This will include a call to the university to take down the Ryerson statue. Senate student representative George Carter put forward a motion during the Nov. 24 board of directors meeting to mandate the union to do so. Originally, the motion mandated the union to sign onto CESAR’s letter, but Jardine amended the motion to mandate the union to write its own letter instead. The amendment said that the union has one week from the date the motion passes to draft and publish the letter. The letter has not been published as of Dec. 4.
The union also has to hold a semi-annual general meeting this semester, according to the RSU bylaws. A date for the semi-annual general meeting has not been set. Dubinsky said at the Sept. 16 board meeting that she is looking into ways to host the semi-annual general meeting virtually. However, no updates were given in meetings after this.
The union says that it will do everything it can to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yousaf promised that the union will continue providing services to members despite going virtual this semester. “We’re going to do whatever we can for students and provide them with help and any kind of support during the year. We’re here to support students. If you need anything, you can always reach out to me or the executives via email,” he said at the beginning of the Nov. 24 meeting.