Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) president Ali Yousaf claimed there is “fake propaganda” being spread about the RSU at the beginning of Tuesday’s board of directors meeting. Yousaf also pointed to rumours about student groups being dismantled and said that these rumours are also untrue.
“I am making it very, very clear that these accusations and rumours are utterly false and baseless. Our students will continue receiving the support they need,” said Yousaf at the meeting.
It is unclear what Yousaf was referring to. David Jardine, a board of governors student representative on the RSU board of directors, said they have not heard from students about student groups being disbanded.
“I don’t know if people have that concern. I’m not sure where that came from,” said Jardine at the meeting.
Lack of RSU support to Indigenous students concerning, say board members.
Tuesday’s meeting also saw concerns from several board members and students about the RSU executive team’s lack of transparency and action on key issues.
Several board members raised concerns about the union’s lack of vocal support for the takedown of the Egerton Ryerson statue. These concerns came during a discussion about a motion that will mandate the RSU to publicly announce its support for Indigenous students seeking to address Egerton Ryerson’s legacy on campus.
The union’s silence on the Ryerson statue is sending a message to students that it doesn’t care about Indigenous student issues, said Faculty of Arts director Alexandra Nash. She also said it is the union’s responsibility to take a stand on equity issues that concern its members.
“Indigenous students have been telling us that (the statue) makes the campus a hostile space to them and that the statue represents ongoing genocide,” said Nash. “I don’t want to belong to a students’ union that doesn’t decisively speak up against that as a board member, not even as a student.”
Yousaf moved to table the motion indefinitely until a survey was sent out to students to gather information about how they feel about the statue. He said he has been in direct contact with Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi. He and RSU vice-president equity Vaishali Vinayak will meet with the university’s presidential task force to discuss next steps. He also said that the takedown of the statue is a university decision, not the RSU’s.
Yousaf deflected concerns from board members about not signing the Continuing Education Students’ Association at Ryerson’s (CESAR’s) open letter, saying that CESAR and the RSU represent different student bodies. CESAR published the letter on July 24 calling on Ryerson to immediately remove the statue. A clause in the original motion submitted by senate student representative George Carter would mandate the union to sign on to the letter. However, Jardine amended the clause to say that the RSU will draft its own open letter in opposition to the statue within one week of the motion passing.
When asked whether or not the RSU stands in opposition to the statue, Yousaf said the statue is wrong in his personal opinion but he is trying to respect the decisions made by the university. Several board members disagreed and said the union does not need to wait for the presidential task force nor the legal team before it puts out a statement of support.
“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.
The frustrations and concerns come after a First Nations student and an Inuk advocate voiced concerns earlier this month over the RSU’s lack of action towards the Egerton Ryerson statue and university’s name change. Both called on the union to consider the issue from Indigenous students’ perspectives. Ryerson was a key architect for Canada’s residential school system, which stripped Indigenous students from their culture and homes.
“Do we really need to consult lawyers before publishing a letter condemning colonialism?” asked Faculty of Community Services director Steph Rychlo at the meeting.
Coalition of students upset over C3SVS layoffs, says it’s unacceptable for the executive to dismantle the centre during a pandemic.
A coalition of students wrote an open letter to the RSU executive team expressing their concern and anger over the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support (C3SVS) layoffs. Ryerson student Shany Raitsin presented the letter at the board meeting, but was interrupted by meeting chair Shoaib Ahmed five minutes later. She was interrupted again 20 minutes later when Ahmed and Yousaf asked her to send the letter to the executive team instead of continuing to speak, claiming that the meeting was for board members only (it was not). Her mic was muted soon after, but she was ultimately allowed to finish reading the letter.
“The student coalition is appalled at the dismemberment of the (Sexual Assault and Survivor Support Line) because of the alleged decrease in calls,” Raitsin said. She pointed to the increased numbers of intimate partner violence in the U.S. and other countries to highlight the need for the support line.
Raitsin’s and the student coalition’s concerns come after the Eyeopener reported that full-time and part-time staff at CS3VS were laid off without consulting the board or the students that depend on the services the centre provides. The former full-time co-ordinator said that the closure of the centre is concerning and would harm survivors.
At the meeting, Yousaf said that the full-time co-ordinator at C3SVS was terminated with cause and that the decision to terminate the co-ordinator was not made by him alone. He alleged that the usage of the support line was minimal, which prompted the need to restructure the centre immediately. However, a drop in calls does not correlate to a drop in intimate partner violence, but rather indicates that victims are unable to safely connect with services, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“We have looked into (the co-ordinator’s) record for the past year, and they have been terminated with a cause. I’m quite confident in terms of that,” Yousaf said.
It is important to note that Ahmed’s claims that the board meetings are for board members only is not true. All regular and special board meetings are open for members to attend, according to the union’s bylaws. The bylaws also state that no board meeting shall be closed to any member of the students’ union unless an in-camera motion is being discussed. Speaking privileges shall be obtained from the meeting chair, but the bylaws do not limit how long a member is allowed to speak once granted speaking rights.
“(Raitsin) was provided speaking rights. Our policies state that speaking rights can be provided to members and that they are allocated by the chair. You can’t just take those away. You cut somebody off in the middle of speaking,” said Carter.
RSU president’s constant interruptions are also concerning, said board members.
Several board members have also raised concerns over Yousaf’s conduct during Tuesday’s board meeting. During a discussion about whether or not the board should go in-camera to discuss reinstating Dawn Murray as the campus group co-ordinator, Yousaf interrupted Nash before she could motivate for the motion. Yousaf repeatedly said that Nash could not motivate for the motion since he put forward a motion for the meeting to go in-camera. Jardine then pointed out that the board still needs to discuss the motion to go in-camera.
“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 Nash.
Yousaf said that all discussions about full-time staff are legal matters and should be held in-camera. He said that having these discussions in public would open the organization to “law molestations.” However, both Jardine and Nash said that this issue is a matter of public interest and that the board is capable of holding this discussion without mentioning individual staff members.
“Students deserve to know answers to their concerns. The more we close things off to students the worse that is for us as an organization,” said Jardine.