In a dramatic move on Friday, Ryerson University said it no longer recognized the Ryerson Students’ Union as “the official student government” after it failed to meet conditions set out by the university following a credit card scandal uncovered last January.
“The university has lost confidence in the RSU’s ability to represent students with good governance and to supply the services that students pay for,” Vice Provost Jen McMillen said in a statement, adding the administration has terminated its 1986 Operating Agreement with the RSU.
The RSU is a separate entity from the university, with its own Board of Directors elected from among the students on a yearly basis.
The Canadian Federation of Students Ontario called the termination as an “attack on student democracy”.
The development comes just days after the RSU asked Toronto Police to investigate alleged financial mismanagement by its former executives after completing a forensic audit.
The scandal was first unveiled a year ago, when an RSU credit card bill with approximately $250,000 in unusual spending was revealed by The Eyeopener.
At this time, the university said it would no longer pass along fees students paid to the RSU until three conditions were met. The university asked for a forensic audit that would be shared with its administration and a new operating budget negotiated between the RSU and Ryerson.
“Despite the university’s best efforts to be an accommodating and collaborative partner, the RSU has failed to meet the conditions set out in January 2019,” McMillen said.
The vice provost said the university was further concerned by the recent impeachments and resignations by student leadership over the past two months, though they are unrelated to the credit card affair.
The recent turnovers have largely been due to executive failures to work full 40-hour weeks and for alleged harassment, according to reports from The Eyeopener.
Since Dec. 10, four out of six executives that were on the Refresh slate have left office with the vice-president equity, vice-president marketing and vice-president education resigning and the vice-president operations being impeached.
Vice President of Operations James Fotak told The Eyeopener that the RSU has “no comment right now.” The Avro Post has reached out for comment from President Vanessa Henry.
Decision undermines ‘democratic rights’: CFS
The Canadian Federation of Students’ provincial division said Ryerson University’s decision “undermines the democratic rights of students and student organizations that represent them”.
In a more formal statement released on Friday evening, CFS argued that autonomy was key for a student union to “effectively represent their membership”.
“Internal challenges are best addressed through the democratic structures that exist within students’ unions because they are the processes agreed upon by the union’s membership,” the organization said.
They added that the RSU has demonstrated it took the allegations of financial mismanagement “seriously” and had taken several actions to address the problems.
The statement did not mention the university’s statement that the student union did not follow through the three demands set out by the administration.
The CFS went on to argue that there are mechanisms in place internally so that the greater student body can hold student organizations accountable, explaining that students are empowered by elections, general meeting and referendum to solve issues that arise.
“Ryerson University’s move to terminate their agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union is a paternalistic overreach that undermines these democratic mechanisms,” the press release says.
With files from The Eyeopener/Canadian University Press.