$20k film award for Communication & Design Society VP stokes online controversy

This version corrects the credit on the photo.

Luke Villemaire.

Luke Villemaire, 20. (Courtesy Ben Wong)

Ryerson film student Luke Villemaire, who is the vice-president of finance for the Ryerson Communication & Design Society (RCDS), excused himself from voting when his film project came up for funding consideration. Nonetheless, the fact that he was awarded $20,000 from RCDS has raised eyebrows.

Over the weekend, a Twitter user posted a series of tweets that questioned whether the decision to fund the project was the result of a “conflict of interest.” The picture of the Twitter user had been taken from a deceased US theatre professor.

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A previous Ryersonian story attracted several comments that challenged the funding decision. One reader wrote that the award was “kinda fishy.” Another called the film “a massive vanity piece that’s going to use the money funded by your own governing body’s hands.”

But Villemaire said he kept himself out of the award process, and staff from the Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) said his project was selected because of the large number of students across various programs it involves.

Students who want to apply for funding from RCDS must go through a process that involves creating an appropriate budget plan for their project and presenting their requests and ideas to either the board of directors or the student group and projects funding committee.

Villemaire said his role at RCDS is to serve as the first point of contact for student applicants and walk them through the process. “I try to be strategic about figuring out what aspects of their project will appeal most to the board,” he said.

“When I was applying, I’m not going to contact myself. But I already knew the process, so I didn’t really need that first initial meeting.”

As a member of the board, Villemaire is generally eligible to vote, but was not allowed to vote for his own project. He said he also chose not to be present during the board’s deliberation. “I felt I wanted to create that distance between myself and the board for this specific project.”

Katii Capern, a voting member from the Board of Directors, said the board looked at Villemaire’s project independent of his connection to the RCDS.

“The job of the (vice-president) of finance isn’t to make financial decisions. In the voting process, it’s completely everyone around the table asking critical questions, looking carefully at numbers, at how prepared (students) are and how well (projects) involve other FCAD students.” Capern also pointed out that Villemaire’s project began before he became vice-president of finance.

Capern said that proposals are never declined outright. Applicants who don’t receive funding directly from the RCDS are always given follow-up meetings to discuss how they may improve their projects to present to either the board of directors again, or to other sources of funding.

Miri Makin, manager of student relations and development at FCAD, attends all board meetings at RCDS as a non-voting member to “ensure there’s a system of checks and balances on all decisions made.” She said one of the measures she takes is to ensure that any voting member who has a conflict of interest based on personal relationships is asked to abstain from the final vote.

Makin also told The Ryersonian that Villemaire’s proposal was selected on its merits.

“Luke’s project received unanimous support from the board due to the number of students across (FCAD) that it includes,” she said, “as well as the potential reputation building it could have for the university and faculty.”

Funding for RCDS comes from an annual FCAD student levy of $60, as well as contributions from the FCAD dean, Ryerson president and corporate sponsors. The 2015 budget has the student levy at about 60 to 65 per cent of the total revenue.

YouTube / TheRyersonian – via Iframely

As seen on RyersonianTV: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015


  1. @RCDS How much money is allocated to funding FCAD student projects for the school year?

    20 K is a lot of money to allot to one project, even if it recruits ’50+’ students. At the end of the day, it is still only one project and only a small percentage of students within FCAD. Will you be able to support 20K of funding to every group that states they will be working with 50+ FCAD students during the 15/16 year? 333 students x $60 = $20,000 …. that’s a lot of students supporting and not benefiting from this project.

    I hope it’s a good film.

  2. So still not satisfied with this.

    Luke’s comment on the original story states that the project “will engage 50+ FCAD students,” which is great, but according to RCDS’s own website, FCAD houses about 4,800 students. So the project involves a whopping 1% of the FCAD population.

    And according to last year’s annual budget sheet that’s available on the RCDS website, student projects are allocated $30k per year. Now, I realize this may have changed from last year to this year (where’s this year’s annual budget sheet?), but assuming the allocation hasn’t drastically changed why is it that one project is granted 66% of the student project budget??

    Getting student involvement in independent projects is great, and so is collaboration between students from the different FCAD programs. But 66% of RCDS’s allotted budget to service 1% of the students for a project headed by RCDS’s VP of Finance? That IS fishy and I don’t think that’s what we signed up for. I’m not sure the RCDS is handling it’s finances as soundly as they promised.

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