Sheldon Levy claims the Ryerson Students’ Union’s alternative budget is not “legal,” but details of Ryerson’s expenses remain obscure.
Students and faculty who showed up for the RSU’s town hall on their alternative budget for the university showed overwhelming support for the RSU’s recommendations.
However, Ryerson president Sheldon Levy says some of the budget’s recommendations could be illegal.
The RSU claims that the university is running an average surplus of $14 million per year that isn’t properly accounted for in the university’s budget.
The alternative budget presents a number of recommendations — including cutting consultant and management expenses and
providing a tuition rebate to students.
However, Levy maintains that what the RSU is calling a surplus is actually savings the university puts toward buying land, and adds that there is no legal way Ryerson could reallocate the money.
“What savings they talk about are funds held by faculty members, for example in professional development or research grants. I can’t see how one legally can go and take funds that are owned by other people and call it a surplus,” says Levy.
“A lot of the funds that they think are surplus are not owned by us, they’re owned by faculty members, and you can’t legally even take them back because a lot of the funds are designated for a particular purpose.”
The root contention behind the RSU’s alternative budget is that, even if the so-called surplus has been allocated to departments or toward future projects, the details of those expenses are not publicly released by the university.
Ryerson’s publicly released budget does not include detailed expense statements, and the RSU says its requests to view detailed departmental budgets were denied.
“We never actually get a picture of the actuals of Ryerson University’s spending,” said RSU vice-president education Jesse Root at last Thursday’s town hall meeting.
“For us, looking at the document, it was very difficult to get a clear picture of what Ryerson University actually spent in their budget.”
The alternative budget recommends the university release an expense statement that includes actuals and trends based on previous years budgets.
“Between trends and actuals, we believe that decision-makers and community members will be more able to make decisions that are informed, and that will ultimately be better for the university,” said Root.
Meanwhile, Levy takes issue with the budget’s recommendation to cut consulting costs.
The RSU criticized the university for spending money on outside consultants while also employing the highest number of managers per student, compared to other universities.
Levy remains skeptical of the alternative budget, saying, “they knew the conclusion they wanted and then they were trying to find the logic to be able to make their conclusion. That was their exercise.”
At the town hall, RSU executives emphasized how the budget reinforces the message of their Freeze the Fees campaign, which calls on the university to freeze tuition fees, which have risen steadily for the past 10 years. The university has stated that freezing tuition fees would put a severe financial burden on the university.
Cormac McGee, RSU’s incoming vice-president education, says the new slate will continue the push for increased transparency in Ryerson’s budget, and will be conducting its own assessment of Ryerson’s budget.
Their main goal, he says, is “first to figure out … how the budget and spending actually works in the organization, then show students the numbers as well as our recommendations and see what they think.”
Root doesn’t buy the university’s stance that what the RSU is calling a “surplus” is actually “savings.”
He says that whatever you call it, the university needs to be more open about where the money is going.
“Even if you agree that the university needs $14 million of savings each year over the past five years, I challenge you to make the argument that we don’t have the right to know how that money is being budgeted … and have an input into how that money is being spent.”
The RSU will present the budget to the finance committee of Ryerson’s Board of Governors on March 24.
The committee will decide from among all the budget options presented to it and make recommendations to the Board of Governors.