Union blues: FCAD leaders lament limited RSU funding

Tyler Webb is the Image arts course union president. (Mohamed Omar / Ryersonian Staff)

Tyler Webb is the Image Arts course union president. (Mohamed Omar / Ryersonian Staff)

Course union presidents from the Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) say funding from their primary banker is too limiting, and getting access to money can be a bureaucratic nightmare.

Sachil Patel, president of the radio and television school of media’s course union, said budgets the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) provides groups like his for advertising, events and orientations are minimal. The money is the same for all course unions, he added, regardless of the number of students they serve.

Patel said the squeeze and inaccessibility of RSU funding is one of several reasons he, along with the rest of his faculty’s course union presidents, is fully backing FCAD’s new umbrella student group, the Ryerson Communication and Design Society (RCDS).

The RSU provides course unions with up to $450 a year for hosting events, $2.50 for every new student attending orientation activities and $25 a semester for miscellaneous expenses like pens or paper, according to Danielle Brogan, the RSU’s vice-president student life and events. They also receive $200 annually for educational or career-building events and $112.50 a semester for printing, which can only be done at the RSU-owned printing centre, CopyRite.

But none of that carries over from year to year. Although Patel said that policy restricts course unions from saving up for more costly projects, Brogan said slapping expiry dates on those funds “encourages groups to use their money and to budget effectively.”

Student groups are also not allowed to hold more than $50 in petty cash. Anything above that limit must be sent into a trust fund. Course unions can easily deposit any money they fundraise into these accounts, Patel said. Withdrawing cash, he added, requires navigating a messy maze of filing forms strictly in-person and on paper, as well as having to justify expenses.

The RSU also “reserves the right to question any withdrawal,” according to its course union funding policy.

Communication problems abound, too, according to Brian Hui, president of the graphic communications management course union.

Hui, who is also a member of RCDS’s steering committee, said the RSU’s funding transfer process is arduous, adding that staff who deal with course union issues take a long time to respond to emails, some more than others.

“It’s usually better if I figure it out myself. Sometimes it’s faster,” he said.

The RSU’s campus groups administrator, Leatrice O’Neill, is responsible for dealing with course unions’ paperwork. She was unable to comment without authorization from the RSU’s executive director of communications and outreach, Gilary Massa. Massa did not respond to requests from The Ryersonian.

“Sometimes it’s just so hard to go through the bureaucratic process for about 10, 15 dollars,” Patel said.

“The funding aspect of it is so painfully, hair-pullingly difficult that we essentially have to frame all of our events and all of our initiatives from a kind of zero-cost aspect,” said Tyler Webb, president of the image arts course union and the current president of RCDS.

But Brogan said the RSU has made it “more or less pretty easy” for course unions to get reimbursed, saying that “just like in the university and anywhere else, things do take a little bit of time.”

Erica Myers, president of the theatre school’s course union, said she doesn’t feel like she has much control when planning events with the RSU.

When she organized a karaoke pub night with the image arts course union, Myers said the RSU took care of not only the location and equipment, but also the Facebook group and any graphics.

Brogan said because the RSU has a unionized graphic designer, it must design any posters advertising events hosted or sponsored by the RSU. The RSU handles Facebook event planning because it’s easier.

“I think if anything I would create it first just because I’ll have the graphics for it, but that’s the only reason … because we have the graphics for the event.”

Myers said it’s hard to understand their side of planning events, just because it’s different from how her students and program take care of business.

“I found it interesting that that was how they were making it work,” Myers said. “I dont know if they’ve had issues with that before but I guess that’s, in their minds, what works best.”
If RCDS’s referendum passes in their favour, they will bag an annual allowance of $60 from every FCAD student. Their plan is to shower course unions and student groups with $100,000 out of a $245,000 proposed budget. To score student support throughout the week, the society has pushed their message with freebies for students, paid for with their members’ own money. Gerd Hauck, dean of FCAD, has pledged $15,000 for the society’s operations after the referendum, according to Hui.

The referendum’s naysayers are also shelling out money, peppering posters across campus and creating a website to convince students that course unions can function without a faculty-wide society. That cash is coming out of their own pockets, according to Tari Ngangura, a second-year journalism student who spearheaded the referendum’s no camp.

Ngangura said she “lost track” of how much her group, which has “at least” 50 volunteers, has spent on coloured posters and an online domain — despite her concerns of the RCDS not taking student finances seriously by asking for $60 a year.

“Most of it is our own money, so we’re supporting ourselves,” she said. “As long as it gets stuff done then that’s all that matters,” she said.

Ngangura said she got help with class talks and postering from Badri Murali, a second-year journalism student, and two other people “I work with.” The Ryersonian was not able to contact the latter two, while Murali said he “didn’t play a role” in putting up the posters, nor does he know who paid for their printing costs.

RSU president Melissa Palermo said the union has no stance on RCDS, while Brogan said she could not comment.

Voting is on my.ryerson.ca and ends Thursday at 4.30 p.m.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the $15,000 RCDS received from FCAD was used for campaign expenses. This is not the case, as members of the RCDS used their own personal funds to pay for campaign costs. The Ryersonian regrets the error.

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