Transform RU entered won the Ryerson Student Union office last year on a platform including financial transparency and communication. Now that a new election is upon us, how did the 2015-16 RSU live up to their goals and promises?
For one, the union introduced mental health bursaries for students that desperately require support in accessing mental health services. They introduced online opt-out for health and dental insurance, lobbied groups to eradicate unpaid internships and introduced online voting in RSU elections.
RSU President Andrea Bartlett also followed through on her promise to work with the City of Toronto to develop a safety plan for Ryerson. She said that she met with Ward 27 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, university officials and campus security to put forward her ideas for Ryerson-wide security policies and procedures.
“You know it’s difficult to implement change, it’s not going to happen overnight. Looking back on things, I don’t regret anything and I’m really proud of the work that my board members and my executives have done,” Bartlett said.
Though no tangible plan has been put forward by the city or the university, consultations are a significant step forward in the development of a future safety plan for Ryerson.
The 2015-16 RSU executives have been also seen plenty of controversy.
Most recently, the laying-off of their executive director of communication and outreach Gilary Massa while she was on maternity leave puts vice-president of operation Obaid Ullah’s promise of an improved RSU image in question.
This is also a slate that has shortened the amount of time that election candidates are able to canvass and lobby for their respective platforms – allegedly due to student complaints about the last election period’s two-week campaign.
Failure to consult students on the RSU’s continued relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) may be the biggest disappointment of this mandate.
“…(the) promise of an improved RSU image remains unfulfilled.”
Early in her 2015 campaign, Bartlett stated that, if elected, she would work on creating a more mutually beneficial relationship between the RSU and CFS. She noted that if the RSU was to leave the CFS – as some students have called for – consultations would have to take place with members of the student body.
She points at the benefits of being a member union in the CFS, like occasional financial intervention in the case of a student group that footed a large legal bill.
However, as far as Ryerson students know, no such talks about de-federating have taken place.
There is no palpable evidence that suggests the RSU’s relationship with the CFS is more beneficial than in previous years. Students still have little understanding where their annual fees – funded by their tuitions – are going. Bartlett said the RSU doled close to $500,000 in CFS fees this year.
“There were a lot of inefficiencies, a high degree of turnover in the office itself so I focus on cleaning up internally before I’m even thinking about anything like defederating,” Bartlett said.
Assisting in the implementation of the government of Ontario’s free tuition pledge is another one of the major ways the RSU fulfilled its campaign promise to find sustainable tuition solutions.
This was one of Transform RU’s loftiest goals, a feat previous mandates have failed to do through various “Freeze the Fees” efforts: finding a solution to rising tuition fees.
“I am very happy with the results of every major initiative that my team and I have done…” -Andrea Barlett
But despite these gains, the lay-off of Gilary Massa will leave a sour taste in the mouths of campus student leaders, and vice-president of operation Obaid Ullah’s promise of an improved RSU image remains unfulfilled. Massa was laid off from her position while on maternity leave. This will be a big part of the mark that this group of executives leaves behind.
Furthermore, Andrea Bartlett’s acknowledgement of stolen RSU funds via a Medium post and consequent inability to file a police report regarding the missing funds doesn’t suggest better communication, but rather that full transparency has not yet been achieved.
Bartlett believes her team has made significant headway in their time in office.
“I am very happy with the results of every major initiative that my team and I have done,” Bartlett said.