Member concerned by union’s track record of moving motions in-camera
The current Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) team is not being transparent with its membership, which makes it difficult for students to hold the union accountable, said David Jardine, a representative on the union’s board of directors.
Jardine raised concerns about students’ abilities to hold board members and executives accountable in an interview with the Ryersonian. This came after Jardine tweeted on Sept. 16 that a motion to move a meeting in-camera wasn’t necessary and that “secrecy like this isn’t OK from our students union.”
The motion called for an extension to the recall period for five full-time employees who were laid off in July. At the meeting, Jardine cited a provision in Robert’s Rules of Order stating motions should not be moved in-camera if the information surrounding it is already public knowledge. Robert’s Rules of Order is the most widely used reference document on how organizations from governments to school boards and trade unions ought to conduct their meetings.
“To me, this motion was saying that we should be doing more. Let’s bring back the staff so we can do more. It was not talking about the staff. The only time that you actually need to go in-camera (for a staff issue) is when you’re dealing with privileged information,” Jardine said.
“Before, as a student, I would watch that stuff and think they could be talking about approving executive credit cards in that in-camera session, for all we know. We literally know nothing about what’s going on in there. In-camera sessions exist to protect an individual’s privacy. It does not exist to protect the executive team from questions or criticism from the membership.”
This is not the first time the RSU has moved motions in-camera to discuss matters of the public interest. The RSU moved a motion in-camera during a Nov. 13, 2019 meeting to discuss an alleged lack of hours worked by former executives of the union. The Ryersonian reported that students who were not a part of the board had to wait outside the Oakham Lounge for two and a half hours. The RSU also moved a motion in-camera during a Nov. 27, 2019 board meeting to discuss notices of removal that were served to four former executives of the union.
RSU president Ali Yousaf defended the union’s decision to move in-camera on Sept. 16. Items such as employment contracts and employee performance are private and confidential, Yousaf said in an emailed statement to the Ryersonian.
“While we don’t appreciate any insinuation of muddied transparency, I understand where people are coming from,” Yousaf’s statement said. “While the motion was drafted with noble intentions, the practicality and feasibility of the motion was something that had to be considered… This conversation was moved in-camera to protect the privacy of the RSU’s hard-working staff members.”
Concerns about missing minutes were also raised
The RSU still has not uploaded the majority of its meeting minutes from the 2019/2020 academic year. The union’s bylaws require minutes to be turned over to the union’s board of directors “as soon as conveniently possible” and that the minutes “shall be kept in a book or books provided for that purpose and the minutes of every such meeting shall be submitted at the next meeting of the Board of Directors and shall be open to the inspection of any member of The Students’ Union at any time during the regular office hours of Ryerson Students’ Union.”
The Ryersonian sent multiple requests to Yousaf to obtain copies of meeting minutes from meetings that took place between September 2019 and April 2020. Yousaf denied the requests and stated that the union is working on getting them uploaded, despite it being a year since some of the meetings have taken place.
“The RSU’s web management system is aged and turning obsolete. We have budgeted for an updated website, and hope to have our online presence reformed in the very near future. During this update, we also plan on uploading the missing meeting minutes,” Yousaf said via email. No timeline was given to when students can expect the website to be updated.
Jardine didn’t have answers on how the RSU could be held accountable without having access to the minutes. “I have the same question,” they said. “I wish I controlled when minutes are posted onto the website. That’s not something that falls under me.”
Lack of advertising around online meetings also raises concerns
The current RSU team has not publicly announced a board meeting since taking office in May. This is in contrast to the previous RSU team, which live-streamed its meetings. The RSU bylaws say that any member of the RSU can attend board meetings and that board meetings should never be closed to members of the students’ union.
Jardine said they couldn’t speak to why the executives are not advertising the board meetings. “I can definitely say, though, that the RSU should be posting that stuff publicly,” they said.
Yousaf did not answer the Ryersonian’s questions on this issue.
Students can still demand transparency from the union.
Students can still directly demand transparency from the union, Jardine said. Students can contact board members with their concerns and, they said, there is power in numbers. They also said students can contact their RSU faculty representatives to voice their concerns.
“I could be the only Ryerson student who thinks that we need less secrecy in the RSU,” Jardine said. “If more students start to show the executives that they appreciate more transparency, that’s something the executives need to be able to work towards.”
Jardine said they have taken steps to be an accessible representative on the RSU board of directors. They said they have been posting regular updates on Twitter and Instagram where they have the most followers from Ryerson. They said they also have been trying hard to keep students updated on the RSU.
“It’s definitely been hard without being able to do class talks, and I wish there were more ways to (reach students online),” Jardine said. “Ultimately, we are doing the best we can with the situation.”