The Ryerson Students’ Union budget is kept in a secluded area in the Student Centre. It’s located on the third floor of the building, in a tiny room with bright lights and nothing but a round table. The budget could easily be mistaken for any other document — less than 20 pages in length, it is stapled neatly and without a mark.
While paying members of a union are legally entitled to financial statements including budgets, the RSU’s budget is kept under lock and key. Copies are not available online or at the union offices on campus, and can only be viewed by appointment under surveillance and strict guidelines.
All undergraduate students at Ryerson pay a $60 mandatory annual union fee to the RSU. How this money — $1.8 million — is spent is unknown to the average student.
The RSU doesn’t make its annual budgets available or provide information on how members can access the documents.
RSU president Melissa Palermo said the union isn’t willing to make the budget publicly available or accessible online because it’s only accountable to its membership, not the greater community.
When asked why there was a lack of information on the website, Palermo said, “As executives of the students’ union, we try to make ourselves accessible to students. I think in every aspect we make ourselves available for students to ask questions.”
As the budget is not available online, members who wish to see it must contact the students’ union, and set up an appointment to see the budget.
“We do our best to make it available to all students, and we make ourselves accessible to set up an appointment with students to come see the budget,” Palermo said.
Once granted an appointment to view the budget, members are accompanied by a RSU staff member or elective for an allotted viewing time.
“I actually like to sit down and go through [the budget] with students,” Palermo said.
According to Palermo, this is to help members better understand the budget. Whether it’s Palermo or another executive in the room, there is always a second person present while members view the budget.
Members cannot take photos of the budget, and are not allowed to make a copy for themselves. However, they may take notes. Palermo said this practice is in place to ensure that the budget is not shown to the general public.
Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said that students should ask for access to the budget at the RSU’s annual general meetings.
“There’s nothing that prevents students from demanding or securing access to whatever information they want,” he said.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on January 29, 2014.