Ryerson University announced Friday it was terminating its agreement with the RSU and would no longer recognize it as the university’s student government
Ryerson University’s president says the school will respond to a letter from the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) asking to go back to the negotiating table regarding their operating agreement.
This comes days after the university announced it was immediately terminating its agreement with the RSU and would no longer recognize it as Ryerson’s official student government.
The RSU and the university have been negotiating their operating agreement, which dates back to 1986, since February 2019. The negotiations were part of a set of conditions imposed by Ryerson after allegations of financial mismanagement arose, first reported by The Eyeopener, in January 2019.
The RSU’s letter, released online Monday morning, asks the university to recognize it as the union elected to represent Ryerson’s student body, release the RSU’s funds and go back to the negotiating table this week.
“The RSU is prepared to work collaboratively to support the needs of students, but can’t do it alone,” the letter reads.
It asks for the university to respond by 5 p.m. on Jan. 27.
While Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi told the Ryersonian he has seen a copy of the letter and will be responding today, he didn’t comment specifically on what he will say back to the RSU.
“I wish we had good collaboration, because when we started this process and the discussion, as I said, we started in January 2019, and we tried our best,” he said. “And unfortunately I have not seen a lot of progress. Now because a decision has been made, there’s an invitation to go back to the table. I think we will respond to it with the proper language.”
On Friday night, the RSU posted a response to the university terminating the agreement, saying they do not accept the termination as valid under the agreement.
Although Lachemi said it was a difficult decision, he said he felt a responsibility to take action.
“We believe in the democrative process in terms of representing the students, the selection of their representatives,” he said.
“However, we have also an obligation because we have received many, many, many, many requests from students to do something about it. You cannot just watch and ignore what’s happening, especially when you get a petition signed by over 1,000 students asking or demanding, the university to do something.”
The petition, started on Change.org, called for both RSU president Vanessa Henry to step down and for Ryerson to restructure the RSU.
A timeline posted online by the university outlines the university’s attempts to negotiate the agreement with the union. According to that timeline, the RSU missed several deadlines and meetings from May to December 2019 and did not respond to communications from the university, despite being given extensions.
In its letter, the RSU argued it has had “no legal obligation” to negotiate with the university and wrote that entering the renegotiations put it at risk of having to close its doors to students.
“We were excited to engage in this process knowing that both our interests were aligned to better support students,” the RSU wrote.
Ryerson has been withholding the fees students pay to the RSU, and hasn’t transferred money since October 2018. A condition of the RSU getting its full fees back was to renegotiate the operating agreement and to have the results of a forensic audit released to the university.
In its letter, the RSU said the university “had no power” to withhold its fees and said that the forensic audit, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, will be available at its Feb. 3 semi-annual general meeting.
The RSU also wrote that it has undertaken a number of steps to increase accountability, including eliminating executive-held credit cards, updating financial policies and hiring a full-time executive director and financial controller.
Last week, the RSU filed a police report regarding 2018 allegations.
The university has not yet seen the results of the audit, Jen McMillen, vice-provost, students, told the Ryersonian Friday afternoon.
The RSU was notified of the decision in writing through a message to its lawyers Friday afternoon, Lachemi said.
Lachemi said the reaction on social media was positive, although he noted there were concerns that the administration was trying to “control” the RSU.
“No, our goal is not to control an organization that is representing students,” he said. “We want an organization that is transparent and in this case we can work with any organization that is elected by students to represent [their interests].”
The Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, which represents 16,000 continuing education and part-time students, put out a statement on Facebook calling the announcement “an attack on student union autonomy and the right for students to independently organize.”
They called on Ryerson to reverse the decision, come back to the table and await the results of the forensic audit.
Similarly, the Canadian Federation of Students wrote that Ryerson’s decision “undermines the democratic rights of students and student organizations that represent them.”
The university will be facilitating a process for students to form a new student government. RSU elections were planned for the middle of February. It is unclear whether they will continue.