University says it has a ‘viable plan’ for equity service centres
Two weeks after Ryerson University terminated its operating agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), Jen McMillen, the university’s vice-provost, students, says the university is moving in the right direction.
“We’ve seen a very strong support on social media, as well as in direct contact to various members of the [university] leadership that indicate students saying thank you, students recognizing that it was not an easy decision, but perhaps the right decision or heading in the right direction,” McMillen told the Ryersonian in a Feb. 7 briefing.
Since the announcement on Jan. 24, students, faculty and staff have raised questions about the equity service centres, student jobs and exactly what happened between the university and the RSU for matters to escalate to this point.
The university has now released a detailed timeline of its attempts to negotiate with the RSU.
According to this timeline, in May 2019 Ryerson “formally notified” the RSU that the final deadline to negotiate a new agreement was Aug. 9, 2019. The university warned that if a new agreement was not negotiated by this date, it would terminate the 1986 contract.
On Aug. 2, the RSU submitted a proposed agreement, which Ryerson responded to on Aug. 19. In a September meeting, the RSU, Ryerson and legal counsel met in an effort to finalize the “amended and restated operating agreement.”
Since Ryerson announced its decision Jan. 24, the RSU has announced that it does not accept the termination as valid. It has since taken legal action against the university, claiming $2.7 million in damages.
RSU’s president Vanessa Henry has not responded to a request for comment on the university’s updated statement.
University has a ‘viable plan’ for equity service centres
The RSU operates seven equity service centres, including the Good Food Centre, the Centre for Safer Sex & Sexual Violence Support and the Racialised Students’ Collective.
McMillen says the university recognizes the value these services bring to students. “We are interested in finding ways to ensure that they aren’t interrupted,” she said.
She said that moving forward with the equity service centres has also come up in discussions with the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), who are co-facilitators of the spaces.
“Given that they are co-owners, runners, managers of those spaces, as they have indicated to us in a meeting, they made it quite clear that they share, have a stake in those services as well.”
McMillen also said the university has what she believes is a “very viable plan” to continue the services, though she was unable to provide further details at this time.
In a letter released on Facebook Feb. 7, CESAR president Nicole Brayiannis wrote that at a Jan. 30 meeting, Ryerson gave CESAR the option to run some of the RSU’s services. The RSU and CESAR have long-standing agreements around their collaborative leadership of the services and spaces, according to Brayiannis.
“The university has essentially asked CESAR to scab. This means the university has offered money to CESAR to undermine employees at another unionized workplace,” she wrote in the letter. “This is inherently wrong and counter to the history of progressive student unionism.”
CESAR rejects offer of financial support
The Ryersonian reported last week that since Ryerson terminated the operating agreement, the RSU’s student issues advocacy co-ordinator has been unable to represent students in academic misconduct or appeals hearings. Some students looking for support have turned to CESAR, which represents continuing and part-time education students.
McMillen said in a statement that Ryerson offered to provide additional resources to CESAR “to increase the number of students the CESAR advocate is able to represent.”
On Feb. 6, CESAR informed the university that it was unable to accept Ryerson’s proposal, according to the university.
McMillen said the resources offered were financial, and did not comment on why CESAR turned down the proposal.
In CESAR’s letter, Brayiannis said the university “already has a student advocate for full-time undergraduate and graduate students via the RSU” and called for Ryerson to return to the negotiating table “rather than bulldozing student democracy.”
In a Feb. 10 interview with the Ryersonian, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said Ryerson offered CESAR financial support to hire a second individual to represent students. He noted under Ryerson’s senate policies, students can be represented by an advocate from either the RSU or CESAR.
He said CESAR initially seemed open to working with the university. He said Ryerson respects CESAR’s decision to decline the offer, but found “their reaction very disappointing and harmful, interpreting this in the way that we are trying to undermine something — that [was] not the cause of the meeting or the discussion that took place.
“It’s very inaccurate for the meeting to be positioned as anything other than a legitimate discussion regarding the continuation of services for us and students,” he said. “CESAR’s mischaracterization is not in keeping with a strong positive relationship Ryerson had for many, many years.”
Call for proposals for a new student government
Since its initial announcement, Ryerson has been clear that it intends to facilitate a process for a new student government at Ryerson. The university has announced a committee consisting of four current Ryerson students, one recent graduate and a process manager. The university is expected to announce a lead process manager (the role was initially called a chief process manager, but the title was changed after feedback from community members and consulting with Indigenous leadership).
McMillen said she didn’t know how many proposals the committee had received, but she didn’t want to know. She noted that the committee’s new website is “separate and independent from the university.”
Ryerson’s election for a new student government structure will take place in March. General elections will be in April. After this, Ryerson will negotiate a new operating agreement with the new students’ union.
McMillen said there have been some concerns about Ryerson’s role in creating a new student government.
“We’re trying to create the conditions under which students can be successful in determining what their future representation looks like, but we don’t have authority over it,” McMillen said. “We have said over and over again: independent student government is good for everyone.”
Nominations to propose a new student government are due Feb. 19.
Ryerson response to RSU financial review
After allegations of financial mismanagement arose last January, Ryerson requested the RSU conduct a forensic audit and share the results with the university. The RSU instead had PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) complete a financial review, the results of which were released at the union’s semi-annual general meeting Feb. 3.
In the financial review, the RSU says after retaining PwC, the RSU found that a “full forensic investigation would be expensive and would take a significant amount of time.”
Ryerson only learned that a financial review was conducted from campus media, McMillen said.
“If the RSU had a problem funding the forensic audit, this was never brought to the attention of the university,” McMillen wrote in an earlier statement to the Ryersonian.
She added that the RSU agreed to conduct the audit during the 2018-19 fiscal year, when the majority of the union’s fees had been transferred by the university, and that the RSU never asked the university to release funds to help fund the audit.
“Although the RSU and university were in negotiations for approximately one year, the RSU did not, at any time, tell the university that financial considerations were preventing a forensic audit,” McMillen wrote.
However, in a statement to the Ryersonian Feb. 7, the RSU’s executive director Reanna Maharaj said the RSU did request a release of funds to support the project involving PwC, as well as other student services — but Ryerson declined the request.
“In the RSU’s communications with the University on this matter, it was very clearly outlined that the RSU had minimal funds at hand to meet its basic operational needs, let alone an intensive and expensive forensic audit from an external consultant,” she wrote.
With files from Katie Swyers and Kelly Skjerven