‘We want students to feel safe and it’s hard to see that at Ryerson.’
The student government at the University of Toronto has unanimously decided to stop collaborating with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU).
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) took the step Jan. 26 after its president, Joshua Bowman, presented a motion saying it should distance itself from working with groups that do not adhere to the UTSU’s code of conduct and anti-harassment policies.
The motion detailed the importance of the principles outlined in the policies, which are reflective of UTSU’s values and representative of the standard they hold themselves accountable to: which is to ensure their members and colleagues are treated with respect and dignity.
“Recent events at the Ryerson Students’ Union have raised serious concerns around the harmful work environment perpetuated by its executive officers… The UTSU should maintain the aforementioned standards outlined in its policies in its work with organizations external to it,” the motion read.
Bowman said the rationale behind the motion was that the events surrounding the situation at the RSU “undermine the value of student leadership.”
“You hear things like impeachments, toxic environment, financial mismanagement… and it’s easy for our work to be dwarfed by words like what’s being said around,” said Bowman. “What does this mean for our own operation? How do we get students to give a shit about us and how do we get them to be invested and see themselves reflected in it?”
Students need to know that the union is not creating a harmful environment and that includes standing against “discriminatory practices,” Bowman continued.
“We want students to feel safe and it’s hard to see that at Ryerson.”
The RSU has been ridden with scandals over the past year, after it was reported that credit cards in the names of two executives were used for purchases that included food, alcohol and entertainment. Since then, the Student Choice Initiative — which allows students to opt out of certain ancillary fees — was announced by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and he later tweeted referencing the credit card expenses.
Following the revelations about the credit cards, Ryerson began to withhold funding from the RSU, saying it wanted the student union to conduct an audit and give the university the results. It also said it wanted to renegotiate the operating agreement between the university and the RSU.
On Jan. 24, one year after the allegations of misspending were made public, Ryerson University announced that it no longer recognizes the RSU as the official body representing Ryerson students.
“The university has lost confidence in the RSU’s ability to represent students with good governance and to supply the services that students pay for…The university gave the RSU ample time to rectify the situation, but the RSU has failed to do so,” said vice-provost of students Jen McMillen in a statement.
The RSU has responded by filing a lawsuit, asking the court to, among other things, overturn the university decision to break off relations.
“The RSU has been turbulent,” said Bowman. “We want students to know that we acknowledge what’s happening and we need to be more proactive as student-led organizations. We want people to know that (the University of Toronto) student union is not going to fall into the same cycle.”
RSU president Vanessa Henry did not respond to a request for comment about the UTSU decision and how it might affect the Ryerson student union.
So what’s next for the RSU?
When the U-Pass referendum, a proposed discounted Metropass for full-time, post-secondary students passed in 2018, the effort it took to bring it from the ground up was largely due to a collaborative network between Toronto universities — including the RSU and the UTSU.
The current motion as it stands precludes the UTSU from even entertaining a collaboration of that capacity, said Bowman.
UTSU’s motion, though passed, is not set in stone. Bowman said they could reconsider the changes and believe there is potential for change.
Bowman also added that the UTSU is willing to offer resources to Ryerson student leaders who want ideas surrounding a governing constitution and staff structure.
As part of the motion, the UTSU will also continually evaluate its relationships with other external organizations based on the standards set out in its policies.
“We cannot work with groups that aren’t benefiting their own communities and own constituents. … This (bylaw) makes it so that you need to be committed to these principles.”