READERS PLEASE NOTE: This article was published
Ryerson’s institutions are reminded that the truth never hurts a just cause
Now that the dust has settled on the university’s declaration that it would terminate its operating agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), the student body is left with a legion of questions. Student representation at Ryerson is in a state of flux, and much like two parents in a separation, both parties are happy to cast aspersions but remain skittish on providing clarity to those who depend on them.
The shadow of uncertainty this state of affairs has cast over students is a result of a lack of transparent governance within the union. That lack of accountability, seen in the RSU’s previous leadership, left lingering questions that demanded swift answers. And now, in a move that has coughed up an even greater groundswell of ambiguity, the university has stated that it no longer recognizes the RSU.
The independence of universities is essential to their integrity, and politicizing their administrations would obstruct their academic freedom. The university should, then, appreciate the same autonomy is also pivotal for students’ unions. Following accusations that RSU executives were misappropriating student funds, demands for increased union oversight surfaced. Although such mechanisms are often rooted in bylaws and policies, events of the last year called the effectiveness of these means into question.
The university’s rapport with its student union must find a happy medium between the union’s independence and the university’s charge to guarantee students’ money is used appropriately. If executives embezzle that money or fail to operate effectively, who holds the union to account? In that same vein, who does the university truly answer to when it chooses to leave a gulf where there was once valid student representation?
Perhaps the uproar has purged both organizations’ obligation to their foremost constituents. An extraordinary action necessitates an extraordinary justification — and both the RSU and Ryerson University are failing to provide students with that much-needed clarity. What will become of student fees? On what grounds does this termination sit? Where can we turn for union-provided services? And who, if anyone, represents us?
Although the university and the student union should not emulate the household, the termination does evoke the same icy rancour of a divorce, one that will likely be fought ruthlessly in a courthouse. Ryerson students, much like the children of divorce, will be flooded by avowals of support from either side, yet they will likely be left in limbo for some time.
For two weeks, both organizations have turned away from our questions. They continue to dispense press releases, issue announcements and circulate assertions, on their terms and under their own requisites. But in any context, a fair system does not placate itself to those who hold positions of power.
As codified institutions, both universities and unions should not forget they are accountable to students. During this period of obscurity, student journalists will continue to remind them.