Ryerson University has terminated its 34-year-old agreement with the governing student union, cancelling the union as the official representative of the student body, according to a statement released by the university Friday afternoon.
The decision comes one year after a scandal engulfed the union, under the leadership of the former president-elect Ram Ganesh, amid allegations of improper spending in excess of $270,000.
“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,” reads a statement by vice-provost Jen McMillen, published on the university’s website.
“It really is a decision where we believe that the university ran out of options and we would like the students to have their voice. It’s time for the students to decide what’s next,” she said in an interview with The Toronto Star.
But McMillen said that the university is committed to a new student government and will be releasing details about how that will come about.
“A strong student government is an important partner to any university administration and we believe in that. We also believe that we have a very engaged and committed student body, who have also expressed frustration about the way their representation has gone in recent months,” she said.
“We want students to be involved in what some of those things look like, so we couldn’t have that all ready to go today, but we will be communicating that in very short order,” said McMillen.
After the university learned of the alleged misuse of funds, it withheld fees the student union collects until the RSU produced a forensic audit of its finances, shared the results with the univeresity and negotiated a new operating agreement.
“Despite the university’s best efforts to be an accommodating and collaborative partner, the RSU has failed to meet the conditions set out in January 2019,” said the statement.
The union posted on Facebook stating that it did arrange an audit. In a memo dated Jan. 21, 2020, the RSU said PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted an audit of the credit card usage to review the expenses under Ganesh, former vice-president of operations Savreen Gosal and financial controller Vijayatharshini Jayachandran between May 2018 and Feb. 2019.
The memo further states the student union filed a report with Toronto police and said students will be able to view the report on Feb. 3.
Toronto Police Service confirmed that a report was made regarding allegations from 2018, and said its investigator “has yet to speak to witnesses, therefore, it would not be in the best interest of the investigation to comment further.”
Reached at the RSU office mid-afternoon Friday, union president, Vanessa Henry, said there was a lot of “misinformation” about. She said she would be interviewed by the Star after she spoke to a lawyer.
But she did not answer repeated calls and emails later in the day.
The RSU, which is run by a five-member elected student executive, represents 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It operates various programs and services on campus, such as free legal aid, tax clinics, student groups and equity service centres for marginalized communities.
McMillen said the university is committed to ensuring that those programs and services remain available. But she could not speak to whether there might be interruptions in some of those services.
“Our goal will be to ensure that things that students rely on and ways in which students are supported, (that) those needs are met and will continue to be met through this period of transition,” she said.
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The student union is funded through mandatory student fees; an undergraduate student pays about $130 towards the union. The RSU has an operating budget of $2.7 million.
In January 2019, documents obtained by a student newspaper, independent of Ryerson, disclosed expenditures of the RSU’s credit card that showed what appeared to be questionable charges. Among the charges was $2,280.89 for the Toronto nightclub EFS, $2,507.18 for a Cineplex Rec Room in Toronto, $696.90 for Airbnb, and $1,375.21 at Nick’s Sport Shop.
According to the RSU website, union election nominations begin Tuesday through Feb. 3.
Establishing a new student union is a complex undertaking, said Kayla Weiler, national executive representative for the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario, which condemned Ryerson University’s actions on Twitter.
“It’s establishing a new memorandum of understanding with the administration. It’s developing bylaws and policies. It’s hiring staff. It’s creating services. When a student union has to start over, it loses its institutional memory. It loses the services that have been put in place and … (the discovery of) what works and what doesn’t work. It puts those services in limbo that students rely on every day,” she said.
Meantime, there’s a gap in student representation, said Weiler.
When there is no student union to represent them, students’ rights are in jeopardy, not just within the university, but also in their representation to governments, she said.
The CSF offers its members, including the RSU, education on good governance and financial practices. It also provides support if a member university asks. Weiler said Ryerson didn’t request assistance dealing with its relationship with the university or the allegations of financial mismanagement.
Ryerson Student Union was to hold elections Feb. 12-14.
—With files from Tess Kalinowski Isabel Teotonio