'We have a duty to students': RSU working to rebrand following misspending allegations

About a month and half after baffling overspending allegations came out against the Ryerson Students' Union, newly-elected president Maklane deWever says he's working to regain the trust of the student body. 

'We kind of hit rock bottom,' says recently-elected president of Ryerson's student union

After a student newspaper uncovered a $250,000 credit card bill, which critics say includes numerous questionable expenditures over an eight-month period, the Ryerson Students' Union has been working to rebrand itself as an organisation 'for students.' (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

About a month and half after baffling overspending allegations came out against the Ryerson Students' Union, recently-elected president Maklane deWever says he's working to regain the trust of the student body. 

He says that means being an organization that's by students, for students, "as opposed to not being accountable to anyone." 

"I think hopefully if we take the right steps, we'll regain some of that trust," deWever told CBC Toronto. 

The former president, Ram Ganesh, had come under fire in January after numerous questionable expenditures over an eight-month period — including purchases at the LCBO, a shisha lounge and Casino Rama — totalling about $250,000.

It just really felt like a big middle finger to the entire student body. - Josh Runzo   Ryerson student 

Now deWever is attempting to undo some of the damage. 

"I've heard from a lot of students, and they're obviously very upset," he said. "I'm upset too."

Increasing financial transparency as part of healing process

In an effort to increase financial transparency, deWever said all audited financial statements from the past decade have been uploaded to the RSU's website. 

In the future, he wants to publish quarterly financial updates, so people know where their money is going. 

The RSU is also posting a job description this week for a general manager, who will help oversee financial and organizational aspects of the union.

Maklane deWever was elected president of the Ryerson Student Union on February 11. (Submitted)
 

He's focusing on boosting morale — with both students and RSU staff. 

"We kind of hit rock bottom," he said. "Since then we're on the track to becoming the organization that we used to be." 

The union will also hold a town hall event and open house late this month, so students can become more involved with the RSU. 

"I think people sometimes forget that people in the students union are just like any other students — we're the folks in their classes," deWever said.

Now he says he's hoping to change that. 

Students to opt out of union fees 

The RSU's attempt to re-brand itself comes as Ontario's Progressive Conservative government announced students can opt out of paying for student groups and campus organizations to cut tuition costs.

And that option is something two Ryerson students say they definitely plan to pursue.

This credit card statement, addressed to former student union president Ram Ganesh, includes purchases at LCBO locations, and was originally published by The Eyeopener, Ryerson University's student newspaper, in January. (The Eyeopener)
 

"I think most people are likely going to opt out," said second-year international politics student Josh Runzo. "Everybody in general is struggling to pay their tuition," he said.

Runzo is here from the U.S., and said he felt betrayed when the RSU's funding blunder was revealed. 

"It just really felt like a big middle finger to the entire student body, to be screwed over by the people who supposedly represent you," he said.

Runzo said he's spoken with deWever a few times, and is fairly confident the new president will restore the RSU to what it used to be.

Josh Runzo says he thinks students will choose to opt out of paying for student-run organisations now that Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government has made it an option. (Josh Runzo/Facebook )
 

But he says some things need to change.

Runzo says students should inform themselves of campus issues and elections, and the RSU should increase financial transparency in order to "repair the damage that's been done."

"I have good faith," he said. "But some things have to change in order for the whole student body to recover their faith."

'I don't have any trust in the RSU' 

Humza Javed, a third-year business student, says his faith hasn't been restored — and won't be. 

"I don't have any trust in the RSU, [and] it won't be coming back any time soon." 

He says students should prioritize their education over student politics, which they can do by opting out of the now-optional tuition fees. 

"The Ryerson student union isn't as ethical as they should be in terms of having all that power," Javed said. 

"Year after year I'm seeing my funds go to waste." 

Even if the union becomes financially transparent, Javed said he still doesn't feel confident that he will know exactly what's being done with his funds. 

'It's a lot of pressure' 

Meanwhile, deWever is attempting to balance the new responsibilities of his role with his full course load.

"I'm not going to lie, it is a lot of pressure," he said. 

"I think it just comes down to taking it one day at a time and being realistic with yourself and doing the best you can."

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