Toronto

Ryerson University terminates agreement with student union

Ryerson University announced Friday it has terminated its operating agreement with its student union, leaving one of Canada's largest universities without a student government.

University says it has lost confidence in the RSU's ability to represent students

Toronto's Ryerson University announced Friday it has cut ties with the school's students' union. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Ryerson University announced Friday it has terminated its operating agreement with its student union, leaving one of Canada's largest universities without a student government.

"Effective immediately, the university no longer recognizes the [Ryerson Students' Union] as the official student government representing Ryerson students," Vice-Provost of Students Jen McMillen said in a statement.

"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 move comes days after the RSU asked Toronto police to investigate alleged financial mismanagement by former union heads.

The scandal first emerged last January when an RSU credit card bill with approximately $250,000 in questionable spending was revealed by The Eyeopener, Ryerson's student newspaper.

McMillen said the issues surrounding the union's management of its internal affairs amount to a breach of its agreement with the university, which has existed since 1986.

"The university gave the RSU ample time to rectify the situation, but the RSU has failed to do so. Accordingly, the university has terminated the 1986 Agreement," she said.

The credit card spending allegedly took place over an eight-month period dating to May 2018. The bill included purchases at LCBO locations, a shisha lounge, Casino Rama and a credit risk company, The Eyeopener reported.

Former president Ram Ganesh was impeached last year following the initial allegations. In a video from a board meeting posted last February by student newspaper the Ryersonian, Ganesh said the situation had been very difficult both for him and his family.

Ram Ganesh is the former president of the Ryerson Student Union. (Provided by The Eyeopener)

"The situation has caused me a lot of emotional duress, and I'm working towards getting the situation resolved as soon as possible," he said.

Student union describes university's action as a 'shock'

In a statement on Friday, the student union called the university's actions a "shock," given that negotiations are ongoing with the university for a "mutually-beneficial" operating agreement.

"The university's attempted termination of the operational agreement, and added threat to support an entirely new student government, actively undermines the autonomy and democratic rights of students," the statement reads.

"The RSU does not accept this termination as valid under the agreement."

The student union said this year's board and executive have taken steps to address student concerns about allegations of financial mismanagement. It said it conducted an internal review and retained an external firm to review certain expenses.

The union said it has also increased financial and internal controls, including hiring a full-time executive director and financial controller. Earlier this week, the student union filed a report with the Toronto police.

"The RSU has always been willing to engage with the university, but refuses to make concessions to the university that will jeopardize students. The RSU will continue to operate and support students."

Forensic audit complete

Ganesh's replacement, then-president Maklane deWever, announced that PricewaterhouseCoopers would lead a full forensic audit of the expenses in March 2019. The union was seeking to regain students' trust following the spending scandal, deWever said last year. The forensic audit is now complete.

According to the university's website, both campus pub the Ram and the Rye and the Oakham Cafe, as well as the Student Campus Centre, are managed by the Palin Foundation, which is a separate, not-for-profit charitable corporation. The school said in a statement that it hopes all three will continue to operate while 'consideration to the new student government structure is determined.' (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

"We look forward to the Toronto Police Service becoming an important partner in our organization's effort toward delivering justice to the students we represent," the RSU said in a statement earlier this week.

The union said it will provide more details about the forensic audit at a meeting on Feb. 3.

McMillen said that given the seriousness of the allegations, the university met with the union's executive and board of directors last January, and told them Ryerson would withhold the fees it collects from students until a forensic audit was conducted and shared with the school, and a new operating agreement between the two parties was negotiated.

Health and dental coverage will remain, university says

The union has not shared the results of an audit, McMillen said, nor has a new operating agreement been finalized.

"The university has further been concerned with the recent public turnover of several leadership positions within the current executive and allegations raised to the university's administration by students regarding improper governance, mismanagement, and internal conflict within the RSU," she said.

McMillen also noted that a new student government could be formed, and "we encourage students to begin giving this some consideration.

"The university is committed to facilitating a process to ensure students have the opportunity to determine the structure of their representative government. More information will be made available in the coming days regarding this process."

Ryerson is also going to make sure that services like health and dental benefits will remain in place for students for the rest of the academic year, she said.

According to the university's website, both campus pub the Ram and the Rye and the Oakham Cafe, as well as the Student Campus Centre, are managed by the Palin Foundation, which is a separate, not-for-profit charitable corporation.

The school said in a statement that it hopes all three will continue to operate while "consideration to the new student government structure is determined."

Ryerson also noted that independent student newspaper The Eyeopener and radio station The Scope are their own corporations and independent of the RSU, and as such, will continue to receive fees.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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