Ryerson and UOttawa’s student unions left in the dust

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Could it happen here?

As first reported by Ryerson’s student outlet, The Eyeopener, Ryerson University’s administration have terminated their agreement with their student union, citing “lost confidence.” The news comes with four of the union’s six executives having left since Dec. 10. Their resignations come after the revelation in 2019, also uncovered by the Eye, that a credit card in the then president’s name had been used to purchase alcohol, food, and club expenses that were not related to his duties. The RSU has since filed a police report with the Toronto Police Service and had been planning to release a forensic audit at their next semi-annual meeting on Feb. 3.

As of publication, the release of the document is still in the cards, though the long-term viability of the organization has been put into serious question.

However, this is not even the first (recent) time that a student union has been stripped of its powers. The University of Ottawa faced a similar issue in 2018 when their undergraduate student union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), had executive members accused of fraud, an accusation they were later cleared of, with an audit declaring that the issue was largely one of conflicts of interest and failures in policy. Contrary to what former campus executives seem to believe, you can’t just hand contracts to your relative. Or, in the U of R’s case, the handling of a legal issue to your friends.

The contract between the U of O campus and SFUO was terminated after a ninety-day period on Dec. 24 (Merry Christmas!). Since then, a referendum was held in February to decide whether SFUO or a newly formed organization, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union, would be given the right to represent students. The latter won, by a four to one rate, and has since taken the reigns.

All of this typical student union debauchery begs one question: could the same thing happen here? In short: theoretically?

Since the URSU versus recorders debacle (circa 2013), URSU has graciously allowed the Carillon, (read: been forced by sheer will of past editors) to allow this newspaper to record their meetings. While these gatherings have tended to devolve over the last few years into the regular sand-throwing expected of student politicians, there is valuable insight to be had from watching how a non-profit of their scale runs. Since the beginning of the school year, the vast majority of URSU’s meetings have included an in-camera element, meaning private and confidential. Think of it as Roberts’ Rules of Order’s get out of jail free card. Free, unless, like has happened in previous years, a director opens their mouth and lets a journalist in the room know that, to pick an example out of a hat, a vice president has resigned. Yay for openness. Two executives have resigned this year, we’ve had three elections in a row where the real question was how long would the results take to be ratified, and we’ve been privy to a number of URSU screaming matches over the years. Guess what? That fishbowl is not very good at keeping in the anger. Maybe the Carillon should have invested in lip reading training, our bad.

To look at the ones with the larger wallets and egos, unlike the majority of other campuses across the countries, the University of Regina holds their Board of Governors meetings secretly, only releasing the minutes long after the fact and never revealing the time beforehand. The last meeting was Dec. 3 and those minutes are still not available to the public. In the last minutes we have any public record of was held Sept. 17. The meeting lasted roughly two and a half hours and included three in camera sessions. I guess the good news is that URSU has room to triple their secrecy budget.

As previous noted in this newspaper’s pages, the campus’ guide to implementing and acknowledging the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) is not publicly available and, as noted in URSU’s own meeting minutes; the new equity, diversity, and inclusion initiative  (EDI) focus sessions turned away students at the door. This was because, according to multiple accounts, the festivities were only meant for researchers. In practical speak, the event was only to assuage the general public and convince them that practical work could wait until after millions had been spent on meetings with poor marketing, poor methodology, and poor practical application.

All this leads us to believe that a split is extremely unlikely. Problematic decisions aside – and there are a litany of those – the union and campus generally agree on things because the executive has been forced to become spineless – and that’s a lot to say given that the person writing this uses a wheelchair. Rebels against the administration one moment, to posing for photo ops until they are deposed, they resign, or slump back into their traditional role as owl bar nanny, URSU has no vested interest in doing the work of a student union because that would make their dinner parties awkward. A split has never been seriously considered by campus admin and there should be concern on campus that only the few student representatives that the campus has proverbially hogtied into agreeing with them are present at BoG meetings. For what it’s worth (and if anyone wants to follow the University of Calgary’s lead and participate in something other than apathy), the meetings are in the fifth floor board room – think of it as the campus executive’s super expensive porch – and seem to begin between eight and nine in the morning. Handy for those who want to hold campus to account, they have also been scheduled out until mid-2021: https://www.uregina.ca/president/governance/board-of-governors/minutes.

The next meeting is March 10.

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