Ontario universities must respect the autonomy of students’ unions

Ontario universities must respect the autonomy of students’ unions
Page content

Students’ unions, founded by and for students, are fully autonomous organizations governed by democratically elected boards and executives. They are membership-driven organizations funded by their members through dues.

University administrations do not have the authority and cannot justify violating the legal autonomy of students’ unions or any other campus unions.

Regardless of their motives for doing so, university administrations have no right to:

  • withhold students’ union membership dues;
  • interfere in students’ union elections or operations; or
  • attempt to shut down students’ unions (or any other legally autonomous organization).

It is vital that university administrations understand the limits of their authority. As concerned as a university administration might be, they have no right to withhold students’ union membership dues, interfere in a students’ union operations, or dictate the terms by which democratic students’ unions operate on campus.

(Mar 2, 2020)

The Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) filed to intervene in the legal action concerning Ryerson University’s most recent attack on students’ union autonomy.

“Autonomy is central to a students’ union’s ability to effectively represent their membership. Ryerson University has attempted to violate the autonomy and independence of students’ unions through a draconian move to unilaterally terminate the Ryerson Students’ Union Operating Agreement,” said Sofia Descalzi, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.

“This isn’t the first time that Canada’s students have faced this kind of ill-conceived attack. The Federation is intervening to make sure that all students’ unions can continue to operate freely and be accountable to members, not beholden to university administrators,” continued Descalzi.

Ryerson University unilaterally cancelled its agreement to recognize and remit funding to the Ryerson Students’ Union, citing complaints with the actions of past executives. The CFS and CESAR stated that Ryerson University failed to act in good faith in dealing with students and is setting a standard that harms core principles of students’ union autonomy, fair and free elections, and independent student voices on campuses across the country.

“Ryerson University has overstepped in every stage of this process, and they have one goal – defunding the largest democratic students’ union on campus,” said Nicole Brayiannis, President of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson. “This attack on the RSU harms all students at Ryerson. It’s had an immediate effect on campus life through the cancellation of educational and community events hosted by the Equity Service Centres, as well as leaving advocacy services like academic appeals in the lurch.”

Students’ unions are separate, third-party entities from the university or college where they operate. Students’ unions are responsible for representing students to the university, including taking oppositional opinions, and require the freedom to operate without risk of losing funding and student representation. Students’ unions are governed by either provincial or federal not-for-profit law.

The Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson represents over 16,000 part-time and continuing education students at Ryerson University.

The Canadian Federation of Students unites over 500,000 college and university students and more than 60 students’ unions throughout the country including all students at Ryerson University.

Read the original statement here

CUPE 1281 Statement

Statement regarding Ryerson University’s termination of RSU Operating Agreement

CUPE Local 1281 strongly condemns the actions that Ryerson University has taken to sever all ties with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU). This drastic measure starves the RSU of the fees that full time undergraduate students and all graduate students pay to their students’ union.This action also prevents these students from accessing advocacy services, important equity service centres like the Centre for Women and Trans People, Rye Pride, the Racialised Students Collective, Rye Access, Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support, and the Good Food Room are all jeopardy.

Ryerson University, because of their extreme decision to terminate the operation agreement with the RSU, is attempting to force the dissolution of a decades old community stronghold that employs eight full time staff who are members of CUPE 1281. Employees of the RSU are the original chartered members of CUPE 1281 from 1974. Our members should be able to continue to do their jobs; it’s inappropriate for the university to intervene this way and to put their jobs at risk.

We stand with Ryerson students who deserve an autonomous students’ union that’s free to critique and challenge the University administration. Currently, Ryerson University is trying to set up a new student “government” with appointed students to determine it’s organizational structure, while the RSU is running it’s annual general elections without access to it’s membership lists because the university will not release them. This is a problem.

We call on Ryerson University to re-open communications with the RSU, to fairly negotiate an operational agreement, and release the levy fees to the RSU so that their important services and advocacy can continue to support Ryerson students and the community at large.

Read the rest of the statement here

OCUFA Statement

Ontario universities must respect the autonomy of democratically governed students’ unions

At universities and colleges across Ontario, democratically elected students’ unions are a vital part of the campus community. They provide numerous services to their members, including access to vibrant student clubs, inclusive spaces, event programming, and important resources that support marginalized students on campus.

Students’ unions also engage in advocacy work that gives their members a voice with which to hold university administrations and governments accountable. As the Ontario Divisional Court noted in its recent ruling against the Student Choice Initiative, students’ unions are essential to collegial governance structures at Ontario universities.

Faculty respect and value the contributions students’ unions make towards our shared goals of fostering vibrant universities that provide accessible, quality education and innovative, groundbreaking research.

These students’ unions, founded by and for students, are fully autonomous not-for-profit corporations governed by democratically elected boards and executives. They are membership-driven organizations funded by their members through dues.

Read the rest of the statement here

CUPE Ontario and OUWCC Statement

TORONTO – CUPE Ontario represents more than thirty thousand (30,000) university workers across Ontario, who are represented within the union through the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC).

CUPE Ontario and OUWCC strongly condemn the recent moves by Ryerson University to terminate its operational agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and sever all ties with the organization.

Students at Ryerson University deserve effective, accountable and democratic representation, and the University’s decision to terminate the operational agreement and withhold fees collected on behalf of RSU represents a massive step backward for the entire Ryerson community.

Whatever its shortcomings, RSU performs many vital roles for students on campus, from advocacy and equity to supporting students with immediate financial, mental health and other needs. All of these services have been put at risk by Ryerson, as well as the livelihoods of the eight (8) RSU staff who administer and deliver these services.

Democracy and autonomy need to be safeguarded by RSU members – the students – and respected by Ryerson Administration. The proper channel of accountability for RSU’s executive rests with its membership – through their engagement, participation and ultimately through their votes. CUPE Ontario believes that the student body at Ryerson University can and should be the ones to hold their government to account, not Ryerson’s administration.

Democracy. Autonomy. Accountability. These are bedrock principles that Ryerson’s actions to date have made virtually impossible. Ryerson’s clumsy attempt to create its own student ‘government’ comprised of University-appointed representatives is none of these things. To do such a thing while refusing to provide RSU with the items necessary to conduct a fair election, such as membership lists is unconscionable.

We call on Ryerson’s administration to immediately resume contact with RSU, release all outstanding student levies collected on behalf of RSU and negotiate an operational agreement that allows RSU to fulfil its mandate.

Fred Hahn,
President, CUPE Ontario

David Simao
Chair, OUWCC

Ryerson University decision an assault on democracy, says Ontario Federation of Labour

(January 24, 2020)

The Ontario Federation of Labour condemns the ill-conceived and short-sighted decision of Ryerson University to terminate its operating agreement with the Ryerson Students Union (RSU). The RSU has been instrumental in fighting for student autonomy and student-led change on campus for 72 years.

“This is an attack on student union autonomy and the right for students to independently organize. It undermines the democratic rights of students and student organizations that represent them,” said Ontario Federation of Labour President Patty Coates. “Ryerson is shamefully leaving its student body without the representation they voted for.”

Student unions are an essential democratic institution that bring the voice of the student body to the administration, advocate for student-positive change on campus and in university policy.

“Ryerson is acting against its own students, who stand to lose important services that student unions advocate for and provide, including mental health advocacy, safe space for LGBTQI+ students, campus food bank, and sexual assault support services,” said Ontario Federation of Labour Secretary-Treasurer Ahmad Gaied.