On Friday January 24, 2020, Ryerson announced it would terminate the longstanding agreement between the University and the Ryerson Students’ Union. This decision undermines the democratic rights of students and student organizations that represent them.
Autonomy is central to a students’ union’s ability to effectively represent their membership. Internal challenges are best addressed through the democratic structures that exist within students’ unions because they are the processes agreed upon by the union’s membership. In this case, the Ryerson Students’ Union has demonstrated it takes the 2018-2019 allegations seriously and has undertaken a series of acts to address them. Ultimately, all students’ unions are accountable to their members. University administrations cannot and should not insert themselves in the affairs of autonomous and democratically-governed students’ unions.
The power of student-run organizations is that there are mechanisms in place for students to hold these organizations accountable and make changes that reflect the wants and needs of the student body. Students are empowered through elections, general meetings, and referendum to hold their students’ union accountable, call for democratic reforms, and hold elected positions. Ryerson University’s move to terminate their agreement with the Ryerson Students’ Union is a paternalistic overreach that undermines these democratic mechanisms.
Students’ unions are at the forefront of progressive and positive change in our communities and society at large. Thanks to student organizing, students in Ontario have won sexual assault policy, training, prevention programs and support services in post-secondary institutions, spaces for marginalized groups on campus, and a fall reading week, among other changes. Students’ union autonomy is at the core of their ability to hold powerful institutions to account and push for policies that benefit not only students, but society as a whole.
The Canadian Federation of Students holds firm in its commitment to defending students’ union autonomy and the will of the students they represent. We urge Ryerson University to reverse its decision, restart talks with the Ryerson Students’ Union and work towards a resolution.