The History of Your Students’ Union

Learn the history of your students’ union to see the importance of an independent and active students’ union.

The Ryerson student union has held many names since the inception of the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. In 1948, the first iteration of the student association was called the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC). In 1970, it changed its name to the Students’ Union of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (SURPI), and between 1989 and 1996 it was know as Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU). In the mid-1990s, the union was renamed the Ryerson Students’ Administrative Council (RYESAC), and in 2006 it became the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU)
Toronto Metropolitan University Library Archives

Early Years

The early years of the student union saw the university directly administering aspects of the organization, including having a faculty member serve as the treasurer (TMU Library Archive). The organization was similar to a student council, where students were elected and had some power but it was ultimately a “department” of the school. The organization continued in this fashion until the 1960s, where we evolved into a fully elected and self-administering student union.

Student Life & Advocacy

As an independent students’ union, the Ryerson Student Administrative Council (RyeSAC) began to be a hub for campus life and student advocacy. In 1966, the first woman elected as RyeSAC President, Janet Weir, who ran a successful campaign to improve the campus library.

Weir organized a student-led protest called “Booxodus” to advocate for a larger book collection in the new library building. On November 20, 1967, students were asked to borrow six books from the library to demonstrate the limited resources available at Ryerson. The protesters borrowed 3,000 books from the library, representing almost a third of the overall holdings. The campaign was successful, and funds were allocated to increase book purchases when the new library would be completed in the 1970s.
Toronto Metropolitan University Library Archive

Throughout the years, your students’ union has united students around important issues and lobbied for improvements and has worked to build a better campus community. Legacy events like the Annual Parade and Picnic, Week of Welcome, and regular pub nights were staples of campus life. The students’ union has always been a place for students to come together, and today we now support over 150 student groups and clubs.

Check out some of the highlights of student advocacy from across the years:

Campus-Wide Recycling Initiative

In the early 1990s, the student council lobbied Ryerson to first install recycling bins on campus, and eventually to make them available campus-wide.

Car-Free Gould Street

Following years of advocacy and campaigns from your students’ union, Gould Street was finally closed permanently to car traffic in 2008. This enshrined Gould Street as the main throughfare on campus and drastically increased student safety on campus by designating the entire road as pedestrian only.

Bottled Water-Free Campus

In 2013 the students’ union, along with environmental organizations, successfully organized to make our campus one of the first bottled water-free campuses in the country.

Fall Reading Week

In 2012 the first Fall Reading Week took place at TMU, following years of advocacy and campaigns that highlighted the need for the mid-semester break. Once the break was implemented, students expressed relief at having the extra time to recover and catch up. We continue to advocate for a Fall Reading Week, or some form of a break, for Engineering and Architecture students.

Late 2010s

Between the years of 2015 and 2020, the organization shifted its focus away from traditional student union advocacy and events and closer to the activities of a student council. This included limiting the Equity Service Centres and advocacy initiatives, putting priority on large, big ticket events like concerts, and giving out free grants and promotions directly to students. Throughout this period, several of the concerts saw expenses balloon way higher than expected, accusations of favouritism or corruption were frequent, and Executives were found to be abusing student funds for personal gain. [The Eyeopener, The Eyeopener]

Despite the newly elected student union executives preparing stronger financial policies, in 2020 the university notified the RSU and the university community that it would no longer recognize the RSU as the official students’ union due to the financial scandals that had taken place – primarily the most recent credit card mismanagement (The Eyeopener). While the university worked to set up a new students union to replace the RSU, the RSU argued in court that the university did not have the right to unilaterally shut down the students’ union. The court ruled in favour of the students, and said that the university had set unfair expectations of the students’ union in order to shut down criticism of the university administration, and that the RSU would be reinstated. 

The RSU instituted the stronger financial policies and was reinstated as the official students union in early 2020. [The Eyeopener]

2020 to present

Right after the students’ union was reinstated, the COVID-19 pandemic began and resulted in the closure of campus for two years. During this period, the university finally responded to years of advocacy, pressure, and direct action surrounding the name of the school and renamed to Toronto Metropolitan University.

In December 2022, the organization officially renamed to the Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union, and adopted a brand new set of By-Laws. These By-Laws addressed many of the issues that students and the community have had with the organization over the past years, including but not limited to financial oversight, conflicts of interest, transparency, and redundancies. You can read our new By-Laws and other governing documents on our Policies page.