THREE NEW CONTRIBUTORS THIS ISSUE!
NIFTY FIFTY : MAYBE – The first contribution from Barbara Godin, celebrating the joys of being a mature student:
A DAY IN THE PARK – Stacey Steele’s first article, a recollection of a perspective-changing afternoon during a class trip to Quebec:
WORKING FOR THE RAILWAY- Wayne Benedict is working for the railway no more. Congratulations to Wayne on becoming a full time AU student!
FICTION FEATURE – Poetry from first time contributor Chantelle Cressman
AUGUST 10th Council Meeting, with Special Guest, AU President Dominique Abrioux
Like the title says, on August 10th AUSU had a regularly scheduled council meeting with a very special guest: none other than the president of Athabasca University.
Dr. Abrioux decided to attend the meeting and speak to councillors and attending students directly, as a response to council concerns that the current method for disseminating information on AU plans and policy to the students’ union was insufficient. In the past, AU administration relied on a word-of-mouth system where an AUSU councillor or councillors – usually the president – were given information first-hand to share with the rest of council and the student body.
This method was problematic in that it placed the council members bearing that information in the difficult position of speaking for both the university and the students. It also meant that we were not able to quote any statements from the university, because anything we printed would in fact be the words of the relaying council member. I don’t think I can be accused of divulging private council information if I also state that the old method of information sharing led to some serious inter-council conflict. This conflict has recently spilled over into the student forums and therefore can hardly be considered privileged information.
In my year on council, I only recall one very brief email from the AU president as the sum total of written information presented from AU to the council. The email in question was not intended for the larger student population as it was a preliminary comment on an issue to be decided at an upcoming meeting.
So, it is highly unusual for the AU President to address the student body in any format, despite the many publicists and forums for publication that AU has access to. The twice-yearly AU World is no longer being published and mailed to students, although when it was it rarely contained any policy-based information anyway. The AU website does run press releases, but these are largely limited to news about new programs, announcements on faculty achievements, and other public relations matters.
It is a great step forward, then, for the AU president to take the time to address students directly. However, it must be recognized that the topic of this landmark meeting made the presence of Dr. Abrioux [he likes students to address him as Dominique] imperative.
For those who have not been following recent Voice and AUSU forums discussions, you may not be aware that AU has requested that the Alberta Government allow AU to be exempt from the Alberta Education Policy’s tuition cap, which regulates how much tuition may be raised each year. Further, AU has gone so far as to ask the students’ union – in essence, the entire student body that they represent – to support AU in this request. This is a highly unusual move, which has shocked many students and councillors as well. Due to the highly controversial nature of this most unusual proposal, the word-of-mouth nature of the request has lead to more than the usual level of tension throughout council and even the student forums.
Many feel – and I agree – that if the university wants to directly request the support of the students on such an important manoeuvre, then the university should prepare a statement and directly address the students. As Voice editor, I have certainly been champing at the bit to receive some sort of written statement that I can print in our magazine, and any students who have questioned why The Voice has not printed any specific information about AU’s plans have been absolutely correct to do so. The fact is, I can’t print third party relays of AU statements – and by the same token, neither should council members. This has left many students in the dark as to exactly what AU’s intentions are.
So, it was requested that AU prepare a proper statement, explaining to students why they should support AU on such an important matter. Dominique surprised us, however, by going one better and attending the meeting with a prepared statement and some supporting documentation. And while I don’t necessarily agree with much of what Mr. Abrioux said, I commend this move, and I commend his assertion that in the future he will be making more statements to the student body directly.
When I heard of this meeting, I asked AUSU council if they would allow me to record the conversation so that I could do a thorough report for The Voice. I expected this request to be granted, and it was – pending the necessary permission of all attendees. I also requested to make Dr. Abrioux’s speech available to students in mp3 format – and possibly as a written transcript – so that any student who could not attend the meeting could listen to his own words. I was not sure this request would be granted, but to my surprise AUSU was wholeheartedly in support of the idea and promised to ask Dr. Abrioux if he would allow this. As it turns out, he welcomed the idea.
So, within the next week the interview should be available on the AUSU website in mp3 format, and portions of the interview – or perhaps the whole thing – will be available as a transcript. This is the first time anything like this has been done, and it will represent a landmark step toward making the AUSU website truly interactive. In June of 2002, Debbie Jabbour, Shirley Barg, and myself presented a paper at the International Symposium for Educational Conferencing, titled Bridging The Distance: Students’ Perspectives On Virtual Communication In Distance Education (http://cde.athabascau.ca/ISEC2002/papers/barg.pdf). In this paper, we discussed the underutilization of communications technology by the university, and talked about ways in which students’ unions could bridge that gap by providing an enhanced level of technological interactivity through websites and teleconferencing. Debbie pointed out to me this week that by being able to present Dr. Abrioux’s speech on the AUSU website, we are finally fulfilling that goal.
I had hoped to comment on the meeting in this issue of The Voice, but Dominique’s speech ran for about an hour, plus a 20-30 minute question period, which was followed by the regular council meeting. So much information was presented, that I would be remiss if I merely touched on a few surface points. Next week, look for coverage of both the council meeting, and Dominique’s speech, by which time the mp3 files should be ready, and the supporting documentation will be available online.
Regardless of whether attendees were swayed by Dr. Abrioux’s plea for support, his willingness to speak directly to students indicates a new level of respect for students, and a move toward ending the less-desirable word-of-mouth system which was used to address students and council members in the past. Thank you to Dominique for his time and his willingness to be questioned by all attendees. I hope that in the months to come The Voice will have an opportunity to provide AU students with more direct statements from AU.
AUSU Survey on Tuition Deregulation at AU.
AU has asked the Alberta government for exemption from the cap which dictates how much tuition can be raised each year. So far, AU has not released a statement explaining the need for this change, but has communicated several reasons for this request to the Students’ Union.
AUSU has created a small survey to assess student opinions on the move toward deregulated tuition for AU. You can access the survey, and read more information on this topic, here:
All AU students are urged to voice their opinion on this very important matter.
The first Voice writing contest
See this issue for full details of the first Voice writing contest. Good luck to all entrants. Please ensure that you differentiate between items submitted for the contest, and those submitted for immediate publication!
Read an Interview with Dominique Abrioux on the AU site:
This is not the statement on tuition deregulations for Distance Ed as mentioned in the editorial, but a promotional interview done by AU: http://www.athabascau.ca/frontpage/articles/DominiqueInterview.htm
25 year celebration for Dominique
Dr. Abrioux celebrates 25 years with AU. Read coverage of the celebration here: http://www.athabascau.ca/frontpage/articles/25yearsDominique.htm
The Voice fiction feature has become popular, but submissions have been slow. Send us your best fiction today, and it might become our next feature.
Attention Budding Writers
The Voice needs some new Voices! We know you have plenty to say, so why not get paid for it. Send us a writing sample or article for submission and you might be published in an upcoming issue. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it pays. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Link of interest
The AUSU Website has pages devoted to past convocations, as well as the last annual distinguished alumni presentation. Find these pages under the ‘Graduation” link on the top, right-hand corner of http://www.ausu.org/index.php