Last month the AUSU Council removed one Councillor for policy violations and accepted the resignation of another Councillor who was scheduled to defend a motion of removal that was brought against her. Since these events have already been covered in detail in the article Sad Day for AUSU Council (http://www.ausu.org/voice/archives/articledisplay.php?ART=2378) (Low, Tamra Ross. One member resigns amidst allegations; another is removed under strange circumstances. v11 i51. 2003-12-17) I will not bore you with a lengthy review. There are several issues, however, that have arose on account of these events that have not been dealt with. These issues are:
1. Is the AUSU Council giving students enough information about their activities?
2. Does the AUSU Council need to change the policy that states that motions of reprimand and/or removal are private documents?
3. What is the impact of these events on the image of the AUSU Council?
An Informed Student Body
The events of last month were accompanied by suggestions that the AUSU Council was covering up acts of wrongdoing and conspiracies. The first instance of this took place when Sandra Moore placed the motion of removal that was brought against her in the AUSU discussion forum. In her post she stated that her goal in doing this was to publicize her defense to the allegations made against her in order to save her reputation. From the posts she has made it seems as though she did not feel that there was any other way to tell her side of the story because she believed that she would not receive a fair hearing with the Council. She also stated in the post that she wished to encourage other students to take an interest in what the Council was doing and to ask questions.
While these are admirable goals, some may say that her method of attempting to achieve them was questionable. First of all, if she had attended the council meeting to present her defense and was denied a fair opportunity to do so, then any student who was at the meeting or read the minutes would be able to see this. She would then be able to argue her points while pointing to an official public document and the students would have been provided with a discussion that would reveal the positions of all Councillors on the matter. This would be preferable to what we have now, which is only one person’s word with no official evidence to support it in a post that is no longer accessible.
The document is no longer accessible because it was removed by the AUSU. The fact that the post was removed, along with comments made by Sandra in a later post suggesting that the AUSU might pull that post as well, may have led some people to believe that the council was in fact trying to hide the information from the students. In my opinion, this is not true. The AUSU removed the document because it revealed confidential information about AUSU employees, employment agreements and other AU students, and because it violated the posting guideline that states, “Any postings that include attacks of a personal nature, statements that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or sexual orientation, or are libelous or defamatory in any way will be deleted from the bulletin board and the username could be banned.” A complete list of the posting guidelines can be found at http://www.ausu.org/forums/. Furthermore, the fact that the information in the document was scheduled to be discussed at the Dec 14 Council meeting, which any student could attend, suggests that the Council was not attempting to hide the information.
The Council was then brought into question again when Nicholas Palamarchuk, the councillor who was recently removed due to policy violations, posted a message in the discussion forum indicating that the Council was covering up conspiracies and that he would reveal more information to us shortly. This was a very dangerous accusation that could result in the Council being viewed with suspicion and doubt. Unfortunately, Nicholas failed to specify what and/or who he was talking about and he has failed so far to return and provide us with the extra information he had promised. I for one will not put much stock into such a vague accusation unless and until he does return with more information and evidence.
The end result is that several allegations have been made against the Council, but from what I can see we have not been provided with enough information and solid evidence to form a conclusive opinion of our own.
Nevertheless, these events have likely increased the awareness and interest of students in how much information the Council is presenting to them. The quality and the timeliness of information presented by the Council to students could be better. The students need to be more informed not only about the negative things happening in the Council, but also about all of the good things they are doing and the new programs they are starting. According to Debbie Jabbour, President of the Council, the recent events have made her realize that changes do have to be made in the Council’s policies and practices. The Council will be working on improving access to information in the future. Some of the initiatives being implemented by the Council include:
1. Placing the minutes of Council meetings in the student only area of the AUSU website.
2. Assigning the preparation of agenda packages for Council meetings to the AUSU’s new Executive Director. This would alleviate the workload of the Council and hopefully result in the packages being made available more quickly to students who will be attending the meeting.
3. Investigating the possibility of forming a Judicial Committee.
The President also expressed some concerns she has with the disclosure of detailed information about the wrongful acts of Councillors. First of all, she believes that such information should not be presented on the main AUSU website because it is accessible to the entire Internet community. She believes that it would be unfair to place such information in a place where it will show up in Internet searches for the entire world to view. Debbie’s opinions on placing information on the internet can be found in more detail in the article From My Perspective: Privacy and The Internet (http://www.ausu.org/voice/search/searchdisplay.php?ART=2093) (Jabbour, Debbie. v11 i40. 2003-11-01).
She also believes that when a member is removed the only information that needs to be disclosed is the fact that the member was removed and what policy violations they committed. In her opinion, putting too much focus on negative events and all the details involved results in wasting time and overshadowing other positive things that the council is doing. The Council ends up spending its time defending against and explaining every little detail when they could be doing more productive work. There are also legal implications to consider since allegations sometimes contain comments that could be considered libelous or slanderous. According to Debbie, the whole matter of how many details should be released “:can be a difficult and sensitive matter.”
Tamra Ross Low, the editor of the Voice, is also attempting to ensure that students know what is going on in the Student Council. So far she has been keeping us informed of major events in her editorials. In order to get more coverage of Council activities she is now advertising for students to attend Council meetings and write articles about what was covered. Hopefully, many students will respond her ad and start writing articles about the Council.
Private vs. Public Documents
When a motion of removal and/or reprimand is brought against an AUSU Councillor it is a private document under Council policy. The individual is given at least two weeks to prepare a defense to the allegations against them, which will be presented at a Council meeting. The individual is innocent until proven guilty and sometimes people are found innocent. According to the President of the Council “:it would not be fair to the individual involved to have the allegations made public before they had the opportunity to defend themselves.” Of course if the motion is passed then the students are informed about the decision. However, the resignation of Sandra Moore before the motion of removal against her could be considered raised serious questions about this process. It is obvious that Sandra was not attempting to avoid a finding of wrongdoing on her part. If she was it would certainly be counterproductive to that goal to post the allegations against her on the discussion forum and admit to being wrong on some decisions she made. It did, however, demonstrate that if another Councillor in the future did wish to avoid having his/her policy violations made public he/she could simply resign before the motion was considered. The President of the Council has confirmed that this can happen and that it has already happened in the past. The recent events have made the Council realize that this can no longer be allowed to happen and that policy changes need to be made. The Council has agreed that even if a Councillor resigns they still need to discuss the motion of reprimand and/or removal and have it noted in the minutes.
The Image of Student Council
Students should be confident that their Student Council is an ethical body that is making good use of student funds and keeping students informed of the positive and negative aspects of Council activities. Lately, we have been hearing more negative than positive news about the Council and that is likely to erode the confidence that students have in them. However, according to the President the “:AUSU Council has had an unusually high level of conflicts throughout its history.” She believes that one of the problems is the difficulty of running a Council at a distance education University where a lot of the Councillors are not in direct contact with each other. Certainly, as distance education students we can appreciate the unique obstacles that our Student Council has to deal with. The President also believes that some of the problems were being caused by the fact that many Councillors were not being held responsible for policy violations. She is, however, very happy with the current Council and the work they have done together, as you can see from her statement below:
I’d like to think that students aren’t highly critical of us because they see a Council that is working hard on their behalf, in spite of any perceived flaws. I’m very proud of what this group has accomplished, and I do not want to see the recent events detract from the good we’ve done. I believe we dealt with both these Councillors properly, fairly, and according to policy. Students have been notified that this occurred, and that should be the end of the matter. I’d like to move on and continue the positive work we’ve been doing.
The Council has been doing positive work, but that work has received less attention lately. Some of this work, including the Student Mentor Program and Student Coffee Groups, is briefly mentioned in the article “Sad Day for AUSU Council”, and on the AUSU website. The Council has also shown itself to be responsive in recognizing that changes need to be made in light of recent events. Although, there may be problems from time to time we cannot let those problems drag our attention away from the fact that this Council has been doing good work and that they are working hard to fix the problems that do arise. One Councillor has resigned and another has been removed, but there are still seven Councillors moving on and working on our behalf. You should not be afraid to contact any of them with your questions, concerns or ideas.