Usually I’m of the mind that more students should attend AUSU Council meetings. they’re generally short, and while the policy portion may seem a bit byzantine, especially because the public meeting packages don’t contain the draft revisions, It’s more than made up for during the report section where students can get an idea of exactly what AUSU is doing with and for their money.
This week, however, the meeting ran over three hours, with a large portion of that wasted on discussing whether council should hold various meetings about things not currently included in its strategic plan for the year, as opposed to getting on with what is already in the plan. This has made for quite a long report this month, so you have been warned. You may want to use our table of contents to get to the next article.
The meeting started at 5:30pm with Councillor Christine Villeneuve being absent with regrets (meaning she’d told Council ahead of time that she’d be unavailable). The first policy item on the table was policy 2.04, Council Discipline. This went fairly smoothly, with minor questions and corrections of detail and councillor Alexander Poulton’s usual request about if AUSU’s lawyer had also examined the policies.
The next policy up for discussion was policy 2.08, which is about the meeting attendance of councillors. As a quick rundown; the policy states that if a councillor misses a certain number of meetings, a motion of removal of that councillor is automatically put on the agenda. Council is then required to vote on this motion, thus reaffirming whether the councillor in question is seen as fulfilling their duties despite the absences. As discussion proceeded on this, councillor Poulton felt that AUSU needed to entertain some psychotherapy about this policy, calling on specific councillors as to whether they’d ever been brought up for a motion of removal under this policy, and, if so, how they felt about it.
As it turns out, the one councillor who had been brought up for removal based on missing too many meetings, Shawna Wasylyshyn, indicated that her feelings were that the automatic nature of this motion was a good thing, as it prevented any feelings that any specific executive or council members were seeking to cause damage. What any of this had to do with the specific wording of the policy, I’m still not sure.
Next within this policy was a discussion of the vacation period that councillors are allowed, as it seemed to be some confusion about what was considered to be vacation. This discussion became extremely convoluted as councillors were having difficulty explaining exactly what about the wording was confusing them, and eventually council decided to table this motion until after the following motion which dealt with councillor duties and honoraria.
When discussion on the duties was then opened up, the first item brought as a point of concern was the requirement that councillors read and reply to e-mails within three calendar days. Councillor Wasylyshyn argued that some councillors, such as herself, had various other obligations outside council, and that these other responsibilities could make responding within the allotted time difficult for her to accomplish. Evidently, something has changed for her since her response to my question in the elections forum. She indicated, however, that she would be amenable to increasing the limit to five business days.
VP external, Kim Newsome, explained that this existed because sometimes councillors have taken seven or eight days, or even longer, to respond to simple requests for information and that this preventing work from progressing. While she was not opposed to adjusting the limit to either three business days or five calendar days to address the issue of weekends, she had concerns about delays that might occur over longer holiday periods, and so was worried that five business days was too long.
The rest of council had no clear opinion as to whether they preferred five calendar days or five business days, and in the middle of this discussion councillor Poulton interjected with concerns over how this might affect Executive duties, and later with concerns about councillors being able to provide their intentions via other councillors during meetings while they were absent. Fortunately, however, these lines of discussion were shut down relatively quickly as irrelevant to the current policy discussion.
Eventually, Ms. Wasylyshyn proposed a motion that the time-frame be amended to the vague “in a timely manner”, which passed with a vote of four to three. Those against the amendment were President Jason Nixon, VP External Kim Newsome, and VP Finance Corrina Green. Those in favour included all of the non-executive councillors present.
Discussion then moved to the details about vacation which had confounded council earlier. Confusion had arisen because there was apparently some form of guidance that indicated notifying council as to your vacation is a courtesy to the rest of the group, and this was becoming intermingled with the idea of taking a formal vacation from AUSU Council duties, during which council could operate without waiting for or considering the person on vacation.
Once this confusion was cleared and adjustments made to the policy to indicate that councillors on official vacation were not expected to fulfill any of the duties required of councillors, and that they would still get paid for any meetings missed while on vacation, councillor Wasylyshyn brought forward the concern that while AUSU provided ten business days of vacation as considered the standard under Alberta law, other regions, such as Saskatchewan, provide 15 business days of vacation as a standard, and that the conflict in these two time frames could make it difficult for some people to participate on Council.
After a short discussion, councillor Wasylyshyn proposed the motion to increase the vacation days councillors could take from ten business days to fifteen. This passed unanimously.
With Council now having no set-time frame to respond to e-mails, and an extra five days of vacation granted to themselves, the policy was voted on and passed unanimously.
This, finally, returned us to the previous policy, but it was noted that with the elimination of defined response timelines and the additional vacation days which could be used to skip meetings, more detail and clarification was now needed as to how it would be assessed that disciplinary measures would be needed. Thus Council decided to table this policy until the November meeting.
The final policy about executive accountability and compensation was then passed without discussion, the concerns about changes to the councillor duties affecting this policy having apparently been made moot by the tabling of the disciplinary policy.
So after two hours, we reach the reports section. President Jason Nixon, who was at the recent Board of Governors retreat, reported that it was one of the most positive experiences he’s had with the AU Executive since he started on Council over two years ago, and that the current president does seem open to cooperation with AUSU and interested in the concerns of the student body. Whether this will lead to change is difficult to judge, but the initial impressions were very positive.
He noted that he had several formal meetings upcoming, including one with the AU Faculty of Health Discipline, which he was eager to attend because AUSU has typically had very poor representation from the nursing students at AU due to the limitations on their time that their heavy course and practicum load imposes on them. Councillor Poulton wanted to know what strategy President Nixon (that always makes me grin) had in mind to encourage nursing students to get more involved with AUSU. He was told that there is no current strategy but that the Executive is open to suggestions. Councillor Poulton then asked what strategy was in place to develop such a strategy, and was informed, again, that there isn’t one, but suggestions would be welcome. Which then lead to councillor Poulton asking if there might be a meeting or strategy to develop that, and at this point I have to admit I lost track of just how meta this line of discussion was getting and tuned out.
Eventually the executive director pointed out that AUSU council had agreed on a strategic plan that was already very ambitious, and attempting to add things to that plan outside of the regular process and without some sort of emergency was not helpful to fulfilling what the council had already agreed were the most important goals.
With that admonishment in place, the rest of the public meeting went by reasonably quickly, though we were already at the two and a half hour mark. As this report is already excessive, items of note for the rest of the meeting included that AUSU is planning a site to help students find career resources, awards are getting a lot of applicants finally, with all of them having been given out (a first for AUSU), and that the long awaited health care plan will be operational on October 15th. More details about the plan can be found at this link, but the short form is that it will cost $325/yr, will be available to students who sign up for or are taking their third course with AU, and can be opted out of easily and without requiring proof of any other insurance. There were another few attempts to bring unrelated suggestions for new programs or plans forward, but we were reminded that these suggestions are merely that, and that AUSU Council has not agreed to pursue any of these yet, if it will at all. A reminder I expect was intended for me to make sure I’m not giving you readers false impressions of what may or may not be happening. But, if I’m being honest, at this point we were approaching 9:00pm and my attention for whatever random suggestions that AUSU should develop strategies for possible endeavours council might undertake at some undefined point in the future really wasn’t there to begin with.
And with that, the public meeting adjourned. Phew.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Councillor Wasylyshyn as living in Saskatchewan, and that a “busy holiday weekend” was listed as a concern for a short mandated reply time” I have been informed that these are incorrect, and have removed them from this article.