Have you ever heard that saying about the tip of an iceberg? That even though you can see part of a problem, there’s likely to be a much bigger part of it lying unseen? As an AU student at this week’s regular AUSU council meeting, I got that impression for a couple of reasons?and left wondering just how big some of those icebergs could turn out to be.
But let’s start with the things that went well. The meeting moved along smoothly, with barely a ripple in the proceedings. Councillors and observers were there on time, the previous minutes were unanimously approved with one minor correction, and the current agenda was approved just as quickly.
Then it was on to a piece of pending business?a motion to accept updates to Policy 2.01 Conflict of Interest and Bias. Since council is waiting for more feedback from AU on changes to this policy, they voted unanimously to table it until the July meeting.
So far, so good. But That’s when a couple of routine items began to appear much larger.
In the Action and Discussion Items, council ratified their decision not to hold a by-election to fill the three seats that are currently vacant. How big of a deal is that? Well, it means a much smaller (by 33 per cent) pool of opinions and experience for council to draw on?and for students to be represented by. It also means fewer voices on important votes. And having an equal number of both executives and councillors means one less check on executive power.
For this student at least, a full council with diverse voices and experience would be far preferable to one That’s at the smallest possible size before an election must be triggered.
Next up was item 5.0, a vote to accept the project of redesigning the AUSU website at a cost of $15,000. Would an updated, revamped website be nice, especially one That’s mobile ready? You bet.
But one of the planned features for such an update is to eliminate all functionality that requires students to log in. And that could lead to all kinds of unexpected consequences.
For starters, the AUSU Forums would be eliminated. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, since most of the student discussion has shifted to an AU Facebook group. But the forums (and their log-in feature) also serve key functions besides discussion posts. For example, at election time, the forums allow students to talk directly to candidates in one central location. All students can see the candidates? replies, and It’s a benefit for candidates to answer a question once in the forums rather than a dozen times in individual emails.
If the forums are eliminated, that kind of debate and discussion could potentially move to the AU Facebook group. But That’s not an official forum managed by AUSU, and any privacy concerns or other issues would fall under Facebook’s policies, not AUSU’s. That could turn out to be a big problem for students.
Also, on Facebook or other social media, questions and answers about the election would be on full display to all members of the group, including AU faculty and staff. I’m no expert on election rules or privacy, but I can’t help wondering if That’s the best place for it.
A lack of login function also raises questions about some new features that would be part of an upgraded site. These include online awards application forms and a return of the course evaluations. Without a login, will course evaluations and comments be available to the public? Will there be some kind of verification in place to ensure that only current students are posting evaluations? Also, will students need to type in all their information each time they fill out online forms, rather than simply logging in and having the system recognize them?
Hopefully council will get concrete answers to such questions, and ask for plenty of student suggestions and feedback, before signing off on a new website that could create as many problems as it solves.
Another issue of note came up during the Reports section of the meeting?and It’s one that should definitely be on students? radar. It’s the question of the student vote at the recent AGM that found three executive members (Jason Nixon, Shawna Wasylyshyn, and Corrina Green) had broken bylaws.
You can find a list of some of the broken bylaws in Barbara Lehtiniemi’s Voice article on the AGM. As the article notes, “in most cases, the council members who spoke pled ignorance of the bylaws, or felt that their actions were justified in spite of the bylaws.” However, in her president’s report at the June 10 council meeting, Shawna Wasylyshyn explained that she didn’t feel that she’d broken any bylaws.
And there sits the tip of the iceberg. On the one hand, she noted that AUSU’s lawyer says they can continue as a council, and they’re waiting for a formal legal opinion so they can publish it.
On the other hand, bylaws were clearly broken. Cancelling the original AGM, scheduled for April, is a major infraction on its own, and at the rescheduled AGM, President Wasylyshyn revealed that she’d been contacted by the Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education due to complaints raised to them.
Wasylyshyn stated that Alberta Innovation had no concerns, but a bit later in the meeting, during the report by the Vice-President Finance, Corinna Green noted that there were no financial policies to look at this month, mainly because council are waiting on a legal ruling to see if they’re still legally a council. This did not stop them from passing resolutions to spend almost $25,000 plus taxes to a company to offer mental health services to students, or nearly $20,000 to join an external lobby group, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
So there the iceberg sits. How big it is I still can’t tell, and I have no way to predict if we’ll be voting for a new council soon. But I do know one thing. As AU students, we’ve all got a vested interest in watching it closely.
The next regular council meeting is currently scheduled for July 8th.