The Future of AUSU is Bright!

AUSU President Shawna Wasylyshyn speaks to The Voice Magazine

Have you read articles in The Voice lately that made you wonder what the blazes is going on at AUSU these days? I have.

When I went up to AU’s Convocation ceremonies this year, I had the chance to meet AUSU President, Shawna Wasylyshyn, in person, and was so fascinated by what she had to say that I asked if she would be willing to be interviewed for The Voice. She agreed, and answered a number of questions for me by email.

Here’s what Shawna had to say about what she sees as actually going on at AUSU these days.

Shawna, thank you for taking the time to speak to me! I’m sure students will be really interested to read about your perspective on AUSU and how you’d like to move forward. But for starters, how long have you been an AU student, and what are you taking?
I transferred to AU from the University of Saskatchewan in 2011, and enrolled in the Bachelor of Management program.

What made you first want to get involved in AUSU council?
I had been looking for a way to get involved at AU for a while. I spent a lot of time clicking around on the AU website and trying to find local student groups to network or connect with, without much luck. I wanted to get involved because I was sure there were more students like me, who wanted to make those connections, and I felt that AUSU could play a key role in that. What better way than to run for Council and do it myself?!

How did you come to be interested in serving as President?
Funny you should ask! I never thought I would be President of AUSU! A month or so after I became VPEX, AUSU’s President resigned and per our bylaws, I took over the role. Now that I’ve settled into the role, I have found that it suits my personality and skill set well.

What are your hopes and goals for Council over the coming year?
When I was first elected, I wanted to increase awareness in the services offered by AUSU, and offer opportunities for students to connect with each other, and I still do! We have so many new services to roll out, it promises to be an exciting year! I would like Council to continue to increase interest in our services, advocate for the best interests of students, and work as a cohesive team to accomplish our goals.

Do you feel council will be able to achieve these aims? How?
I hope so! Council has recently voted to implement some great new services, such as a free app and a new website that will allow for more awareness and interaction with AUSU and other members. Now we need to ensure they are rolled out seamlessly and promoted like crazy! AUSU has some awesome services, and our work isn’t done until every member knows about them. On the advocacy side, we also have passed a motion to join the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). I am so excited about the opportunities this partnership will bring for AUSU to advocate for online/distance education.

So what is advocacy, and why is it important? How will joining CASA help AUSU?
Advocacy is publicly supporting a cause or policy, and It’s a big part of what a Students’ Union does. Joining an advocacy group, specifically CASA, will help because as a group of over 20 Students’ Unions from across Canada; they have a larger voice. CASA advocates on the national level on topics that benefit students, such as accessibility to financial aid and youth employment.

AUSU has had a lot of staff turnover lately, with the departure of an executive director that had been with the organization more than a decade, and the recent resignation of the new executive director, who had served as AUSU’s office coordinator for many years. How do these changes impact AUSU moving forward?
Staff turnover has a huge impact on an organization, and even more so when there is a small staff. We are working hard to implement procedures to try to retain as much institutional knowledge as we can.

What about the motions (to recommend the expulsion of AUSU executive members and recommend a forensic audit of AUSU’s books) passed at the AGM last month: when can students expect to hear more about how council intends to deal with these recommendations?
Following the AGM, we consulted with our lawyer as well as with Alberta Innovations and Advanced Education, to determine what we should do about the bylaw infraction recommendations. We received verbal advice from both agencies, and are now waiting for a formal legal opinion in order to prepare an official press release on the topic.

In regards to the forensic audit recommendation, I would like to create an ad-hoc committee, comprised of councillors, members and staff to review the recommendation for a forensic audit, the findings of our recent annual financial audit and at least two RFP’s from auditors. I would like that group to report to council on the necessity and cost of the audit, and if they find it necessary I would definitely support it. However, AUSU bylaws don’t allow for the President alone to create a committee and so far, I don’t have the support of council to create one. So for now the Member Engagement and Communications Committee is working on putting together some ideas on how to get the opinions of more members on the audit recommendation.

What about involving AUSU’s Finance Committee in discussions about the need for a more in-depth audit – have they been consulted as well?
All of Council has been involved in [discussing] how we will address the forensic audit recommendation.

Council recently discussed whether the Voice continues to be of value to AUSU members. What do you think? Is a student newspaper a worthwhile service for students?
What a hot topic! I know that there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the cost, readership and content of the Voice, most of which took place before I was an executive councillor. I’m not someone who gives up on something easily, and when I became VPEX, my first instinct was to ask “how can I help?” In a meeting with the Voice editor, I asked him what I could do to help The Voice, and AUSU has made good on our pledge to follow through on his request to continue promoting the magazine.

I don’t know of a students’ union in Alberta that doesn’t have a weekly newspaper or magazine. I think that a newspaper IS a worthwhile service for students. Maybe there are ways we can make our service better or maybe we could promote it differently. The results from our recent survey on services show the Voice as being under-utilized, along with a few of our other services as well. I think we could do a lot better at promoting ALL of our services.

Is a Writer in Residence program still being considered? What can you tell us about it at this point? What would the implementation of the Writer in Residence program mean for the future of The Voice?
Some research has been done about implementing a Writer in Residence. Council is currently finalizing the 2015 goals list, which will set our direction for the rest of the term. In my view, the WIR implementation is a trial. I don’t see a problem with exploring options and trying new things, and a WIR is a neat idea.

We’ve also seen a lot of articles recently about AUSU spending and salaries. Are you able to comment on the recent executive wage increases? How did the idea to raise wages originate, and why did you believe it was the best course of action?
Last fall, at the request of council an email discussion thread was started by our former Executive Director. [This thread] included staff and non-executive councillors. The ED provided those councillors with a spreadsheet containing the salaries and benefits of other student’s union executives across Alberta. Upon reviewing the spreadsheet, it was discovered that while AUSU Executive salary was similar to other SU’s, AUSU executives work full time 12 months per year, but according to the information given, others worked only 8. The executive salary increase was approved unanimously by non-executive council, to pay the same salary per month worked, on average, across Alberta.

Were any other Alberta SU’s contacted directly and asked how many months they work?
I personally did not contact any other Students’ Unions, and I am not aware of how the information for the spreadsheet was collected.

What else should readers of The Voice know about you, your council, and the future of AUSU?
What I would like people to know about me is that I am a student, just like they are! I am an AUSU member, councillor, and President because I am trying to finish my degree. I got involved with AUSU to contribute to a better post-secondary experience for other distance learners! I am also a Mom, a wife and an avid volunteer in my community. I love to connect with other students and welcome anyone to contact me at president@ausu.org or tweet me @ausu_president

Our council is a very passionate group of students who care deeply about AUSU, distance education, and the future of AU. I have learned a lot from this group in the last year and a half! The future of AUSU is bright! I encourage all members to get involved! Check out our services! Run for council! Read the Voice! AUSU is only as good as its members make it!

Bethany Tynes completed her MA in Integrated Studies through AU, and is a Canadian politics junkie.

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