Council Connection

October 13, 2015

Between following the federal election and watching the Blue Jays rally to an incredible win, it’s a wonder anybody’s getting any work done these days. But the AUSU council was on track at their regular meeting on October 13, and here are a few of the highlights.

One of the first items on the agenda dealt with the committee that’s going to recommend whether or not council should conduct a forensic audit. In order to get students involved and know what they think, the committee’s terms of reference called for at least two members from outside council. The call went out for volunteers but after 10 days only a single student had expressed any interest. That’s a little surprising, given that it’s student money we’re talking about, but, on the plus side, council changed the terms of reference to a minimum of one outside member. The committee now has an engaged AU student on board and can get started. Watch for updates on the issue here.

Student involvement affected another item on the agenda?the Awards Committee. Currently, membership on the committee is restricted to AUSU councillors. A proposed change would have seen the committee made up of “a majority membership of AUSU Councillors and up to two members from outside of Council.” But as councillor Kim Newsome pointed out, there could be serious privacy concerns with that, since committee members see the confidential financial details of students who apply for awards.

Another concern is that, while councillors have formal requirements for things like privacy policies and computer requirements, students would also need to feel confident that any non-council committee members would be subject to the same rigorous guidelines. Especially when it comes to handling sensitive personal data. For now, Awards Committee membership will stay limited to councillors, but the question of non-council members has become an action item for more study.

Still on the topic of money, council voted to approve the 2015/2016 budget?but not without some interesting debate that highlighted the digital vs. paper dilemma faced by both council and AU alike.

If you’ve ever used one of the popular AUSU planners, you’ll know it’s an incredibly useful thing. Typically, the planners are so popular that students start asking for them weeks before their old planners run out. However, council didn’t include funding for the planners in the new budget, and it’s easy to see why. All that awesomeness came at a cost?roughly $45,000 each year.

In comparison, a non-custom planner for students would be about one-third of that cost. And as council president Shawna Wasylyshyn pointed out, some of the features of the hard-copy planner are now available in the new AUSU app.

The interesting thing about this topic is that the budget discussion came shortly before a debate about whether council should finalize and release its statement on e-texts. As AU students know, the university’s transition to e-texts has been met with plenty of valid objections, including concerns about just how well people understand and retain text in digital format. AU has since decided to put their e-text project on hold.

It’s easy to see how the same dilemma confronts both council and the university. On the one hand, paper textbooks and planners are proven to be effective, reliable, and popular. But they’re also a lot more expensive than the digital ones. Trying to balance those cost savings with what’s best for students will no doubt continue to present tough choices.

Eventually the budget passed with a vote of 7 ayes, 1 nay, and 1 abstention. It’s worth mentioning that the nay vote and abstention centred on the issue of whether the budget should include funds for a weekend working meeting that would gather councillors in one location. The rationale is that the travel costs will pay off in the added efficiency of a face-to-face meeting. Not every councillor was convinced, but the budget passed with that item intact. It was generally agreed, though, that with a full AUSU election coming up soon, any decision on holding a working meeting should be up to the new slate of councillors getting started on their two-year term.

And finally, the president’s report noted that the “Get Out the Vote” campaign has seen more than 800 AU students pledge to vote in the upcoming federal election. That’s a higher number than from the university of Lehtbridge, and from all across the country. That’s good news for making sure that student voices are heard, no matter which party you support.

So cast your ballot and get back to cheering for the team everyone’s getting behind. Go Jays!

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.