Council Connection

November 12, 2015

For the most part it was business as usual at the AUSU Council meeting on November 12. But the agenda also included news and votes on three topics that have been generating discussion among AU students for a while now. If you’re interested in e-texts, executive pay and benefits, or virtual exam invigilation, read on for the highlights.

E-texts have been a hot topic for a while now. When AU announced that it was moving to e-texts there was mixed reaction. But whether you love them or loathe them, there’s one question students agree on: if e-texts mean lower overhead in course materials, why aren’t those savings being passed on to students in their tuition?

To help address these concerns, council updated position policy 9.22 to oppose AU’s continued use of e-texts without sharing the cost savings with students, and to advocate for a “clear breakdown of the Learning Resource Fee at AU and a clear understanding of the costs of textbooks verses other associated fees.” The policy also recommends that students should have a choice, whenever possible, between hard copy and e-texts.

This issue affects students in critical ways, from finances to grades, so keep an eye out for updates.

And speaking of course fees and where your money is going, you might be interested to know that council has received another raise in executive compensation. The increase is thanks to Policy 2.15, under the Compensation and Benefits section.

From a current honorarium of $49,851.22, your council president’s compensation will rise to $50,960.42. As well, the vice-president’s honorarium sees a jump from $42,729.81 to $43,680.55. And those totals don’t include the free undergraduate course every six months, or the health benefits.

As you might recall from this Voice article back in April, hefty increases since 2012 mean that the Executive pay has more than doubled. The result is that, even before this latest increase, your AUSU executives are the highest paid student union execs in Alberta. As that article notes, the next closest was the University of Alberta’s SU president at $39,804.

So why, you might be wondering, are yet more of your AUSU fees going to executive pay?

The rationale is that it’s due to point 2.15.17 of the compensation policy. Specifically, the point now reads that “executive honoraria shall be adjusted by the Core Consumer Price Index (CPI), calculated as an average of the 12 months of available prior data of the Bank of Canada Core CPI ’Percentage change over 1 year ago (unadjusted),’ at the beginning of each fiscal year. If the CPI increase is negative, pay shall not be reduced.”

To be clear, the section that ties the executive compensation to an external cost-of-living index is nothing new. It was already in the policy. But the discussion came up as Councillors were seeking to provide clarity about how it’s calculated.

During the discussion on this item, councillor Pierre Plamondon put forward a motion to repeal that section all together. In other words, to base executive compensation on AUSU’s annual budget rather than automatic increases. He noted that, even though the CPI could be looked at, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor in increases.

The counter argument from other councillors was that, if council neglects to review exec compensation for a few years, there could be a huge jump to make up for that. But, as councillor Tamra Ross noted, most other university unions in Alberta currently do an annual review, and it’s common practice for the honoraria to be set at the time that a council is leaving so that any increases would apply to the incoming council.

Faced with the question of whether to eliminate the CPI section (and base executive raises on an annual review instead), only three councillors voted to do so?Pierre Plamondon, Tamra Ross, and Philip Kirkbride.

The motion failed and the CPI changes will remain in policy for next year.

And last but not least, it’s time to take a look at an interesting new strategy in exam services. In the Vice President External report, Colleen Doucette noted that AU is looking at a virtual exam invigilation service. Instead of travelling to an exam centre, students would be able to “write online exams from the comfort and convenience of their own home office or at another suitable location with internet access while an invigilator supervises them via web-cam.”

I don’t know about you, but a service that would save me an hour’s drive, loud movies in the next classroom, and even the raucous singing of Happy Birthday outside the exam-room door would be a welcome change from some of the invigilation sites I’ve encountered.

There are, of course, lots of questions to be answered. Things like how students would pay, what would happen with any tech issues, and whether other universities would give transfer credit for courses that used virtual invigilators. But if those issues can be worked out, this type of service could be a real boon to students who find it hard to travel for exams, and could even play a part in reducing exam anxiety.

It’s a project that holds lots of potential, so watch this space for news and updates on it.

In the meantime, click on over to the AUSU site to get the details on the next council meeting. It’s on Thursday, December 10 at 4:30 p.m. MST, and it’s free to dial in. See you there!

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.

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