The Council Meeting for February 11, 2016 started at 4:30 pm, with the biggest take-away from the meeting being that AUSU Council decided to first accept the bylaws that the students at AUSU had previously accepted, as a first step to bringing the organization into line with the requirements of the Alberta Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA) that the decisions of a students’ union be made by an elected Council. As a second step, Council then passed a motion to seek to amend the bylaws to put in procedures to ensure that AUSU members have the opportunity to read and comment to Council on any future bylaw changes.
In addition to the Councillors and staff present, three students were also present for various points in the meeting, Scott Jacobsen, Katrina Hagstrom, and Amir Banihajhimi.
The agenda and minutes of the various previous meetings passed quite quickly, with Council then moving to look at the action plan and goals list for AUSU. AUSU Council moved and unanimously passed a motion to add support for The Voice Magazine as an important member service and form of communication for AUSU, including seeking to improve the publication and increase readership by working with the Voice to develop an action plan that will allow them to give non-financial support as it is found to be required. A motion that is certainly welcome, and a definite turn around from earlier last year.
Moving into policy, what I initially expected to be fairly routine updates to various AUSU position policies (essentially changing the word “lobby” to “advocate for”) turned into some significant, and important, discussions. For the policy about Athabasca University’s technology infrastructure, for example, there was a lot of discussion about making sure that language was added to reflect Moodle as well as MyAU as part of the AU infrastructure that needed to be updated. The importance of technology for student ease of use and student retention was emphasized. The discussion concluded with the motion being tabled so that the policy could be looked at more extensively, and all aspects of AU technology properly addressed.
Similarly, what I expected to be routine wording adjustments to the Base Operating Funding policy had some solid issues raised, including a lot of discussion about whether it would be appropriate to advocate for funding from other governmental bodies in this policy. However, it was eventually determined that since this policy was specifically about the funding that AU gets from the Alberta Government, the more appropriate place for that discussion would be in the policy about Athabasca University’s National Presence, conveniently scheduled as the next item on the agenda. The policy was then passed and Council moved on to the policy about Athabasca University’s National Presence.
Previously, this policy concerned itself primarily with AUSU pushing for Athabasca University to argue for increased funding from other provinces and the federal government. This Council decided to go one further, and added language to indicate that AUSU itself would also advocate for funding from other provinces and the federal government when opportunities to do so arose. This passed unanimously.
I mention the next policy, the Career Services policy only for completeness, as the only changes to it were correcting the punctuation. It naturally passed unanimously and with no discussion.
This brought us to the discussion of the bylaws. According to legal advice received by AUSU, the PSLA states that “95 (1) The business and affairs of a student organization of a public post-secondary institution must be managed by a council ?” and that “(2) The council of a student organization may make bylaws governing ? (h) any other matter pertaining to the management and affairs of the student organization,” or basically, everything. This meant that, according to this interpretation, the AUSU bylaws, having been approved only by Special Resolution at General Meetings, had not ever formally met the requirements of the bylaws having been approved by Council.
This Council sought to rectify that by passing a motion that would see Council formally approve the bylaws. At first, the motion was phrased such that it would go through the new procedures that Council had devised for bylaw approval, including notification to members 21 days in advance, hosting at least two member-consultation meetings, and requiring the changes to be approved not once, but twice by a 2/3rds majority of Council in meetings no closer than 30 days.
There was some discussion about the difficulty of doing this as the current bylaws had not yet been amended to use that procedure, so it was raised by Councillor Kim Newsome as a question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. After some discussion, Council decided that since, according to the PSLA, they were solely in charge of approving the bylaws, and since we did not have a formally approved set of bylaws yet, using the much longer two-meeting process to approve the set of bylaws that the members had already signalled approval for at general meetings would simply be needless delay.
The motion was then amended to simply approving the current set of AUSU Bylaws as they stand, and this motion passed unanimously.
It was immediately followed by Council’s motion to amend the now approved Amendment bylaw with the two-step process, to ensure that AUSU members have ample chance to comment. It was pointed out that research had been done of other students’ organizations in Canada, and while different student organizations had different portions of these procedures to ensure security, AUSU would adopt all of them to reflect how AUSU had felt only the membership should be able to change the bylaws, despite the PSLA. After passing unanimously, Council moved on to the reports section.
AUSU received its final audit report from it’s auditors Kingston Ross Pasnak, who, as usual, noted no significant problems with the state of AUSU finances and financial reporting. This report will be included in the annual report to be presented at the annual general meeting.
The financial statements show that Council had significant overages in Online and Technology Services and Professional Fees, both of which cost just over $50,000 while having budgets of around $25,000 each, Representation costs, which came in at a bit under $27,000 over a budget of $11,500, and a loss in investments of $583 dollars despite the budget expecting gains of just under $42,000. Vice-President Finance and Administration, Brandon Simmons, pointed out that the loss in investments stemmed from AUSU’s decision to move investments from lower performing investments into better investments part way through the financial year.
These were offset by Council wages and benefits being almost $36,000 less than Council had budgeted, savings on Awards of almost $12,000, and significant savings on the Student Handbook, which cost only 35% of the expected budget, saving over $31,000.
The next item of note was a report on the CRO engagement. Having received over 40 resumes for the CRO position, 4 interviews were held and Jacqueline Keena, who previously was the CRO for the University of Manitoba’s student union election, was hired.
Finally, we enter the reports section, this moved fairly speedily, but I noted among the items discussed that around 14 people have requested AUSU’s geo-caching packages to hide out there for other people to find, and that usage of Lynda.com is sitting at around 399 users, with the average viewing time being 33 minutes and 179 certificates having been awarded to AUSU members.
Finally, there was an in camera session at the end of the meeting for two motions regarding Councillor discipline. I was unable to return after the session before the meeting ended, but I have received the full text of the motions that resulted from the session, both of which were defeated. The first was a reprimand motion against councillor Philip Kirkbride for allegedly failing to display respect for persons, which was defeated by a vote of 6 against and 3 in favor. The second was an automatic motion of removal against councillor Pierre Plamondon which occurred due to missing or being late to council or committee meetings. This was defeated unanimously.
Karl graduated from AU’s Bachelor of Arts Program (with Great Distinction, he likes to brag) despite leaving most of his course work to the last month of his contract, every time. While not the most intelligent way to go about it, it did prepare him for the task of getting The Voice Magazine out every week.