Council Connection

Being a distance council comes with some unique challenges, and some of those were apparent at the April 14th, AUSU council meeting. This was a very busy meeting as it had councillors from both the previous, out-going council, as well as the five new councillors-elect, who took over near the end of the meeting. The first portion of the meeting brought concerns about whether the meeting would be able to be completed, as someone’s line was creating a significant echo, making speaking nearly impossible.

Fortunately, AUSU’s teleconference system can easily mute lines, and the councillors and councillors-elect all agreed to simply mute their lines when they were not actively speaking, allowing the meeting to proceed. Minutes and agendas were approved, with the exception of the minutes from the new Council’s executive election, which the old Council suggested they not approve, since they were not present, and instead those be tabled until following the official change-over.

A review of the action items noted that the conference about user design for students with accessibility issues was filmed and put on television, but that the portion was very short. AUSU will be receiving a link to provide students access to what was broadcast. It was also noted that the Executive Compensation report was now complete and could be removed from the Action Items timeline.

AUSU ratified email votes that took place to approve the changes to the Technology and Infrastructure policy, as well as the vote that defeated the proposed changes to AUSU’s position on co-op programs and job placements. The change that was defeated was primarily the removal of a line about AUSU having been contacted by potential employers indicating a demand for the service, with it being noted that no such contact had been received in the past year.

Council followed up with some discussion on its internal discipline and meeting attendance policies. No changes to these polices were proposed at the meeting, as it was just a discussion period. It was noted that with regard to the council discipline policy, there was room for clarification within the policy about how complaints are handled, what documents need to be provided and to whom. It was also noted that the meeting attendance policy seemed overly strict at this point, in part due to the increased number of meetings that AUSU is doing, particularly with respect to ad hoc committees that are formed, work intensely for a short period of time, and then are dissolved.

Council then moved into the reports section of the meeting, and President Wasylyshyn announced what she learned from a finance meeting with AU and the Minister of Advanced Education.
1. The Alberta government announced 10.4 billion dollar deficit budget, of which 2.4 billion will be going to advanced education, which is a slight increase from previous years.
2. Of that, 494 million has been set aside to fund capital projects at post-secondary institutions, none of which will be going to Athabasca University.
3. Tuition will remain frozen for another year.
4. The operating grants to post-secondary education have been slightly increased, but this increase will not be enough to solve AU’s current financial difficulties.
5. Overall, President Wasylyshyn called it a positive budget for post-secondary education, but was concerned that there was no special funding allotted for Athabasca University.

AUSU’s VP Finance, Brandon Simmons suggested that in his conversations with the government, he felt that the Minister of Advanced Education did not feel that AU was in as dire a financial situation as has been portrayed, and the ministry did not feel it was time to step in to provide additional funding for AU.

It was also noted by president Wasylyshyn, that the media reports about AU’s IT department being moved to St. Albert were overblown, as the IT department had been situated in Edmonton and grew beyond the capacity of the office there, so simply moved to a different office in Edmonton on St. Albert trail, and suggested that the unions used this change to gain some publicity for themselves.

The Vice President External report noted that AU was wanting to dictate some terms and scripts for Ceridian, the organization that provides the Student Lifeline, and that AU’s Learning Support Services were specifically concerned that there be some way to “bridge the gap” between the offerings of Student Lifeline and AU’s own supports. It was noted that AU has contacted Ceridian directly to set up meetings about these concerns, but the exec felt that it would not be at all appropriate for AU to be attempting to deal with the service that AUSU is paying for without AUSU being present.

With the Vice President Financial’s report, it was noted that his hours over a one month period did not average out to the minimum, but also that taken over a two month period, when a significant amount of travel time and extra work with CASA was involved, that average was still higher than the minimum required. Some difficulties with the hours tracking policy were discussed, as there currently is no way for it to account for highly varying work intensity. A suggestion was made that perhaps the system be moved to one of banked hours, but it was noted that a banked hours system will probably mean that AUSU loses out on some hours worked from the executives.

Discussion was minimal on the other reports, with the exception of the awards report, where it was noted with approval by outgoing councillor Pierre Plamandon that the awards committee decided to support former members who were seeking travel bursaries to convocation.

Then came what I thought would be the star of the show, the second reading of the proposed changes to the bylaws. However, discussion on this was actually extremely brief, with President Wasylyshyn pointing out that to leave the bylaws in a state that could be seen as not in line with the post-secondary learning act would leave the organization’s decisions open to be challenged, and councillor Philip Kirkbride indicating that his view had changed from the previous reading, when he voted against it. The changes passed unanimously.

Two last items of business remained for the old council. The first was the change to the referendums, plebiscites and petitions policy that, like the bylaws, and for the same reasons, removed the ability for the members to pass any changes to AUSU that were binding on the organization, leaving that ability only to the elected Council. However, the amendments also changed the number of students required to submit a petition to a flat 50. This is lower than was required before, as the previous “1% of the undergraduate full load equivalent (FLE) student population of AU” would work out to around 83 students for the 2014-2015 year.

The second? An in-camera session to deal in private with motions arising from the councillor meeting attendance policy. Motions against councillor Philip Kirkbride and out-going councillor Pierre Plamandon to remove them from council were both defeated.

With that, the Council officially changed over, the 2012-2014 council was officially dissolved and the newly acclaimed council took office, with their first order of business being to recite the oath of AUSU council. Although all councillors-elect provide a signed copy of the oath to AUSU before taking office, this tradition is a fun one of the group, with everybody speaking the oath aloud over the phone, creating almost a party like atmosphere as the group gets started.

Following that, the minutes that had been previously tabled were now approved, the new executive confirmed and the council started the business of forming the standing committees.

The new voting members of the AUSU finance committee consist of:
VPFA Kim Newsome ? Chair
President Shawna Wasylyshyn
Julian Tetrenko
Josh Cross
Scott Jacobsen, and
Andrew Grey

The new voting members of the AUSU Awards committee consist of:
Josh Cross ? Chair
President Shawna Wasylyshyn
Dixie Tolver
VPFA Kim Newsome
Scott Jacobsen

The new voting members of the AUSU Member Engagement and Communication Committee consist of:
VPEX Brandon Simmons, Chair
President Shawna Wasylyshyn,
Philip Kirkbride
VPFA Kim Newsome
Executive Director Sarah Cornett

The new council then spent several minutes organizing possible meeting times and dates before adjourning for the evening. A busy night, but congratulations to the new group, and welcome to AUSU Council!