This week, the Council Meeting brought us a return of the echo chamber. I mean this in a literal sense, as once again the meeting was plagued with people’s voices echoing in the teleconference. You can imagine how distracting it is to try to speak to a group and being constantly interrupted by your own voice.
Fortunately, Council once again handled it rapidly, as the individual councillors are learning to be quick with muting their phones. Once that was sorted out, the rest of the meeting was fairly uneventful, with the two primary points of interest (for me, anyway) happening at the very beginning and the very end.
The first point of interest was a change to the agenda. President Wasylyshyn asked that an additional motion to deal with a budgetary overage be placed on the agenda. I’m always interested in these types of motions, especially when they aren’t included in the original meeting package as those are the types of motions when skullduggery is most likely to occur.
In this case, however, the skullduggery was on the part of the international finance community. To be specific, each year, AUSU purchases a bulk license for SmartDraw, a piece of software you can use to easily create flow-charts, floor plans, mind maps, Venn diagrams, SWOT analysis, and various other charts or graphics that students sometimes have to create for their classes. With this license, you, as an AUSU member, are entitled to a free copy of the program. But the company is in the US, and when AUSU created their budget the exchange rate wasn’t taken into account. SmartDraw has since billed them, and Council realized they needed to budget an extra $849.00 (Canadian) to make up for the currency conversion.
Council minutes were adopted, with two of the new Councillors, Andrew Gray and Julian Teterenko choosing to abstain from approving the in-camera minutes as they were not present at that session.
Following an update on the action plan, which noted only two action items outstanding from the previous Council, discussion proceeded on the upcoming Council in-person sessions that will be happening in Edmonton. This is a new development for AUSU Council, as it has been over 14 years since AUSU Council held a meeting of the group in person. Gathering the various members in Edmonton is a significant expense, but one that Council has determined is likely to give a lot of benefits in helping the group to develop new plans and move forward quickly to improve services to its members.
The first motion on the agenda after the discussion about the in person meeting was the previously mentioned approval of the overage in the budget. Then adjustments were made to the policy on how council goes about changing policy. Significantly, changes were made so that the entire Council no longer has to approve every policy AUSU has if there are no changes made to it that term or the changes are extremely minor, and additional assurances were put in to ensure that if any councillor had concerns about a policy they could make sure it is brought forward to a full meeting.
A new policy on email voting, giving specific guidelines and timelines as to how AUSU conducts these votes, was then passed, and the terms of reference for various committees were updated, primarily for consistency, although the Finance and Member Engagement & Communications committees were also given the ability to seek out AUSU members at large, rather than just council members, to fill the seats on them if there was space.
It was in the discussion about the terms of reference for the Finance Committee that it was noted that Council is also moving forward with plans to make more of their financial information and activities available on the AUSU website. This, along with the addition of the minutes and various reports from executives and committees that are already being put on the site, is an excellent thing, in my opinion, as many of the problems that Council encountered over the course of early 2015 would likely not have happened had there been this type of transparency in place to begin with. As I’m generally among the first to criticize council when I think they’re doing something wrong, I also have to give credit where credit is due. So kudos, folks.
All of the motions passed unanimously, and generally with very little discussion beyond the initial explanation of the changes.
For the reports section, President Wasylyshyn noted that her work with the AU Presidential Search committee continues, but everything about this committee is kept in strict confidence, as (having been on one before) I can tell you that often the applicants the committee considers are currently serving other institutions, and so who is being considered must be kept confidential so as not to inconvenience these people.
Vice-President External, Brandon Simmons, noted in his report his meeting with Minister Schmidt, who again gave confirmation that the government is committed to working with AU and not letting it cease to exist, although lots of uncertainty remains as to how things will be fixed.
The Awards Committee report noted that this year AUSU has received more applications for awards than any previous year, six times the number of applications from the years previous, according to the staff report, which also noted the AU Quicklinks page has been launched (and you can see our own article for more information on that.)
Finally came the question and answer period, and it was in this free-roaming discussion that the most interesting bit of news came, when President Wasylyshyn spoke of contacts AUSU had received from students who were concerned about the retro-active changes being applied to the post-LPN nursing program. A retro-active change in a degree program is an extremely unusual thing, as it has the potential to add hundreds of dollars and months onto a student’s program plan. Possibly costing them their degree or scheduled employment. Other universities were contacted about retro-active changes to their programs and generally noted that such a thing simply isn’t done.
AUSU has met with the Dean of the Health Disciplines and the VP Academic of the university to discuss their concerns, and President Wasylyshyn spoke of having contacted AU President MacKinnon about these changes, who she said told her that he was going investigate further, and that there likely was no policy about this currently as it is a basic tenet of a degree program.
In the AUSU council meeting it was noted that if one faculty can make retro-active changes, what does this mean for any other faculties, and what protections do any students have about the consistency of their degree programs? The Voice Magazine is also looking into this, and we’ll be bringing you further coverage as we find out more details.
With that, at about 6pm, the meeting was officially adjourned.