Council Connection – September 13, 2016 Meeting

At 5:31pm, the last meeting of the seven member AUSU Council was convened. By the next meeting, the by-elections will be complete, and the council will be back to its full strength of nine. In addition to the seven councillors, Emily Bonia and Carly Gallant attended as guests.

However, before the meeting even began, council was already present and engaged. With Brandon Simmons stepping down as the Vice-President External (VPEx), there was a vacancy on the executive that needed to be filled by the next council meeting, according to the policies. This internal election was conducted shortly before the meeting, and as I arrived, council was just congratulating the newly elected VPEx, Julian Tetrenko.

The agenda was then amended to include the resignation and subsequent election results.

Action items from the previous meeting were quickly reviewed, and the only one that remained outstanding was a consideration of calendar orders, which was referred to the Member Engagement and Communications Committee, and their new chair, Julian Tetrenko.

Three motions had been previously passed by email, and this meeting saw their ratification. The motions were to approve and create the new awards that AUSU has already been advertising, the Health Care Bursary, and the Single Parent Bursary, and also to reallocate unused travel bursary funds into the emergency computer bursary program, thus creating room for up to five more students in financial need to have a computer purchased by AUSU for them. See the AUSU awards page for more details.

Finally, the old business concluded with a review of the 2015/2016 goals list, which this Council managed to complete with the exception of receiving recommendations from the Voice/AUSU joint committee that is still ongoing.

Council then moved on to new business, the first item of which was the aforementioned acceptance of changes in position from and to the VPEx position. A new goal list was then proposed and presented, with it noted that the goals were developed largely from information that came from the member services survey AUSU conducted. The new list can be found on the AUSU strategic documents page.

Also submitted was a report and transcript from the 2016 AUSU Council Retreat (and a copy of the report can be found on that same strategic documents page). These motions all passed unanimously without contention.

The next item on the agenda? A recommendation from the Finance Committee that AUSU approve up to $10,000 to be used from an internally restricted funds for legal fees and administrative costs related to attempting to address the retro-active change in degree policy brought forward by the Faculty of Health Disciplines. It was noted that while AUSU has been very successful with complaints from individual students, as any student AUSU has advocated for with the Faculty of Health Disciplines has had adjustments made for them from the newly imposed degree requirements, there is still the larger concern of the precedent this sets to Athabasca University being able to significantly alter degree requirements of students currently in a degree program, possibly adding additional expense or severly hampering the chances of student attaining a degree. In support of this, AUSU has put forward a number of freedom of information (FOIP) requests and consulted legal counsel who informed them that they may seek to pursue a judicial review if no satisfaction is received from the administration of the university. The restricted funds would be used to cover the costs incurred by the FOIP requests and, if necessary, to pursue the judicial review.

It was noted that there is some concern that Athabasca University has become complacent when it comes to dealing with the effects that their decisions and actions may have on the broader population of students. While when dealing with individual students AU tries hard to assist (and again it was noted that any students coming to AUSU for individual advocacy has subsequently had their concerns addressed by the Faculty of Health Disciplines), this issue was mentioned as an opportunity to show that AUSU is going to be “strong advocates for students, and … will encourage them to remember to put student consideration first and foremost” when formulating larger policies.

The motion to approve the $10,000 for further action was approved unanimously and heartily by council.

Councillor Dixie Toliver was then appointed to a vacant seat on the AUSU Member Engagement and Communications Committee, and we moved on to policy revisions.

Of note in the policies this month was the creation of a policy outlining exactly how a member could be voted to be “not in good standing”. AUSU bylaws state that in order to run for a position on Council, a member must be in good standing, which essentially meant not owing money or being involved in a lawsuit against AUSU, and not having been voted as not in good standing through a normal motion of Council. The addition of this policy adds several safeguards to allow a member an opportunity to defend themselves in the event of such a motion.

Council also discussed the Scholarships, Awards, and Bursaries program policy, and there was a good amount of discussion about the student service award where it was noted that the wording might cause some to think that only contributions to the AU community and AU students would be considered, whereas the intent of the award is to examine volunteerism beyond the AU community as well.

Finally, AUSU approved the terms of reference for the first regular Executive Compensation Review Committee, following up on the report and recommendation from the special committee of the same name brought in place following the AGM of 2015.

Of note in the reports was the hiring of Dr. Neil Fassina as university president, that the issue of student emails has not died but rather is just waiting the approval of the AU executive to finalize the business rules around creating official Athabasca University email accounts for students, and that there is now a proposal to update and upgrade the MyAU Portal (but that probably won’t happen this year)

A few more standard reports, and the meeting adjourned at about 7:30pm.

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