The March 14 AUSU council meeting kicked off at 5:30 pm sharp. All of council was in attendance, except for Julian Teterenko who was away on AUSU business at the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations? (CASA) annual general meeting in Nova Scotia.
The meeting agenda and prior meetings? minutes were approved without delay. One of the set of meeting minutes was from a special council meeting held on March 7 to elect the AUSU Executive for the upcoming year. President Shawna Wasylyshyn and Vice President External Julian Teterenko were re-elected for another one-year term, and Councillor Scott Jacobsen was elected for the first time as Vice President Finance and Administration. Shawna, Julian, and Scott were the only councillors to put their names forward for these positions, and all votes were unanimous. The new AUSU Executive will officially take office at the next council meeting on April 11.
The first motion of the March 14 meeting was to implement bbPress as a discussion platform on AUSU’s website, a recommendation made by the AUSU Member Engagement and Communications Committee. This feature will provide a forum for membership consultations on bylaw revisions, AUSU election discussions, and conversations among students on a variety of topics. The forum was recommended by AUSU’s web developer, can be integrated seamlessly into the AUSU website, allows for comment moderation, and is affordable, with only $500 in setup costs and no additional maintenance fees. Shawna Wasylyshyn and Kim Newsome discussed uncertainties around the forum’s long-term purpose and administration, and they agreed that the platform would be installed on a trial basis. No other councillors participated in this discussion, and the motion was approved unanimously.
Next, council ratified a last-minute e-mail motion to approve a budget overage of up to $14,000 for staffing fees to recruit a new executive director. Executive Director Sarah Cornett submitted her resignation on March 8, the day after the AUSU Executive elections, after a year and a half of working at AUSU. The timing was curious. If you read last month’s Council Connection, you know that council, after much debate, recently voted to sign a relatively expensive lease ($19,976 more per year than the cheapest alternative) to appease staff and to prevent AUSU’s work from being disrupted by a potential loss of staff. AUSU’s executive director’s resignation was effective on March 22, just one day after AUSU moved into that new office space. Although council was conspicuously quiet at this point in the meeting, Shawna later acknowledged Sarah’s resignation and thanked her for all of her contributions to AUSU.
The next item on the agenda was to approve the annual financial statements and audit findings for the 2015-16 fiscal year. VPFA Kim Newsome commented that the audit was routine and that AUSU’s auditor, Kingston Ross Pasnak LLP, said positive things about AUSU’s internal controls. AUSU received a solid return on its investments for the year, helping to turn a projected deficit of $133,573 into a surplus of $38,131. In addition, Kim praised AUSU staff for reducing expenses wherever possible. These cutbacks saved (when compared to 2015) $62,263 on staff wages and benefits, $12,448 on student planners, and $7,040 on office and administration expenses. Council wages and benefits, however, increased by $46,346. This increase was mostly due to a full AUSU Executive in 2016, after multiple councillor and AUSU Executive vacancies throughout 2015.
The AUSU Executive did not edit many AUSU policies in March. They did, however, make a few important changes to policy 4.06, Planning and Council Schedule, such as adding that the Projects and Goals Plan must be approved publicly by council each year, and that once approved, it cannot be amended. What happens if outside forces create a need for new plans and goals mid-way through the term was not discussed.
Also, the annual general meeting, regular standing committee meetings, and quarterly financial reports were removed from the list of tasks that council must schedule during the year. There was no discussion as to why the AUSU Executive felt they no longer needed to plan for an AGM, and council did not question the change. However, according to current AUSU bylaws, council is required to call an AGM each year, where the members appoint an auditor and receive the annual report and financial statements.
The AGM has been an important event in AUSU’s calendar, and although it has occasionally been contentious, it provided an avenue for council to be held accountable to AUSU members. It was also the only meeting where AUSU members can make motions and speak freely throughout the meeting. However, in previous meetings, Council had noted that the Alberta Post-Secondary Learning Act requires that bylaws and rules for the students’ unions be passed by the elected students’ union councils and took the position, despite some opposition from students, that this meant that it was legally precluded from allowing students to have a binding say over any of the bylaws or policies of Council. All of the proposed policy changes were approved unanimously.
After a few technical motions relating to AUSU’s accounting policy and investment account signatories, the AUSU Executive and staff presented their monthly reports. Shawna expressed excitement about a “pan-Canadian accord on post-secondary education” that she drafted as CASA advocacy document and that had just been approved at the CASA AGM. In her words, “Such an agreement would allow for increased mobility and transferability for credits and students between provinces and institutions, and the new, updated policy includes a point that suggests that students studying online or at a distance would be funded by the province of their residence to attend any Canadian institution.” AU currently receives funding for Alberta students only, and considering the majority of its students are outside of that province, a pan-Canadian accord on post-secondary education could benefit AU greatly.
Kim Newsome also mentioned her work on the “AU lost exam policy,” noting that she has had success in advocating for students’ right to appeal and that students be given the power to decide how to move forward after a paper exam is lost. It was also mentioned that AU will be providing students access to Microsoft Office 365, free-of-charge, some time after students receive their AU e-mail addresses sometime in the months to come. No firm deadline for this has yet been set, however.
At the end of the meeting, we were joined by Dr. Ken Coates, who was appointed by the AU Board of Governors to perform an independent third party review of the university. Shawna invited him to the meeting so that those of us in attendance could contribute to his review by telling our personal AU stories. Dr. Coates commented on the incredible response received from students, including approximately five hundred emails, in addition to input received in three teleconferences. Dr. Coates asked what we liked about AU, what we would change, and what our vision was for AU’s future. Several themes emerged from the discussion that followed. AU students want advancements in technology, choice between e-texts and physical textbooks, and more consistent service, course layouts, and course quality from AU. In addition to these criticisms, many of us praised AU’s educational model and stressed the importance of the flexibility and accessibility that AU offers. Dr. Coates? final report is due to be submitted to AU by the end of April.
The next AUSU council meeting is scheduled for April 11 at 5:30 pm MST. If you would like to attend, simply send an e-mail to email@example.com to obtain a copy of the meeting package. I hope to “see” you there!
Bonita is a 3rd year bachelor of commerce student at AU, a mom-of-three, a political junkie, and an impassioned tennis fan, who just so happens to enjoy attending AUSU council meetings in her “spare” time. You can follow her on twitter @BonitaRenee88.