Council Connection – April 11, 2017 Council Meeting

After the lengthy and eventful AUSU council meetings of the past few months, the April 11 meeting was a change of pace: short and sweet. The meeting started at 5:30 sharp, and all councillors were present. Outgoing VP Finance and Administration Kim Newsome kicked off the meeting by providing an update on the progress of AUSU’s 2016/2017 goals. In short, AUSU aims to launch their annual membership services survey by May, bylaw revisions are in the final draft stage, and AUSU continues to be an active participant in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), including winning a bid to host the next CASA conference in Banff, Alberta in July 2017. It was noted that AUSU will not incur any additional costs as host (aside from relatively more expensive accommodations and meals in Banff for any councillors who attend the conference). AUSU is responsible to plan two social events and CASA staff will handle the rest of the conference.

It was also noted in the quarterly goals update that AUSU council has been meeting regularly for an hour prior to each public council meeting, to accommodate informal discussion and brainstorming among councillors on a variety of topics. Each councillor is paid an honorarium of $75 per council meeting for their attendance, and considering that much of council has scarcely said more than “aye” in the past several public council meetings, I hope that councillors are actively participating in these pre-meeting meetings. On the other hand, perhaps councillors are saying all they have to say before the public meeting starts. Either way, saving money on honoraria by combining these meetings is, in my opinion, a judicious decision.

Next, AUSU President Shawna Wasylyshyn introduced the monthly AUSU policy revisions. Although policy 3.01, Election Conduct, was on the agenda for the April council meeting, its review was postponed to a later date after Kim Newsome pointed out that the membership had not been provided 21 days? notice, as is required by AUSU’s bylaws. The only other policy revision on the agenda was for policy 3.02 Election of Executive Officers. The AUSU Executive added a point to this policy that executive election meetings are not public meetings, although meeting minutes will be taken and made public afterwards. The policy was also amended to require an executive election be held “as soon as one can be facilitated” but no more than 21 days following a vacancy. The policy previously stated that executive elections must take place “immediately or by the next regular council meeting,” and this wording remains in AUSU’s bylaws. The changes were approved unanimously.

The AUSU Executives then delivered their monthly reports to council. Shawna commented that she was especially busy in April performing the duties of executive director in addition to her usual responsibilities as president. In addition, Shawna continues to advocate to AU for student choice between e-text and hard-copy textbooks, noting that this issue was the most frequent advocacy request made by students during AUSU’s recent #AUGoals drive. Councillor Andrew Gray asked about the Alberta government’s decision not to award any capital project funding to AU in the 2017 budget. VP External and Student Affairs Julian Teterenko and Shawna Wasylyshyn both asserted that the main reason that AU did not receive additional funding was likely due to the ongoing third party review. That is, they believe that the government does not want to invest any money in AU unless the third-party report demonstrates that AU needs such an investment to be competitive or at least until AU balances its budget.

Following the monthly reports, CASA Executive Director, Michael McDonald, joined the meeting and presented an overview of CASA’s purpose, priorities, and accomplishments. AUSU pays annual membership fees to CASA, amounting to $16,320 for 2017, so it is important that council believes that AUSU’s participation in the association is of value to AUSU members. Mr. McDonald outlined CASA’s vision, which is to promote “affordable, accessible, innovative post-secondary education of the highest level” by advocating to the federal government on behalf of post-secondary student associations. He highlighted several of CASA’s accomplishments over the past few years and identified their current priorities: economic barriers to post-secondary education, student employment, student wellness, and research and innovation. He also praised AUSU’s contributions to CASA over the past year and stressed the importance of the perspective that AUSU brings to the association, especially considering the government’s increased focus on providing support for part-time, adult, and other non-conventional learners.

The final item on the agenda was the official executive changeover, where the new AUSU Executive started their one-year terms. Shawna and Julian will each serve another term as President and VPEX, respectively, and Scott Jacobsen will serve as VPFA for the first time. When I recently asked each of the newly elected AUSU Executives about their goals for the next year, their responses varied, but all were squarely focused on advocating for student interests and improving the AU student experience, through federal and provincial advocacy, AU advocacy, and increasing student engagement.

Shawna: The most important thing that I advocate to AU about is quality of services for students. In recent years with the financial strain AU has seen, too many cuts have been made to student facing budget lines. Students deserve the best quality of programs and services and I do my best to remind AU Administration not to forget about who they are serving.

Julian: One area that is important to me is making sure that Athabasca University, being an online university, has been pursuing all options that it can to be leading the industry in distance and online education tools and services. This would mean both that the university is focusing on improving its technological infrastructure and that they are receiving the proper funding from the government to do so.

Scott: One perennial area for AU/AUSU advocacy – as many know – comes from the electronic means of communication with, dissemination to, and education of AU current and prospective students. It comes in the form of a question, “How can students stay, or even be more engaged with AU/AUSU?” An even deeper question I ask, “Why do students come to AU for education over other postsecondary institutions?”

The next council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 9 at 5:30 pm MST, and AUSU’s annual general meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 23 at 5:30 pm MST. Members are welcome to attend both meetings, but the AGM provides a unique opportunity for AUSU members to be active participants in the meeting. Any motions that members would like to put on the agenda for the AGM must be sent to by April 24.

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.