The May 9th AUSU council meeting started at 5:30 pm MST, and lasted for exactly two hours. All councillors were in attendance, except for VP External and Student Affairs Julian Teterenko, who was late due to other AUSU business.
After a quick approval of the meeting agenda and the April 11th meeting minutes, council moved to approve a “2017 Voice Action Plan.” AUSU President Shawna Wasylyshyn prepared the document as an extension of the report and recommendations from the Joint Council/Voice Action Plan Committee (February 2017) which includes specific actions and deadlines. The Voice’s Managing Editor and AUSU’s Executive Director and VPEX will form a task force responsible to complete the action plan, including:
– Contracting additional hours for the Voice Managing Editor to work on various improvement projects for the Voice;
– Creating a flow chart for how decisions related to the Voice will be made, and updating policy accordingly;
– Creating and implementing a Voice marketing plan;
– Putting together a request for proposals and selecting a service provider, with a “go live” goal for the Voice’s new website of September 1, 2017; and
– Negotiating and signing a new, updated version of the Voice Autonomy Agreement.
Councillor Kim Newsome asked Shawna if she thought the deadlines in the action plan were achievable and whether the progress of the plan would be reported on to council. Shawna said that she hopes having specific deadlines for projects will provide motivation for participants to complete tasks in a timely manner. She also clarified that, as goals are completed, an updated copy of the document will be provided to council. Shawna expects that the Voice Managing Editor and Editor in Chief will be autonomously responsible for the Voice once the action plan’s goals are completed.
After council voted unanimously to make a few minor changes to AUSU Policies 3.04 and 3.05, none of which affected the substance of the policies, the Member Engagement and Communications (MEC) Committee put forward a motion to approve a new logo and colour scheme for AUSU’s 25th anniversary. The design of the new logo is identical to the current one, except for the addition of “est. 1992,” and a colour change to orange, blue, and grayish silver, much like AU’s colours. Council unanimously approved this change.
Next, council voted to ratify an e-mail motion allowing Julian Teterenko to purchase a computer for $1513.56. Each AUSU Executive receives a computer, owned by and returned to AUSU, to use for their AUSU work, but the value of the computer is not to exceed $1000. Julian wants a higher value computer, so AUSU created a contract in which he immediately pays $513.56, receives a loan for the remaining cost of the computer, pays the unamortized cost out of his final pay as an AUSU Executive, and owns the computer. Both the vote and its ratification were approved unanimously.
At this point in the meeting, council went in-camera to discuss HR matters. As a non-councillor, I had to leave the meeting, but I later found out that council made a motion to hire an executive director. This was made official on May 15th when AUSU announced that they had hired Jodi Campbell and posted his bio on the AUSU website.
Next, during the review of the monthly reports, Awards Committee Chair, Robin Bleich, noted that AUSU received a record number of applications for the May 1 deadline and would be meeting on May 29 to decide on the award and bursary recipients. It was also noted that all applications for the new single parent bursary were disqualified as they did not meet the basic criteria, so, like the November awards deadline, this bursary will not be given out.
In the MEC committee report, Julian noted that the committee hosted a “virtual fireside chat” for students in the Maritime region and that turnout was low. The committee decided to host these virtual meet-and-greets for members who would like to connect with their students’ union representatives and with other students in their area. Invitations were sent by e-mail to students living in the Maritime region. Kim asked Julian if he had any theories as to why attendance was so low for the event; he said that one factor may be that invitees were not asked to RVSP to the event. Considering the long-time lack of interest that students have had in council meetings, AGMs, and other AU-hosted teleconferences, it is not at all surprising that this concept might not attract many students. An in-person meet-and-greet is appealing for the social aspect of connecting with fellow students and escaping the mundane solitude that can come with distance education, but that same effect isn’t achieved through a teleconference.
Finally, in the question-and-answer period, I asked for an update on AUSU’s annual planners which the November MEC committee report indicated had been ordered. I noted that there has been no mention of the planners in any AUSU reports or on their website since that time. Julian responded that, because of high costs ($4,326 in 2016) and “not too much interest” (500 planners, AUSU’s entire stock, were ordered in one day), the MEC committee decided not to distribute planners to AUSU members in 2017. AUSU staff clarified that they did order a small number of planners, but only for the purpose of having something to give to those students who would come looking; they did not advertise them. It was also mentioned that only a few students have proactively asked for the planners. Shawna added that, after last year’s planner was sent to students, AUSU conducted a survey of the recipients and a “large number of students” responded that they did not find the planner useful.
A quick look at Athabasca University’s informal Facebook page, although anecdotal, tells a different story. In a popular Facebook post on January 7, 2016, two students commented how much they liked the new, smaller version of AUSU’s planner and eight other students expressed disappointment and frustration that they were unable to get a planner. In that same thread, Shawna responded to these students, saying that AUSU would “take this level of demand into consideration in future years” and that she was “happy that [AUSU] found a product that so many people wanted and a way to bring it to their attention.” In a technological environment where many students are forced to convert to e-texts and much of our lives are turning digital (including the new virtual meet-and-greets by AUSU), making a physical connection can be very meaningful. Also, students may appreciate receiving something tangible for their student union fees of $9 per 3-credit course.
Council will be holding their annual retreat in Athabasca, Alberta from June 7 to 10, a new tradition started in 2016. Councillors fly in from across Canada and attend various events over four days, including the AU Board of Governors dinner during Convocation. This retreat provides councillors with an opportunity to bond, to meet AU executives, and to discuss goals for the upcoming year. According to AUSU’s 2017 budget, this event will cost AUSU members approximately $12,000.
AUSU’s annual general meeting is scheduled for May 23rd at 5:30 pm MST. All members are encouraged to attend and participant in the AGM, and the agenda and 2016 annual report are available on AUSU’s website. There is no council meeting scheduled for June, so the next council meeting will be held on July 11 at 5:30 pm MST.
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.