All councillors attended the August 8th AUSU council meeting, as well as two AUSU staff members and two student observers, including myself. The meeting was a lengthy one, at just over 2 hours long.
The first item of business was to approve a member-at-large for AUSU’s Member Engagement and Communications (MEC) Committee. It was noted that the AUSU Executive selected the top three applicants, and then council voted by secret ballot. Benjamin McDonald was chosen for the position, and council approved his appointment unanimously.
The next agenda item was the proposed 2017/2018 budget. Taken as a whole, this budget represents a significant increase in the size and spending of AUSU council and staff. Council budgeted for an increase from 9 to 13 councillors and from 3 to 4 executives, a change that will be presented to students in the upcoming AUSU bylaw overhaul. The incremental cost of this larger council and executive, including honoraria, benefits, CPP, and council retreat costs, is estimated to be $49,890 this year. An increase in staff salaries of $61,000, along with a staffing fee of $10,000, will go toward hiring another full-time staff member. Another new expenditure in this budget is an executive transition retreat (separate from the annual council retreat), to be held in January of each year at an estimated cost of $4,950.
When asked about these changes, President Shawna Wasylyshyn explained that, although the details are still being worked out, the AUSU Executives’ hours are currently maxed out and council has been considering adding a fourth executive for some time. Executive Director Jodi Campbell added that an additional staff member will provide governance and advocacy support to council, and the new executive retreat will allow the AUSU Executive to maintain momentum while planning for an effective transition.
The budget also allocates a total of $29,500 to mail welcome letters, along with AUSU magnets, to new members. AUSU began e-mailing welcome letters to new members in 2015, but the MEC committee wants to expand this program and connect with new members in a tangible and more memorable way. To avoid sending the welcome package to visiting students, new members will receive it after they have been a student at AU for six months.
Council also approved several changes to AUSU’s awards program. First, the maximum value of each computer bursary was increased from $800 to $900. AUSU doubled the number of returning student awards and balanced student awards it will give away each year, starting at the November 1st awards deadline. The AUSU awards committee is also introducing a pilot award called #Igo2AU, and this new award is intended to reflect the openness of AU and the diversity of its students. Awards Committee Chair Robin Bleich explained that the award will be available to all AUSU members, regardless of how many credits they have completed, and that applicants will provide a short essay or video in response to questions about their AU experience. One #Igo2AU award of $1000 will be available at each awards deadline.
The only councillors who had comments or questions about the budget were Kim Newsome and Brandon Simmons. Kim pointed out that the amount for telephone and Internet was inadequate, and council agreed on an amendment to increase that line from $4,500 to $6,100. Kim also requested to add $1,000 for merchandise to use for MEC committee promotions, and there were no objections to this change. Brandon inquired if council would be open to looking for cost savings for the annual council retreat. In particular, he wondered if councillors might share hotel rooms, for example, to cut costs. However, Shawna Wasylyshyn said that she “feels strongly” that councillors should always receive their own hotel rooms for privacy and to prevent any uncomfortable situations.
So, who will pay for these spending increases? You will. The budget has a projected deficit of $235,969, about 25% of AUSU’s reserves. Rather than drawing from reserves, however, the budget presents three alternatives that would bring the budget into the black: increase the $3.00 per credit student union fee to $4.25, $4.50, or $5.00 per credit. In other words, with the largest increase, students would pay an additional $6.00 for each 3-credit course. No councillors questioned the deficit or these proposed student fee increases, and the 2017/2018 budget was approved unanimously.
After a few minor policy changes and the monthly report presentations, the meeting ended with a question and answer session. One student observer asked about the upcoming changes to AU’s student resource fee. In response to AUSU’s advocacy efforts, AU will be reducing the student resource fee by $50, but students will be responsible to purchase their own e-text or textbook. AUSU promoted this as a win for students in AUSU’s July executive blog, but it was evident from the feedback on AUSU’s mobile app and the informal AU Facebook page that not all students are happy about the change. This student asked if AUSU had advocated for this or whether it was AU’s idea, and inquired when the change would come into effect. Shawna responded that AUSU has been advocating for course material choice, transparency, and cost savings for years, but AU decided on the amount of the course material fee reduction. VPEX Julian Teterenko interjected that AU informed them that most e-texts will be available for around $50, although textbooks will cost more. Shawna also said that she expects implementation will take longer than the estimated date of January 2018.
The next AUSU council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 12th at 5:30 MST. To receive the meeting information, visit http://www.ausu.org or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. AUSU is planning to release their new bylaws soon, so make sure your voice is heard!