Editorial – Risky Business

If you haven’t seen the most recent AUSU Newsletter, dig through your spam folder and give it a read. In it, you’ll notice that AUSU is proposing some significant changes to the bylaws of the organization. While these changes are no longer required to be approved by the AUSU general membership, council is still required to notify students and consult with you about the changes.

If you look through the bylaws, you’ll note that one section, the section that guaranteed specific funding for The Voice Magazine, has been removed. In its place, The Voice Magazine is listed as an internally restricted funds reserve, solely dedicated to the administration and production of The Voice Magazine that AUSU will allocate funds to, but no amount is listed (You can find this in the proposed bylaws 12.04(c) and 12.07). Nor is there any mention in the new set of bylaws as to the protection of The Voice Magazine’s editorial autonomy from council.

Some background may be required here. There has been talk in Council since 2015 about adjusting the current bylaws, and AUSU Council has had various consultations to make sure that the changes addressed all areas in a professional, thorough manner.

Part of the current bylaws is a requirement that The Voice Magazine receive 12.5% of your AUSU fees, and has editorial autonomy over the content of the magazine. This was voted on and approved by students over 10 years ago and the amount currently works out to about $1.13/course. However, AUSU is also proposing to significantly increase the AUSU fees, and, under the old wording, this would increase the budget of the Voice Magazine to above $100,000. Being honest, the Voice Magazine doesn’t need that much to operate, not unless we start expanding the amount of content we’re putting forward and so hiring other people to help curate that. So removing that percentage requirement from the bylaws makes good sense.

However.

There needs to be some protection of the funding and editorial autonomy of the student paper. We are the one service that AUSU provides that can (and has a mandate to) provide critical coverage of AUSU Council. We are the one service that AUSU provides that can make AUSU Council distinctly uncomfortable if a bad council group has taken the reins, and so the one service that AUSU provides that a council may see as something they’d like to get rid of if we’re doing our job properly.

I understand that the intent is to place these protections in policy. That’s risky, in my opinion. While the bylaws no longer require approval by the membership at large, they do require notification and consultation of changes. There is no such requirement for policy. Council can change policy with little notification to students, simply by quietly including it within a meeting package or letting it come up automatically for it’s regular review. During this review, changes not listed in the meeting package can be brought forward and approved. It would also be very simple for a council that didn’t like the coverage it was receiving to transfer funds from the Voice’s internally restricted funds reserve into general funds, and reduce the allocation to a symbolic dollar to meet with the letter of the bylaws.

I’m not saying that the current Council has any plans to do this. They don’t. I say that with some surety. Even though the current president was president during the last attempt to defund The Voice Magazine, I know she has come to see the magazine as an important part of how AUSU helps build community and awareness among the members. And what little I’ve heard from other current Councillors on the matter tend to be very supportive of The Voice Magazine’s mission. The risk isn’t with this Council, some of whom even write for The Voice Magazine. I expect that the reason these things aren’t already in the bylaws is simply because the current Council is thinking of how they’d do things, and in that case, the points I mentioned aren’t needed.

But the risk lies in future Councils. After all, it doesn’t take long to find stories of bad student councils. As distance students, with little day to day involvement with our student union, the risk is even greater. This group may be excellent. That doesn’t say anything about the next group, or the group after that. And trying to keep you informed of what happens at Council is part of what The Voice Magazine does, but putting its funding protection into a policy, rather than maintaining it in the bylaws, can have a chilling effect even without any direct attacks.

To protect The Voice Magazine from the possibility of a future council trying to keep their activities from being covered, I suggest the following amendments:
1. 12.07.01 “The Voice Internally Restricted Reserved funds may not be transferred to any other restricted or unrestricted reserve except by special resolution as defined in these bylaws.”
2. 12.10.02 “The allocation to The Voice Magazine shall be within 10% of the previous year’s approved budget allocation, or as approved by special resolution as defined in these bylaws.”
3. And that the current 7.5.3 (The Voice will operate an autonomous publication without interference from AUSU regarding content) be brought back into this set of bylaws in some fashion.

I think these are reasonable amendments as they allow room for expansion or contraction, at a moderate pace, while also allowing a Council the ability to move more drastically, so long as you, the members, are kept informed. Maybe you have a better idea though.

So now I’m urging you to help bring that message to AUSU Council by commenting in AUSU’s Bylaw forums and by attending the special bylaw consultation meetings that will be held on Wednesday, September 6, or Tuesday, September 19th. From what I’ve seen, the current AUSU Council is a solid group, seeking to help the students and provide value for the money you provide them. This is evidenced through their communications and consultation plan for these changes. They’re looking for our opinions and ideas, so we should make use of that. Make your opinions known and you can help shape what the new bylaws will look like. In doing so, you can help ensure that The Voice Magazine is around and able to keep you informed and protected in future as well.

Enjoy the read!

P.S. If you didn’t already know, The Voice Magazine has a Facebook page and a twitter feed if you’re into that kind of thin

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