The revision of AUSU Bylaws, The Voice, and the finance policies were the main topics covered at AUSU’s latest monthly meeting, held on Tuesday, November 14th.
All current AUSU councillors were present at the meeting, except Vice-Present External and Student Affairs Julian Teterenko, due to a personal commitment. President Shawna Wasylyshyn called the meeting to order, and after the usual protocol of adopting the minutes of last month as well as this meeting’s agenda, council began to cover what turned out to be a lot of important discussion.
President Wasylyshyn updated Council on the previous action items from last month. The Finance Committee is working with the rest of Council to review and streamline policies and procedures wherever possible. However, this process must be undertaken thoroughly and cautiously. This was evident in the discussion of the motion that proposed to merge the separate Voice Magazine bank account into the main AUSU account, but to ensure it was recognized as an internally restricted reserve fund that will only be used for The Voice Magazine operations.
However, this is not as simple as it appears. The funds will be moved once the financial audit is complete. Council does not need to approve the closure of The Voice account, but does need to approve the creation of the restricted reserve account. It was suggested that the current motion should be amended to contain the specific amount balance in the Voice’s bank account. However, the issue is that when the account actually closes, the dollar amount might be different than what it was on the date that the original motion was made. The Voice’s funds are already considered to be internally restricted, and the motion was about moving the closing, audited balance of the account into AUSU’s normal investment account where it would raise additional reserves for The Voice. The motion was amended after council’s discussion, but was not carried unanimously. President Wasylyshyn opposed the motion due to not feeling comfortable approving a motion putting money into a restricted reserve without the exact dollar amount being listed.
Also related to finances, President Wasylyshyn brought up the point that was first raised in July’s Executive Blog that in the future, AU students will purchase their own textbooks. This change has not been officially announced by AU to students but is set to take effect in stages, starting in January, 2018.
The next item on the agenda was the sudden resignation of Councillor Scott Jacobsen, who was absent from this month’s meeting for this reason. The AUSU President and Executive had asked him to stay on Council in a modified role, but after not hearing anything back from him, officially accepted his resignation.
AUSU then discussed on another issue facing post-secondary education in Alberta and how it would affect AU students. Other provinces have removed tuition tax credits in order to shift to a system of needs-based, up-front grants. NFLD, NB and ONT already have implemented this change, and Alberta is looking to follow. Council noted that 95% of AU undergraduates are paying their own way through their education with no outside student assistance. Tax credits would benefit the majority of AU students who don’t fit the profile of traditional post-secondary students, and who do not qualify for student aid because they are part time, based internationally, or often are working in addition to studying so do not qualify for grants. Consequently, AUSU’s position is that tuition tax credit should be maintained. All councillors were in agreement.
The next section of meeting took up the majority of the session, which focused on voting on several motions for AUSU policy revisions. Councillors have worked hard in the past year to scrutinize and clarify policies. There were some reservations whether these changes would sacrifice simplicity for the detail on the more complicated policies, but the point was made that before these revisions, policies were “a lot worse.” This was evident in the discussion regarding the revision to the policy on expenditures: this policy required solid guidelines if Council expenditures went over their proposed amount, then specific guidelines would be needed.
Much of the discussion centered on if a particular expenditure went over the approved budget; if an expenditure is within budget, then a formal chain of approval isn’t needed. However, if an expenditure goes beyond, then various levels of approval are required. Councillors discussed the various levels of approval and also discussed changes in the AUSU Bylaws with regard to fee collection by AUSU. An increase or decrease in fees requires a special resolution by Council which requires giving notice to the membership and then holding consultations. AUSU cannot change fees without this process.
The other main point of discussion was about election conduct. This is especially pertinent for the election that AUSU has just called. The membership was notified of the changes to the election policies by e-newsletter on October 20, providing more than 21 days notice as per AUSU bylaw 5.03. All councillors were in favour, with no discussion raised by the Executive.
After a short break, the meeting resumed with the second part of the agenda, which was to discuss the monthly executive reports. President Wasylyshyn said that she was pleased to see a recent notable increase in engagement by AUSU, and said that the executive was working very hard to engage both students and the wider AU community. She reiterated that the potential changes to government tax credit policy is a huge issue for AUSU and that is why it is advocating for AU’s unique education situation. However, she noted that the current CASA Policy on tax credits was not reflective of this situation, and advocated that it be tabled for further research. Some in CASA suggested they create specialized policy focused on mature learners. But President Wasylyshyn felt it was not appropriate to single out age over other factors, and such a change would be against inclusivity as a Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
In the awards report, Robin Bleich noted that the Awards Committee had 66 applications approved last year. There is Increased awareness by AU of AUSU awards, as many students are not aware of the AUSU awards. The AUSU awards are now linked on the AU website identifying them as undergraduate awards.
The Executive Compensation Review Committee has been hard at work comparing data with other schools about executive compensation. Their work is ongoing.
AUSU has just hired Emannauel Barker as the new AUSU Governance and Advocacy Coordinator starting December 1. He comes with a lot of experience and will be a great addition to the team.
The Communications Report related some positive news about The Voice Magazine since the relaunch of its new website and format. Since the relaunch, The Voice has had a huge increase in readership and a lower bounce rate. There has been more interaction with multiple pages than ever before. AUSU, who funds and oversees The Voice, received a lot of positive feedback and notes that The Voice has seen at least a 50% increase in readership and subscriptions. Before The Voice’s website relaunch, traffic was in the 700 visit range. Since the relaunch, traffic has increased to the 2200 range. AUSU is excited to see where this goes.
Also, AUSU staff and President Wasylyshyn recently met with provider Oohlala regarding concerns with its mobile app. There have been issues with the app for quite some time and there have been multiple instances where functions of the app were not working despite this being required in accordance with AUSU’s service agreement with Oohlala. Communications and Member Services Coordinator, Donette Kingyens, kept thorough notes of all the issues that happened with the app over the past 2.5 years and Executive Director, Jodi Campbell conveyed AUSU’s concerns. As a result, Oohlala offered AUSU a year of service for free, 25% off the following 2 years, and committed to getting the app working the way it is supposed to.
The meeting lasted over two hours, unusual for AUSU. This was because of the discussion of the bylaw and policy revisions. AUSU does have a policy revision schedule in place to ensure that the policy manual stays up to date and keeps the revisions spread out. However, there were a lot of extra policies on the schedule this month, partially due to falling a bit behind in October, and also because numerous policies needed to be updated to align with the new bylaws. The policy revisions are now back on track and should be caught up after December. President Wasylyshyn summarized Council’s efforts this year by saying “It was a busy year but I very proud at how much Council accomplished.”
Before the meeting was adjourned at 7:24 PM, , Council was asked whether there would be an AU meet and greet in Calgary. AU did not provide any details as they were in the process of being finalized, but one is scheduled for January. 2018—so Calgary AU students are urged to keep an eye out for details.
The next AUSU monthly meetings are scheduled for Tuesday December 12th and Monday, January 15th. Both meetings start at 5:30 PM MST and all AU undergraduate students are welcome to attend by teleconference.