The AUSU monthly meeting, held on December 12, 2017, was the last council meeting of the year and the marathon meeting—almost three hours long—dealt with some weighty topics that affected AU students. All councillors were present except Amanda Lipinski, who was absent due to a scheduled vacation.
Council unanimously approved November’s minutes, and the action and agenda items of that meeting were briefly reviewed. One point for discussion was to move the deadline to rescind policy 9.22 (E-Text Choice and Cost Savings Sharing position policy) to June 2018. It was noted that AU will not be implementing the change in the course materials fee that was expected, so this topic needs to be looked into further. The agenda moved into new business, which prompted some lengthy discussions among the councillors.
First, a warm welcome was extended to Emmanuel Barker, the new Governance and Advocacy Co-ordinator for his first AUSU monthly meeting. He comes to AUSU via the University of Saskatchewan where he was an International development major and also worked for its student council. He is eager to work with AUSU and, as of December’s meeting, had read AUSU’s policies, bylaws and procedures from a governing standpoint, and with the intention to understand its advocacy goals to learn how best to support council.
The agenda moved to its next motion, which was to “approve the AUSU awards committee recommendation to close the single parent bursary, due to a lack of qualified applicants over three awards cycles, and move the remaining $2000 to the #Igo2AU award fund for the 2018 May award intake.” Council has tried to maintain interest in the single parent bursary, including lowering the criteria, but there were still no qualified applicants. Many single parents applied for other AUSU awards, but not the single parent bursary. The committee felt the funds should be redistributed to the #Igo2AU award to recognize some of the other very qualified applicants.
Discussion of the #Igo2AU award highlighted the amount of work and detail that goes into creating AUSU awards and bursaries and the need to evaluate their effectiveness. The biggest point of contention, which affected the scope of this award, was the issue of the waiver form. It was suggested that the award criteria be changed to state that if a student is making a video, that they are providing consent for AUSU to post their video on social media. The waiver form provides a level of legal transparency for releasing the videos, which was a key part of how students applied and qualified for the award. Even if a video is uploaded publicly, there can still be risks when re-sharing it if any issues arise. It was noted that the award criteria was not created to be a social media award – the #Igo2AU title was simply used as a play off the previous #Igo2AU contest. However, requiring that the video be made public may result in less applications due to concerns over confidentiality. The award is not merit or needs based, but made to recognize the diversity of the AU membership.
It was pointed out that the Awards Committee already revisited the criteria following this past award cycle, and the council initially agreed to the proposal for the award which did not include mention of making the videos public or requiring use of the hashtag. A new action item was created to review the criteria of this award, including a possible change that the application require only videos.
AUSU then moved onto the next major topic of the meeting, which was to approve the initiation of the process to implement a fee increase in the amount of $1.50 per credit, to take effect on January 1, 2019. Councillors Newsome and Simmons opposed this motion. This topic was discussed previously by Council but it decided that it would like to obtain more data before making a decision on this.
The background regarding this fee increase is complex and relates to the financial sustainability of AUSU both for the present and future councils. AUSU planned for a deficit budget for three years. But the organization has had tremendous growth over the past two years. An Executive Director report to outline and assess AUSU’s current financial position as well as a projection of future budgets was provided. The report identified any additional costs and savings expected, revealing some gains as well as losses in the overall picture of AUSU’s finances. As a result, the projected deficit for 2017/18 is lower than the original budget indicated. However, the variables included an increase in council members, an additional staff member, increased awards and services, increased executive salaries, and a new student mail out initiative. AU students also want to see value in the services AUSU provides. AUSU has not had an increase in fees in over seven years, but has greatly increased its services. This affects its reserve fund. However, there is a debate about how much money should be held in the fund, and what the money should be used for.
Some suggestions are that some of the reserve money be used to provide more services to students or other activities such as increased communications, that would achieve more growth for AUSU. The current council put forth a three-year strategic plan to increase spending, relevance, and reach. If the revenue stays relatively the same, there will be a significant deficit in the budget the following year. However, it was argued that having a healthy reserve fund is important to keep in case an issue was to arise that reduced AUSU’s income, so it is important for AUSU to get back in the black and be able to plan for a balanced budget in the future, and that this should be the responsibility of the current council. If the dates to implement a fee increase are postponed until 2018, then the decision would be up to the new council.
It was suggested AUSU set what the reserve threshold will be after doing more research before deciding on a fee increase.
It was noted that if the motion passed with an implementation date after the following fiscal year, the new AUSU council can still choose to revoke that decision. The vote in this meeting was just to decide if AUSU will move forward to the next stage, which must be passed by special resolution, including 2 public readings, consultations with the membership, and a 2/3 majority vote of council. The vote was taken and Council decided to move forward with the fee increase process.
The next section of the meeting continued the process of policy revisions. Regarding Policy 2.6, Council Governance: Student Representatives on AU Committees, A question was raised about whether the first line of policy 2.06 “For all committee positions, council will attempt to find a representative within AUSU council or staff” should fall under policy 2.06, since the policy is about members at large on AUSU committees. Historically, only AUSU executives sat on AU committees, however, there could be options for regular councillors to sit on AU committees. The policy does not include instruction on how to implement the process. The executive is to review policy 2.06 again to incorporate opportunities for councillors to represent AUSU on AU committees, and resubmit the policy at the January meeting.
Council also discussed the revision to Policy 2.14, Council Governance: Councillor Responsibilities and Honoraria. There was a lot of discussion regarding committee compensation, as some AUSU committees are a lot more work than others, and some meet more often than others. The revised policy suggests making the honorarium for committees per meeting instead of per month. The other changes were primarily made to reflect the new bylaws. It was noted that there seems to be a by-election every month due to resignations, which may be due to the demand of being on council. It was suggested that the compensation be increased but if the suggested changes were implemented, the finance committee would make the most amount of money for the least amount of work, and the awards committee would make the least amount of money for the most amount of work. It was agreed that the executives should review policy 2.14 again as well as the committee terms of reference to ensure fair compensation. This motion was postponed until the January council meeting.
The next section of the meeting discussed the monthly reports by councillors. The reports that were most important and notable this are the President’s report, and the Vice President External and Student Affairs Report.
President Shawna Wasylyshyn mentioned in a Business Faculty council that there were issues with them closing tickets too quickly which stops students from asking follow-up questions. Consequently, they have made a change to require that their AE’s keep their tickets open for three days. AUSU will raise the topic with the Provost office to implement a policy regarding this.
A more pressing issue was concerning that in July, the AU Board of Governors approved a course materials fee reduction from $180 to $130, and students would then pay for their own course materials starting January 1, 2018. During an early December meeting with AU, Associate VP Student and Academic Services, Alain May, told AUSU that the university administration would be going to the Board of Governors to ask for an extension on rolling out the fee reduction, and to not implement the choice between e-texts and textbooks. However, the university has already gone ahead with an increase to out of province student fees. Under the original proposed course materials fee reduction, there would have been an overall fee reduction. However, now that the university is taking back the course material fee decrease they are forcing students to pay for something they do not want. The motion was carried unanimously at the AU Finance and Property Committee minus the AUSU president’s vote, and will be brought forward to the Board of Governors in December.
President Wasylyshyn also discussed the recent news that Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education gave institutions in Alberta two weeks to come up with a plan to cut discretionary spending for not only this year. but in the future. However, AU does not have discretionary spending, and she raised the question that “How can you take spending away from the lowest funded university in Alberta?” This goes back to the question about the funding model that is used for Alberta universities that puts AU at a disadvantage compared to other institutions. AU formed a resource planning meeting to engage stakeholders in the budgeting process. She notes that AU will no longer have a budget but is rather moving to a “resource plan”.
The VP External also highlighted the news that Alberta is planning to provide some back funding to make up for the tuition freeze in effect for the 2018/2019 academic year. During the last week of November, the VPEX was in Ottawa for the CASA advocacy Week, during which there were over 150 meetings with MPs and senators to discuss student priorities. The AUSU Executive decided they should submit a press release regarding their position regarding the tuition freeze. AUSU has decided it is not in favour of the freeze – while it is a good thing for Alberta students, the 60% out of province students are at risk of having their tuition raised to offset the freeze.
The VPEX then noted in his report that he was involved in an extensive course review process at AU and recommendations were sent to the General Faculty Council.
A question was raised about whether there was anything else that happened as there was nothing listed about AUSU work and there were no meetings of the regular AU committees that the VPEX sits on. It was noted that the VPEX was heavily involved in AU committee work during November as well as CASA work.
The meeting was finally adjourned at 8:16 PM. The next two public meetings of Councl will be on Monday January 15 at 5:30 PM, MST and Tuesday, February 13 at 5:30 PM MST.
AUSU’s Press release regarding the proposed fee increase can be found at: https://www.ausu.org/2017/12/proposed-fee-increase/ and an elaboration about the tuition fee freeze can be found at https://www.ausu.org/2018/01/january-2018-executive-blog/