Council Connection

January 15, 2018 Meeting

The first meeting of January 2018 proved to be another marathon session but contained many important issues for council and AU undergraduates.  The meeting was called to order at 5:31.  The minutes from the December 2017 meeting were carried unanimously, but AUSU President Shawna Wasylyshyn clarified a couple of points on them.  The meeting notes said that there was an AUSU by-election every month, which is obviously not true, and it should be corrected to every term.  Council would review Policy 2.14 again, but as the mover and seconder decided it should be tabled and brought back to vote for this meeting, it was not further reviewed or edited as noted in the minutes.  The amendments were accepted with a unanimous vote.

Council then delved into one of the major portions of the meeting, the Executive Compensation Review Report.  The full report package was circulated prior to the meeting so that councillors had time to review the contents to raise any relevant points.

The committee’s mandate was to look into the compensation and benefits for the executive councillors and to ensure a transparent and thorough review process.  The committee examined and reviewed numerous other student union councils, both at colleges and universities in Alberta and elsewhere.  They found that executive pay was on a wide spectrum and AU executive pay fell roughly in the mid-range.  However, the committee recommended changes to the executive benefits package.  The health spending account was changed to give all executives an equal amount.  Also, because most students already have some sort of health plan, the coverage was expanded over a larger range of health and wellness options.  Another change was made to the equipment allowance: rather than only providing a cost for a personal computer, the benefit will now allow other necessary equipment and tools such as stationery to be claimed.  Also, Councillors will no longer be able to “buy out” their AUSU provided computers at the end of their term.  Instead, AUSU will retain the computer for further use by AUSU

The committee also looked at how banked hours were handled so they could be used or paid out, and whether committee work affected the amount of overtime.  The timesheet system was revised to reflect each executive member’s position based on their portfolio.  Councillors discussed whether to add a fourth executive position based on the current workload and overtime put in by the current executive as well as Alberta legislation on employee overtime.  On balance, council decided that an additional executive position was not currently necessary.

It was noted that a large number overtime hours that were accrued were the additional time required to transition new executive members into their roles after an election, or time spent during various large conferences the executive attended.  This meant that it was expected that executive members might have significant banked time accrued at the end of their terms, just before they left.  The committee concluded that, overall, it would be unfair to not pay out banked time if executives don’t have the opportunity to use it all in their last month, since it is reimbursement for work they put in on behalf of AUSU.  However, it was noted that other student unions do not compensate for overtime at all.

During the course of this discussion, it was brought up that AUSU recently discovered that AU possibly owed AUSU some significant money, due to clawing back some fees from student course withdrawals despite the fees being listed as non-refundable in AUSU bylaws.

But with  the extensive review process regarding executive pay and benefits complete, the committee was thanked for their work and discharged.

The next major section of the meeting consisted of the first reading of the proposed AUSU fee increase.  The motion stated that “AUSU council approve a membership fee increase in the amount of $1.50 per credit to take effect on January 1, 2019.” The motion needed a two-thirds majority to pass.  However, the surprise result of the vote was that only councillors Andrew Gray and Julian Teterenko voted for the motion, while Councillors Kim Newsome, Robin Bleich, Amanda Lipinski, Brandon Simmons, and Shawna Wasylyshyn voted against it. With that, the motion was defeated, two to five.

The concerns regarding the motion were around the timing of the fee increase, unsureness about the information received to make the best possible decision, and the amount being asked for.  President Wasylyshyn still feels the decision is right, especially in light of increased AUSU services and with her perspective as a long-serving president who has overseen and weathered AUSU’s financial instability and is concerned about AUSU’s future financial health.  She noted that the current AUSU council began the process of increasing services, communications, councillors, and  staff, which has, in turn, increased AUSU’s expenses, so the current council should be responsible for passing the new fee increase.  She also pointed out that AUSU cannot get a budget back in the black without cutting staff or services if the fees are not raised.

However, the discussion from December’s meeting regarding AUSU’s reserve fund and how best to use it especially as it relates to AUSU’s deficit budget were again raised.  One suggestion is to move some funds into an endowment to generate awards or bursaries with the interest.  If AUSU chooses not to implement a fee increase until more of the reserve fund is spent, then that reduces the amount available for such things.

There were also some concerns that at AUSU’s current rate of deficit budgets, the reserve funds could be eliminated in only a few years, and that having no reserves is not a position that AUSU wants to get into.  Council agreed that more research is needed to make an informed decision, especially with the possible increase in revenues being retained from course refunds.  Kim Newsome noted that she had specific concerns about the timing and the amount of the increase.

Shortly before the motion was brought to vote, it was agreed that Brandon Simmons, the Vice President of Finance and Administration, and Executive Director Jodi Campbell will put together a report about the options and present it to council to consider in short order.

Council then spent time in discussion about more various policy guidelines.  Several highlights from the discussion were to revise the Finance Committee meeting schedule to require only quarterly meetings instead of the current monthly meetings.  The benefit of scheduling fewer meetings is that it would be easier to notice and review any trends and see a bigger picture.  The finance packages would still be sent to all of council monthly, but in accordance to the changes made to policy 2.14, the finance committee members will be paid per meeting.

On the other hand, the Awards Committee compensation would allow for monthly compensation since the bulk of the work is done asynchronously.  It was agreed that the chair of the committee would now be compensated at $75, not $50 as they do a fair bit more work.

Council also looked at their policy 2.06, Student Representation on AU Committees.  This policy had extensive revisions to clarify the guidelines for both councillors and non-councillors that serve on committees.  While committee work is a great opportunity for non-councillors to get involved with AUSU, some committees are best suited to executive members due to the amount of institutional knowledge and work required, such as reporting to the Board and the General Faculty Council.  A change was made to the policy to state members at large on AU committees only need to attend AUSU council meetings at the request of the AUSU president, instead of having to attend all council meetings.  Finally, councillors updated policy 2.15, Executive Accountability and Compensation Committee, to clarify how allocated and banked hours and committee meeting time would be recorded and reimbursed

The latter portion of the meeting was to discuss the monthly executive reports.  President Wasylyshyn discussed AUSU course evaluations versus AU’s course evaluations, as there were flaws and conflicts between the two, such as AUSU’s evaluations which claimed confidentiality when they should state they were anonymous.  AUSU’s course evaluations were not as successful as Council hoped; in the three years since they have been launched, fewer than 700 evaluations have been filled out.  There was also confusion among students because the two types of course evaluations shared the same name.  AUSU’s course evaluations have since been pulled pending a complete re-evaluation and overhaul.  Perhaps in future, AUSU’s evaluations would include information such as workload and tutor relationships with students that the formal AU evaluations do not cover.  President Wasylyshyn also touched on the fact that, in light of the vacancy of the previous Vice President of Finance and Administration, executives need to be accountable to each other and to council.  However, because they do not work together in the same office it is difficult to tell whether the executives’ jobs are being done properly.  The current VPFA and Executive Director are putting together some instructions to orient future new VPFA’s to the role.  Also, the new timesheets will be easier for councillors to use and increase transparency.

Other highlights of the monthly reports are that the Facebook Live sessions and Meet and Greets have been going very well, and there are changes being made to financial documents easier to read and understand.

The final portion of the meeting was the question and answer period.  Several important questions and comments from observers were raised from the floor.

First of all, a question was raised bout AU improperly calculating student union fee refunds, a point raised by President Wasylyshyn earlier in the meeting.  AUSU bylaws state that the membership fees are non-refundable, but apparently AU was unaware of this and has been refunding them to students who withdraw before the start date of the course.  AUSU still needs to determine how fee refunds will be handled, such as considering extenuating circumstances like the fire of Fort McMurray.  The fee refund philosophy will need to be determined before knowing how this will impact AUSU’s revenue.  It was also noted that even though students were getting refunded for their courses, they were not being refunded the full amount by AU, as AU already keeps $158 for its own processing activities.

Council again agreed that a fee increase is necessary, but for now some more information is needed to make an informed decision.

Additional comments were made regarding the proposed fee increase.  The meeting’s two observers commented that they were in favour of a fee increase.  Although it is a 50% increase, that only works out to a total of $200 over the course of a degree.  One observer noted that running a deficit budget may discourage future councillors from expanding or growing AUSU’s services.

They also commented regarding the course evaluations.  It was noted there are a lot of comments in the mobile app about what courses are like and what courses students recommend.  It would be nice to highlight some of the courses that members find useful or beneficial.  Being able to rate courses on how difficult they are would also be helpful.

The meeting was finally adjourned at 8:43.

The next meetings of council will be    Tuesday, February 13th, 2018, 5:30pm MST and Tuesday, March 13th, 2018, 5:30pm MST.  All interested AU students are invited to dial into the meeting.