Council Connection—March 14, 2019 Meeting

The March 14th meeting of AUSU was “business as usual” but had a major change, one that Council hopes will be for the better.  The conference call format changed its platform to the provider Zoom, which specializes in video and conferencing systems.  Zoom will allow AUSU councillors to make more connections with each other as well as AUSU students.  The dial-in procedure is now different than in the past, but pop-up video windows in the platform allow attendees to view meeting participants by video. There is also an audio only option, if you don’t need to see the faces.  You can set Zoom to display all the cameras that are running, or just the camera of the person who’s currently speaking. Doing that gives the meeting a different feel, giving a better sense of who’s speaking.  So much so that it seemed odd the few occasions someone without a camera spoke.

After the usual protocol of calling the meeting to order and adopting the agenda and last month’s minutes, Council got down to work.  There were no action items to review this month, but Council has been compiling its annual report.  President Brandon Simmons expressed his gratitude to Donette Kingyens for her work in compiling the report.  This year’s report is a bit different, as it used photos taken by AUSU and more graphics to put more of a “human” face to the report, to make it more visual and more appealing, and not just facts and figures on the page.  Council acknowledged that this year’s report is only a start of what is possible going forward, and hopefully next year will improve on this format.  Executive Director Jodi Campbell commented that this year’s report looks great, and is a professional looking document that contains more infographics that enable the reader to see the organization at a glance.  Councillors voted unanimously to accept the report, and if you have a few moments, you should consider taking them to check out the 2019 AUSU Annual Report yourself, to see what Council has been doing and is planning to do in future.

There were few policy revisions this month, with the Administration: Professional Development and Administration: Annual Timeline and Executive Workplan policies being on the agenda.  These were not substantive changes to the actual policies but were general language changes that tightened up the policies for clarity and to reflect the current practices of council.  These changes were approved unanimously.  The next motion was regarding the policy, Policy Administration: Membership in Good Standing – Removal and Reinstatement.  The two policies these directives used to be in have essentially remained the same; however, they have been combined into one policy and the revision was to include gender neutral language.  There was no further discussion by Council and was carried unanimously.

The bulk of this month’s business was to discuss the AUSU Policy Manual and AUSU Policy Handbook.  This project was a huge undertaking by council.  Vice President Finance and Administration Natasha Donahue updated the rest of Council.  In past months, there has been much discussion and debate of the form and function of the manual and handbook, and how it will  be used.  It was decided that the full, detailed manual will exist within council and not be a public policy document as per the guidelines and examples of other post-secondary student unions. But the resolutions of the policies would still be publicly available on the AUSU website as the AUSU Position Policy Handbook.  If anyone outside of AUSU council were interested in reading the detailed notes around the policies, contained in the full AUSU Position Policy Manual, they could request the full document.  Julian Teterenko asked why can’t AUSU just make the Policy Manual public in the first place.  The answer is that the AUSU Executive felt that, after discussion and consultation, that the public document would be more concise, versus the verbose policies.

It was noted that if council wanted to vote to put it all online, they could, but the decision to put the full AUSU Position Policy Manual online was a result of discussion and evaluation of best practices both within AUSU and other student unions.  Vice President External and Student Affairs Melinda Goertz acknowledged that there are various levels of information for other organizations including councils; there is the behind the scenes information all the way down to end user information, and Vice-President Natasha Donahue said that the handbook is for the casual user; for instance, if someone isn’t familiar with AUSU they would be bombarded by info if they were to read the entire policy manual.  Emmanuel Barker also noted that not having the entire manual online takes the pressure off AUSU by not leaving Council open to being misquoted and misinterpreted by the media.  If someone wanted to quote AUSU policy on a certain matter, they could contact AUSU directly for explanation or clarification, especially in the heat of the moment when an emergency issue occurs. However, Executive Director Campbell noted that overall, the risk is very low for misinterpretation, even if AUSU decides to put the manual or handbook online.  It’s more about a presence and transparency.

President Simmons asked Council how they would like to proceed with this issue, whether to amalgamate the two documents or display them publicly.  Councillor Mark Teeninga responded by proposing an alternative way forward, about how to make the document transparent for membership but not for the wider internet.  Perhaps technology can help by creating a form of a “firewall” where the security for these sensitive documents might be really important so free and open access to them may be not the best practice.  He suggested that perhaps AUSU could use a sign-in protocol that limits viewing the documents to certain people such as AU students.  Emmanauel Barker liked this idea and noted that AUSU maintains a member list so any access requests can be double checked against the list.  After the lengthy discussion, Council remained split on the issue and needs more discussion going forward.  Therefore, this month’s motion was carried, with Councillor Teterenko opposed, only to acknowledge that Council needed to get further clarity.  President Simmons said that AUSU will hold off posting these documents in whatever form until the launch of the improved AUSU website, which is currently in the works, and noted that, regardless of this, AUSU wants to do more press releases in the future to respond to issues as they arise.

The meeting moved on to the monthly reports.  The President’s report discussed the recent Town Hall meeting with AU President Neil Fassina.  President Simmons said that the experience was positive, even though the number of attendees was unpredictable due to the parking situation in Edmonton near the AU office as well as the timing of the Town Hall, which was in the middle of the day.  However, it was well attended both by those physically at the gathering and also who listened in by telephone.  President Simmons said that for him, the highlight was meeting the very first AUSU president.  He enjoyed chatting about how things were done in 1992 versus now, with technology such as Skype and Zoom.  President Simmons said that he wants more face to face interaction and AU wants to do the same with their meetings so they can visually bring people together.  He feels the new format will do wonders for AUSU’s working relationship.

Also of note, the Vice President External report focused on the recent Faculty of Business meeting and the many initiatives that AU is working on, including a virtual Co-op placement that will see AU Business students working through various scenarios to give them practical soft skills as they exit AU and enter the workforce.

The rest of the AUSU Executive are also working on many different initiatives that will make the AU student experience better, especially in forging connections between students and AU.  They also noted that the new AUSU podcast has launched, and Council invites everyone to listen to the first episode.  It’s only thirty minutes long, so it would be a great student study break! Council is excited that it is up and running after a lot of planning.  But the podcast does not yet have a name.  Hopefully it will soon! The next episode will be recorded at the CASA Annual General Meeting.

Finally, there was a question from the floor regarding concerns for the cuts to post-secondary education in Ontario under the Ford government.  AUSU has had some developments here, notably getting together with many Ontario schools to create a document to send to the Ontario government, but the cuts will be a major part of the discussion at the CASA Annual General Meeting in Halifax.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:02 PM.

The next meetings of council will be on Thursday, April 11th, 2019, 6:30pm MST, and Thursday, May 9th, 2019, 6:30pm MST