Council Connection—April 11, 2019 Meeting

A few technical hitches with the new Zoom system, which AUSU is still getting used to, led to a slight delay to the start of the April meeting.  Also, several councillors, including Brittany Daigle, Darcie Fleming, Sarah Blayney Lew, Josh Ryan, and Julian Teterenko were away due to illness or vacation commitments.  However, with the council having expanded to 13 councillors at the last AUSU election, there was still lots of good discussion and updates.

After the initial protocols of acknowledgement of the land, adoption of the agenda and last month’s minutes, Council got down to work.  The first chunk of the meeting was to report on the ongoing edits being done to create the new Position Policy Handbook and the Position Policy Manual for AUSU’s position policies.  The next item on the agenda was to take time to announce the result of the Executive election held on March 7th.  No changes to the executive council were made and congratulations were extended to Brandon Simmons as President; Melinda Goertz as Vice President External and Student Affairs; and Natasha Donahue as Vice President Finance and Administration.

The next item on the agenda was to carry on a discussion regarding meeting attendance by councillors.  This was not a motion to approve the new policy just yet.  Natasha Donahue provided a quick overview about the discussion item to all of the meeting attendees.  She and President Simmons have met to discuss the current policy as well the executive’s own concerns about meeting attendance.  It was felt that the current policy penalizes the members of AUSU Council who could not attend meetings due to family emergencies, illness, and other unavoidable life events.  What was being presented to Council came after several version and was in many ways a complete re-write in terms of what processes are going to be followed in future.

Getting the meeting attendance policy correct is important because it would be a major change for AUSU as it also touches on other policies, so the initial discussion of the attendance policy will be good for the inertia of other policies.  Some concerns were raised that the policy was not as clear as it could be whether the tally of meetings missed or late for applied over the course of the entire term, or just a single year, this was noted and would be adjusted for the next draft.

Executive Director Jodi Campbell noted that the current council executive is conscious of the fact that in past times, there were far fewer councillors and the success of each meeting depended on everyone being there.  However, as there are now thirteen councillors and business can continue in spite of the odd absence, so being able to relax the policy a slight amount should not prove a significant challenge for AUSU.

Of course, Council also appreciates as much notice as possible, but some emergencies are inevitable and now there is provision for that.  The Executive was also concerned about the overall engagement of councillors and they will look at the overall patterns of attendance, taking allotted vacation days out of the equation.  Councillor Mark Teeninga asked about physical attendance at events like the council retreat, and whether that is counted.  President Simmons replied that the council retreat may not work for everyone because of scheduling as well as the geographic location of councillors;  and agreed that council will need to address that within the policy.  Vice-President Finance and Administration Donohue added that the potential model for AUSU might be the General Faculties Council attendance policy and perhaps a change in the definition of meetings may also be necessary.  A good summation of the goals for AUSU Council is “reasonable expectation and reasonable accommodation.”  However, it was also noted that under the old policy, a councillor could conceivably have a total of 15 absences from committee and council meetings, whereas the new policy reduces that to 12, but is more flexible in what constitutes an absence.

After this discussion, Council moved to the revision of its Election, Referendum, and Plebicite Management; Election Conduct policy.  This discussion proceeded quickly compared to the attendance policy discussion.  Vice-President Donahue provided a brief overview of the policy, and noted that this policy had already been extensively revised, with most changes this round being to tighten wording.  There was no further discussion from councillors who all voted in favour.  Tying in with this policy revision is the next agenda item, reviewing the policy  on Election, Referendum and Plebiscite Management; Election of Executive Officers.  Accountability is important to this process and reflects the policy going forward.  This was also approved unanimously by Council.   They by-election policy was also briefly mentioned as the changes were so small it only required a formal review.

Next on the agenda was the fairly rare occurrence of an in-camera discussion.  Council created a sub-meeting so they could virtually step out of the main meeting to conduct this order of business.  The non-council meeting attendees patiently waited for approximately twenty minutes until the councillors returned.  No further explanation or information about the nature of the in-camera portion of the meeting was provided.  However, the next item was a proposed motion that AUSU council approves a provincial advocacy initiative where AUSU will independently advocate for the unique needs of our student members to the Alberta provincial government.  AUSU will continue to seek out further opportunities to collaborate with AU on provincial matters, as well as other Alberta student advocacy groups.  There was not much discussion on this motion, presumably that was what was being talked about in the in-camera session, but it reflects the overall goal of this AUSU Council in increasing provincial advocacy and a more direct approach to advanced education in future of AUSU and Athabasca University.  All members carried this motion unanimously.

The final section of monthly business was to vote to ratify the appointments of AUSU Committee members.  The Awards Committee consists of a minimum of three councillors and a maximum of five councillors, one of whom must be an executive councillor.  The committee chair must be selected by the members of the committee following their appointment.  AUSU Councillors Sarah Blayney Lew, Lisa Oracheski, Christine Hudder, Brittany Daigle, and Melinda Goertz were unanimously approved as committee membersAmanda Lipinski stepped down as committee chair, and Brittany Daigle is the new chair for the 2019-2020 council year.  The Member Engagement and Communication Committee voted to elect VPEX Melinda Goertz as chair and Councillors Amanda Lipinski, Christine Hudder,.  Josh Ryan, and Brittany Daigle as council voting members.  AUSU Council approves the re-appointment of Mel Mirosal to the MEC committee as a member-at-large for the 2019 council term year.

As the AUSU covered a lot of business during the first part of the meeting, the second section, consisting of the Executive reports, was straightforward.  President Simmons said that he attended several big meetings in March, but many were in camera so he is not at liberty to say too much about them.  He had a productive conversation with Elain May regarding exam times, specifically with ProctorU timelines in relation to other exam times.  AU continues to make some progress on accessibility for students and on ProctorU being made more of a valid option for exams.

The VPEX report noted that she also attended many meetings, especially related to AU’s Board of Governors meetings.  Vice President Goertz also highlighted another positive initiative for AU, the  Idea  Lab, endorsed by AU President Neil Fassina.  Essentially, this acts as a kind of “digital sandbox,” or a way to test out pilot programs before they go live.  This functionality within AU is currently limited, especially in a highspeed internet setting.  VP Goertz also attended an IT department meeting to push bringing Improvements to AU’s gradebook so that students can access their course grades as well as DegreeWorks much faster.

The VPFA report highlighted Vice President Donahue’s attendance at several meetings, notably the General Facilities Council—which was a marathon seven hours long and recessed.  The outcome of that meeting was to note that AU is much too dependent on tuition dollars in comparison with other Alberta universities.  It was noted that to be receiving similar government funding per student as other Alberta universities, AU would need to cut learners by 70%.  This is a topic that will be discussed by AU and AUSU in the future.

Additionally, the Amazon Web Services partnership to move data to cloud is progressing and will free up a lot of bandwidth that is currently stored on servers for other projects.

Visitors to the AUSU website will notice a fresh new look and a new AUSU logo! This project is the result of a lot of hard work by the Member Engagement and Communications Committee,  and especially by Donette Kingyens and Jodi Campbell.  The final product is a result of a lot of edits, revisions and tweaks to get the new website in a good place,  but getting the website “just right” is an ongoing process.  Students are invited to let AUSU know what they think of the revamped website.

Finally, the Communication and Members Services Cordinator’s Report extended a special thank you and farewell to Emamnauel Barker, who  is leaving his position at AUSU to join the Alberta Students Executive Council (ASEC).  AUSU councillors expressed how much they will miss his hard work, his ability to relate fun facts on just about any topic, and his humour, not to mention his ability to work wonders with the technology that launched the AUSU podcast.  All of AUSU Council and staff wishes him well in his next role and he will be missed.

As the meeting drew to a close, AUSU wishes to remind students to check out the new podcast, Open Mic, which links in with the overall theme of AU as an open university.  A new episode will be recorded and launched soon, so stay tuned.

The next public meetings will be held on Thursday, May 9th, 2019, 6:30pm MST.  The details of the June meeting are To Be Announced.