The July 15, 2019 meeting of Council was held on a Saturday during the AUSU Councillor Retreat. Held in a larger room in the offices of AUSU, it was an interesting sight to see the most of the AUSU council gathered around the table for the meeting. It was an unusual meeting in the sense that it was primarily held for information purposes, with no policies being on the agenda for this month. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, the Council report this time is a long one, as a lot of information came out during this fairly short meeting. You’ve been warned.
Absent from this meeting were councillors Sarah Blaney Lew and Christine Hudder. Also, not in attendance was former councillor Julian Teterenko who had evidently resigned between the last meeting and this one.
This, I think, answers a left-over question I had as to why AUSU Council had narrowly chosen in a secret ballot last meeting to defeat a motion to remove Julian from Council for not adhering to the councillor academic requirements. It’s not hard to look between the lines and think that part of what was discussed in the in-camera session was Julian choosing to tender his resignation rather than be removed from good standing with AUSU. Of course, this is supposition on my part.
Another personnel change that happened between meetings was councillor Melinda Goertz was no longer the Vice-President External. That position was now being held by former Vice President Finance and Administration, Natasha Donahue, with her former role being taken over by the Voice’s own Brittany Daigle. When I asked Melinda for comment on the change in position, she informed me that the move was her choice as she has decided to focus more on her studies and personal life, and also wanted to assure me that she has full confidence in the new executive. Having been on Council myself, many years ago, I can understand the desire, as the two-year term of AUSU councillors is already longer than most student councils, and the additional demands of the Executive positions can make it difficult to achieve a solid work-life balance.
On their end, AUSU has confirmed in the most recent executive blog that Melinda stepped down voluntarily from the position and they look forward to continuing to work with her in her position as an AUSU councillor.
The meeting got under way with the usual adoption of the agenda, approval of previous minutes (including the special executive by-election triggered when Melinda stepped down) and a review of the action items list, currently empty.
The first piece of new business was the official announcement of the new executives, followed by a motion to appoint someone to the awards committee as a voting member following the various personnel changes. The new VP External, Natasha Donahue, took up the position.
Next came a short report on the council retreat, where it was noted that things had gotten behind schedule because of how conversations went long with various councillors, staff, and executives all bringing forward ideas, and that the retreat was not yet over, as some of the final sessions had been pushed until after the Council Meeting.
President Brandon Simmons noted several years ago when Council was first discussing having a retreat, there were some concerns as to whether it would be worth the money, but the overwhelming opinion of Council now is that it definitely is, as it enables AUSU Council to accomplish a lot of work in a very short span of time.
It was also noted at this retreat that the next year would be one where AUSU Council puts a significant amount of emphasis on provincial advocacy.
Executive Director Jodi Campbell added on behalf of the staff that it was good for the staff to get face time with student council to be able to both deal with a lot of hot topics and be able to touch on a wide gamut of smaller topics through-out the two days.
Council also noted a specific thank you to staff for organizing and getting the retreat together, especially so close to convocation activities, and a special note of thanks to the administrative assistant, Jamie Mulder.
Moving to the reports, President Simmons wanted to highlight the AUSU executive’s participation at the CASA conference and noted that he’d been elected as secretary of the board, which will be a very informed group this year as all but one are returning delegates. It was noted that this enables the CASA board to immediately start moving forward with advocacy actions, which is especially important as this is a federal election year.
He also wanted to highlight the Virtual Learning Environment Conference, a conference held by AU to look at challenges and best practices to enhance students’ abilities to learn at a distance. The premise is that AU is starting to look at what’s required for a student management software, looking beyond what AU already has and instead thinking about what would be most optimal for students. He noted that he had a chance to share with AU staff and faculty some of the concerns that AUSU has heard regarding the instructional environment of AU and was pleased to see significant support from both staff and faculty for what he brought forward.
The next report was that of the new VPEX, (former VPFA) Natasha Donahue, who also wanted the CASA conference noted, and her new positions in CASA on the Federal Policy Committee and board conduct officer. The former, she explained, will help to keep AUSU’s special concerns included in CASA’s policies for this federal election.
Being on the AU GFC awards’ committee, she also noted there was a slight change to one award from AU, where before an award would provide $750 to a students’ account for a free course, this disadvantaged out of province students. Now it’s simply credited as a free three credit course.
Another item of note, this time in the Member Engagement and Communications Committee report, was the latest student social had 21 students, in total, show up for the event. It was pointed out that getting the new reports from AU has made it possible to do events like this as they can now target emails more specifically.
Also of interest to students, the Communications and Member Services Coordinator’s report pointed out that lynda.com will soon become Linked-In Learning under Microsoft’s new ownership. This transition is supposed to get rid of the login difficulties and workarounds that students currently have with lynda.com as any athabasca.edu email address will suffice. It will also make it possible for students to access the learning materials from mobile devices, something which was difficult before due to the login process.
Finally, during the question period, I pointed out how in the President’s report, it was mentioned that the AU Bookstore project was officially being shut down. It had been so long since I heard anything about this, I didn’t remember what it was at first. President Simmons reminded me that it was the initiative to give students a choice between a physical text or an e-text, with a discount if students choose to go with the e-text. AU ran into many difficulties with the proposal, including issues that some of the sellers do not even want to provide physical textbooks anymore. In response to this, Athabasca is trying to think of other options, which may involve moving away from purchasing textbooks from separate providers at all, with all course-content being built into the course and as such available for students for life.
That idea sounds great to me, but it was also pointed out that this was a longer-term goal and currently only at the preliminary stages of investigation, in the shorter term, AU is looking to see if it can reduce printing restrictions from publishers and help students get hold of more loose-leaf copies.
There currently is no council meeting set for July, but there will be one held on August 8, 2019 at 6:30 pm MDT. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to attend and to receive a meeting package.