Council Connection—October Meeting

The October 17th council meeting was called to order at 6:34 PM.  President Brandon Simmons was not in attendance initially as he was flying home from business in Toronto.  The meeting attendees were informed that hewould try to call in around 7 PM.  With no outstanding action items, the meeting promptly moved forward to discuss the policy revisions.

Since the last meeting, the council had seen quite a few policies that needed to be revised.  The edits made to several of the policies were minimal and were done to make each concise.  Most of the councillors agreed with the revisions except when it came to Policy 2.08, which governs how Council deals with meeting absences.  While the rest of councillors in attendance agreed on the revisions made to this policy, Councillor Alice Namu opposed.  When The Voice Magazine later asked her to explain her opposition, Councillor Namu replied,

“I objected to Policy 2.08: Council Governance Meeting Attendance because the changes that have been made to the policy are not fair and place unreasonable demands upon councillors.  According to the policy, a councillor’s absence from an AUSU council or committee meeting will result in the councillor being marked as absent.  This is regardless of whether a councillor provided advance notice to the president or not.  Furthermore, if a councillor accrues 3 absences within the first or second year, the councillor’s attendance and participation in the life of the AUSU is subject to discussion at the executive council meeting.

I find that this policy is too punitive and does not consider the personal emergencies that come with the challenges of juggling one’s academics, career and/or academics.  It does not provide a reprieve for instances in which a councillor could be ill or must deal with any other form of life emergency.  Therefore, according to the current interpretation of the policy, a councillor could provide – for example – three weeks advance notice for not being able to attend a meeting and will still be marked absent.  So, you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Furthermore, the fact that it is up to the executive council to determine whether a councillor deserves to remain on the council or not, is a decision making process that places too much subjective decision making power to the executive council, and I am concerned this subjective decision making process has the potential of being misemployed.”

I feel the point that Councillor Namu makes is fair.  In the event of an emergency, or with a certain amount of notice, I think a councillor should be marked excused instead of absent.  I don’t believe it’s fair to expect a council member to balance all their obligations perfectly all the time.  It’s understandable that the policy is put in place to deter those on council from missing several meetings, but I think the policy should be revised again to include exceptions.  There was some discussion that during the pre-meeting discussion Council held, there may be a need for more revisions to this policy, so if council discusses it again at the next meeting, it will be noted in the next Council Connections article.

When asked to contribute his thoughts on Alice’s comments, President Brandon Simmons stated:

“The revisions to policy 2.08 were not taken lightly, we discussed the policy at great length with council on multiple occasions and the revisions were eventually approved unanimously.  We found that the old policy was not able to accomplish its original purpose of ensuring councillors were actively fulfilling their duties.  The old policy could allow a councillor to give advanced notice and miss almost every meeting of their term with no consequences. At the same time, it severely penalized councillors for unexpected emergencies and faced them with harsher consequences.

Previously if you missed two meetings total an automatic motion for your removal would be placed on the next council meeting.  So, someone who got into a car accident the night of a meeting and was then severely ill the following meeting would find their name up for removal. With the new policy if a councillor does miss meetings instead of having a motion directly put on a council agenda it first goes to the executive committee for review.  If the councillor is fulfilling their duties and doing their best to attend meetings, then no further action is required.  So, someone who runs into a couple of emergencies and did their best to notify council will have no direct action brought before them.  Alternatively, if a councillor shows a consistent lack of interest in fulfilling their council duties the executive committee can put forward a motion for council to remove that individual.  A 2/3 majority of council would still need to approve the motion for that councillor to be removed.

Overall the new policy is a lot less harsh for councillors who are doing what they were elected to do.”

On a different subject, at the time of this meeting, the Get out the Vote campaign was doing exceptionally well.  Since September 15, 2019, AUSU, along with CASA, had been working to get as many students as possible to pledge to vote in the Canadian Federal Election on October 21, 2019.  To establish initiative in students, AUSU had developed a competition in which students who pledged to vote would automatically be entered to win a free undergraduate course.

Council was informed that the goal to have at least one student in every province pledge to vote had been met, but the goal set for number of pledges had not.  The committee was hoping for at least 200 more pledges.  The success of that goal will be discussed at the next council meeting in November.  It was noted that the momentum of this campaign was fierce, and a lot of hard work had been put into it.  Athabasca University had surpassed other schools greatly and had an excellent approach with the number of individuals from staff to executives that jumped right in with all-hands-on deck.  The overall success of this campaign and competition will be discussed at the council meeting in November, once all the numbers were in and finalized.

President Brandon Simmons joined the meeting at approximately 7:30PM and had some interesting news to discuss in the AUSU Executive report.  In October, there had been a graduate research conference and undergraduate students were invited to attend.  For the first time, it was promoted to undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing graduate research.  This invitation was an opportunity for these students to meet graduate students already doing so and gain a little insight into what graduate studies are like at Athabasca University.

After a quick discussion about that, President Simmons went on to elaborate on a virtual co-op program being launched in the Faculty of Business.  He noted that it is planned to be a requirement for the Bachelor of Commerce program in the future, and it will allow students to interact in simulated work environment, dealing with simulated conflicts and clients.  This type of program is the first of its kind at Athabasca University, and AU is excited about the launch.  President Simmons has been invited to participate in initial testing and is looking forward to providing the council with updates.

If the course and the technology prove to be successful there is a potential of expanding it to other programs, which would open more opportunities in the future for AU students! He noted it would be quite beneficial for students who are studying in areas of Canada or internationally where it wasn’t possible to gain work experience in a regular setting.  This will be another unique way to make education accessible and flexible to students at AU.  The October 2019 meeting came to an end around 7:41 PM.  The next meeting was held on November 21, 2019, and The Voice apologizes for the delay in getting this report out, but wanted to ensure we had full information on the councillor absence issue.  Look for the report for the November meeting out very soon.

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