Council Connection—February 27, 2020 Meeting

The most recent AUSU Council Meeting took place on Thursday, February 27, 2020 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm MT.

In attendance were President Brandon Simmons (Meeting Chair), Vice President Finance and Administration (VPFA) Brittany Daigle, Councillor Sarah Blayney Lew, Councillor Darcie Fleming, Councillor Christine Hudder, Councillor Amanda Lipinski, Councillor Alice Namu, Councillor Lisa Oracheski, Councillor Josh Ryan, and Councillor Mark Teeninga.

Also in attendance were Executive Director Jodi Campbell, Governance and Advocacy Coordinator Duncan Wojtaszek, The Voice’s Managing Editor Karl Low, Communications and Member Services Coordinator Donette Kingyens, Governance and Advocacy Coordinator Duncan Wojtaszek, and The Voice’s Council Meeting Reporter Natalia Iwanek.

Not in attendance were Vice President External and Student Affairs (VPEX) Natasha Donahue, Councillor Sarah Blayney Lew, and Councillor Melinda Goertz.

President Brandon Simmons called the meeting to order at 6:30 pm MT.  Key items included Policy Revisions, AUSU Survey Results, Council Reports and the upcoming AUSU election.

The meeting started with President Brandon Simmons making a slight change to the agenda, adding a ninth point of new business, to discuss the Executive Role Documents.  This was accepted unanimously.  With no changes to the minutes, and no action items outstanding, Council moved quickly on to the new business and policy revisions.

New Business

Policy 2.17 Non-Partisanship – VPFA Brittany Daigle discussed Policy 2.17 Non-Partisanship DRAFT, with the motion carried unanimously.  The policy had prohibited council from  “Suggesting and convincing people to support or oppose a candidate or political party”.  This was felt to be too restrictive as it even prevented councillors from speaking about their political choices to their families or friends, so the point was removed.  In addition, the word “organization” in section 2.17.01 d) which states, “Serving as a director at any level of a political organization” was altered to “party” to clarify that it is acceptable to be involved with other organizations, including CASA.

2019 AUSU Services Survey Results – Executive Director Jodi Campbell continued with the AUSU Survey Results, stating that they had the “highest level of engagement.”  He revealed that the “Neutral” and “Not Applicable” options were implemented this year and having more options affected the results.  Concern was expressed about the level of student confusion in differentiating between AUSU and AU services.  A low rate of student dissatisfaction and several comments expressing appreciation revealed a positive endorsement of what the AUSU is doing.  Cost of education was the primary concern for Advocacy Priorities.  The survey results will be published on the website in a reduced version.

Communications and Member Services Donette Kingyens continued, revealing that students are using social media more frequently, with increases in Facebook usage and decreases in Twitter.  AUSU is correspondingly moving toward just using Facebook and Instagram, platforms students appear to use most frequently.

Councillor Alice Namu found the results fascinating and asked how advocacy could be leveraged to help students.  She asked if the Advocacy Priorities referenced in the survey are something that AUSU can expand on and how these Advocacy Priorities will reflect in AUSU’s actions.  Brandon answered that AUSU had been looking into partnering with AU on developing career services, including discussing V-Mock, a tool to upload resumes and have the content and language analyzed,  however, funding cuts stalled this.  Jodi stated that AUSU is already focusing similar things that were seen as students’ top five priorities in the survey.

Councillor Darcie Fleming wanted to know if anyone noticed any differences from the previous survey.  Jodi mentioned that the changed options added more responses.  Donette noted that there may have been some confusion about the “Not Applicable” option, while Brittany noted that it was interesting to see how many people were interested in the health and dental plan.

The 2019 AUSU Services Survey was sent to 27,023 members and received 1,531 responses.  Highlights included a “relatively high rate of service usage and a lower rate of service dissatisfaction.”  Specifically, the survey revealed that 46.7% of student used AUSU services, as opposed to only 16% in 2018.  In Advocacy Priorities, reducing the cost of attending AU was the highest priority, followed by improving the quality of education, improving AU customer service, increasing student financial aid, and providing more career services, practicums, and internships.  Students from all provinces and the Territories were represented, with 51.1% from Alberta, 23.2% from Ontario, and 7.5% from British Columbia in the top three spots.

2019 2020 Executive Workplan

President – Moving on, Brandon began with the Executive Committee Work Plan Update, stating that, although January was a busy month, he knew that February and March would be even busier.

While discussing the Internal Advocacy portion, including dealing with working with AU to implement an e-text solution that supports affordability and accessibility for students, he stated that he has no concrete information as to when or if this will happen because the university is still in limbo about it.  The e-text discussion is on hold because of department revisions, and because currently new agreements are being set up with publishers.  However, he is keeping an open dialogue with the university.

He also spoke about AUSU working with AU to help develop and implement a new learning management system that provides an exceptional digital experience, there may be a move away from Moodle to a more integrated learning environment, so that all components of the student experience will be connected, rather than having to go to different sites for different parts of a course as some courses require currently.  This will be a longer-term project.

In working with AU to review the university’s tuition and fees to allow for affordable and fair pricing for students, AUSU is looking at different tuition models from around the world.  For example, Australia offers a payment-plan type of subscription model for tuition.  This is a longer-term project with hopes for plan finalization in fall 2020.

Finally, the plan to work with AU to facilitate the move of the AUSU office into the main AU Edmonton location has been significantly delayed and will not occur at the end of the term.  However, it is hoped to have a location at the end of summer or beginning of fall, at which point renovations can begin.

As to External Advocacy, the idea to invite all associations to a Facebook Group in September has been abandoned because students and advocacy groups have begun to meet directly.

But when it comes to supporting and developing CASA’s Advocacy and governance including the GOTV campaign and review of operating procedures, AUSU is increasingly connecting with CASA, including the GOTV campaign and attempting to enter the graduate market.

He also noted the work with student leaders across Canada to strategically oppose Voluntary Student Unionism is underway, with research is being done into the effects of Voluntary Student Union Initiatives, but this has taken a back seat with provincial changes.  When asked what Voluntary Student Unionism means, he explained that the Ontario government had recently made it up to students if they wanted to join student unions, rather than automatically joining when they register for courses.

Finally, in the Organizational Performance section, the plan to work with AU to develop a new university app has been delayed as the company has backed out, with September now being the potential launch date.  In addition, the Council is working on finalizing the framework to hand off to the next group and work has been done to increase engagement with the council and promote the general election.

VPEX – Next Brandon presented VPEX Natasha Donahue’s Executive Workplan in her absence.   the Mental Health Committee/Homewood Health, AU recently lost their Mental Health Coordinator but a new one has been hired.  Natasha has been involved and making sure that there is a mental health strategy at AU.  It has also been confirmed that the government will continue mental health funding for this year.  With regard to Indigenous student’s supports and collaboration, work has been done with Nukskahtowin and with the Centre for Indigenous Studies developing a proposal to council for an Indigenous Student Advisory Group.

Meanwhile, the Let’s Talk Science project has been put on hold because of budget considerations.  Although the Dean of Science was on board, she is now retiring, so the project has taken a back seat compared to other priorities.

Also, the Social media strategy has been completed, but the collaboration with the student community and AU on clubs is taking a bit of a back seat while AU determines what the functionality of the new app will be.  However, AUSU is looking at the possibility of student clubs and more engagement.

VPFA – Vice President Finance and Administration, Brittany Daigle stated that, in the Service Evaluation Campaign, the refining of the evaluation tool, the survey, has been completed.  She has also been reviewing and further refining the VPFA role profile, and while no changes will be made now, this can change in the future.

She is currently working on a “month-in-the-life” to map out the activities that the role takes on throughout a one-year term for the transition.  She also spoke about working on Career Advocacy with Natasha and looking for a date that works for everyone for discussing with the Provost and other AU stakeholders what career service offerings they may be able to support.  Finally, in policy work, the Indigenous students policy has been completed, as has the Voluntary Student Union policy but that one has been put on hold for the moment until it becomes relevant in Alberta.  She is also working on a policy about AU student services that will be moving to the executive committee soon.


President’s Report – During his President’s Report, Brandon mentioned the executive retreat held at Banff from January 22 – 23, 2020, which included conversations about the tuition increase, bringing in the new council, and the annual member survey.  Reviews of multiple ongoing initiatives, such as the mobile app partnership, member engagement opportunities, new potential initiatives and other plans were reviewed.

Vice President and External Student Affairs’ Report – He continued with Natasha’s Vice President and External Student Affairs’ Report updates.  According to the report, in January, AUSU released two podcasts, with topics including Indigenous students’ supports, and life on council. A podcast celebrating the one-year anniversary of AUSU podcasting was also recorded at the retreat.  AUSU has also released a few YouTube videos since their Get Out the Vote Campaign, and has more videos forthcoming.

Vice President Finance and Administration’s Report – Brittany left the Vice President Finance and Administration’s Report as presented.  Highlights included a January 16, 2020, meeting with the General Faculties Council (GFC), and it was noted that the GFC approved changes to the Bachelor of Commerce major in Business Technology Management degree.  Also, on January 28, 2020, the Student Awards Committee approved the Alberta Graduate Excellence Scholarship’s (AGES) description and criteria and revised the Alberta Graduate Students Travel Incentive’s application criteria.

Finance Committee Report – She continued, stating that the Finance Committee did not meet in January, so there was little to report.

Awards Committee Report – Brittany left the Awards Committee Report as presented, noting that January was a slow month, with only one Computer Bursary application and one Emergency Bursary application, which were both approved.  The next meeting will be held after the May award cycle.

Member Engagement and Communication Committee Report – The Member Engagement and Communication Committee Report was also light because the MEC Committee did not meet in December.

Executive Director’s Report – During the Executive Director’s Report, Jodi stated that he was impressed with this year’s Council retreat; it being one of the top ones he had attended, as well as being pleased with how smoothly things are going with CRO Bailey Daines.  The annual report is currently being worked on and will be available at the next council meeting.

Key points included in the report stated that 2020 is off to a great start, with many projects being initiated, with the Council Election at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  Twenty candidates had originally applied, with elections taking place from February 25 – March 2, 2020.

The executive retreat was a success, with topics such as Executive transition goals, review of AUSU survey results, future Mobile App planning, financial update, policy reviews, election planning, EC Workplans review, member engagement and communications, among others.

The report also revealed that The Voice Magazine experienced a growth spurt in January with 6,775 views by 3,330 unique viewers, 20% higher than the previous high.  Top stories included The Reputation of Online – AU, Navigating Education with Chronic illness or Disability, and Distance Education – The New Norm for High School Students?

Communication and Members Services Coordinator’s Report – Donette’s Communication and Members Services Coordinator’s Report revealed that hard work has been done on the election, with a fantastic CRO, as well as the development of a New Student Bursary for students with three to eleven credits, designed for newer students who have not completed the twelve credits required by most AUSU awards.

The report also states that results from Google Analytics revealed readers are accessing The Voice Magazine articles from previous months and years.  The top performing article continues to be March 2019’s The Reputation of Online – Athabasca University, with top growing article views for January 2020’s Alberta’s Budget Cuts – Affecting So Many.

Next Meeting and Adjournment

The meeting was officially adjourned at 7:45 pm MT.  The next meeting will take place on March 19, 2020 at 6:30 pm MT.  As AUSU members, AU students are encouraged to attend council meetings via teleconference.  Details can be found on the AUSU website.


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