All Councillors were in attendance, with the exception of Councillor Melinda Goertz and Member Services Coordinator Donette Kingyens, with the addition of the incoming council observing. Also in attendance was The Voice’s Council Meeting Reporter Natalia Iwanek.
President Brandon Simmons called the meeting to order at 6:31 pm MT. Key items included Policy Revisions, AUSU Election Debrief, Council Reports and the 2020 AUSU Annual Report.
Agenda and Minutes
Brandon began the meeting with the Call for Attendance, followed by the Welcome and Member at Large Input. Councillor Monique Durette questioned why Council meetings are recorded, with the reply that it helps staff do minutes and to verify that nothing is missed. Governance and Advocacy Coordinator Duncan Wojtaszek stated the recordings are not made public. The proposed motion of the 2020-03-19 Council Agenda DRAFT was carried unanimously, with a move by Josh and second by Sarah, and the 2020-02-27 Council Meeting Minutes DRAFT was carried unanimously as well, with a move by Lisa and a second by Natasha.
Brandon continued with a Review of Action Items, of which none were outstanding.
VPFA Brittany Daigle mentioned minor working changes to Policy 2.04 Discipline with respect to point 2.04.02 section “o” in the “Discipline Process.” The portion stating, “however, council will not discuss the motion in any way prior to the motion being duly put forward at a council meeting;” was removed.
Councillor Mark Teeninga was concerned about making the process fair and ethical and ensuring that councillors were not coming into the meeting with preconceived thoughts until the accused could present a rebuttal. Executive Director Jodi Campbell stated that this would be difficult to monitor, as people may naturally come in with bias. Mark acknowledged this, but simply wanted to voice his concern.
Councillor Alice Namu stated that bias is a fact of life; everyone is biased and has preconceived notions. However, she believes that Executive needs to ensure that there is no bias at their initial level before the issue trickles down to the councilors. Jodi stated that this is difficult to do; however, this is why the executive makes decisions by committee, which is made up of three people, before moving onto thirteen councillors. Although a biased majority can happen, he stated that, perhaps, at that point it is no longer a bias, but fact.
Alice wondered about the likelihood of creating an external committee that meets once or twice a year to review decisions that have been made during the disciplinary process; a second opinion, which could ensure non-bias. She understood what was being said but wondered about objectivity and fairness. Brandon questioned this idea’s effectiveness, stating that in his nearly five years on Council, he had only seen three disciplinary procedures, which were minor and often about councilor requirements. With changes to these requirements, these were no longer a problem. Serious issues, such as broken policies, bylaws, and harassment are not common. Alice stated that she understood this and ultimately, it is up to the new incoming council; she simply wanted to voice concerns.
Councillor Sarah Blayney Lew was in favour of keeping the policy as is, believing that councillors know their ethical requirements. VPEX Natasha Donahue echoed the sentiment that councillors understand their ethical obligations and agreed with the edit as it stands. Councillor Christine Hudder, Councillor Josh Ryan, and Brittany agreed as well. The proposed motion passed with one vote opposed from Alice.
Next, the Policy 2.16 Email Voting DRAFT passed unanimously with a move by Josh and second by Brittany, as well as Policy 9.25 Access to Education for Indigenous Learners in Canada DRAFT, with a move by Brittany and second by Amanda. Natasha explained that Policy 9.25 was an AUSU Council initiative during this past term to effectively advocate for Indigenous student issues. During the process, the committee heard stories and consulted peer reviewed sources and government statistics. The policy covers three main issues: how AU can support Indigenous students, the adoption of the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and advocating and implementing UNDRIP. Councillor Darcie Fleming called the policy “beautiful,” stating that she could see all the effort that was put in. Natasha added that the policy would be revised with more research elements and helpful resources.
Next, the 2020 AUSU Annual Report was introduced, with a move by Josh and second by Amanda. Jodi stated that the report attempted to show AU student life and used a mix of real and stock images that AU students could identify with. New this year was a move toward infographics and a message from the President. He also praised the hard work of Communications and Member Services Coordinator Donette Kingyens. Darcie thought it was “fabulous” and a “great job.” The motion passed unanimously.
During the Election Debrief, Jodi stated that Council has a great incoming group and was very pleased with the work of CRO Bailey Daines. Of the 20 initial candidates, 16 members were placed on the final ballot. Many students participated, with a great deal of website traffic, forum participation, as well as the mobile app and The Voice. In total, 660 votes were cast, a lower number than the previous year, but percentage-wise the turnout was similar. In 2018, although approximately 800 votes were cast, ballots were given out to 1,800 more students. Jodi was thankful for everyone who participated and voted, revealing that the new council is going to be a mix of returning and new councilors. He welcomed the new councillors and hoped to continue the momentum on Council thus far.
Finally, Council discussed the allocation of up to $7,000 in unrestricted reserve funds to increase the budgeted expense amount for a resume review program called VMock. The motion passed unanimously, with a move by Josh and a second by Brittany. Brandon stated that he had subscribed to the service and was pleased with the level of detail and benefits it provides.
The VMock program reviews and evaluates resumes line by line, dividing results into several categories, such as “Good Job!” “On Track!” and “Needs Work!” Brandon sees a lot of value in the program and stated that it was obtained at a significant discount as the company was intrigued that AU is an online university. Incoming Councillor Ian Stewart was curious if other similar products were available, to which Natasha answered that nothing comparable had been found, some were a step below and a bit cheaper, while one was discontinuing its service. While Ian worried about the possibility of them going bankrupt, Brandon stated that there are no concerns in the short-run. Although VMock is a newer company, they have had successful partnerships with US universities. Jodi stated that since this is being treated as a pilot, there is no long-tern risk and is “one of the better ones we’ve seen.” Brandon joked that the only risk is “students liking it too much so we reach our capacity.”
Moving on, Brandon stated that January was a very busy month, with the Alberta budget being released and the CASA SuperCon conference. The report revealed that during SuperCon, 130 meetings with MPs, Senators, and stakeholders took place. Since the conference also coincided with CASA’s 25 anniversary, the logo was redesigned, as well as the unveiling of a new marketing campaign for the next year. During the annual CASA awards ceremony, Brandon won the award for most likely to be CASA’s next executive director, while Natasha was awarded the MVP award. Alberta’s budget, which revealed a 5% cut to the operating funding for AB PSE institutions, meant a 1.3% cut for AU. In addition, the Alberta government “also announced that performance-based funding would be brought forward. This will result in a portion of an institution’s funds being subject to meeting metrics established by the government.” More clarification about the metrics remains forthcoming from the government.
Next, Natasha spoke briefly about AUSU opening a relationship with the Quebec Students’ Union. The report revealed that AUSU has ratified a new five-year agreement with l’Union Etudiante du Quebec, which expires in four years. Her report also discussed AUSU’s asks at SuperCon, which included expanding student grants, extending the interest-free grace period for student loans, pausing repayment for student loans for new parents, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, co-ops and internships for international students, and students on the board of Canada’s federal granting agencies. The response was positive overall; to date, the federal government has committed to the first three asks.
Next, Brittany spoke briefly about AUSU’s new student bursary, with a query for more information from Darcie. Brittany stated that it will be for new students who have completed three credits. Upon a question of amount from Darcie, Jodi revealed that the cyclical award (May and November) would be ten awards of $300 each. The award specifically targets those students with eleven credits or less, who are not eligible for many awards. The amount is lower because, thus far, their contributions have been lower, but provides a level of support. Darcie then questioned the appropriateness of quoting a stakeholder in the report, to which Brittany replied that she had “nothing to say.”
The report also revealed that the Awards Committee received two computer bursary applications and one emergency bursary application, which were all approved. In addition, several course names were changed, including (INST) 377 Topics in Aboriginal Governments has been changed to Topics in Treaty Relationships and Indigenous – Settler Relations, to better reflect the course content and (SOCI/WGST) 345 Women and Work in Canada, which is now Women, Gender, and Work in Canada, to better reflect course content as well as addressing gender, men/masculinity, and LGBTQIA+ issues in the study of work.
Upon losing connection from Brittany, Brandon continued with the Finance Committee Report, as well as the Awards Committee Report, to both of which there were no questions.
Natasha continued with the MEC Committee Report, in which she mentioned that they had met to review the podcast from the past year, which the report is going to be ready for the next Council meeting.
Jodi’s Executive Director’s Report was left as presented. He highlighted the fact that while COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on society, AUSU is doing their part and have implemented a work at home plan that started this week. Darcie inquired as to who was answering phonecalls, to which Jodi replied that out of office alerts are in place and that students are encouraged to use email instead. Councillor Lisa Oracheski appreciated the extra information about the election, while Jodi was positive about how the election was executed. Brandon explained the number of votes could be a result that many AUSU members are visiting students from other institutions, who did not see the appeal of getting involved. In addition, votes are typically highest when things are going badly; there is a sense that members are comfortable with the direction AUSU is going. In regard to The Voice, the report revealed that the top stories this month were “Asking the Candidates”, and “The Reputation of Online—Athabasca University.” In addition, last month, the newspaper garnered 1,200 more views than January.
Question and Answer Period
The Question and Answer period began with a question by Meeting Reporter Natalia Iwanek who asked why, in recent years, the individual councillor votes seemed to average around eight per student ballot when there were thirteen candidates. Brandon explained that the numbers are not a perfect multiple because some students choose only a few candidates per ballot instead of selecting thirteen choices.
Next Meeting and Adjournment
The meeting was officially adjourned at 8:00 pm MT. The next meeting will take place on April 16, 2020 at 6:30 pm MT. As AUSU members, AU students are encourage to attend council meetings via teleconference. Details can be found on the AUSU website. In addition, AUSU’s new Executive Committee was elected on March 27, 2020.