All Councillors were in attendance, with the exception of Councillor Melinda Goertz, as well as incoming council observing. Also in attendance was The Voice’s Managing Editor Karl Low and Council Meeting Reporter Natalia Iwanek.
Key items included COVID-19, Council Reports, and the incoming Councillor Oaths.
Agenda and Minutes
President Brandon Simmons called the meeting to order at 6:32 pm MT. The agenda and all minutes were accepted without issue.
Brandon continued with a Review of Action Items, of which none were outstanding.
No policies were discussed this meeting, with all new business being discussion items.
VPEX Natasha Donahue experienced technical difficulties during her Podcast Report, to which it was noted that many people have been having this issue due to increased bandwidth usage amidst COVID-19. Natasha discussed AUSU’s podcast year in review, stating, “by far, all of our episodes are successful,” however, the most successful “feature students.” She noted similar listenership for all episodes but those featuring students, which often attracted double the numbers. According to the report, the most popular episodes were “A Great Chat with AU Students,” “AUSU’s 27 Birthday and Summer Study Tips,” and “Our President is Going to Ottawa.”
Natasha thanked Executive Director Jodi Campbell for being a great host and engaging on-air personality. She also felt that a great deal had been learned about sound engineering, mixing, and advertising potentials. Although there have been challenges and success, she felt that the key is remaining open minded and innovative, noting that podcasts require ongoing attention. The podcast is now a permanent fixture on the AUSU website, and has been a successful and low-cost way to “contribute to the student community, while allowing AUSU to give a voice to the organization in a dynamic way.” Natasha noted that, in a way, the podcast functions as a type of institutional memory. Brandon added that while overall listens may have been low, the podcast serves a niche in AUSU communications and had a very low initial cost. Students can access the podcast through AUSU’s website, or by searching “AUSU Podcast” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Pocket Casts.
Natasha continued with the Provincial Advocacy Report where AUSU examined their strategy for advocacy at the provincial level, stating AUSU had looked into two provincial advocacy groups, ASEC and CAUS, but has decided to “pursue our own independent advocacy initiative.” On a federal level AUSU decided to continue membership with CASA. In addition, AUSU has been working with other advocacy groups and emphasizing AU students’ needs in documents where possible.
Natasha felt confident that AUSU is being recognized as a representative of Albertan students with the government. However, no advocacy week took place this year as a result of the timing of the new education budget and COVID-19. The report also details future plans, including collaboration with other student leaders in other provinces, which may be a way to approach other provincial governments about AU students residing in their provinces.
Councillor Darcie Fleming felt that Brandon and Natasha both did a great job.
Brandon added that the Minister (of Advanced Education) is “now starting to come to us” and has emailed stating that he wants to meet the incoming executives. This will allow AUSU the opportunity to speak about loan limits for AU students, who do not typically fall into the traditional student category, namely single, young adults living in residence. He felt confident that Natasha and Stacey will do a good job.
Next, Executive Director Jodi Campbell provided an overview of Council’s response to COVID-19, mentioning that the “last six weeks have been pretty crazy.” He stated that students now have different needs and asked, “How do we need to adapt what we’re doing to make sure that those needs are still being met for the student membership?” AUSU’s priority is to “become a support network for students,” as well as a strong resource, providing information, directing students to the correct spots on the AU website, and taking student concerns to stakeholders. He acknowledged the great job AU has done in updating their website, as well as their FAQ page. For students requiring more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jodi continued that AUSU had begun to identify where the gaps were, and which student scenarios were not being addressed. In addition, he stated, “mental health is not going away during COVID-19,” which is why AUSU will continue to promote Homewood Health to ensure that students are taken care of. “These are unprecedented times,” that could not have been predicted six weeks ago. “We will continue to adapt to the ever changing needs of students.”
Brandon stated that even though AU is online, some students are having difficulties. ProctorU is not cheap, there may be problems with computer hardware compliance, as well as the difficulties for students with children and families. AUSU is working closely with AU, including the AU higher executives to highlight student concerns and mitigate the issues. This includes a push for more options for alternative assessments, including course extensions. However, AUSU also looking at funding and possibly changes to AUSU’s emergency bursary.
Councillor Lisa Oracheski stated that the rates of sexual and domestic violence typically go up during disasters, as abusers and those abused are in the same place during isolation. She believed that this is important to bring up to AU, even when we return “to quote unquote normal.” Josh concurred, stating that domestic violence rates were indeed up according to a friend in the Montreal police force.
Councillor Darcie Fleming wondered about Homewood Health’s services during the past year, to which Brandon replied that AUSU had not been “wowed,” believing that it would be a much better service.
Jodi also remarked on the sudden popularity of ProctorU in North America and the world. Coincidentally, AUSU had already been planning a free code giveaway, so the timing was perfect. The response was amazing and AUSU was able to increase the giveaways from 50 to 80, which resulted in great feedback from the students.
Sarah remarked on seeing some negativity regarding ProctorU on social media and questioned if there had been any negative feedback for turnaround times. Jodi replied that although ProctorU had originally communicated that they were prepared, they had gotten overwhelmed as time progressed. Jodi plans to bring up the issue on an upcoming call. Sarah stated that there had been lags during exams, and Brandon noted that ProctorU has been known to have some of these challenges during good times, even before the present bandwidth and usage increases. AUSU is continuing to work with the university and ProctorU to see how more resources can be brought online.
Councillor Monique Durrette noted that often those with children at home cannot wait to write their exams. Brandon concurred that in a normal situation ProctorU works well, but now is not normal. In addition, some students are uncomfortable on ProctorU, so they are working to ensure that alternative assessment options are available. From what AUSU has heard, students who have reached out do get arrangements if needed.
Councillor Katy Lowe inquired if AU will pay ProctorU fees, as this is a brand new expense for students. Brandon replied that it is being looked at on a case-by-case basis, but there is hesitation from AU because of costs. They are opening up other opportunities for now, including allowing first responders to put their classes on hold, instead of formally withdrawing.
Katy wondered if the province was on board, especially since provincial student funding may not understand this type of withdrawal/extension. Brandon revealed that the Alberta government has stated that funding will continue even if a student withdraws or fails. Extensions are not likely to affect funding as long as extensions do not bring students over their total course allowance. AUSU is starting to have this conversation with other provinces as well.
Darcie inquired about CASA’s reaction to this on a federal level, to which Brandon replied that CASA has been having conversations and meetings, although no public campaigns, to get payment and interest relief for students, as well as expanding CERB to students. He stated that “more will be coming publicly in the next little bit.”
Brandon, in his President’s Report, stated that this was a very busy month, even before the onset of COVID-19. AU put forward a balanced budget based on cuts. Although it was advertised as a balanced budget, theoretically it could be a$2.4M surplus at the end of the year. In addition, AU has recently benefitted from increased enrollment; they must ensure to price themselves in a way not to jeopardize enrollment.
Brandon mentioned the recent resignations of VPFA Brittany Daigle from current and upcoming Council, as well as Councillors Amanda Lipinski and Jasmine Hernandez from upcoming Council.
Next, Natasha left the VPEX Report as written and thanked outgoing Council. One highlight from the report included the March 26 Board of Governors e-meeting, which approved the budget.
In the absence of Brittany, Brandon presented the VPFA Report to which there were no questions. The report detailed VPFA’s Brittany Daigle’s March 20 resignation and adjustments to roles. He stated that they were able to respond to the resignation easily as most tasks had already been completed and were ready to hand over to incoming Council.
Jodi presented the Finance Committee Report, describing working toward Quarter 2, mentioning that with the VPFA’s resignation requirements were handled by Brandon.
Sarah was elected as Award Committee Chair to the end of the term as a result of the resignation as well. A chair is necessary, as the Awards Committee is an ongoing process and has some awards that require quick response by the chair.
Natasha’s Member Engagement and Communication Committee Report revealed that her many plans, including showcasing the campus and science facilities, were cancelled due to COVID-19. Instead, MEC made YouTube videos outlining COVID-19 resources.
Jodie then presented the Executive Director’s Report, thanking Sarah for stepping up and leaving most of his report as presented. He provided an update on the course evaluations, revealing some problems with the web developer, but stating that the soft launch will probably occur in a few weeks. Jodie also thanked those who are leaving, stating that they had “done some great work over the last two years.” He welcomed the new Councillors, especially Monique and Stacey who have been job shadowing and getting to know their roles and responsibilities.
Communications and Member Services Coordinator Donette Kingyens presented her Report, stating that it was interesting to see how AUSU has grown. The last newsletter, which highlighted COVID-19 had a 44% open rate, about double the normal numbers.
At this point, the outgoing Council was dissolved, the motion carrying unanimously, with a move by Josh and second by Christine. The Councillors-elect then all took the Councillor Oath simultaneously, including AUSU’s new executives: President Natasha Donahue, VPEX Stacey Hutchings, and VPFA Monique Durette. Having 10 people attempt to read an oath simultaneously over the phone was an interesting experience.
There were then a number of motions to fill the now vacant spots on AUSU’s various committees.
The Finance Committee motion passed unanimously, with a move by Councillor Katy Lowe and a second by Monique. The new Committee consists of Monique Durette as chair and Darcie Fleming, Regan Johnson, Ian Stewart, and Josh Ryan as voting members.
The Awards Committee passed unanimously with a move by Josh and a second by Darcie. Katy Lowe, Katheryn Hadden, Monique Durrette, Regan Johnson, and Devon Romanick as voting members.
The MEC Committee had a great deal of interest and was put to a vote after prospective members’ speeches. Darcie stated she would like to be involved as this would be a new committee for her. She felt that she could add a great deal as a result of her previous position on the Finance Committee. Ian thanked Darcie for going first and feels that the committee is a great opportunity for innovation. Josh stated that he has been part of MEC for the past two years and enjoyed helping with the podcast. He feels that he can build on this experience, as well as his part-time job in communicating and engagement with the armed forces. Katy stated that one of the main reasons she joined Council was the opportunity to engage with the students and showcase the Council. “I have a lot of really big ideas,” she stated. Regan would like to get students more engaged. She does not find AU very inclusive and has many ideas to include Indigenous and LGBTQ students.
After some confusion regarding the actual number of seats available, the ballot prepared by Governance and Advocacy Coordinator Duncan Wojtaszek, was put to a vote. All Councillors voted, with the exception of Kathryn who left the meeting. Josh received nine votes, Ian eight, Katy seven, Darcie six, and Regan five, with Regan not elected.
Question and Answer Period
The Question and Answer period began with a question by The Voice’s Managing Editor Karl Low, who inquired about the possibility of by-elections, due to the three Councillors leaving as the new Council started. Natasha replied that AUSU will wait a few more months, in case of future resignations. She also mentioned the possibility of looking into existing policies, so as to give those who run in the election an opportunity to join in the case of early resignations.
Next Meeting and Adjournment
The meeting concluded with Jodi applauding the work done by Brandon, as well as best wishes and thanks from Natasha and Donette. The meeting was officially adjourned at 8:24 pm MT. The next meeting will tentatively take place on May 21, 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.