Council Connection—August 19, 2020 Meeting

Eight of the nine councillors were present for the August 19, 2020 Council Meeting.  Councillor Regan Johnson had provided her regrets earlier and was excused as the meeting started.

After the regular introductions and passing the agenda and minutes, the meeting started with a review of the newest budget.  AUSU is looking at an increase in revenue of about $60,000 based on the increases in enrolment that AU is expecting.  This increase will be balanced by a corresponding increase in expenses.

The largest expense increases are that of staff salaries and associated costs (CPP, EI, etc) at $47,000 (which will also accommodate the hiring of a dedicated social media manager for AUSU), an increase in the amount budgeted for office lease and parking of $5,000 as AUSU is nearing the end of its current lease term, an increase to the honoraria of the executive committee (and similar associated costs) of $5,250, and an increase to the awards budget of $3,000 concentrated in the area of emergency and computer bursaries that AUSU expects to see an increased need for given COVID-19.

Even with the increase in operating expenses, It was noted that AUSU still maintains a ratio of less than half of its funds being devoted to merely operating AUSU, with the rest being used for the projects, initiatives, and advocacy that benefit students.

There were also some significant changes within the budget, with the largest being AUSU moving away from physical mailouts to new students and instead moving toward digital content being provided.  It was noted that this move has beneficial effects for AUSU’s environmental foot print and provides a consistency of offerings to students, with most of what AUSU provides being online, so it making more sense for that first contact with new students to be in the same mode.  An additional point noted was that collecting data as to whether students were making use of the physical mailout was difficult.  With a mailout, AUSU had no way to know if students used it, or even read it, or perhaps even found it to be annoying junk mail and were throwing it out.  By providing a package of digital content to students it is now trackable as to how effective the outreach is.

With the significant savings provided by this change ($16,850) Council was able to repurpose that money to cover the increased costs of Linked-In Learning to maintain that program, as well as devote funds to anticipated projects such as the career services initiative for students, a food bank initiative, and a student energy project that is being explored to aid students in achieving desired environmental and sustainability goals, without affecting the larger budget.  They were also able to slightly increase the amount available for contests and ProctorU codes to be provided to students.

During the discussion of the budget, a question was raised about how the budget for convocation had not changed, even though the new format for convocation is likely to be much smaller.  Executive Director Jodi Campbell noted that the AUSU budgeting philosophy is to budget for the highest reasonable costs that might be expected for a project and then strive to come in under budget.  With that in mind, and because so much about how the new convocation ceremonies will be working is still unknown, it was decided to leave that line unchanged from previous years.

The budget passed unanimously, and AUSU moved on to the Executive Workplans.  The Executive Workplans outline the goals of the AUSU executives, and hence define what AUSU will be concentrating on in the coming year.  The entire twelve pages can be found online at the link above, but part of what caught my ear during the meeting as the Executives briefly went through the plan were President Natasha Donahue’s mentioning AUSU’s COVID-19 response, and being sure to bring the concerns AUSU has heard to planning committees at AU to aid them with their own COVID-19 response, as well as working with AU to review the tuition and fees policy and attempting to develop new frameworks to address how students can pay tuition.  She also mentioned significant outreach to other provincial student union associations, noting especially wanting to work with Quebec, and continuing to oppose voluntary student unionism across Canada.  A final note was that an executive accountability process needs a proper framework developed for AUSU.

Vice-President of External and Student Affairs Stacey Hutchings put the spotlight on the development of an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee within AUSU, as well as ongoing mental health supports.  Along with that she will be working to create an increasingly inclusive and welcoming AUSU, including supports for indigenous, LGBTQ2S+ students, and an awareness campaign for sexual and gender-based violence.

She also mentioned the development of a co-curricular record for AUSU students, noting that employers and graduate programs today are often seeking more than just grades, and at AU showing extra-curricular activity can be even more difficult than it might be at a brick & mortar institution.  A co-curricular record is one method of dealing with this difficulty that some schools have adopted, in essence certifying extra-curricular activities that students may be a part of, and she hopes that AUSU can work to create one for AU students.

In addition was mentioned the development of student clubs, noting that with the mass exposure to Zoom and other virtual meeting technologies that have happened due to COVID-19, the notion of a virtual club may now be something that can be successfully implemented.

Finally, Vice President of Finance and Administration, Monique Durette spoke in particular of improving Career Services offerings from AUSU and AU, increased advocacy for students with disabilities, and of aligning AUSU with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Council unanimously accepted the workplans.

The next item on the agenda was a revision of policy 2.12, AUSU’s anti-harassment and discrimination policy, which underwent “extensive editing” for “2020 reality”.  This entailed adding extra definition bringing the policy into line with various federal and provincial policies on discrimination and harassment, and removing points concerning false accusations.  This passed unanimously.

The 2020-2021 AUSU Strategic Plan was the next item up for discussion. Executive Director Jodi Campbell mentioned how the new strategic plan was bringing in language referencing transparency and diversity.  Councillor Darcie Fleming noted that the vision statement within the plan did not seem very clear and could use being more specific.  It was agreed that this could be re-examined.  After the strategic plan was unanimously approved, Councillor Kathryn Hadden had to leave due to a previous engagement, leaving the meeting at 8:26pm.

Council then moved in-camera to discuss who would be selected for the Indigenous Representation Committee.  When they returned, the decision was made to appoint Jo-Mary Crowchild-Fletcher, which was unanimously approved.

The meeting then moved to the reports section, which was longer than normal because they included work for both June and July as there had been no July meeting.  One of the most significant things mentioned was during the Presidents’ Report, where Natasha Donahue noted that AU is considering switching their course format from having six-month timelines to four-month timelines.  This would require significant revision of many of their courses that are currently designed for a six-month time span. It was also mentioned that AU had mobilized some funds from AUSU, the AUGSA, and other stakeholders to create the AU Emergency Bursary.  AUSU’s involvement was able to ensure that 75% of the $134,000 total funds were directed toward undergraduate students.  Each award was worth $1,000 and AUSU had donated $15,000 to the fund.  Also noted was the General Faculties Council meeting established an ad hoc committee to reimagine student assessments, questioning such assumptions as whether finals were needed and thinking of different ways to assess students.

It was also pointed out that AU is moving their integrated learning environment forward, and rather than it being rolled out slowly on a course by course basis, the decision has been made to replace the current Moodle system with a completely new system.  They’re currently doing a full course review to look at the length and pacing of courses, the process is set to take place over the course of the next year and a half, and then with the launch of the new system happening within six months of the review being completed.

It was also mentioned that AUSU has had a meeting with the Open UK Students’ Association, where they found many common interests and challenges being death with, so she looks forward to there being more talks and joint action.

The Vice-President External and Student Affairs, Stacey Hutchings’ report noted that AU would be using a system called Chime Live for convocation, and that AUSU has joined Public Interest Alberta, a non-partisan advocacy group, to be part of their campaign to see investments restored to Post-Secondary Education.  It was also noted that while she’s been trying to contact cabinet ministers for discussion, AUSU is currently being redirected to the deputy ministers.  The provincial government has started on their consultation for the Alberta 2030 plan, but while they committed to including independent organizations in those consultations, at this point they’ve only included the umbrella organizations in Alberta (CAUS and ACTISEC) and AUSU is not a member of either.  She’s currently working to remain in the loop as to what the report is thinking in their direction of post-secondary education.

Many of the reports noted that the months had been quiet, with a combination of summer and COVID-19 meaning fewer meetings.  In the Awards Report, Councillor Katy Lowe pointed out how the summer had been a quiet period, with a total of four computer bursaries and one emergency bursary reported.  Finally, in the report from Member Services Coordinator, Donette Kingyens, it was pointed out that the Peer Course reviews already had 500 entries, and that people were rediscovering old AUSU podcasts when they were mentioned on Facebook or in stories in The Voice Magazine.

The meeting then moved to the question and answer period, where, after looking through the budget, I’d noted that while Executive Honararia had gone up, the amount budgeted for Executive CPP had gone down.  It was clarified that the amount budgeted for CPP in the previous year turned out to be more than needed.  I also questioned the removal of anything about false accusations of harassment, and was told that a separate policy is in the process of being created to address this issue.

The meeting officially adjourned at 9:04pm, and the next Council meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday, September 16, 2020 at 6:30pm mountain time.  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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