Council Connection—October 21, 2020 Meeting

AUSU Council met on October 21, 2020.  Regan Johnson delivered the land acknowledgement for the traditional lands of the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples.

All councillors and regular staff were in attendance, with Councillor Kathryn Hadden expected to be slightly late.

During the approval of the agenda, an unusual, though perfectly allowable, request was made by Councillor Darcie Fleming to add agenda points to discuss the hiring of an organizational consultant, and to propose an ad hoc committee to review Executive Compensation and to changes to be made to the Honorarium policies due to privacy issues.  These additions were all accepted unanimously by Council.

The previous meeting’s minutes from September 16, 2020 were then approved unanimously.

AUSU’s policy 7.03 about The Voice Magazine was approved by the executive committee as an informal review, meaning that no changes of substance were made.  Also approved in the informal review was policy 6.01Member Services Administration. Vice President Finance and Administration, Monique Durette only noted slight grammar changes.

In an email vote between meetings, council allocated up to $100,000 total of surplus funds to be used during the 2020/2021 fiscal year.  This will be distributed to the awards program and to the budgeted annual contest prizing.  The motion was approved unanimously, and that vote was ratified in this meeting unanimously. Council noted it is happy to be giving back to students.

There was a motion to appoint Caitlin Smith to the Student Advisory Committee, which was approved unanimously.  There was no difficulty in filling this position, as there was a lot of interest in this role.  Council hopes that they can engage more students into finding similar opportunities.

The next item on the agenda was the new point brought forward by Councillor Fleming: hiring an organizational consultant.  She is in favour of this motion, especially with the discussion about adding a fourth executive member, and the forthcoming recommendations from the Indigenous Student Representation committee (ISRC).  The idea  to be more inclusive to the indigenous people of Canada, might involve hiring someone from outside the organization to assess the organization for inclusivity options.

Councillor Fleming mentioned the possibility of, in addition to the indigenous organizational consultant, creating another executive position.   If these changes are made, then AUSU council needs to prepare for big organizational changes in the future.

The question was asked if AUSU had ever had external consultants evaluate the organization before, and it was noted by Communications and Member Services Coordinator Donette Kingyens that there had been a similar evaluation in 2014/2015.  President Donahue will put this issue on the executive committee agenda, so as to bring a better prepared backgrounder and information to council, so that a full discussion can be had about the options surrounding an organizational consultancy hire.

The idea for an Ad Hoc Executive Compensation Review Committee (ECRC) was then discussed as the next added item to the agenda..  This committee is struck every second year and is chaired by a council member with no executives on it.  The ECRC reviews the executive portfolio and wages and makes recommendations to council for changes.  The current policy says that the committee will be struck in the third quarter of the second year of each Council Term, which is almost a year away.  Darcie Fleming noted that if there is to be an addition to the Executive Committee, or some other shift because of the recommendations of the ISRC, it would be useful to have a more current evaluation of the current executive roles and wages.

President Donahue indicated she was planning to propose a fourth executive to the Executive Committee serving in a Community & Wellness portfolio, but if the ECRC was going to be struck early, she would not proceed with that to allow the ECRC the ability to do it’s job. Councillor Stacey Hutchings questioned whether the point of striking the ECRC early was only to explore the idea of adding another executive member, and it was confirmed that the typical mandate of the ECRC is to not only explore those types of ideas but to also explore the compensation package executives are given and a breakdown of the hours they work.  Vice-President Hutchings noted she felt uncomfortable with the full compensation package review in the middle of a council term, but was amenable to the ECRC solely exploring whether a fourth executive member is needed.  President Donahue noted that it may be appropriate for executive to abstain from voting on this if Council decides to move to a vote.

Councillor Joshua Ryan, having sat on the most recently convened ECRC, notes that they already did a fairly comprehensive review of executive compensation and the need for a fourth executive, and wonders if a different mechanism might be more appropriate, one that focusses solely on the fourth executive question.

Councillor Fleming was asked why she felt compensation should be reviewed now, and responded about how, with COVID and the rapid growth in the organizations, the workload for the Executives has likely increased, and she wants to make sure the executives are being compensated fairly for the extra work.  In addition, if another executive is hired, and research was done as to what the appropriate pay rate is, it would seem odd if that person ended up receiving more than the rest of the executive until the regular striking of the next ECRC.

A question was also raised as to whether council is even allowed to appoint another executive midway through the term, and it was noted that according to AUSU bylaws, council can do so, but it would require changes to the bylaws as to the nature of the Executive Committee

Executive Director Jodi Campbell noted that while Darcie’s not wrong about her idea that this should be going through the ECRC, he felt that it seemed there needed to be a couple more decisions made yet which would then allow the ECRC to be able to properly evaluate the situation.

President Donahue sought to move the meeting forward by asking if there were any objections to her proceeding with her plan of creating a proposal for the fourth executive position and keeping the ECRC on its current track, while also looking at a proposal to bring in an external organizational consultant.  No objections were noted, and so Council began to discuss the second part of this agenda point, whether Executive honorariums should be made private.Darcie was worried that because the President and VPs were specific people whose positions gave specific amounts listed, that it might be a violation of privacy laws.  President Donahue noted that these are not salaries, but honoraria, and it is typical and part of transparency for the amounts to be listed. Vice-President Durette suggested that the organizational reviewer could look into this, which was met with no objections.

We then moved on to reports, with the President’s report being first.

The Re-Imagining Assessment in Support of the Learning Framework Ad Hoc Committee will have a focus group on October 28, 2020, where they will continue to try to find new and better ways of assessing student learning.  Meetings with the Registrar have discussed Student Financial Aid accessibility, and it will be reviewed as many students have been noting difficulties. It was pointed out that SFA used to serve 1,100 students in 2010 and now has 4,900 students seeking financial aid assistance in 2020, with each financial aid staff member having between 600 and 800 cases.

President Donahue would also like to thank all members of the Student Advisory Committee for 2019/2020 for their contributions.  She will make more effort into engaging the Student Advisory Council.

In the Vice-President External and Student Affairs Report it was noted that the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion policy has been draftd.  The Student Energy Chapter meeting was on October 4, 2020.  Four students have been in contact with the Chapter, and the group would like to start a podcast about sustainable energy.  VPEX Hutchings and Councillor Iwanek have discussed starting a Discord server for LGBTQ2S+ students at Athabasca University.

One topic brought to AU was advocacy for financial assistance for students, to be included in AU’s submission for the Alberta 2030 educational plan..  There was also talk that a three-credit course is six months worth of work at AU.  VPEX Huthings noted that the course-load should be the same as it is at other universities, as many students don’t understand that there is a greater amount of work expected at AU for the three credits and taking up the six months.  Another problem is that funded students also often cannot get a course extension and maintain their funding, which council argues is unfair.

VPEX Hutchings also indicated that the AUSU Member Engagement and Communication Committee did not meet in September.  It was discussed that a student advisor might join the committee.

During the Vice-President, Finance and Administration report, VPFA Durette, reported that she spent time working on a Wikipedia page for AUSU, encountering various challenges with conflict of interest and no original reporting, but felt that it is an important resource for students to be able to find.

She also noted that there are barriers to accessing Accessibility Services for students with disabilities.  A student was informed about the Mental Health Committee, which is confidential for members and visitors.

Personally, this was the first time I’d heard students with disabilities or mental health issues mentioned during this meeting, and while it seemed to me that a lot of attention was paid to inclusiveness, AUSU has a very large population of disabled students and I was disappointed that VPFA Durette was the only one who brought concerns about their needs forward. It didn’t seem to me like people with disabilities were a priority during this council meeting.

On the finance side of Monique Durette’s report, we have an investment portfolio discussion.  The work on the investment portfolio has begun and will continue through November.

Jodi Campbell, the Executive Director, reported that he’d like to welcome the newest team member.  This new member is Tim Hanson, and he will be working as a social media assistant.  He also indicated The Voice Magazine has been doing great, and he gave a shout-out to Councillor Iwanek for her writing, which is at the top in terms of views.

Donette Kingyens’ report on communications and member service had to do with a popular podcast episode.  The podcast in question received 461 views in one episode.  There is also a large amount of course reviews, as compared to last year.

The social media ‘hits’ are likely to increase because of the new social media assistant.

As for Question Period, if any readers have any questions at all about the meeting that has just been covered, you are invited to contact the AUSU office with any questions that arise from the meeting at ausu@ausu.org , 780-497-7000, or toll-free at 1-855-497-7003.

This has been your student council coverage by Emily Viggiani.  The next council meeting is on November 18, 2020 8:30pm (MDT).

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