With the acknowledgement of working on the traditional lands of various indigenous people’s President Stacey Hutchings called for others to indicate which lands they were on in the chat, and several councillors and staff members did. I do have to give some props for the Council finding ways to ensure that what would normally become a part of the meeting simply done by rote instead manages to maintain some relevance, and people putting thought into it.
The agenda was quickly passed, and, after a friendly amendment prompted by Councillor Monique Durette to correct what was referred to as a special meeting of council but was not, the meeting minutes were passed as well.
Scholarships, Awards, & Bursaries, and Others
The first order of new business for AUSU this meeting was to look at policy revisions to the Scholarships, Awards and Bursaries policy. The notable changes to this policy included reducing the minimum requirements for many scholarships from twelve credits to only six credits, and increasing the minimum GPA for the Academic Achievement Scholarship to 3.85 from 3.7, thereby aligning it with AU’s criteria for Great Distinction.
As a side note, I was present when these awards policies were first created and the reasoning for the twelve credits was to ensure that AUSU awards be primarily accessed by program students. However, it was noted in the meeting that there are many newer students at AU seeking assistance from AUSU that Council would like to be able to provide, and this is one way of making it more accessible to them.
Councillor Durette noted that she was disappointed that this policy did not include a change to point 7.02.05 relating to what happens to leftover funds if not all of the awards funds are distributed, stating that Council had approved the policy in September incorrectly as the wrong version had been included in the meeting package.
President Hutchings noted that this motion was about what the awards committee approved for changes to the awards policy as it stood, and further changes needed should go to the awards committee for review. She also pointed out that Council did not approve the policy incorrectly, as that was the policy brought forward and that was what Council then voted on and approved.
The vote was called and passed with 8 in favor, none opposed, and Councillor Durette and Councillor Devon Romanick abstaining.
With some discussion on referencing technicalities, Council moved forward with approving a new policy on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and instituting a standing committee for the policy as well.
The next item on the agenda was a review of the AUSU survey results. While there were fewer responses than usual, Executive Director Jodi Campbell noted that they were still pleased with the number of responses received, especially given COVID-19. The public report on the 2020 AUSU Survey results is now available on the AUSU website, and will be used to direct where AUSU focuses it’s advocacy efforts with the university.
It was also noted that, as usual, some students are confused with the differences between AUSU and AU programs, and this is something that still needs to be worked on.
The next item on the agenda, and probably the most consequential one, was AUSU’s decision to add a fourth executive member to the Executive Committee. For those who don’t know, it is the AUSU Executive Committee that is responsible not only for setting the direction of AUSU (with the rest of Council overseeing them to be sure that they’re not heading the wrong way) but also that does a good portion of the work involved, especially on drafting new policies and figuring out ways to develop new ideas and programs, in consultation with the staff as to what’s possible.
Once designed, AUSU staff then takes on the actual implementation and making those plans happen. The Executive roles are full time and paid accordingly, and AUSU now feels that, with the expansion both in AUSU activities and the membership of AUSU, this fourth executive is needed to ensure full service to members.
The new executive position is titled “Vice-President Community and Wellness”, and will split off from the “Vice-President External and Student Affairs”, allowing the former to concentrate more on developing AUSU’s relations and programs and policies dealing with other organizations (such as the provincial governments) for the benefit of AU students, while the new executive position will concentrate on making sure that AU students have the programs and supports internally that they need to succeed.
This motion passed unanimously, though there was some brief discussion about what happens if a person who is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community gains this executive role, as it is expected to take a position of leadership for the community in spearheading their concerns to AU and AUSU. It was noted that there is certainly room in the community for those who are not part of it to still be able to provide some leadership, and also that it is expected that there will be further refinement of the role by the first executive to hold it.
Emergency Relief Fund
This meeting also saw Council unanimously approve giving $10,000 from the AUSU surplus to AU, where it would become part of the AU Emergency Relief Bursary. Councillor Amber McDuffe asked why AUSU simply didn’t run its own emergency relief bursary with the money, noting that it might look like it was only AU who was helping the students. President Hutchings noted that AU has already developed the infrastructure and policies to handle getting the money out to students in an efficient manner, and also that AUSU made sure that it’s name was listed as being partners with AU in providing the bursary. Given that the total bursary is slated to be about $270,000, that $10,000 for a listing alongside may actually make AUSU look more generous than it was.
Mediation & Human Resources Services
This meeting also contained a motion for an unbudgeted expenditure of $9,000 for human resource services including about $3,000 for mediation services.
Looking at the proposal, I noted that it was “to provide mediation services for the Executive Director and an Employee working for the Athabasca University Students’ Union.” And that the objective was “to provide coaching and mediation for the participants to support them in … dealing with the aftermath of the investigation, and to begin the journey of rebuilding trust.”
So I asked Executive Director Campbell what additional details he could provide to me about the incident that caused there to be an investigation, and if the money spent was worth the expense.
He responded “Throughout the past number of months, AUSU has sought out professional HR-related services, to not only address our needs as an organization during COVID-19 but also address the evolving HR needs of AUSU in general. As an organization, we sought our professional advice throughout this process and mediation was suggested as an effective way to assist with working through the many facets of our experience. We have been pleased with the results we have received thus far and look forward to continuing to foster a positive and supportive culture within our staff, executive team, and our council.”
It’s a safe response–in that it doesn’t say very much at all. However, having been on past Councils I understand how sometimes people just don’t get along very well. How what initially seems like a minor argument can blow up, and the drama that can happen can be completely disruptive to the group for months on end. With a Council that has lost several members since the last full election, I can certainly understand wanting to avoid further disruption that leaving these kinds of issues unresolved might create.
The motion passed unanimously.
Reports and Final Words
While previously, the Executives and Committee Chairs would tend to expand on their reports during the meeting, this newer Council under President Hutchings seems to be going the opposite route, generally leaving their reports as written, without comment. While this makes for shorter meetings, it also means that there’s less to report on, and that if you want to know what Council is doing, you’ll need to attend the meeting to get a copy of the reports, or write directly to AUSU and ask.
AUSU has added a Recognitions and Acknowledgements to its regular agenda as a way to try to highlight to each other what they’re doing and how AUSU is making a difference. It was noted during this section that the AUSUNights initiative is attracting a lot of people each week and starting to attract some repeats and form a little community. Also, new staff member Tim Hansen, responsible for AUSU’s social media, was welcomed.
The next Council Meeting was scheduled for March 17th, and the report on it should be out in the next couple of weeks. In related news, I’m currently looking for a new AUSU Council Meeting reporter. If you have an interest in AUSU Council, attending a meeting once a month and writing up a solid review of what happened in the meeting, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can even be paid for your work.
So the next AUSU Council Meeting that you can attend will be on April 21, 2021 at 6:30 pm. Contact email@example.com for more information.