Council Connection—April 21, 2021 AUSU Council Meeting

Council Connection—April 21, 2021 AUSU Council Meeting

The meeting was called to order at 6:28pm with eight of the, at that time, ten remaining councillors present.

Absent were councillors Monique Durette and councillor Kathryn Hadden.

President Stacey Hutchings lead the group with land acknowledgements, while others noted their own  location in the Zoom chat.  I’ll be honest, I have no clue what treaty location I’m on, here in Calgary, but it’s interesting to see how many on AUSU Council do.

Executive Election

Agenda, minutes, and action items were quickly dispensed with and so we moved into the first item of the meeting, the announcement of the new executive team.  For those wondering, the Athabasca University Students’ Union elects (ideally) 13 councillors for a two-year-term.  The councillors elected then choose three, now four, of those elected to serve as the executive team, a group that has additional responsibilities and demands, and of course some additional perks and pay to compensate for it.  That executive team, however, only sits for one of the two years that the councillors are elected for, after which an internal election is held to choose a new executive team (which can be exactly the same as the old one if the councillors are okay with that).

This gives the council at large the chance to change gears if they feel it’s necessary, and gives those councillors who gained the executive positions the chance to step aside gracefully if they find out that the demands of the job were more than they bargained for.

This year, the newly elected executive team is the same as the old one, with the one change being that former Vice-President External and Students Affairs Natalia Iwanek moved to the new office of Vice-President Community and Wellness (VPCW) while Councillor Karen Fletcher became the new Vice President External(VPEx).  This division is supposed to allow these two councillors to focus more specifically on an area, with the VPCW focusing more on internal actions for AU students and communities within the AU student body, while the VPEx concentrates on AUSU’s relations with other organizations and student groups, such as the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA).

As a result, the new executive team is Stacey Hutchings, President, Almigdad Eldoma as Vice President Finance and Administration, and Natalia Iwanek and Karen Fletcher as the aforementioned VPCW and VPEx respectively.

Councillor Removal

Item eight was an in camera motion, so I was moved to an external Zoom room, and soon joined by Kathryn Hadden.  Kathryn and I chatted about her time on AUSU and how she loved working with the awards committee.  She let me know that the reason for the In Camera session was likely because she had not been able to properly show her continuing student status at AU.  One of AUSU’s policies requires that all councillors provide a transcript to AUSU showing they’re not on academic probation and proof of registration in a course within three months of the second term year.

Sure enough, when we were returned to the main meeting, the motion “BIRT AUSU council approves the removal of Kathryn Hadden from AUSU council for failing to meet the academic requirements for councillors as set out in Policy 2.14” was put forward.  A secret ballot was called, and the motion passed with seven councillors in favour, one opposed.

President Hutchings took a moment to thank Kathryn for her dedication and time, noting “You’ve done so much for the organization, and you’ve been on so many busy committees,” before moving on to the next item, as Kathryn quietly logged off.

Eight councillors remained present.

AUGSA Sponsorship

The next motion was about AUSU Council spending an unbudgeted $1,500 to sponsor the Athabasca University Graduate Student Association (AUGSA) Graduate Student Research Conference.  It was noted that this is the keystone event of the AUGSA and the tenth year they’ve been running it, with last year the first that undergraduates had been invited to take part.

At that event it was noted that while the graduates received some awards and prizes, including cash prizes depending on their research, none of that was available for undergraduates.  The executive directors of both AUGSA and AUSU came together and developed the idea of AUSU stepping in and supporting the event as a sponsorship which would specifically go to undergrad student entrants, and would in turn allow an AUSU representative a seat on their advertising committee to ensure that undergrad students were also made aware of the opportunity.

Councillor Katy Lowe was acknowledged as the councillor who really spear-headed this idea of getting undergrads into the research conference, and it was also agreed that this was a great way to start to provide opportunities for undergraduates to get into the research side of academia, something that is generally more common and brick and mortar universities, but has been difficult to handle at AU.

It was noted that the funds involved would easily come from surplus funds that AUSU had received beyond their budget estimates.

Committee Appointments

As with the change-over in the executive team, each year AUSU also appoints all new members to its various standing committees, again giving councillors a chance to change gears and adjust based on new interests or outside commitments. The next several minutes of the meeting were devoted to finding councillors to sit on all of the standing committees, with it being noted that there would soon be a by-election and new councillors brought in, which might lead to opportunities for committee membership to change again if council felt it was appropriate.

The most interesting part of the nominations was that councillor Regan Johnson was appointed to all four committees, despite not being present at the meeting.  While you might just assume it was a bit of a prank, a type of “That’s what you get if you don’t show up,” thing, Regan was in contact with various councillors and staff during the meeting despite not being present, and apparently expressed her interest, or at least willingness, to be on the committees.

Policy Adjustments

VPFA Almigdada Eldoma lead council through the various policy adjustments this evening, as the were all finance policies.  Most of the changes were simply slight wording adjustments for clarity, although council did increase their per-diem amount for travel by $10/day, while also eliminating the possibility to essentially “double-dip” on expenses while travelling.  Another change was the increase of the limits of unbudgeted spending that Council would allow without full approval from Council being necessary – with the limit increasing from $1,000 to $2,500 that can be approved by just the executive committee, and with only finance committee being required to approve unbudgeted spending up to $7,500 (up from the $2,500 previously allowed). Full council approval remains for any unbudgeted spending above $7,500.

Reports

The one notable addition to the executive and committee reports was to President Stacey Hutchings’ report where she noted she had received two resignation letters, the first from councillor Monique Durette, and the second from councillor Darcie Fleming, both to be effective as of May 1, 2021. President Hutchings noted she wanted to thank them, and noted their services and how they’ve dedicated “a lot of time to help AUSU be where it is today.”

No comment was added to any of the other reports until that of the Executive Director, Jodi Campbell, who wanted to take the opportunity to welcome AUSU’s now communications and member services co-ordinater, Ashley James.  He also noted that, as of the end of March, AUSU’s physical offices were officially closed, and the organization is now working almost entirely virtually.  This will no doubt lead to some significant savings for the organization.

Recognition and Acknowledgements

Shout outs went to Katy for being the awards committee chair for so long, especially during the pandemic and higher than normal demand, to Stacey for her work done with CASA recently, to the entire exec team for choosing to meet with councillors individually and find out their goals, and also to Darcie Fleming, “when we started after the byelection it felt like being thrown in the deep end,” according to VPEx Karen Fletcher, “it was so helpful for you to always be there, explaining what parts of policy mean what. Your knowledge and the background work you do made it a lot easier for me, and we will miss you. You bring something unique to the team and it’s been fantastic getting to know you, I’m so glad you were here when I started.”

Stacey also wanted to expand on her thank you to Kathryn from earlier, noting “I want it recognized that she was an active member of awards committee and want to recognize her contributions to AUSU, and even though the motion that happened earlier was based on the course credit requirement, she was very committed and I know that she’s going to be missed.

With that, and some final words from Jodi congratulating the group on a successful first year and congratulating the new exec team, the meeting was adjourned.

Afterward

I had the chance to communicate with Darcie after the meeting, asking her why she left, and what advice she might have for people seeking to join council during the by-elections and she wrote,

“I have enjoyed my terms as a councillor especially 2018-2019 and until November 2020. There are always differing opinions within a group of people and I wish all the best for current councillors.

I have been accepted into the MAIS graduate program – cultural studies starting in September with a focus on the study of spiritual experiences in the context of phenomenology and social structures between Judeo-Christian and First Nations spirituality. My husband recently passed so this will keep me focused and busy with a purpose. I am doing ok and my resignation with AUSU will decrease some stress although I will miss many aspects.

My advice to new councillors is to speak up, ask questions, stick to the policy as written and don’t be afraid to be a dissenting voice, it is not a popularity contest. All councillors are leaders and have an equal voice at the table.”

Next Meeting

Meeting times have changed, and the next meeting will be this coming Thursday, May 20, at 6:30pm.  Contact services@ausu.org if you’re interested in being there or finding out more about council and council activities.

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