Council Connection—May 20, 2021

The meeting began at 6:29 pm with all of the AUSU staff and councillors present, except Councillor Regan Johnson who was running late.

Vice President External Karen Fletcher led the group in giving respectful acknowledgement of the use of traditional indigenous lands.  The evening’s agenda and minutes from the previous meeting were passed unanimously, and after more unanimous agreement to pass changes to policies on respect in the workplace and terms of reference for the Member Engagement and Communications Committee, the more substantive elements of the meeting got under way.

Annual Report

Executive Director Jodi Campbell led the discussion on the council’s annual report, noting that it is usually approved in April but with Communications and Member Services Coordinator Ashley Janes coming on board to help, he wanted to make sure there was extra time for her input.  He commented that the report used a similar template to the previous one, but with many new elements in it due to the novel situation presented by COVID.  He ended by lauding Ashley for her ability to contribute to the document containing nearly a year’s worth of previous content, having only worked on the project for a month.  This report was also approved with unanimous agreement.

Finance Committee Appointment

Director Campbell continued holding the floor as he called for the reappointment of Mark Toews to the Finance Committee as a student-at-large voting member.  He stated, “Mark has been on the committee for the past couple of years.  He has done a wonderful job of participating and being engaged.  When we talked to him about the potential to be re-appointed, he was very eager to extend his opportunity to work with Vice President Finance and Administration Almigdad Eldoma and the rest of the committee.  Students-at-large are eligible to renew their appointments for two years after their first.  This will be Mark’s third year and he’s done a wonderful job so far.”

This section of the meeting ended with a motion to appoint Vice President External Karen Fletcher to the Awards Committee as a voting member, replacing President Stacey Hutchings in the role.  President Hutchings thanked Councillor Fletcher for offering to take the role off her hands, as she is very busy with the main aspects of her work as president.  Both motions were passed unanimously.

Integrated Learning Environment

The President had no comments to give about her own report, pausing briefly to note the resignations of Councillors Monique Durette and Darcie Fleming before passing the floor to Councillor Fletcher and Vice President Community and Wellness Natalia Iwanek for the VP External Report.

The focal point here was the amount of time the SU spent looking at the new Integrated Learning Environment in development as a replacement for Moodle.  One exciting feature the software will support is the ability for students to message each other.  Councillor Fletcher expressed concern about the potential for abuse the feature creates, and asked the ILE development committee about whether there would be the ability to report users for harassing behaviour or block them.  When the response was that they were hoping these situations wouldn’t occur, she insisted that even though much of AU’s learning environment is a “digital campus”, it needs to be a safe one, which requires proactivity and having controls in place.  She was told by the Deputy Provost that the supplier of the software had been consulted and assurance was given that her concerns would be accommodated.  Councillor Eldoma’s time in April was similarly dedicated to ILE workshopping.  He expressed excitement from seeing staff from all faculties together testing out the software, working out an integrated faceplate of how the environment will look, and generating a solid timeline of when it will be done.

Councillor Iwanek commented on the busyness that transitioning to her new role has caused.  She has spent much of her time since the previous meeting attending an Alberta Student Leader Caucus and a diversity and inclusion conference, the latter of which is a first for the SU.  This segment ended at 6:49 pm with Councillor Johnson joining the call.

Executive Director’s Report

Director Campbell opened the discussion of his report by remarking that everyone is aware that April brings a new awards season.  He said, “the awards committee is doing a great deal of work with the spike of activity due primarily to the May cycle coming up.  The staff are busy processing awards applications, then the committee’s work will be to review them.  There is $50,000 in award money to be distributed, and that amount has doubled for the second cycle in a row.”  Some of the Director’s time since the previous session was spent in transition sessions for new executives on the team, which he thanked Governance and Advocacy Coordinator Duncan Wojtaszek for helping to set up.  He concluded by reminding those present that the AUSU Council by-election will soon be run, and there were only a small number of days until the nominations opened.

Recognition and Acknowledgements

Councillor Johnson recognized Councillor Katy Lowe for her work on the awards committee over the last year.

President Hutchings pointed out that Coordinator Janes had finished her first month in her new position, saying, “she has done a great job taking on such a robust role and the organization doesn’t seem to have skipped a beat, so props for that.”

Councillor Iwanek similarly wanted to recognize Councillor Fletcher for her first month in her new role as Vice President External, noting the large amount of learning required in it.  She also thanked Councillor Eldoma for work on the Finance Committee and President Hutchings for her work on the Virtual Food Assistance Program, which she started.

Councillor Fletcher thanked President Hutchings for her networking setups for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) conference.  This allowed both of them to have the chance to talk to other schools’ SUs to see what their interests are and how they can help each other.  She noted that the President has better small talk skills than she does, which was helpful to her for AUSU to connect with other organizations.

The segment ended with Director Campbell stating, “You look at the organization and you start to see the momentum we’re gathering.  Whether it’s the evolution of the respect in the workplace policy, the thriving of the awards program, or one of many other examples.  I just want to take a moment to give kudos to everyone involved for all their hard work.  I think the most important thing to keep in mind is at the core, the AUSU is for the students of the university, and we would benefit from keeping the perspective of providing services for them in mind.”

Questions and Answers

Managing Editor of the Voice Magazine Karl Lowe had two questions.  First, he noticed that in the annual report there is a budgetary surplus of about $200,000, and he was curious about what the SU planned to do with it whether in terms of spending or budgeting.

Councillor Eldoma was the first to reply, saying that the surplus was on the SU’s radar, and that they would be allocating extra funds to awards and bursaries, trying to find different, creative ways to spend it on scholarships and conferences, and that it would be discussed in further detail in the forthcoming finance meeting.  He added that the surplus would likely continue to grow, as more revenue would be coming in from storage and office space that is no longer in use due to COVID, and that the university is still seeing higher than projected enrollment at the moment.

Director Campbell noted that for a couple of years prior to 2021, there was a perfect storm of events to create this surplus.  In 2019 the SU fee was raised from $3 per credit to $3.75 per credit and even before the pandemic the university was seeing a ton of growth in enrollment.  The larger increase in enrollment due to COVID was difficult to budget for, but the main goal is to put money back into student services.  They have already made some headway toward the goal by donating to the AU emergency bursary program, injecting $100,000 back into awards, contests, initiatives, and in general trying to get money back into students’ pockets.

Second, Editor Low wanted to know if a more specific timeline for the new ILE was available, and generally whether there was more information about that project.  Councillor Eldoma responded that the goal is to test pilot the software on 10 courses with faculty in June and to have an official launch by Fall 2022.

Councillor Amber McDuffe wanted to know about whether SU council meetings could be livestreamed on the organization’s Facebook page in the future.  President Hutchings wanted to take a look at doing this, noting that other SUs livestream meetings, that it reduces the pressure of coming into a Zoom room, and that she would be interested in pursuing this option pending approval of the rest of the council.

Director Campbell ended the substantive discussion of the meeting by pointing out the gold ribbon backgrounds that the majority of participants had in their Zoom backgrounds.  He thanked everyone for making the effort to put them up, explaining that they represent a campaign for social change involving reducing anti-Asian hate and racism.

Next Meeting

The meeting came to a close at about 7:13 pm.  The council will reconvene on June 17, 2021 at 6:30 pm MST.  Please write if you wish to attend, or if you want other information about the council and their activities.

[Editor’s Note:  Article written by Kent Provost]