The land acknowledgements, agenda, and minutes were quickly read through and approved, and Council moved on to the business of the evening. The first order of business was for the Councillor Oath-of-Office to be read by the newest member of Council, the appointed member from the new Indigenous Circle (IC). However, this motion was tabled as it was noted that the IC had not seen the oath and determined if it was an acceptable requirement for their appointee, and Council felt that, to be fully respectful to the group, it should put this particular item off until it had had time to considered by the circle.
The next item on the agenda was the approval of the AUSU budget. In this budget AUSU is estimating revenues will be going up by 30,000 over the coming year with a corresponding increase in expenses. However, this expense increase is not simply all across the board, as expenses are expected to be reduced by almost 25,000 in operations which includes the savings on office space as AUSU has closed its permanent office and has rented a storage space for needed materials. This savings (of nearly 42,000) was offset by a significant increase in the salary and related expenses that come from AUSU increasing staffing to have a dedicated social media coordinator.
Expenses are also going down in the Member Engagement and Communications category, with over a $19,000 reduction from the previous year. In particular, I noted that the amount being spent on career services was being cut almost in half, from 20,000 to 12,500. However, it turned out that this did not come from any scaling back of the career services that AUSU offers, but rather because the first year of AUSU’s online resume service, V-mock, had significant setup fees to ensure the resumes are reflective of AUSU’s unusual demographics, but those set up fees only need to be paid the first time. There were also some savings in this category as AUSU is reducing the amount they are spending on convocation, moving more to email communications as opposed to postal, and have certain expenses that only need to be paid on alternate years such as for email credits to publish their newsletter to all AUSU members.
The Awards category is seeing funding increasing by about $5,000, making awards now worth 8% of AUSU’s total budget, a slight increase from last year where it comprised 7%.
The largest increase in spending, however, came in the Governance and Leadership category, a direct result of AUSU expanding to have four executive council members, as well as additional committees such as the Indigenous Circle now operating. These changes lead to an increase of spending in the category of more than $50,000.
Finally, the advocacy category of AUSU’s budget saw a significant increase as AUSU has now joined the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) as well as the previous membership to CASA. This means an increase in the membership fees AUSU pays of $16,500, with a corresponding increase in expenses to send delegates to the various meetings these groups hold.
The vote was called and passed, but not unanimously. Councillor Amber McDuffe voted against the budget making the final vote 10/1.
I contacted Amber after the meeting to ask why she voted against the Council, and she noted that she had concerns about the travel budgets increasing so much and felt the Executive team should “advocate for more virtual meetings with our provincial and federal counterparts, for starters.”
“I also didn’t agree with the spending on some services such as LinkedIn Learning and Vmock. The numbers are trending downward and there just isn’t enough use for these services,” she continued. “Our team is very passionate about what they do and the work they’ve put into these services but I just don’t feel the student body as a whole is getting a lot out of it.” She also noted that there are already similar things out there already available for free to students, such as Khan academy and coursera.org.
Finally, she pointed out that the budget contained a sum of money set aside for a research grant proposal at AU, but the details on the proposal itself had not been made available at that time.
I also contacted AUSU’s Executive Director, Jodi Campbell for his comment on these items.
He noted that while the numbers for LinkedIn Learning were down in June and July, they did not see this as trending down, as AUSU tends to see lower use of services during the summer months. “Our annual stats are very positive, and since early 2020 (pre-pandemic) LinkedIn Learning has seen great engagement with students.” He noted that over the past 12 months, AUSU has had 3,537 new unique students use the service, with nearly 5,200 subscriptions activated. “We have 6,922 available LinkedIn Learning Seats on our account available with 5,185 activated seats. Based on these numbers the usage is really solid and the Council is happy with it.”
When it comes to VMock, AUSU’s resume review service, he told me that AUSU is piloting the service until September 2022 “to ensure we give it a solid run and gather stats to help [Council] make their decision. We have just under 200 students who have used the VMock online resume review service to date.” He also noted that during the coming year a push will be made both through AUSU and through AU’s career counselling staff to let students know about the service and what it’s benefits for them are.”
Acknowledging that uptake was slow in the beginning, he pointed out that it’s been much better since mid-2021, and they’re hoping to see the usage numbers trend upwards. “If they don’t, at least we can say we gave it a solid try. Our survey data shows us that AU students were looking for this type of career support with their resumes.”
Finally, when it came to the research proposal project, he explained that AUSU had received a proposal from AU Professor Dr. Tobias Wiggins, seeking support for a Trans Research Center at AU. The Executive Team is currently reviewing the proposal but felt it appropriate that Council approve an allocation of $2,000 to potentially go to this proposal.”
I also took the opportunity to ask Amber if she felt being the lone voice to vote against the budget might have repercussions or be cause for some resentment or strife on Council in the future, and she assured me that she didn’t feel that would be the case, “The great thing about our team on council and on the committees is that we all come from diverse backgrounds and we all have very differing opinions on issues. While this might sound like it could cause a lot of conflict, it actually doesn’t, and I don’t feel my opposition to this will cause any problems further on. We all respect each others’ views and opinions.”
And that seemed to be the case in the meeting as after the vote, Council moved on to the Executive Workplan, the document that indicates what the executive team (and hence AUSU as a whole) intends to focus on over the year. It received unanimous approval without any significant discussion.
Council then moved to rescind the AUSU position policy 9.10, “Athabasca University’s National Presence” which advocated AUSU joining an organization with a national presence, which AUSU accomplished when they joined the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA).
Personally, I tend to feel that AUSU should avoid removing position policies unless the position itself has changed. If the current goal has been met, then change the resolution to reflect that but leave the position policy in place as, if nothing else, a guide to future councils. In this case, a guide as to why continued membership in these outside organizations is important. The motion was passed unanimously.
The next motion, approving an updated copy of the remainder of the position policy manual, brought on much discussion. Councillor Amber McDuffe noted concerns about the course development policy, particularly on issues of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), and whether there should be timelines established in the position policy for how courses should be reviewed and updated.
Vice-President Finance and Administration (VPFA), Almigdad Eldoma, noted that EDI issues were covered in a later position policy, but took the question of timelines to Council to deliberate. General agreement came from the Councillors that a timeline might be a good thing to include but there was significant discussion about the details this would take.
Vice President External (VPEx), Karen Fletcher, noted that the timeline language should include “if necessary” because attempting to direct AU to change textbooks when the material hadn’t changed would not be accepted by AU. She also, as talk moved to asking for a biannual update, noted that given the time it takes to update courses, there is simply no way that AU would ever agree to a two-year update cycle. “One of the things we don’t want to happen is for them to close courses because the textbooks are too old. If they change the text, they have to change all the course material that goes with that textbook, so questions, page-number citations, … if we said every five years, the senior administration might agree to it because it’s feasible.”
Councillor Cassandra MacKay brought up the point that if AU can’t afford to provide the most recent textbook version, they should at least ensure updates are being brought into the study guides for people’s courses.
Amber noted that when it comes to proposing things to AU, “the more ambiguous we are, the more they take advantage of it. The bio courses are old, for instance, and the textbook is no longer published yet we’re still using it. You can’t even get paper copies anymore but AU’s still fine with using it.”
Preseident Stacy Hutchings noted that this all seemed like something the executive should look into further, but the discussion was getting far into minute details at this point, while the motion was on general approval of the entire policy manual as a whole. She questioned if these desired changes were something that were required before people would feel comfortable voting for the proposed motion.
Councillors Leah Campbell, Regan Johnson, and Amber McDuffe all noted that they would like an action item added to the minutes and next agenda to further develop the course editing policy and provide more proposed direction to AU as to timelines and course revisions that AUSU would like to see.
With that, the vote was called and motion to approve the current policy manual was approved unanimously. An action item was also added to the minutes and next meeting agenda.
The final piece of new business on the agenda was the appointment to the Executive Compensation Review Committee. Three non-executive members, one being from the finance committee, are tasked with investigating executive compensation packages at other students’ associations and universities and making a report with recommendations to Council as to changes to how the executives workload is distributed and how they are compensated for doing so, in line with the general practice of other organizations. Councillors Cassandra Mackay, Meredith Charlton and Leah Canpbell were appointed to the committee.
With that council moved on to reports, which, as this had been the first meeting since the one in early July, contained reports for both July and August. However, this still went very quickly as the current councillors tend not to add any details to or go over points of particular interest from their presented reports, instead trusting that fellow councillors have actually read them and will present any questions they might have.
At the acknowledgements section of the meeting, Councillor Cassandra Mackay wanted her fellow Awards Committee members acknowledged for their quick work in ensuring a rapid turn-around for awards applicants, VPEx Karen Fletcher took a moment to acknowledge AUSU’s newest staff member, Samantha, who handles AUSU’s social media and how she came in during such a busy period with the Get Out the Vote campaign for the federal election being in full swing. She also wanted to acknowledge staff member Duncan Wojtaszek for his behind the scenes help for various events and the Get Out the Vote campaign.
President Stacey Hutchings wanted to thank VPEx Karen Fletcher for the Get Out the Vote campaign, noting that even CASA acknowledged some of AUSU’s actions during the campaign.
The meeting adjourned with the next meeting of Council scheduled for next week, on October 21, 2021. If you’re interested in attending live, contact email@example.com. AUSU Council welcomes observers and includes Q&A periods at the beginning and end of each meeting if you’re curious about any details.
Also, if you’re interested in AUSU Council Meetings at all, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, as we are currently looking for a council meeting reporter. This is a paid position that requires being able to come to the monthly meeting (typically on a Thursday at around 6:30pm for an hour or two), reading up ahead of time on what will happen, and writing a report (likely much shorter than this one, as budget meetings have a lot of detail) on what you heard while you were there.