The meeting convened at 6:30pm with Councillors Jesse Poriz and Regan Johnson absent. Jesse had sent in his regrets and Regan arrived slightly later in the meeting. Vice President External (VPEx) Karen Fletcher read the acknowledgement of operating on traditional lands, and noted that “as an organization, AUSU is committed to decolonization.” It was also pointed out that individuals can find the treaties and tribes involved with the place they live by going to https://native-land.ca.
The action item from the last meeting was discussed, to review the period between AU course reviews, and Vice President Finance and Administration (VPFA), Almigdad Eldoma told Council that the Executive had heard from AU that if there is a course that has obvious red flags, such as wording or phrases that are non-inclusive, those things don’t have to wait and contacting the course-coordinator or Dean of the faculty will lead to it being adjusted right away.
VPEx Fletcher also pointed out that she maintains a spreadsheet of courses and problems with wording and other items in them. “It’s a very depressing spreadsheet.” President Stacey Hutchings also noted that meetings with AU senior management are ongoing.
Council then moved on to the new business, with the first item being the Oath of Office that was delayed from last meeting, as they had wanted to receive the Indigenous Circle’s (IC) input on it, before having the IC’s representative, Jo-Mary Crowchild-Fletcher swear to it. However, now with the input received, Council looked at it and had some questions and concerns as to the new wording, noting that it suggested Council’s main work would be decolonization, and that another section seemed to be an incomplete sentence. Because of these, they chose to table the motion until they could get some clarification from the IC, and, once again, Jo-Mary goes without having her oath available.
Accessibility and Accommodations
A new policy regarding Accessibility and Accommodations was placed before Council and Vice President Community and Wellness (VPCW), Natalia Iwanek spoke to the rationale for it, explaining that the executive had been trying to identify areas of policy where gaps may exist, and had found this area was one such gap. She noted that the hope is that this policy makes AUSU as an organization more accessible for the disabled, chronically ill, neurodiverse, and others, and that this policy is just the start and that it expands further as required.
The next policy on the agenda was about staff hiring, and a lot of discussion erupted on this policy as Councillor Amber McDuffe noted that the added word “compatibility” could be seen as highly subjective in the policy line reading “Selection shall be based on the candidate’s skills, experience, availability, compatibility, and experience, as ascertained through the candidate’s resume, interview and reference checks.”
Executive Director Jodi Campbell noted that the actual manner in which people are hired has not changed and would not change if that word was or was not present, noting that “any of us who have been part of a hriing committee, a lot of the times what you’re looking for is a good fit, and you’re right, that is a very subjective thing, however it’s also extremely important, and I think when you’re looking to fill in members of your team, fit is important, compatibility (whether that’s the proper term we should be using) is important.”
VPCW Iwanek added, “For me, compatibility can be taken in the sense that … AUSU as an organization has certain values that we stand for and certain things that we advocate for and if someone is against what we’re trying to accomplish, that could be a bit of a conflict. It’s difficult.”
President Hutchings noted, “When I think about compatibility for hiring at AUSU, it’s important that the person values and is passionate about education, because that’s the sphere we’re in. To me that’s what compatibility is, someone who really values being in it.”
There was also discussion going on in the chat that runs alongside the Zoom meeting of Council, where Councillor Leah Campbell noted that “Compatibility with the organizational culture is a huge HR trend.”
“I just think,” explained Councillor McDuffe, “that it’s really important that our wording comes across the way we want it to come across. Maybe we can elaborate more on that line, just to make sure that we are going to be taken the way we want to be taken. So that nobody can use that against us or take it out of context.”
VPFA Eldoma noted he was in favor of taking the word out and revising the policy with better language at the next round of policy revision.
However, Councillor Cassandra disagreed, noting that “I definitely feel if we don’t change the wording than we should leave it as is, because taking it out altogether might impact anyone who happens to read it more than leaving it in.”
After some general polling of the group, it was determined that the word would be removed before the policy was voted on, at which point it passed unanimously.
Scholarships Awards and Bursaries
The final policy on offer tonight was a revision to the Awards and Bursaries policy, and this policy also caused a lot of discussion among the Council, as the policy was being changed so that the emergency computer bursary would not have applications accepted during the regular award application periods, due to the large amount of work these applications caused staff during the regular awards period with very few qualifying students.
It was quickly pointed out that emergency computer bursaries could still be made, but students interested would be directed to talk to the Executive Director before submitting an application, so as to lessen the number of students who were applying to “just see what they could do.”
Councillor Amber McDuffe again lead the concerns noting that she was “not a fan of shutting down the computer bursaries on certain months,” noting that “many students only look at awards during the awards season.”
VPex Fletcher responded that “Noting that our staff time is a limited resource, especially during those months, this works to help reduce the time staff will have to spend during the busy season with applications that are not qualified.”
Executive Director Campbell explained, “We’ve been reviewing this for three to four award cycles, and a lot of conversations have been happening with Jamie, our admin assistant. She’s part time and helps to administer the awards program. I would not have proposed this change to the Awards committee if it wasn’t something that the committee seriously needed to review.”
He noted that Awards Committee should consider “Jamie’s ability to process upward of 270 award applications as the Awards Committee doesn’t even see many of the ones that she addresses. If the Awards Committee as a group is looking at 200-250 award applications, Jamie and the staff have looked at 300 or more.
“The month Jamie joined, we had over 32 computer bursary applications submitted, with many of them just students seeing what they could do. Four ended up being approved. … Organizationally, this is something I would seriously recommend for Council to consider, it’s not about creating barriers, but rather about trying to make the awards program more efficient.”
Councillor Dur-E-Najaf Syed noted that Jodi had convinced her a bit, as she doesn’t want to give someone a whole lot of extra work, but that “I just feel wrong about pausing the applications … because AU is entirely computer based, and a lot of students might feel stigmatized or ashamed about having to apply for these things, and, like Amber said, it does feel like a kind of extra step.”
Councillor Eva Notter responded “I don’t see it as much of an extra step. But if it was me, and I actually needed a computer, I wouldn’t see it as paused, because the very next sentence says they can still be considered by contacting the executive director.”
Councillor Meredith Charlton added, “If we’re basing it off of how previous award cycles have gone, how the majority of applications had not been emergency situations, we should base it off that. … We don’t have to make this permanent, and if we see problems we can revert back but I don’t think it would hurt to try it. I don’t see it as too much of an extra barrier if you really need a computer.”
Councillor Cassandra Mackay pointed out that “Everyone’s definition of emergency is different. There could be people who really are in emergency situations and decide they’re not because there’s others with greater needs than them. There could also be individual, as we’ve seen, who think they have an emergency when they don’t. Either way, there’s a negative but I’d rather read an application that doesn’t meet the criteria rather than know someone who really needed a computer didn’t apply because they didn’t consider their own case an emergency.”
Meredith then wondered if a compromise could be made advertising that an inquiry to the Executive Director could be made.
VPEx Fletcher felt that anybody sitting there wondering if they qualify as an emergency would not be further put off by having to contact the Executive Director as opposed to just filling out an application.
Councillor Leah Campbell expressed that “All awards and bursaries come with eligibility criteria. Having to email to describe your eligibility is not a far cry from standard eligibility tests. It seems like a fair compromise.”
Councillor Syed maintained “I don’t like the idea of having to ask for permission to apply. I agree with what Cassandra said”
Councillor Katy Lowe reminded that students who are going through a crisis or emergency are encouraged, both by AUSU and the other students, to contact AUSU. To her this did not seem much different, and noted that AUSU should be using evidence from the applications thy’ve been receiving and noting how many are truly emergency applications. “What we need to do for a decision like this is to look at the data.”
Amber countered, “We have to remember that, yes, staff time is important, but this is their job.”
Cassandra added “If they don’t have a computer for financial reasons, they may not even have a cell-phone,” pointing out that simply receiving an email back from the Executive Director confirming that they should apply for the bursary may be difficult for them, if they have to trek to the library for their email use, for example.
Councillor Regan Johnson noted that students are going on to the website to see if the application is available for the computer, “I don’t feel that’s any more of a barrier. We’ve received plenty of applications but we’ve maybe only approved a dozen, if that.”
The question was called, and the policy did pass, although Councillors Amber McDuffe, Cassandra MacKay, and Dur-E-Najaf Syed voted against.
My two cents? I was surprised that nobody stopped to ask “What gets delayed if we don’t do this, and is leaving students be free to submit without contacting the Executive Director to see if they’re just wasting their (and staff’s) time worth it?”
Updates and Reports
Executive Director Campbell provided an update to the awards program, noting that, during this meeting they were currently right in the middle of the awards application period, once again being able to double the number of awards given. For this awards cycle, that doubling was made possible by a donation from Athabasca University of 90,000 that would be split between the awards and the virtual food assistance program. “So once again for this year, we’re really, really proud to be able to say that our Awards Committee is going to be really busy.”
He noted that with 120 applications already in half way through the month, there were plans to significantly increase promotion of the awards so that the money could reach the students.
VPCW Iwanek provided an update on Pride Week that took place on October 25-29, noting events had been planned with the 2021 Writer in Residence, Joshua Whitehead, as well as Dr. Tobias Wiggins. There would also be Pride Theme Podcasts and special editions of the AUSU Newsletter created.
Most of the reports flew by, as I’m sure most of Council was fairly tired by this time, but Executive Director Campbell did point out during his report that the new course review system was doing excellent, as the old system had received about 800 reviews over five years, but the new one, supported by some additional prizes, had amassed over 1,600 reviews in a single year.
Recognition and Acknowledgements
A shout-out was given by Councillor Leah Campbell to those who did the development of the Accessibility policy, with VPEx Fletcher noting that it was Natalia’s work, “She’ll say it was a team effort, but the team was mostly her.”
Thanks were also given to Karen and Katy for their work on the podcasts, to Regan for her running of the AU Awards Committee, as VPEx Fletcher noted, “I serve on a small AU committee, and I can’t tell you just how organized AUSU’s committee is by comparison.”
Acknowledgements were also put out for the Indigenous Circle, and to those who helped make the Pride events a possibility and those who helped put together the AUSU survey.
Also Amber gave thanks to Jo-Marie for pointing out some materials and research to help her with a situation she is having at work.
President Hutchings also wanted to thank absent Councillor Jesse Poriz, noting that he had resigned from Council, “I want to acknowledge the work and service he put in in his short term here, but he’s moving to New Guinea and got some insane opportunities there soon.”
With that, and another long meeting in the books, Council adjourned until this Thursday, November 18, 2021.
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