Council Connection—January 20, 2022 Meeting

The meeting was called to order at 6:32 PM by President Stacey Hutchings.  Executive Director Jodi Campbell was announced as the accessibility officer for the meeting and the land acknowledgement was given by VP External Karen Fletcher: “These lands, waters, and living beings in the treaty lands within the colonial borders of Alberta have been cared for by indigenous people since time immemorial.  We condemn the genocide that’s been done and continues to be done against indigenous people through colonialism and we celebrate the strength and resilience of indigenous peoples and their cultures.  We acknowledge that in addition to being denied access to physical spaces, colonialism also sought, and seeks, to restrict indigenous peoples’ access to cultural, spiritual, governmental, and educational spaces.  We acknowledge the expertise of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit cultures and knowledge keepers have and respect their leadership.  We commit to reconciliation and acknowledge this commitment cannot be kept in words only but must be lived out in the actions, processes, and procedures in this organization year after year.”

She pointed to https://native-land.ca/ as a resource for determining which historic territory any given physical location may be in.  Attendance was taken with all present except Councilor Amber McDuff who was regrettably not able to attend.  The agenda for the meeting and the previous meeting’s minutes were approved unanimously, with the only change being an action item from October being added as the Council had not had a formal update on it.

The Money

The meeting was joined by Chad Knippel and Natalia Toth from Kingston Ross Pasnak Chartered Professional Accountants to provide details about their external evaluation of AUSU’s yearly financial statements.  Executive Director, Jodi Campbell wished to emphasize the third party nature of the audit, adding, “There’s a reason why we keep coming back to KRP.  At the end of the day, [it boils down to] our ability to feel confident that our audit is being done thoroughly and in a professional manner.  There’s a reason why we keep coming back, and this year’s no different.  You’re great people, and we enjoy working with you.  KRP definitely does a deep dive; this is a robust audit when it comes to the organization.  Know that what KRP is presenting today is a true reflection of the organization for the year.”

Mr. Knippel then took the floor, saying, “We’re here to answer any tough questions you may have.  We don’t take shortcuts and we feel that our breadth of work experience with other clients helps us to make the SU a better organization through these audits.  We’re not the bad auditors: the CRA.  We’re here to make sure everything is being done properly and correctly, and, if there are deficiencies, we’re there to point them out and help the organization deal with them and become stronger.” He qualified this by pointing out that AUSU is a small organization, so there are limitations on controls for mitigating and limiting certain types of risk.  Ms. Toth added, “We were able to wrap up the audit before the end of December, and everything went very smoothly.” She concluded their preamble noting that they had a long list of requests for Mr. Campbell, which he filled, and that with no documents outstanding all that remained was to present their findings and get the required approval of the statements they had prepared.

They began by explaining that there were some small year-end adjustments between documents the Council had seen internally and those prepared by KRP.  Accrued benefits of tuition coverage for Executive members and vacation time were primary examples.  These deviations are all explained by timing, they said.  Mr.  Campbell gave the case of the Simply Voting expenses for the SU election to illustrate.  Simply Voting expenses are typically paid for in September, but by their nature have their effect (the running of the election) in the subsequent fiscal year.  This essentially defers a portion of these expenses, since the majority of them are used the year after they are paid for.

One option that had previously been discussed by the trio was mitigating the organization’s liability in accrued vacation time by simply paying it out.  Mr.  Knippel pointed out the organization had made $16,000 this year from investments and $13,000 the previous year.  He suggested that it would be reasonable to allocate a lesser amount that could be used within the budget.  For the time being the organization has decided not to take this option.  Mr. Campbell said, “We’ve discussed this a few times with KRP.  We have two pots of money, one for investments and another that is an operating account.  Funds that come in from investments are rarely put into the budget, instead being reinvested.  The difficulty with using these returns as part of the budget is that they’re unpredictable: one year we might get a few percentage points more back on investment, another a few points less, and I’d hate to budget for a certain dividend amount if we don’t wind up getting it.” He concluded the discussion with the comment that the Finance Committee could reconsider this position when the opportunity arises in June or July.

This section of the meeting ended with Ms.  Toth noting that there is $182 remaining in a health and dental fund that had been discontinued.  The vast majority of persons paying into this program have been repaid, however some were unable to be contacted.  She recommended reallocating these monies so this negligible part of the statements could be consolidated in categories that are in active use.  The Council unanimously approved the statements and the choice of KRP as AUSU’s auditors for the coming year.

The Reviews

The next major topic of discussion concerned policies and procedures regarding course reviews.  President Stacey Hutchings kicked it off by noting that the Council had previously tasked the executives with the goal of coming to a settled position on how they’d like to see the university handle reviewing course materials.  The university currently does have a policy on course revisions, but she remarked that it was “light and not very prescriptive”.  The SU has been involved in conversations on this topic with senior university administration, but Ms. Hutchings feels that she wouldn’t want to advocate a particular position on this yet as the university is attempting to bring unity and consistency across all its faculties with its One AU initiative.  She pointed out that courses are now reviewed according to separate procedures depending on which faculty the courses originate from.  The last thing she would want is to insist to the administration on a particular timeline when the process of unifying AU’s faculties is still underway.  She emphasized the administration wants to include the SU to attempt to elicit the most beneficial input for students.

Vice-President External (VPEx) Karen Fletcher added that this is part of a bigger discussion.  She noted that course review is an important piece of how courses are developed but hastened to expand on that by saying that integration of equity, diversity, and inclusion considerations.  In her view, it would be better to tackle these issues holistically, which aligns with the initiative described above, rather than by cherry-picking.  She also expressed her view that it was good that senior administration was receptive to comments about particular courses being problematic.

Vice-President Finance and Administration (VPFA) Leah Campbell commented that senior university administration has admitted that there’s a problem with how course revision is approached and they are actively working toward fixing it, including being open to partnership with the SU.  Vice President Community and Wellness (VPCW) Natalia Iwanek raised the fact that AUSU is also bringing this issue up with individual faculty meetings, in an attempt to constantly keep it under attention.

A significant repercussion of this morass, as President Hutchings noted, is that some courses have been in revision for years and certain students would not be able to take them throughout their programs.  Regardless of the timeline, she’d like to see, above all else, students involved in this decision-making.  A few others reiterated what had already been said, and the general impression I was left with is that the council seems to agree about the general idea of the direction they want to head in here, not necessarily about the specifics.

The Executive Review

Mr.  Campbell began the next section on executive compensation review by stating that the review committee is formed and does their work in the 2nd year of every council term.  His work is primarily supportive in nature on this issue, providing information and perspective for the three committee members: Councillors Cassandra MacKay, Meredith Charlton, and (now VPFA) Leah Campbell (the latter having recently done some totem pole climbing).

Ms. Charlton wished to acknowledge Ms. Campbell’s work on this committee given that she had to step down from it under the weight of added responsibilities in her new role as VP Finance and Administration.  The three reviewed previous executive compensation reviews, did a comparison chart with resources from Mr.  Campbell, and conducted a survey with the executive team.  Their goal was to create an appropriate representation of the unique needs of the executives, while staying flexible and realistic in terms of planning.

Ms. MacKay reported the specific changes and the identified requirement and benefits in this policy.  Identified: a 35-hour work week for the president, 30-hour work weeks for vice presidents, health and dental, vacation and sick leave time, overtime, and a 3 credit course compensation for each 6 months worked.  Changes: the salaries increased about 6.5% (the base pay of all increasing from about 23 per hour to 24.50), an option to choose Alberta Blue Cross or the extant health and dental plan, and an increase from $85 to $90 per month for home office expenses.  Although their raises are above a multiplicative increase of 4.04% percent over two years with standard inflation in mind, these increases were justified by Ms.  Campbell having done some research on the recent increase of cost of living, which she said has “skyrocketed” due to COVID.

Executive Director Campbell answered my question about how the data for the comparison chart were collected by saying that he began collecting them annually from other student associations in 2018, and since then the chart’s compilation and sharing have become a collaborative effort by student associations from across Western Canada.

The Miscellanea

The councillors’ oath of office was amended to emphasize the importance of honesty and integrity, and the need to decolonize the university.  Indigenous Circle Representative Jo-Mary Crowchild-Fletcher will officially take this oath during the next meeting.

Partly paid for by the SU reclaiming monies tied up in the physical space it no longer pays for, a new executive role was recently added: Vice President Community and Wellness.  The primary responsibility is to foster student engagement by (non-comprehensively): chairing the Member Engagement and Communication Committee and the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee; serving as the Executive Committee liaison with the Indigenous Circle; promoting mental health initiatives and advocacy at AU and AUSU; providing leadership and support to the 2SLGBTQIA+ and EDI initiatives at AU; promoting community wellness initiatives and social justice initiatives at AU and AUSU; promoting sexual and gender-based violence prevention initiatives and advocacy at AU and AUSU; remaining active and engaged in the wider AU community including attending AUSU events and engaging with AUSU and AU social media; and coordinating with staff to ensure overall internal and external communications promoting student well-being and highlighting student engagement opportunities.

Another change made was that if a student is elected into a committee voting position, they may now take a token of appreciation instead of pay if they don’t wish to be on the SU’s payroll.

There was some discussion about the SU mirroring the university’s move to a near-virtual work environment.  Executive Director Campbell and President Hutchings highlighted some of the benefits: reallocating rent money to new positions, and more flexible hiring and relocation practices.

VPCW Iwanek was appointed as a voting member of the finance committee.

Councillors Mackay and Councillor Dur-E-Najaf Syed put their names in the hat for a voting role on the EDI committee.  Each made a statement explaining their interest in the role.  Councillor MacKay stated she has always been interested in trying to make sure everyone is heard and respected equally, regardless of their unique points of view.  She is enjoying seeing different points of view on areas of AUSU, and is hoping to rejoin AUSU after the next round of elections.  Councillor Syed would also like to run again, and is also interested in seeing how another committee operates.  She believes inclusivity and diversity is important in every environment.  In her view, this is particularly important for AU because many people can seem invisible due to the school’s online nature.  She noted that she has also sat on similar committees in the past.

VPCW Iwanek, heading the committee, wished to know what one project the candidates would implement if chosen for the role.  Councillor MacKay said that although AUSU is small compared to other students’ unions, she would like to see the EDI committee educate people about marginalized groups that don’t yet get enough attention.  Councillor Syed had a similar position, emphasizing that she’d like to see the committee put effort into recognizing more holidays and observances that don’t currently enjoy much focus.  After a technological delay for voting, Councillor Syed was declared and appointed.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:25 pm.  The Council meets next on February 17, 2022 (6:30 pm MST).  Please contact governance@ausu.org for information about the Council or attending the meeting.

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