While the meeting on October 20th was shorter than usual, it was certainly an interesting and emotional meeting. The meeting started out as usual, with President Karen Fletcher running through the usual business of attendance, agenda, and previous minutes.
AUSU’s position policies manual was up for review and being updated; Vice President of Finance and Administration Dur-E-Najaf Syed ran through all the position policy changes. Most policies had minor changes such as language and adding resources. Policy 9.02 on invigilation fees has been updated to reflect that AU has closed its exam centers.
Another notable change was to policy 9.28 on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The “Be it resolved that” (BIRT) was updated to add “and remove systemic barriers to education” to the previous statement “Be it resolved that the Athabasca University Students’ Union (AUSU) will advocate to Athabasca University (AU) and all levels of government to acknowledge systemic barriers to education”. As well as adding “Be it further resolved that the Athabasca University Students’ Union (AUSU) will advocate to Athabasca University to ensure that an EDI lens is applied to course content, and that course content is respectful and representative of students’ identities.” to the policy’s BIRTs.
There were some questions as to whether the explanation for the policies needed to be updated immediately and Advocacy Coordinator Duncan Wojtaszek advised that only changes to the BIRT need to be approved by council, all other changes to the position policy manual can be done at any time without council’s review. The motion to pass the updates to the position policy manual passed unanimously.
Council voted to approve these changes unanimously with an action item for the discussed revisions.
A proposed motion to remove the clause stating that disciplinary action can be taken for missing an email vote was brought forward. Vice-President Finance and Administration (VPFA) Syed reasoned that since many council members are volunteers, they should not be penalized for missing an email vote on a weekend or while on vacation. The conversation then moved into discussion on sharing opinions on email voting, Councillor Cilhane Ahmed was concerned that not providing an opinion could result in someone being marked as absent however VPFA Syed clarified this is not the case, participation includes reading the email.
Councillor Amber McDuffe suggested that they remove staff from the council email list for the purpose of confidentiality in the event of dealing with a disciplinary issue. After President Fletcher, Duncan and VPFA Syed provided input, the resolution is to create two emailing lists.
The next topic of discussion was relating to transparency issues with having decisions ratified at a public meeting. “This caused a lot of headaches for the previous council with having to have things ratified at a public meeting” Councillor McDuffe explained. For example, if the motion was regarding letting go of a staff member and the decision is ratified at a public meeting, then this becomes public record, searchable online, and it could negatively impact a person’s reputation.
McDuffe proposed that the policy be amended so that decisions be made public “at the discretion of council” allowing council to decide when a person’s confidentiality needs to be protected and supersedes transparency. Duncan advised that the by-laws do not allow a decision to be made in-camera, all motions of council must be made public however the discussion can be done in private, but you inform the public of the decision that was made. When Amber inquired on how to change the by-laws Duncan responded that the by-laws aren’t going to be up for changing until December 7th, however, he advises against council being allowed to make decisions in private, council needs to be beholden to students. President Fletcher offered an alternative option: decisions be worded to protect any harm to reputations, in the end this discussion was tabled until they can look at addressing the by-laws.
Executive Director Jodi Campbell ended the discussion with a piece of advice to council: email voting should be primarily used for timely votes where you have confidence the motion will pass, and that Council should be careful using email voting for important issues. The motion was put to a vote and passed with unanimous consent.
While reviewing the policy updates by the executive committee, Councillor McDuffe inquired if The Voice Magazine faced legal action how this would be funded. Jodi explained there is a reserve for legal in AUSU’s budget, as well there was also a fund created for the Voice for various purposes including website upgrades and other major items, with expenses from this fund being approved by council. Voice Editor Karl Low agreed that any expense due to litigation against the Voice should be funded by the Voice reserved funding.
President Fletcher presented her report, during which she encouraged all students to fill out the tuition increase survey that AUSU will be distributing “When we walk into the Board of Governors, being able to say that what students are saying about tuition, with some numbers and pie charts attached, is incredibly, incredibly helpful.” The survey will be gathering information related to discussions that took place during the Tuition Town Hall on September 12th, and another town hall was held November 7th. Another way AUSU wants to make an impact during this meeting is by demonstrating how much thirty dollars can impact students through a contest on twitter, where students can enter by posting a photo of $30 worth of groceries. “We have really been hearing students are struggling with food insecurity and this is connected because when you are living paycheck to paycheck something going up means you have to cut something and we are hearing that students are hungry and that’s not okay” President Fletcher said tearfully “Being able to walk into a meeting and being like this, this is how much food you are asking them to give up if you raise tuition that much”. She noted that students are struggling with food insecurity, with one in four students said they were likely or very likely to use the AUSU food assistance program last year.
Advocacy Success Story
At the end of the meeting President Fletcher shared a success story of one of their most recent advocacy efforts. Another council member had tagged her in a social media post from a University of Calgary student who was intending to take a semester at AU due to personal circumstances; they were unable to do so because they could not get funding due to a change in policy from the Alberta Government that limits funding for students in open studies. The student was a program student at another institution, however there was no way to recognize this on the financial aid forms. President Fletcher approached CAUS, together they worked together to create three categories of students including a program student attending on a letter of permission which would be treated the same as a program student attending their home institution, and this has eliminated this issue for future students. “So much of advocacy sometimes feels like you are digging through an escape tunnel with a spoon, you’re making progress but it, sometimes, it feels slow, but this was a win, and it was a win because of the work we do as organization and because one of you was on it on Facebook and so I wanted to say good job team” President Fletcher explained. Unfortunately, this was not able to be done in time to help the student, but she informed the student of the changes, and they were glad to know other students won’t face the same challenge.
The next meeting is November 17th, 2022. But if you’re interested in seeing what else the council is working on, there is no time like the present. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know you’d like to attend!