President Karen Fletcher called the meeting to order on January 19th, 2023, at 6:01 PM MT, calling attendance; Councillors Allie Wojtaszek and Rebecca Wuebbolt were absent with regrets.
President Fletcher introduced Chad Knippel and Natalia Toth from Kingston Ross Pasnak (KRP), who completed the 2021-2022 financial audit. As the representatives from KRP may only like to attend part of the meeting, Vice President of Finance and Administration (VPFA) Dur-E-Najaf Syed proposed their presentation be moved to the next item, which was passed unanimously.
Chad and Natalia presented their audit, explaining any adjustments and noting that they received full cooperation from Athabasca University Student Union (AUSU). KRP completed the audit last year and had comments related to prepaid expenses that were booked incorrectly, and concerns with vacation kept accumulating; however, this year, these have greatly been improved. Overall, they declared that there were no significant issues with AUSU’s accounting procedures.
Councillor Amber McDuffe had some questions including why does AUSU’s budget still have a Leaseholds Improvement Reserve Fund when AUSU is virtual and staff work from home? Executive Director Jodi Campbell explained that at one point, AUSU was looking at moving into a building on Athabasca University (AU) campus. Since AU moved to a virtual environment and reduced campus, this could be eliminated. President Fletcher agreed but noted there is a process, and it is likely a decision for the finance committee. An action item was made to look into this.
Following the presentation, the previous meeting’s minutes were adopted, and President Fletcher reviewed the action items. An action item she had completed was to restructure retreats for accessibility, efficacy and cost; she explained they had selected two dates. Council’s retreat will be held in the same location as the Executive Council (EC) retreat, which will occur the days following, and this is also in the same location as a CAUS conference which some of the EC will have to attend. By grouping these retreats and conferences, AUSU can save on costs.
Many policies were apparently discussed at the informal session, which occurs before the council meeting, to improve efficiency and manage time. The results were that, in the meeting, two policy changes were voted on and passed unanimously: Changes to the Alternate Dispute Resolution policy, which was discussed in the last meeting, and a policy regarding awards, which was updated so that applicants must be members on the date of the application unless the award specified otherwise. The last policy change was to simplify the expenditure policy; the new process states expenditures overages, regardless of whether they are budgeted or not, up to $1500 approved by EC, over $1500 approved by Council. Councillor Cilhane Ahmed objected; the motion passed.
Exec Director Campbell discussed passing on the $2 to AU students as a discount with Student Price Card (SPC), they are still working on the logistics of this, but they seemed optimistic. Council agreed that this would be an excellent win for AUSU, and if they can achieve this, Council would be in favour of moving forward with the agreement, “If we are able to get this locked down, look at us, we are going to be leading the way, we’re not going to be looking to other organizations to see what they are doing, we are going to be raising the bar and setting the standard and being like we got this discount for our students, instead of pocketing the money we are passing it on directly to the students and I think that is amazing, thank you for doing the work on this, Jodi, and I am all for this if we can get this worked out” Councillor Amber McDuffe stated. President Fletcher suggested the following amendment: AUSU council approves the SPC student discount card as a new service at AUSU, provided that we can secure the $2 per student discount. The motion carried.
Selection of Auditors for 2023
With the 2021-2022 audit concluded, Council had to choose to appoint a firm for next year. Council motioned to appoint KRP as AUSU’s financial Auditor for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Exec Director Campbell spoke on the merits of KRP, their professionalism, and thoroughly detailed work. Councillor Blake Collett, who has extensive experience with budgets, wanted to congratulate Council on a well-balanced budget for the last three years “When you look at budgets, you are going to see fluctuation, you’re doing to see downs, you’re going to see up, you’re going to see everything, and you gotta look at big pictures with budgets, I have to say this organization is in tremendous shape because when you look at 2020 to 2022, I have never seen a budget go over the three year period and only fluctuate by less than 3%,” he continued, “the fact that you kept it within 3% is virtually unheard of, so it’s clear that good decisions are being made and I wanted to compliment everybody on that, consistency is what you want in a budget.” KRP was awarded the appointment with a unanimous vote.
AUSU is currently updating its bylaws, which require two readings. Any substantive changes to the bylaws require membership notice and restart the process. During this first reading, there was much dissent over clause 4.16 subsect D “Conviction on charges levied against the Councillor for violation of the Athabasca University Code of Student Behavior, provincial law, or federal law.”
Many councillors, including Councillor McDuffe and Councillor Ahmed, were concerned about this clause being unfair and discriminatory. Councillor McDuffe cautioned that this clause could be enacted for trivial things like traffic violations that fall under the Highway Traffic Act, which is a federal law; she also pointed out that some charges are subjective “Kidnapping is subjective, if a parent is caught “kidnapping” their child because they are trying to save them from an abusive parent and they get kidnapping charges, are they removed?” Councillor Ahmed also weighed in, noting that some students live outside of Canada, and it would be difficult to enforce and verify this clause for these students; therefore, this could be discriminatory for students who do reside in Canada. The discussion turned to how laws differ in other countries and students who are in insecure environments, “a woman living in an insecure environment and got in trouble with the law for not wearing her hijab properly, that could be breaking the law in another country”, Councillor McDuffe reminded the group.
Vice President External and Indigenous Circle Representative (VPEX & IC Rep) Trishtina Godoy-Contois warned how this clause could unfairly target vulnerable populations, such as indigenous, who tend to be disproportionately charged with crimes. President Fletcher recognized these concerns but argued that she did not want this clause removed entirely in the event a councillor committed a serious crime, “I never want to be in the situation where we have like – speaking really frankly – someone who raped another student and we can’t get them off council, I don’t think that’s a safe place.”
The discussion then moved into the details of the clause, and whether it was necessary or whether other clauses provided them with the options they were looking for.
It was pointed out that this clause does not require them to remove the councillor, just gives them the option, and it will still require a resolution, and that this would only be effective if the person were convicted of the charges, not accused. Councillors argued on whether other clauses allowed them to remove a councillor and if the removal of this clause would impact their options. Councillor McDuffe reminded them that there is an attendance policy that allows a councillor to be removed for missing three council meetings. If a council member were convicted of a serious charge, they would be unable to attend meetings and therefore be removed.
It was clear that this would need to be amended and require another first reading. Fletcher suggested they have meetings to workshop these bylaws and motioned to table this item; the motion passed unanimously.
The usual reports were then presented, and councillors spoke on the acknowledgements of each other’s work. President Fletcher provided updates on the AU community, acknowledging the passing of AU President Dr. Peter Scott’s wife and passing along AUSU’s and her own condolences. President Fletcher rounded out the meeting with some good news she received upon returning from the holiday break: AU is giving $5000 to the AUSU food bank, which has been received and will be a great benefit in helping food-insecure students.
Check out what Council is up to at www.ausu.org on their news page and find upcoming events on their events page.