Tuesday, March 21, 2006

AUSU - A Travesty of Democracy

The Athabasca University Students' Union election results are in, if you can call it an "election."

AUSU has about 28,898 student members BUT ONLY 105 VOTED IN THIS ELECTION. That's less that 1% (actually 0.36%) voter turnout, or one in every 275 people.

All AU students are required to pay SU membership dues based on the number of courses that they take. The problem is that a vast majority of AU students take only one or two courses but their SU elections are held once every two years making it impossible for most students to vote for the council that will govern them.

In addition to this, students who run for AUSU Council do not run on platforms that are position based like in other Alberta students' unions. After the Council has been elected they decide AMONG THEMSELVES who should be the President and fill the other two VP positions for the upcoming two year term. No AUSU student member has any ability to affect this decision as their Council meetings (which are done by teleconference) are not accessible to AUSU members or the public.

The top two student leaders "elected" received ONLY 63 VOTES EACH. Either of these two people, or any one of the other council members (whose vote totals range from a pathetic 63 to 46) could be chosen to be the next AUSU President.

AUSU execs are paid like other Alberta students' unions but the time commitment for the positions are minimal in comparison. In 2004/05 the President of AUSU received $1,500 per month, while the other execs got $1000.00 monthly and each non-exec council member recieved about $400.00 monthly. It is worth noting here that while their new exec positions haven't been announced (this will happen on Thursday), all of the former execs were "re-elected."

To top it all off the AUSU student member gets close to nothing for their mandatory dues. The last Executive Council even ended AUSU's membership in CAUS, effectively reducing provincial representation for their students in the middle of the biggest changes the Albertan PSE system has ever seen.

What kind of Mandate can this executive claim to have from the students?

6 comments:

T. Ross said...

Hello,

I am the Executive Director of the AU Students' Union and I do not normally visit blogs or respond to posts on them. However, when this post was reported to me I had to check it out.

I cannot imagine that people on this site would be particularly interested in the goings on of a students' union that they may not be members of, but anyone is free to comment on our organization.

However, the dishonesty in this post is alarming, and I must correct many of these statements that are directly in opposition to our policies.

Your estimate of our member numbers is way off the mark (we actually have nearly 10,000 more than you report), and yes, voter turnout was poor and we're disappointed.

You say that our members have little opportunity to vote due to their taking only a few courses and elections taking place only once every two years. However, you don't mention that AUSU offers membership for a full year for each half course taken, and for 18 months for each full course, and that this membership is extended by up to six months if the course is extended. This means that a person taking a single full course can have up to two years of membership for one $8 fee and can vote any time during that duration.

You say that our meetings are held by teleconference and are not accesssible to members or to the public. This is blatantly untrue, and anyone who is a member of AUSU would know this. AUSU meetings are held by teleconference specifically so that our members anywhere in the world can attend them. Were they held in person, only those in Edmonton would be able to attend. Every meeting is advertized to the members, and all members are invited to phone in. We pay all long distance charges and have even accomodated members who are living overseas by making special arrangements. Every AUSU council meeting is public, and I doubt any other SU provides access for any member who wants to phone in -- we even had a member phone in from China several times. Every meeting date and time is publicly posted and we have never been unable to accomodate a request from a member who wishes to attend one of our meetings. Why you would claim otherwise is difficult to understand. Our policy has not changed and all of our meetings have been public since the inception of AUSU in 1993.

As far as I know you are not a student of our university or a member of our union.

You say that our executives have minimal time committments. I can't imagine what this is based on. Our president works nearly full-time, as do our other execs, and extensive travel is often required as we are a virtual university. Our president is away from home for this entire week attending university meetings, which constitutes a huge time committment.

I would also say that most students of AU get more for their SU dues than those at most universities, and our members often tell us this. I won't list them all here, but every one of them is listed on our website.

Yes, we did end our membership in CAUS, and as I see that you are in fact the wife of the Executive Director of that organization, I do understand how that might be troublesome for you - especially as our leaving has significantly reduced the CAUS budget. However, this difficult decision was made due to our belief that CAUS was not providing services that were of benefit to the majority of our members at this time, and we affirm that this was our best decision. Your belief that lobby group membership is the be all and end all of what an SU might offer to a student body suggests that you need aren't aware of diverse services provided by students' unions do, and by AUSU in particular. Our membership benefits are enjoyed by thousands of our members, and many tell us that AUSU provides them with much more value for their money than than unions at other universities they have attended. We are also one of the rare students' unions that provide full services and membership to part-time students, even if they take only one course. Additionally, it should be noted that only 40% of our national membership (we are a national university) resides in Alberta, and therefore we are not limited to a provincial focus as the other universities of alberta are.

We appreciate any commentary from our members about how we serve them, but ask that information about our union and its policies not be misrepresented.

Anyone who wishes to review our services may use the provided link.

Beatrice said...

I was a student in a three credit course at Athabasca University from May to August 2005. (I was technically considered an Athabasca student until October.) According to the information presented in the comment above, I am apparently still a member of AUSU. Therefore, I should have been eligible to vote, and if I had chosen to, run in the past election.

Until I read the above comment, I assumed that my membership in AUSU ended when my course ended. None of the information I was sent in my course package from Athabasca indicated to me the information I have read here. I am not certain why this happened. However, if I had known that I was eligible to vote, I certainly would have done so.

Given that AUSU had a low turn out in its recent election, it would make sense for the SU to reach out more to student body to let all eligible voters know that an election is going on and how to register to run in that election. (I don't know if AUSU could do this, but even something as simple as a reminder message when one logs into My AU would be a good start.) I know I would have appreciated it if such an effort had been made to contact me.

I think it makes sense for AUSU not be as provincially focused as other universities in this province given AU's nature. However, I hope that AUSU's decision to withdraw from CAUS doesn't mean that AUSU is ignoring any provincial lobbying. The university is, after all, located in Alberta and subject to Alberta laws. As one of the 40% of Athabasca's Canadian students who reside in Alberta, I hope that issues on a provincial level are not being ignored.

Allie said...

Tamra:

First, let me say thank you for your permission to blog about my opinions/comments regarding your organization.

It’s interesting that your comments seem based on whom my husband is and yet you neglect to explain who your husband is! I am an individual and am not afraid to have a different opinion than my husband, and often do. I am certainly not affiliated with his organization in any way. I’ll admit he likely wouldn’t have given me his blessing to write this post but I didn’t ask him – that’s the joy of free speech (and a good marriage).

I see that you stated you have 10,000 more members that I quoted – which I think questions the validity of this vote even further, making the voter turn out .27% rather than the whopping .36% I had originally stated. Shame. Doesn’t such a low voter turnout suggest the irrelevance of your organization to your students – especially after 5 months of advertising and extending the voting days –you still couldn’t get more than 105 out of an eligible 38,898 students to vote?

Perhaps this has always been they way of AUSU elections but it certainly isn’t democracy at its best and this is the first time I noticed.

My SU activities and experiences span more than a few years and I can say I have seen the good, bad and ugly - but nothing ever quite like this. I think it’s funny that you spent so much time with your comments (accusations?) that you forgot to add the one key point that actually brought you here:

In addition to being a paid fulltime staff member of AUSU you are also the wife of a former AUSU VP, who for the record has been “re-elected” and I suspect will likely be given another Exec position and salary for the next two years. Isn’t that an interesting conflict of interest?

Allie said...

Beatrice:

I agree - and I think your experience is the same as many people I know who have been AUSU student's.

Anonymous said...

Beatrice,

Two mailings about the election were sent directly to all members, and you should have received both. Please contact the AUSU office as we're concerned any time someone does not receive one of our mailings. We can check our member list and ensure that your address is up to date. I am very concerned that you did not receive these. You can contact us by toll-free phone, fax or email. Our contact information is here: http://www.ausu.org/contact/index.php. The newsletters also contained detailed information about the length of membership, as does our student handbook planner and all other media. I hope to hear from you.

T. Ross

Beatrice said...

Tamra- My address is the same as it was when I attended Athabasca, but I'll be certain to check with the AUSU office to ensure that my address with you is correct. I am equally as concerned that I didn't receive mailings that were intended for me from AUSU. As I mentioned, if I had known that I was still a member of AUSU I would indeed have voted in the recent election.