by Jeremy Richards
Thoughtful people must not cede all power to politicians and business interests; we must make our voices heard across the full range of professional, social, and civic circles.
(p. 95: Karr, J.R., 2008, Protecting society from itself: Reconnecting ecology and economy, in Soskolne, C.L., ed., Sustaining Life on Earth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 95-108)


Comments are welcome, but are moderated.
Please see guidelines at the bottom of this page.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

On the budget and "shedding low-value programs"

Paula Simons is on target as usual with her article in the Edmonton Journal on the effects of the GoA's budget on universities.

But she also highlights the statement by the Finance Minister Robin Campbell that the government would "work with the post-secondary institutions to preserve high demand, high value programs and, correspondingly, to identify and shed low-value programs that do not represent good return on investment." (His full speech is available here). Them's certainly fighting words, but we've heard them before. It will be essential for GFC to be ultra-vigilant in this process….

As for the budget hit, a 4.1% cut over the next two years comes close to VP(Finance) Phyllis Clarke's worst case scenario (a 5% cut, which would have resulted in an overall 9% cut to Faculty budgets). I note that, despite promises from the President to keep us all fully informed after the budget announcement, they've in fact been remarkably quiet. I'm sure the lights in SAB will be burning all weekend.

Meanwhile … carry on I suppose?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Settling dust

This has been a momentous and highly emotional couple of days. Many people put an enormous amount of effort into both the resolution at the general meeting, and the alternative solution. In a two-day process, at AASUA Council and then at the general meeting, first your elected representatives on Council affirmed their desire to follow a specific course of action for Bylaws revision, consistent with the current Bylaws; and then over 200 AASUA members voted resoundingly to reject a process proposed by the Association's President, which was revealed by the lawyer hired by the Association to have an agenda to replace Council with a small Executive Board.

It was a meeting that you had to attend to appreciate (too bad it was not live-streamed or videoed). Many members spoke eloquently and passionately against the resolution; almost none spoke for it. Having revealed the true agenda behind the resolution, the lawyer was grilled relentlessly, and I sincerely hope that AASUA never again retains that law firm.

Once the vote was finally called, and it was clear that it had been defeated, the room erupted into applause and cheering. Yes indeed, the members spoke.

President Kane subsequently stated that the process for Bylaw review approved at Council would now proceed.

In closing, this was a tough but perhaps cathartic and useful process. There was real unity in the room after the decision. I sincerely hope that that unity will carry us forward to build a better and stronger Association.

But I would note that, despite the lawyer's denigrating comments about the existing Bylaws and Policies & Procedures, they do work, and actually if you bother to invest the time in reading them fully, they are quite clear (but can and should always be updated and clarified as issues or questions arise). What has gone wrong in recent years is that the Bylaws and Policies & Procedures HAVE NOT BEEN APPLIED. For that, I lay the blame squarely at feet of the PSLA-non-compliant Executive Committee and Officers. I seriously suggest that, in the light of this decision, you resign.

And finally, a commentator here previously suggested that after this process had been resolved, that the main protagonists should make way for a new generation to pick up the torch. I agree. I'm done here, and I will be resigning my seat on Council at the end of this academic year (after 13 consecutive years). As a departing girlfriend once told me, "It's been a slice."

Resolution failed

The resolution at the GMM failed resoundingly -- celebrating at the Faculty Club.

Lawyer proposing eliminating Council

The lawyer at the membership meeting is proposing to abolish Council, and replace it with a 7 to 11 member Executive Board.

This statement has been made as a preface to the actual debate about the resolution. It has prejudiced the entire debate, which is ongoing.

PSLA-compliant election of Officers and Directors of AASUA

It was pointed out at the AASUA Council meeting yesterday that, in addition to the overall Bylaws review process approved at that meeting, if it was seen to be particularly urgent to bring the Bylaws into compliance with the Post-Secondary Learning Act by changing the wording to enable election by the membership instead of by Council, this could easily be done through a quick, separate process.

Very quick, in fact, because a motion was made (by me) to Council to achieve this in 2012 (and has been discussed on this blog since 2010). Unfortunately, that motion was referred to the Governance Committee for development, never to be heard of again. (How much grief could have been avoided if the Governance Committee had simply done its job?!)

So here it is (no charge!):

Revision to Article 10 (Nominating Committee): Deletions in blue, additions in red.
10.4.3 Present to Council the Association membership a slate of candidates for the Officers of the Association (the President, the Vice President and the Treasurer) and members-at-large and, in appropriate years, the Nominee to the Board of Governors. The Officers will normally be drawn from among current or past members of Council, and the outgoing Vice President is normally nominated for President. Nominations for Officers and the Association’s Nominee to the Board of Governors may be received until seven (7) days before the day of the election from members of Council the Association's membership by delivering a written nomination to the Chair of the Nominating Committee, such nomination to be supported by the signatures of at least five (5) members of Council the Association's membership plus the written consent of the nominee. Nominations for members-at-large may be received until seven (7) days before the day of the election from any members of the Association, and must have the written consent of the nominee. 
10.4.4 Present to Council the Association membership for vote or approval a slate list of candidates for Directors, consisting of: For approval: The names of chairs of constituency committees, plus the two co-vice-chairs of the Academic Faculty, elected by those constituency groups from their representatives on Council (7.4.1); For vote: Nominations for the chairs of other committees as defined in 7.4.2, who will normally be drawn from among current or past members of Council. If no chair can be found from among the existing current or past Council members, then the chair of a committee may be nominated from the general membership; Nominations for three (3) representatives drawn from the academic faculty members of Council; Nominations for the positions under and may be received until seven (7) days before the day of election from members of Council the Association membership by delivering a written nomination to the Chair of the Nominating Committee, such nomination to be supported by the signatures of at least five (5) members of Council the Association plus the written consent of the nominee. Council The Association's membership will vote only on nominations under and
Now that wasn't too hard was it?

President's bylaw review resolution — vote No this afternoon

The President's bylaw review resolution is unconstitutional because it is supposed to be followed by a referendum of the full AASUA membership. But this will not happen — the decision taken this afternoon will be the final decision on the matter, and will immediately trigger the lawyer-led bylaw rewriting process.

The Bylaws are quite specific on this matter:
Bylaws 4.3.2: A general meeting of the membership may consider and vote upon a resolution for vote in a subsequent referendum. Any referendum for approving a resolution shall be approved if supported by a simple majority of those who vote. The quorum for any general meeting shall be fifty (50) members. There are two methods by which a general meeting can be convoked to consider whether a resolution should be put to a vote in a referendum [a general meeting of the membership called for either by the members through a petition, or by the President — in this case, the meeting has been called by the President]
Bylaws 4.3.4: The final authority of the Association for purposes of approving a resolution shall be a referendum determined by a ballot of all members of the Association.
At the AASUA Council meeting yesterday, the Executive Director stated that her interpretation of these words was that the referendum will be the vote taken after the bylaw revision has been completed. That seems to be a willful misinterpretation of the very clear intent of the Bylaws, which is that there is a two-step process for enacting a resolution arising from a general meeting:
  • Step 1: The resolution is approved by members at a general meeting (quorum of 50).
  • Step 2: The same resolution is then put to the full membership as a referendum.
Only after these two steps have been completed can the resolution be enacted.

It was also stated at Council that a resolution at a general meeting will "trump" any Council resolution, and that Council has no authority in the bylaw review process, despite the Bylaws clearly stating:
Bylaws 11.2: The bylaws shall be reviewed periodically according to policy established by Council.
The Executive Director went on to say that, although Council did indeed have a policy for reviewing the Bylaws, the procedure was unclear, and therefore, in her opinion, this invalided Council's authority. Apparently the following instructions in the Association's Policies & Procedures are not clear enough:
Policies & Procedures The Governance Committee has the following statutory responsibilities: Periodic review of the Bylaws. 
Policies & Procedures Appendix The Governance Committee shall: Conduct a periodic review of the Bylaws (Bylaws §11.2). This review shall be conducted triennially, or more frequently as required. The committee may recommend changes to the Bylaws, which are considered and approved first by the Executive Committee, then by Council, and are adopted by a two-thirds majority vote of the membership (Bylaws §11.1).
It really is a matter of wonder that the Association's Executive Director would give advice to Council that is so obviously inconsistent with the Association's own governing documents.

As for the resolution itself, it would strike a committee (the Bylaw Amendment Committee) that is explicitly outside the authority of AASUA Council ("The Bylaw Amendment Committee is responsible to the general membership of AASUA (not to the Council, the Executive Committee, the President, or any other entity within AASUA)."), which also contravenes the Bylaws:
Bylaws 5.3: All committees of the Association are responsible to the Council and may not commit the Association unless specifically authorized to do so by the Council.
Clearly, Council has not authorized this committee to exist, let alone to operate outside its authority. This seems like a very flagrant attempt to sidestep Council's authority in this critical matter. As one Council member put it at the Council meeting yesterday, "If Council has no authority, why are we here?"

Regardless, the general meeting today will continue, despite both the resolution and its mechanism for implementation being in obvious non-compliance with the Association's own governing documents.

The matter is not over yet, so please try to find time to attend and vote at the meeting this afternoon:

A vote for the resolution will place the Association in an extraordinary constitutional crisis, with the President claiming a mandate from a small proportion of the Association's membership to disregard the explicit wishes of the elected Council.

On the other hand, a vote against the resolution will permit a more democratic, deliberative, member-driven process for revision of the Association's Bylaws to be conducted over the next 9 months, overseen by your elected Council (in the process approved yesterday by Council).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

General Meeting tomorrow to go ahead

Early indications are that the General Membership Meeting called for tomorrow will proceed, so please still plan to attend and vote. It is not clear what will happen if tomorrow's resolution passes, alongside the motion just passed at Council.

Motions on Bylaws Review passed by Council — GoA grant cut by 1.4% next year, 2.7% the following year

AASUA Council today passed two motions to create a review process for the Association's Bylaws (25 in favour, 18 against) and the constitution of the Bylaws Review Committee (24 in favour, 13 against).

All this while the GoA was announcing cuts to the Campus Alberta grant of 1.4% this coming year, and 2.7% in the following year. Summary details of other measures in the Edmonton Journal.

A double dose of red wine tonight, I think (sadly the effects will be additive, not countervailing).

2,000,000+ visits

Whither has now clocked up over 2 million hits since it was launched in 2010. Thanks for the interest!

GoA Budget Survey

The GoA's on-line budget survey suggests that Albertans (or at least the 40,512 who responded) don't rate higher education very highly — certainly below healthcare and schools.

In answer to the question "Where would you tolerate cuts?", cuts to universities were preferred well above healthcare and education (excluding administration), and even above infrastructure (including roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools).

In answer to the question "Are there options you feel should NOT be touched?", universities were again ranked well below healthcare and education (excluding administration), and below infrastructure.

On the other hand, respondents voted strongly for an increase in the corporate tax rate, a graduated personal income tax, and taxes on cigarettes and liquor to raise revenue, but against healthcare premiums and a PST.

I guess we'll see how much attention the government paid to this survey later today (hopefully not too much on the university funding issue!).