October 21, 2014

Show me the money

SG President Tyler Kissinger’s stipend suggestions come at no cost to students.

On October 17, College Council voted in favor of establishing five new positions that will aid Student Government (SG) in performing their roles: a chief of staff, along with directors of finance, communications, new ventures, and technology. Although these appointments are not controversial in themselves, the revelation that the executive slate intends to pay each of these students a quarterly stipend has led to some student concern. Responding to this dialogue, a petition for a referendum on the issue has garnered more than 500 signatures as of Monday evening.  The referendum would ask students whether they believe that “members or appointees of the Student Government (SG) should receive stipends, funded in any part by the University, based on their membership, affiliation, or otherwise-defined involvement in SG.” As the momentum behind this petition builds and a referendum seems increasingly likely, The Maroon Editorial Board would like to express its support for Kissinger’s initiative to pay stipends to the five incoming executive members.

The recent attention given to these five appointments seems to overlook the fact that SG currently pays—and has been paying—certain members of its staff. In a statement posted on the SG website, President Tyler Kissinger points out that the executive slate has regularly paid an hourly wage to one or more secretaries, as well as a web designer, webmaster, and photographer. These existing wages come out of an administrative budget—funds under the control of the executive slate that are meant to cover SG’s operating costs, and are separate from the money allocated to RSO funding. The newly suggested stipends would come from the same source as the existing wages. In an interview with The Maroon, Kissinger clarified that this is possible because SG currently runs under its administrative budget.

That the pot of money funding these stipends is allocated by the executive slate may initially appear to be a recipe for political corruption. But this threat is significantly diminished when this power is considered in context. Appointees to these new positions, although nominated by the president, must first be approved by the Assembly before the question of stipends even comes into play. If it is made clear during this initial approval process that these positions will be paid, then the specific powers of the slate over the stipends are not problematic.

Compensation for these positions has not drawn attention in the past, perhaps because they are all positions that require specific skill sets that SG representatives are not necessarily expected to have. The new appointments, while broader in scope of responsibility, seem to fulfill these criteria as well—for example, building a financial database requires not only time, but also a particular skill set.

Some have criticized the suggested stipends on the basis that students who devote equal or greater time to their RSOs do not receive payment. However, Student Government is not an RSO, but an institution which performs the necessary service of RSO fund allocation for the student body. It is not unusual for institutions on campus, such as the University Community Service Center and the Office of LGBTQ Student Life, to offer stipends or salaried administrative positions to students. The role of student government more closely parallels these offices than that of RSOs. If the student body were to do away with SG’s funding allocation power, there would be no option but to foist these fund allocation duties onto an administrative office within the University, erasing the student voice from any say in where the $2.1 million in RSO funds would go. The cost of a University office performing this task would be much greater than the costs of Student Government, even with these additional stipends.

Although student engagement with SG is important, the negative response to Kissinger’s recent announcement seems largely to be founded on a misunderstanding of the roles of those staff members and the source of the money that will fund them. It now seems likely the petition will receive enough signatures for a referendum to be held. In that event, we suggest students support Kissinger’s decision to offer stipends to certain members of SG’s administrative staff. Or at the very least, they should learn what they’re voting against.

­—The Maroon Editorial Board