The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s decision to almost double its own stipends cost more than just the public’s trust in the ethical judgment of its student representatives.
Student groups who rely on USAC to allocate money from student fees to fund their activities and events will now feel a real monetary loss as a result of that decision.
Partly because of the recent increase in councilmembers’ stipends, which was approved in August by a 8-1-0 vote, student groups will not receive as much funding this year as they did in previous years.
A student group seeking USAC support from its programming submits an application to the Budget Review Committee and is allotted money from the Student Organizations Operational Fund, or SOOF. Last year, groups were allocated, on average, $480 in funding for the school year, said Jacob Ashendorf, USAC budget review director.
This year, that average dropped by about 23 percent to $370. While 54 more clubs applied for funding this year than last year, the fact remains that the council pulled $35,000 from SOOF to cover its newly boosted stipends and refused to backpedal in the face of outcry from students and this board.
USAC justified its pay increase with the argument that low stipends for councilmembers and their staffs would exclude those who wished to serve, but did not have the means to work many hours at low pay.While access to leadership positions in undergraduate student government is an important issue, this consideration does not preclude the council from weighing the ethical implications of approving immediate pay raises with students’ money.
As this board has stated and restated, this conflict of interest could have been avoided had the council approved a stipend increase for next year’s council. Had the council pursued this course of action, it would have also had sufficient time to foresee and accommodate for the fiscal implications of the increase.
The present shortfall in SOOF is also further evidence that the council should have postponed its vote on stipend increases until the academic year began, when students would be present to give their input.
At its Tuesday meeting next week, it is imperative that USAC revisit the subject of its increased stipends and take the initiative to amend its bylaws to prevent future councils from making similar mistakes.
For now, student organizations will be burdened with the search for alternative sources of funding, as opposed to committing their time to furthering their groups’ programming efforts.
USAC should be concerned with making student government positions accessible to all undergraduate students, but rushing into decisions at the cost of tens of thousands of student dollars demonstrates a surprising lack of foresight. This episode should be a cautionary tale.