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Kunal Patel: OSD note-taking program may suffer from payment change

By Kunal Patel

April 22, 2013 12:05 am

In a policy change across all 10 University of California campuses, the Office for Students with Disabilities has changed its compensation policies for student note-takers.

These students, who are tasked with jotting careful notes during lectures and discussion sections, will no longer be offered monetary compensation for their work, but will instead receive other non-monetary rewards, including brand-name gift cards and digital note-taking equipment.

While some campuses have not made the transition, UCLA has already prepared to hand out these alternative forms of payment.

As anyone can be struck with an injury that could impair one’s note-taking ability, any change to this vital community service should be scrutinized closely.

In the past, the OSD offered note-takers $100 for a quarter’s worth of lecture notes and $25 per discussion per quarter, said Christian Limon, an auxiliary services coordinator for the office.

In the coming months, the Office for Students with Disabilities should pay particular attention to the effects of the transition and consider reverting back to monetary compensation if the switch has a significant negative impact on quantity or quality of the program’s offerings.

This change comes after an external tax audit of the university system, which stated that it was illegal to compensate student note-takers with tax-free stipends and that note-takers should be paid as taxable employees, according to a statement released by UCLA Tax Services Director Scott Monatlik.

This quarter – the first at UCLA under the new policy – the OSD will use remaining stipend funds to finance the alternative reward system.

The program fills between 600 and 700 requests per quarter, assisting about 1,200 students. To ensure that students requesting notes will be provided the same high-quality academic support, the Office for Students with Disabilities needs to keep a close eye on how this policy change will impact both note-takers and recipients.

Jade Ferreira-Yang, a second-year chemical engineering student and a note-taker for the OSD, said she was first attracted to the program because of its financial reward, but continued as she realized she was contributing to an important service on campus.

Ferreira-Yang said she expects the number of note-takers to decrease in the future because the rewards will not be attractive enough to entice new note-takers.

If the program suffers, UCLA should consider expanding compensation options to students in the form of a position as taxable employees.

Because the amount of paperwork involved in adding 300 student employees per quarter is substantial, the volunteer reward system would eliminate the need for students to file taxes for the program, Monatlik said.

However, the balance must be weighed between the inconvenience of an increased amount of paperwork and the risk of destabilizing an important academic support.

By reducing the quality of the rewards from monetary to less-appealing alternatives such as gift cards and advanced note-taking tools, it seems likely that the note-taking program will be more difficult to run in the future.

Email Patel at [email protected].

Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBOpinion.

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