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Student groups sign letter asking USAC to defer stipend increases

By Hee Jae Choi

Nov. 26, 2013 12:39 a.m.

Student group leaders plan to present a letter to theundergraduate student government tonight asking councilmembers to defer their stipend increases until next year and pass a bylaw amendment to prevent future councils from raising their own stipends.

The letter asks that members of Undergraduate Students Association Council return the stipends they would receive for the remainder of the year back to the USAC fund that supports student group operations, said Taylor Bazley, an executive chair of Bruin Alliance and fourth-year political science student.

Some student group leaders, including Saundra Albers, president of Bruin Democrats and third-year astrophysics student, and William Chakar, chairman of Bruin Republicans and third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, said they are also planning to attend the meeting and voice their opinions during the public comments section.

So far, 17 student groups have signed the letter, which executive board members of Bruin Alliance’s student group began drafting two weeks ago. The Bruin Alliance slate ran two candidates unsuccessfully in the USAC elections last spring.

Councilmembers increased their stipends by about 90 percent from $355 to $672 with a vote of 8-1-0 on Aug. 6. Councilmembers also voted to proportionally increase the stipend caps of student group leaders and other USAC members at the same meeting. The increase in stipends tied the councilmembers’ pay to California’s minimum wage of $8 per hour.

“We want to get across to (the council) that students and student groups are angry (about) this,” said Bazley, who is also a member of Theta Xi, another organization that signed the letter. “It’s not just students from one small sector … It’s students from all over UCLA.”

In addition to cultural groups, such as Afrikan Student Union and Hillel at UCLA, political student groups, including Bruin Republicans and Bruin Democrats, have also signed on to the letter.

USAC President John Joanino and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Jessica Trumble are currently working on a bylaw amendment that would bar future councils from increasing their own stipends.

USAC Internal Vice President Avi Oved said his office is separately working on a bylaw amendment that would accomplish the same goals with Jacob Ashendorf, USAC budget review director. Although Oved said he is open to collaborating with other councilmembers on the amendment, he decided to work separately from Joanino and Trumble because they didn’t approach him about writing the amendment.

The stipend increase led to a $35,000 deduction in the USAC Student Organizations Operational Fund which subsidizes some student group expenses. SOOF funding also decreased this year because the number of student groups that applied for funding increased by about 30 percent this fall, Ashendorf said.

The leaders of Bruin Entrepreneurs signed on to the letter because they received about $100 less than they were expecting from SOOF, based on previous funding allocations, said James Liu, the president of Bruin Entrepreneurs and a third-year economics and psychology student.

The officers might have to reduce the number of speaker events held throughout the quarter and fundraise more because the reduction in SOOF allocation is limiting the club’s advertising budget, Liu said.

Bruin Republicans signed on to the letter because they think the stipend increase constitutes a conflict of interest, said Chakar.

“I think the ethics of office always trumps bureaucratic work,” Chakar said.

USAC officers have individually talked to some student group leaders about the stipend increase and the various funds that are available for use to student groups, but they have not formally reached out to student groups for feedback, Joanino said.

The stipend increase has bought her 25 hours per week of free time that she no longer has to devote to part-time jobs said Savannah Badalich, the Student Wellness comissioner.

Being a liaison between students and the administration, Badalich said she thinks she and other councilmembers have to dedicate more hours to their jobs than student group leaders spend on their work.

If USAC doesn’t respond to the letter, Bruin Alliance may try to put a student referendum on the ballot this spring that would require USAC to get future stipend increases approved by students said Nicole Fossier, student group liaison for the internal vice president’s office, Bruin Alliance executive board member and fourth-year political science and psychology student.

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