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Editorial: USAC councilmembers’ sudden stipend increase unfair to students

By Editorial Board

July 13, 2015 7:51 a.m.

The original version of this article incorrectly said that all 14 USAC officers voted on the budget. In fact, nine officers voted.

Two years ago, the Undergraduate Students Association Council passed a bylaw amendment officially tying its stipends to the minimum wage, a move that was designed primarily to provide students with financial hardships the ability to apply to and serve at the council table.

Now, however, increased USAC stipends are coming at the cost of an important pool of money dedicated to funding student groups. In a budget passed July 6, councilmembers approved a roughly $13,000 raise to their own stipends in line with an increase in the California minimum wage to $10 an hour in January 2016. In the process, they also agreed to a host of other raises for administrators and other student government-related services.

This created a massive budgetary trade-off, with students and student groups on the losing end; to fund councilmember raises, the budget reduced allocations for the Student Organizations Operational Fund, or SOOF, which covers operations costs for student clubs, by about $30,000. This amounts to a nearly 50 percent reduction of the fund.

Funding for events and groups under the USAC umbrella, however, didn’t bear nearly as much of the burden of the $13,000 in potential funding lost to officer stipends.

Given that only about 40 percent of SOOF funds are currently used, there is absolutely a need to discuss the way the money is allocated. Not only that, but this board agrees with councilmembers who have said in the past that a major goal for the student government moving forward should be to help encourage student organizations to better access and use SOOF funds.

But the argument that less than half of SOOF funds are currently used misses the point – student money is student money, and it violates student trust to make massive reductions to the pool of funds available to student groups when nobody is watching over summer.

Rather than taking unused SOOF money for themselves and their offices, councilmembers ought to double down on efforts to help student groups access funding. And by slicing the pool of available funding in half, USAC is making it nearly impossible for student groups to dramatically increase their use of the fund.

Nine officers on July 6 voted on a budget that saved their own offices’ programming by removing a major portion of student group funding while most of campus, at home or working over the summer, is looking the other way.

Instead of taking the long view and maintaining more of SOOF’s allocations while working to ensure student groups can access SOOF funding, this council instead narrowed its vision to see only the victories for its own offices’ programming and the end result for its members.

Without immediate action to remedy this problem, or at least outreach to student groups, this council threatens to send a dangerous message to the student body: USAC’s needs, so it seems, are more important than yours.

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