Heather Rosen: Decreased USAC funding not tied to councilmembers’ stipends
By Daily Bruin Staff
July 20, 2015 7:04 a.m.
Of the many issues under the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s umbrella, one of the most contentious regards the compensation of the 14 officers who represent the student body. For some, the very idea of having undergraduates paid to work on student issues, especially when there are so many unpaid student leaders, is problematic. Because USAC is the student government, all positions within it must be available to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The reason why stipends exist is to allow students from different financial means to be officers of the association.
After years of stagnating stipends, the 2013-2014 council adopted a standard stipend for the officers. With much debate and controversy, the council approved a Student Government Accounting Services guideline change that mandated stipends shall be “calculated by the current California minimum wage rate based on a twenty (20) hour work week.” Of course, this does not come close to the actual number of hours officers put into their positions; but, at the time, it was considered a reasonable stipend that would allow students from different means to keep themselves financially afloat without having to worry about working multiple jobs. In addition, the provision to tie the stipends to minimum wage was intended to ensure that future councils would not be faced with the moral issue of voting on their own pay.
It came to me as great shock when the Daily Bruin reported that through the passing of its 2015-2016 budget, USAC had voted to “raise” their own stipends. In fact, USAC is not “raising” its stipends – the California legislature is raising the minimum wage, and USAC is simply following its financial guidelines in turn.
The second issue lies with student group funding. The lack of student group funds is not isolated to the Student Organizations Operational Fund (SOOF). Last year, USAC President Avinoam Baral held a town hall where he presented on the decrease in availability of student group funding due to factors such as the soaring number of student organizations. Just in terms of Contingency and USA/ASUCLA Board of Directors Programming Funds, the amount of funding has decreased by 30 percent while the number of student organizations has increased by 25 percent. Many of the funds accessible to student groups are not indexed to inflation, and ASUCLA, which has been struggling financially in recent years, has not had the capability to add more money to the Board of Directors Programming Fund.
The 2014-2015 Community Service Commissioner and Financial Committee Chair took the lead and presented a new fee referendum in the spring election that would work towards systematically addressing the issue, but this modest fee increase of $3 failed. Even this year’s council has tried to maximize student group funding by cutting the Election Board’s and our telephone line budgets to return part of those funds back to Contingency for student groups to use. The Daily Bruin’s presentation of USAC as insensitive and unresponsive to these financial needs is quite simply false. We have looked into these issues and will continue to address them to the best of our ability.
Student groups are the heart of the association. Whether it takes a change in outreach and education about student group funding, a transformation in the limitations placed on SOOF or another referendum on the ballot, the Undergraduate Students Association Council will do everything in its power to ensure that student groups are receiving the financial assistance they need and deserve.
Rosen is the Undergraduate Students Association Council president.