For students that rely on financial aid, it is often difficult to balance time between work-study jobs and extracurricular activities. Sometimes, financial necessity prevents students from engaging with student groups at all. That’s one of the reasons why WSA Coordinator Bradley Spahn ’11 proposed the Student Leadership Stipend, which would pay student leaders for their work within extracurricular groups. In doing so, those who are not financially able to forgo having a job in order to participate in a student group might have the opportunity to do so.
Last Sunday, however, Spahn’s proposal was snuffed by the WSA’s general assembly amid concerns about the viability of such a stipend.
“I was disappointed,” Spahn said. “I think that the assembly doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of the problem and they really need to re-evaluate where their priorities are. This should have been a top priority of the WSA. [We give] $60,000 to senior cocktails and this is a better use of money. I want to see students have a better chance of taking on leadership roles rather than funding massive parties. We should do both, but this is a better use of money.”
While several WSA members voiced their opinions in support of the resolution, extensive debate and a final rejection of the resolution proved that several contentious details exist within it. Even with a revised version of the resolution from the previous week, the resolution failed with nine approvals, 15 rejections and six abstentions.
Becky Weiss ’10 is concerned about how much this stipend would cost the WSA and whether or not they can receive outside funding for it.
“It’s assuming that it would be subsidized by work study but that’s not a fact yet,” Weiss said. “It’s problematic to vote on something like this without that information. The biggest problem here is that funding stipends takes money from student groups and events. Last year we had a surplus, but we’re not on track for one this year and we can’t assume that one will be available in the future.”
Even so, Weiss is not opposed to the stipend in principle.
“I’m willing to consider it with specific data and a better plan to carry it out,” she said. “I like the resolution, just not the way the plan would be executed.”
Federal funding for the project is not assured. Currently, the University receives a limited number of federal work study grants, and there is no guarantee that it could acquire more as Spahn hopes it will.
“Our WSA office coordinator, Lisa Hendrix, would apply for new work study jobs. If they didn’t come through we would still keep the same number of stipends,” said Spahn. “[Funding] depends on whether other departments are making cuts and if the University is giving more work study lines and how many international students, who are not eligible for work study, apply, for whom the WSA would pay the full stipend.”
Spahn feels that after examining some of the issues, he can turn some of the abstentions into support for the resolution.
“The next step is to work with Tim Shiner, [Director of Student Activities and Leadership Development] and see if we can’t get something set up that the assembly would find more palatable,” said Spahn. “I know there were six votes between last night and it passing. I know I have at least one, so it’s just a matter of how to get the other five and you’ll see it again in April.”
The resolution presented on Sunday states that the stipends would have pay equivalent to that of a work-study job. However, WSA members remained skeptical of the resolution without the guarantee of this feature. Even if a portion of the stipend would be accounted for by the federal government, each student would end up paying money for the stipend through the student activities fee. At the meeting this Sunday, members discussed if spending money from the student activities fee is a good use of the money since it would take away funds for student groups.
Spahn recalls a similar proposal three years ago that also failed.
“So the original idea was to get Student Affairs, which is part of the administration, to pay,” Spahn said. “But in light of current budget cuts, that is not an option, so I thought about it and I really think this measure is worth students’ money. The little that students pay is worth the benefit to get great student leaders, and the students who get stipends would have great student leadership.”
At the meeting, some members discussed how using money from the student activities fee would force the Student Budget Committee (SBC) to act more conservatively in order to ensure enough resources would be available for student groups. Other members questioned whether taking more money away from the SBC would interfere with the recent establishment of the WSA Endowment, in which money that the WSA does not spend is deposited at the end of the year to eventually decrease the student activities fee, possibly eliminating it altogether.
According to Weiss, however, the Endowment is only a peripheral issue; the WSA should not count on a surplus, but instead on adequately funding student groups.
Members questioned how recipients of the stipend would be chosen. Apart from being eligible for financial aid, it remains unclear how student leaders would be defined.
“Defining what [a] student leader is difficult,” said Justin LaSelva ’09. “I think it should be broader than just [the] leader of a student group but I don’t know the threshold of participating in a group and when it becomes leadership.”
In addition, members debated the ways in which students receiving the stipend would be held accountable for hours spent working in their group. With the resolution, students would submit the number of hours worked. The question remains how the WSA would confirm these claims.
Despite these issues, members voiced their support for the nature of the resolution and its potential to allow for more diversity in student leadership.
“I’m a work-study student myself and I haven’t been able to do as much on campus these past four years because I have to work to support my education,” LaSelva said. “Any amount will help students be able to focus less on work and paying for their education and will…help fellow students at [the] same time.”