It is not easy being a member of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA). The University lauds you and your organization in principle and then does its best to ignore and snub you in practice. WSA representatives make a large commitment to the community and agree to spend time away from personal activities and academics in order to work on behalf of the student body. They deserve to be compensated for their time and effort.

The WSA and its members are favorite targets of student criticism. Complaining about politicians is something of a national pastime, and here at Wesleyan things are no different. People criticize the WSA for being toothless, impractical, out of touch, manipulated by the administration, incapable of working with the administration, and so on. I myself regularly criticize the WSA and do not expect anyone else to conceal what he or she thinks. What I am arguing is that the dedication and substance involved in serving on the WSA is substantial enough and the work service-oriented enough that the University should pay members of the WSA.

The WSA’s work directly contributes to the community, and a quick scan of recent events demonstrates that they have had enough substantive achievement to justify some sort of payment. I feel that people often think that the WSA provides a means for future politicians to play house; everyone gets to pretend to do something important, but nothing actually gets done. However, just this semester, the WSA helped launch a new 24-hour study space adjacent to the Science Library. In the past few years, the WSA has lobbied for and helped create new, more flexible meal plans that many students use and enjoy. Last year, breaking with a considerable segment of Wesleyan’s history, the WSA aided in reintroducing academic minors and giving students more freedom to design courses of study. The charge that the WSA doesn’t do anything is simply false, and, moreover, the WSA accomplishes enough to be worthy of some sort of compensation.

In my mind, the most compelling argument for paying WSA members is that they work incredibly hard, and they work on behalf of the community and not themselves. I know of representatives who commit more than 20 hours each week to their positions. This is time they choose to spend on behalf of the student body, not their classwork or personal pursuits.

I am sure that some people are leery of the idea of paying WSA representatives because they see the WSA as a club. If we don’t pay the debate team to compete on behalf of the University, why should we pay members of the WSA? There are, in my mind, two differences that make WSA members worthy of some sort of wage. The first is that they work on behalf of the community as a whole, putting their energy and time toward improving the university experience for their fellow students. I think that this is an ethic that deserves to be rewarded and distinguishes the WSA from other student organizations.

Furthermore, WSA members take an active role in the administration of the school. As representatives of the student body, they sit on committees otherwise composed of Wesleyan employees. We are asking our peers to take on responsibilities that the school pays its employees to shoulder; I think at least a small amount of compensation is justified.

More broadly, the WSA’s role is indispensable. It communicates student interests to the administration, which most students and administrators agree is a crucial task. If we are going to ask our peers to do jobs that we do not want to do, but that we agree are necessary, then we should be willing to compensate them for working on our behalf.

  • Anonymous

    Many of these arguments about the time and scope of WSA members’ work (which I’m not trying to call into doubt here, especially for members of the Executive Council) are not unique to the WSA. For example, I would argue that members of various anti-oppression groups “work on behalf of the community as a whole, putting their energy and time toward improving the university experience for their fellow students.” And I’m willing to say that some of them spend upwards of time on their community projects approaching or equalling those of the busier WSA members. In short, I agree that “this is an ethic that deserves to be rewarded”, but I don’t think that this “distinguishes the WSA from other student organizations” as a sweeping generalization. There are other channels through which student interests are communicated to the administration – directly at meetings or major events, through collaboration with other groups on campus, or otherwise.

    Also, I’d have a hard time imagining paying WSA members over reducing costs for students who, say, are on significant financial aid and are unable to find work study jobs or take out thousands of dollars in loans. Doing both wouldn’t be as problematic, but the former over the latter raises a lot of red flags for me, especially since the WSA has a lot of hard-working and capable volunteers.

    I guess if you could come up with a) a reason we shouldn’t privilege people who “need” the money over people who may appreciate it in a less pressing way and b) a satisfying way of compensating other students and student groups who do work with the institution as well, I’d find this proposal more appealing.

  • Jesse

    -Who pays?

    -“WSA members take an active role in the administration of the school.” Arguable. So do trustees in a sense, who do not get paid either.

    -I would care much more about getting better institutional mechanisms for students to be able to take an active role in the administration of the school, and to have control over the decisions that affect their lives, than compensating people who do.

    -WSA members don’t really have formal responsibilities that anyone holds them to. If they were being paid for their labors. This would likely require oversight by the administration (if the money were coming from them), which is precisely contrary to the principle of student self-government.

    When I hear people talk about their extracurricular activities/responsibilities as a job, I find it vaguely insulting to the dignity of labor and people who actually have to work for a living.

  • Ben Firke

    LOL. If you made me do it again I’d still do that shit for free,

  • Anon

    The Argus staff definitely shouldn’t get paid…

  • Skeptical

    You guys already stole tons of money in recent memory. Consider those stolen nights out to Mikado on my dime your “payment.” Crooks.

    • Annoyed

      For the record, none of the people who did that are still on the Assembly or at this school, and Danny Blinderman (the author of this post) is not and has never been on the Assembly. This opinion piece didn’t come from the WSA.

  • Former WSA Member ’12

    TL;DR. But the WSA definitely should not be paid.