Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) senators will now receive monetary compensation for their service in the General Assembly, per Amendment 6.44 to the WSA bylaws, which passed with a campus-wide vote of 136 for, 24 against, and 5 abstaining. The passage of the amendment marks the start of a pilot program that will begin in the Spring 2023 semester and will run for five years, before a reevaluation in the 2026-27 academic year.
This amendment outlines that all WSA senators will receive a stipend of $850 for each semester they serve in the WSA. Members of the Leadership Board—president, vice president, chief of staff, and all committee chairs—will receive an additional $450 per semester, totaling $1,300. Stipends will be distributed in four equal payments per semester; senators who resign will be allowed to keep the money allocated to them up until the point of resignation, and the students who replace these resigned members will receive the remaining payments.
Student Budget Committee Chair Ben Shifrel ’25 sponsored the amendment and took the lead in the process of turning WSA compensation from idea to reality. He worked closely with President-Elect Orly Meyer ’24 in planning and researching in order to make the amendment feasible. The pair drew inspiration from the 2015 WSA amendment that proposed a stipend for student senators on work-study as well as other universities’ policies on payment for student government officials. Since 2015, WSA senators on work-study have received a stipend.
“For long before I have been [in] the WSA, members have been pushing for increased pay,” Shifrel wrote in an email to The Argus. “The amount of work that we do is enormous, and it seems that the mindset has always been that we want to be able to increase access to the student body by increasing pay. As chair of SBC, I felt that it was important to actually get this done, and we worked on the leadership board to create a plan that would allocate an amount of money that is equitable to our members.”
Meyer explained that one of her priorities was to make sure that there was a sustainable source from which funds could be drawn, meaning that if paying WSA senators required giving less money to student groups, she and Shifrel would not have continued pursuing the amendment. However, after Shifrel ran budget analysis, the pair was able to create a plan for funding. During Spring 2023, the funds for stipends have come from WSA surplus. In the following four years in which the pilot program will run, funds will be sourced from WSA surplus and the Student Activities Fee (SAF). The percentage of contribution from WSA surplus decreases by 25% each year as the percentage of contribution from the SAF increases in intervals of 25%.
“Something that was important to me was getting feedback from the student body,” Meyer said. “We did everything in our power to [do this]. We were tabling in Usdan every day for two weeks. We sent out emails about it. We [increased advertisement] that [WSA meetings] were going to be open. Giving people as much of an opportunity as possible to engage seriously with that vote was important in terms of the lead-up.”
Currently, eligible WSA senators are paid an amount equal to 25% of their work-study, and senators who are not on work-study do not receive payment at all. Shifrel explained that this causes many senators to seek a second source of income, but taking on another job makes it more difficult to commit to the intense time commitment of serving on WSA.
“This will allow all students to work on the important tasks we do, while also being able to prioritize it so that they can treat it as a way to improve the lives of students,” Shifrel wrote. “We also allowed students not on work-study to receive pay, as many, especially many international senators, have not been able to receive any pay. Overall, accessibility in WSA is increasing and allowing us to focus on the important work that we do.”
Meyer underscored the need for pay as a means to increase accessibility. She explained that her work as Student Life Committee chair involves countless hours of meetings, sending emails, and communicating about issues on campus with students so she can relay that information to the administration. In her position, she has five weekly meetings that each range from an hour to three hours long, demonstrating how the WSA workload is not sustainable for students in the long-term, hence the high turnover rate and rapid burnout among senators.
“I probably should be burned out, but everything that I’m doing, I think is really valuable and worth my time,” Meyer said. “The work that we’re doing is really important…. [But] even if it’s super worthwhile…it’s just not a sustainable system to expect students to…be volunteering to do all of this work…. There’s so many parts of the school that just couldn’t operate without, like, WSA senators [because of how] the University has structured itself. If it’s going to be essential that we’re there, then it’s important to make sure that it’s accessible and sustainable for people to hold these positions.”
Outgoing WSA President Nigel Hayes emphasized the importance of the amendment in supplementing the financial needs of students who serve as senators, which he hopes will encourage more students to run for a spot in the WSA going forward.
“My hope is that this amendment…[will make] the WSA more accessible, [so that] students see it as a viable option to continue real work in service of [the student body], and…there [won’t] have to be sacrifice between [working on] initiatives they want to see in their campus community…and working a different student job,” Hayes said.
Meyer pointed out that another benefit of passing Amendment 6.44 is that its preamble promises the passing of a future amendment enhancing WSA absence and impeachment policy, which provides a source of accountability. This increased accountability will lead to increased efficiency and productivity within the WSA.
“We’ve added in a [stricter] policy about attendance and work expectations,” Meyer said. “Right now, if somebody misses a couple of meetings, there isn’t as much reason for accountability…. But now with the higher payment of people…it gives people more of a reason to take it seriously. People don’t have to choose between having a job on campus…versus going to a WSA meeting. [WSA] can be viewed on that level of importance.”
Meyer hopes that the passing of Amendment 6.44 will encourage more people to run for a position as a WSA senator in the future.
“There have been many people who have been really excited to join [WSA], and then…there’s plenty of different reasons why they decide it’s not something that’s worth it for them to do, which is completely understandable,” Meyer said. “I think adding…increased compensation will help mediate a lot of those issues…[and] balance that out.”
Kat Struhar can be reached at email@example.com.