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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Students should staff WISPIRG

Last month, Chancellor Biddy Martin approved contract status for the Wisconsin Students Public Interest Research Group, a UW student advocacy organization, allowing the group to receive student segregated fees to pay four non-student, full-time, professional staff members. WISPIRG is now the only UW-Madison student organization to receive contract status, which also allows the group to use segregated fees to pay dues to the national PIRG organization.

In 2008, SSFC approved WISPIRG for contract status, which brought the issue of approval to the Contract Status Advisory Board. The board, composed of three ASM members and three administrators, voted 4-2 against granting WISPIRG contract status. Chancellor Wiley upheld the board's decision, claiming WISPIRG does not provide a service of substantial need to campus that cannot be found elsewhere or through other means.

This year, SSFC again approved WISPIRG's contract status. The Contract Status Advisory Board met again Oct. 30 and switched sides to unanimously support contract status for WISPIRG.

With 89 interns and over 120 volunteers, WISPIRG is not shorthanded for help. However, Thompson claims it would be difficult for students to replace the work done by a full-time, non-student employee. The four full-time positions include an executive director, campus organizer, organizing director and fellow.

WISPIRG has organized worthwhile events and efforts in Madison, including holding a recent health-care rally, registering voters en masse for the 2008 presidential election and garnering signatures and people to testify at the recent RTA County Board vote.

Thompson says politicos across the country know about Madison's reputation as a hotspot of political activism, and that image is boosted by WISPIRG. But the arguments for giving WISPIRG contract status when no other organizations have it are weak.

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According to Thompson, the non-student staff members legitimize the organization and take care of mundane tasks, allowing students to focus more on lobbying and advocacy. But the organization could still be legitimate and effective, even if members had to complete more grunt work. Leadership in student orgs requires boring, administrative work, not outsourcing. Even though non-student employees can use time to apply for outside grants to help WISPIRG financially, students who truly care can do so too.

Whether or not student group leaders should be paid by segregated fees is a separate issue, but we would prefer to use student dollars to pay student leaders over non-students. Paying actual students to lead and operate a student organization, as opposed to co-managing with non-students, sounds like a good compromise. As of now, no student leaders in WISPIRG are paid, although many other student organizations engage in the practice of paying leadership. The principle of taxing Madison students to pay for non-students to help run student groups is flawed.

Ultimately, WISPIRG does not deserve preferential treatment. The concern here is not the liberal viewpoint of the organization or any sort of disagreement with WISPIRG's activities. Many other student organizations on campus are part of national hierarchies, work with other campuses and even lobby at the Capitol. These and other groups would certainly grow and be able to accomplish more with paid, full-time, non-student staff. Perhaps WISPIRG should put more emphasis on the ""student"" aspect of their organization and let actual students take command. 

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