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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Stipend increases a discredit to ASM

Jamie Stark

Stipend increases a discredit to ASM

On Monday night, the Student Services Finance Committee of the Associated Students of Madison approved two major ASM bylaw changes. Unfortunately, neither student newspaper has covered this story in depth. But most students would be pissed to know the circumstances.

For background, the chairs of Student Council and its committees all receive annual stipends, ranging from $2,000 for the secretary to $8,000 for the chair. The money comes from student segregated fees, which cost each UW-Madison student $1,020 per year, in addition to tuition.

On Monday, SSFC approved tying chair stipends to a percentage of tuition. In doing this, they chose percentages that would raise several stipends enormously. SSFC chair and vice chair would be set to receive the highest increase—$2,000 more than this year.

SSFC member Tim Fung was the only member to speak out against the proposed changes during Monday's meeting.

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SSFC Secretary Matt Manes spearheaded the idea of tying stipends to percentage of tuition.

""They're based on tuition, not just what people feel what they should get paid,"" Manes said.

He wants to ensure that no council member ever votes to raise their own paycheck. Except this one time.

Another proposed bylaw change would allow a one-time exemption for council members serving this year to vote for pay raises and then receive them next year.

Along with asking students to vote on their own stipend increases, the percentage change is not much less arbitrary than the current numbers. In the end, both funding plans are just numbers chosen by the current council.

""Yes, it's a judgment call, but it's a judgment call based on seeing what a person would actually have to come up with to attend school,"" Manes said.

Several of the chair positions would receive lower stipends. In a sensible act, Manes decided certain chair positions like SSFC and Finance Committee were more necessary than other positions, like Diversity or Legislative Affairs chair.

The suggestions from SSFC must be approved by ASM's Student Council in two consecutive meetings to pass. At Wednesday night's Student Council meeting the first vote was delayed until after the upcoming spring break.

Diversity Committee Chair Steven Olikara argued ASM could still have quality leadership without raising stipends.

""This is student government, so this is public service,"" Olikara said. ""Why should student government leaders have the privilege to have stipends increase every time tuition increases? We shouldn't be paid more than other students on campus.""

Olikara also said he disapproves of the idea to tie stipends to a percentage of tuition.

""These are not salaries that need to be adjusted to something,"" Olikara said. ""This is a stipend. You don't look at the hourly rate.""

Manes smartly amended his proposal to include protections against future Student Councils voting themselves pay raises. If stipends can be raised and accepted by the same Student Council members, the new percentages would be as arbitrary as the old numbers. But that does not give the current council session a pass against raising their own salaries, particularly when many of the current chairs are likely to stay in paying leadership positions.

ASM does plenty of necessary work and spends plenty of time doing it. However, by entrusting ASM officers with part of the massive, multimillion-dollar student segregated fees fund, there should be a heightened sense of transparency associated with the job.

The act of overriding bylaws for financial gain is dishonest, dirty politics. Still, I understand the reasoning. ASM chairs put in plenty of hours, and some might not stay with Student Council if not for the stipends. But if they're going to play government, they have to play the whole game. That means fair, open government with rules that aren't changed haphazardly for financial gain. It may not be the most preferable option for current members, but ASM has the responsibility to be good stewards.

Whether or not chairs should receive stipends at all is debatable; certainly the pay raises and the process of changing them is controversial.

Ultimately, this is a miniscule piece of the larger ASM budget. It can be argued that ASM chairs deserve more money for their work. But it's also arguable that the $1,020 we each pay in student segregated fees each year is too much. Plans to reduce that number are almost never on the discussion table. But staying focused on responsible spending at least keeps the discussion focused on reducing the cost to students.

ASM members should not be voting to raise salaries in positions they are vying for, nor should they be raising salaries so much to begin with. No matter which way they vote, any Student Council member who votes on the matter of stipend increases should not receive an increased stipend.

Jamie Stark is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. We welcome all feedback. Please send all responses to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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