No one will deny that the Associated Students president has a tough job. As chief executive officer of the undergraduate student government on campus, the A.S. president is responsible to and for over 22,000 undergraduate students. As per the A.S. Council constitution, the president receives a $10,000 stipend, an “A” spot parking permit and other benefits.
That’s a lot of dough. Perhaps it may even be too much for us to spend on a student leader.
One candidate in this week’s election, the One Voice slate’s presidential candidate Sammy Chang, has pledged not to accept this stipend if elected in order to redirect the money to other A.S. Council expenditures, such as student organization funding. However, his pledge and position have come under fire by critics for coming off as “elitist.”
Chang, who the Guardian endorsed in its April 8 issue, feels that the A.S. president can go without the paycheck and that the money is better spent elsewhere. However, some feel (and have voiced opinions last week on social media sites) that Chang and his slate’s pledge to decline any and all stipends, as well as their proposed legislation to prevent future A.S. Councils from taking a stipend, makes the group seem like “the rich kid slate.”
One Voice could not unilaterally enact such an elimination of stipends — rather, it would need to pass this by the student body by way of a referendum. Opponents claim that removing stipends for A.S. councilmembers would make holding a student government position unaffordable for low-income students. Students who are forced to work to support themselves or their families during college may not be able to devote the necessary amount of time to a council position without compensation. While it may be cost-saving, for Chang and One Voice to reject compensation, that may not be the best-case scenario for a future A.S. Council.
Rejecting stipends, however, should not paint One Voice, and Chang in particular, as elitist. Chang himself pays for school through the Blue and Gold Opportunity program, and he reports that around half of the candidates on his slate are also reliant on heavy amounts of financial aid. While One Voice is right to address the high stipends some councilmembers receive, it is unfair to expect everyone else to get on board. But this debate is not an all-or-nothing binary. Rather, if elected, the new council will have an opportunity to discuss a possibility of a reduction or reassessment of stipends.
Chang has already demonstrated the positive effects of declining a stipend. As the associate vice president of academic affairs, Chang refused his stipend in order to fund his staff on council. This was effective, on a small scale, of saving A.S. Council some money, but as the Guardian described in his endorsement, Chang is an exception — a super-student of sorts. His ability and drive in student policy leadership is largely unmatched, meaning that what works for him might not necessarily be the best approach for others.
Stipends can help to incentivize leadership and can be fair compensation for what is arguably the most important student position on campus. But hard work and leadership can and should cost students less, especially when the money can better serve students directly.
Council, which struggled with budget issues earlier this academic year, was forced to cut operational funding to student organizations from $500 per year down to $100 to close its sizable budget gap. Council’s maximum potential budget, based on the enrollment capacity at UCSD, is around $3 million. One Voice claims that ending stipends for councilmembers will save the Associated Students $100,000 per year. While it’s great to want to redirect an extra hundred grand to student organizations, too many students may be alienated by a complete removal of A.S. stipends. What seems like a get-rich-quick scheme for student organization funding can actually be harmful to future councils.
Whoever is elected to the new council, whether One Voice or the field, will be able to bring forth a discussion about trimming the edges of their own stipends to put more cash back into student organizations. But leaving stipends as they are is harmful to student organizations, and completely removing them is far too alienating. Student organizations will win when a councilmember can choose to decline a stipend, but a reduction — or at least a conversation within council — is a far more practical and realistic approach to the debate over paying our student leaders.