ASUO increases its stipends, controversy follows | News | dailyemerald.com – Oregon Daily Emerald

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The ASUO senate voted to approve a new stipend model on June 2, increasing the ASUO stipend budget by 329%. ASUO officers said they want to use the money to provide livable incomes for student government officers and increase diversity within the ASUO.

ASUO will use $471,985 of its surplus money from the 2020-21 academic year to fund the increase.

At the meeting, the ASUO senate also approved separate exemption requests from the 2020-21 stipend budget for the ASUO president, vice president, senate president and two chiefs of staff to receive increased stipends for their work during June, in accordance with the new stipend model.

Except for a 10% increase last September, the ASUO stipend model has not changed for 21 years, ASUO President Isaiah Boyd said. ASUO’s previous stipend budget is also 42% lower than the average stipend budget for other Pac-12 schools.

Boyd said the stagnant model is due to overturn in ASUO. He said he is the first ASUO executive president to serve two terms in a row since at least 2000.

With the new model, the ASUO president receives a 230% increase, the senate president receives a 295% increase and the constitutional court chief justice receives a 460% increase.

Boyd said the model is based on Oregon State University’s stipend model since it uses an expected number of hours per week to produce a fixed rate of roughly $14 an hour.

At the senate meeting, many ASUO officers said they have multiple jobs and that the raise is necessary and overdue.

“I’ve had to work multiple jobs just to be able to afford my rent, while also serving in upper leadership,” Boyd said. “Which is doable, but I don’t think it’s comfortable nor is it healthy for our student leaders.”

Other senators said the raise would increase equity and diversity efforts. Senate President Claire O’Connor said many under-represented groups have multiple jobs. She said ASUO wants to “promote diversity in ASUO and provide compensation that eliminates ways these students might have to spread themselves thin.”

ASUO Vice President Odalis Aguilar-Aguilar said she has to support herself and her family in Mexico. “I think a lot of students of color share the same experience as me,” she said in support of the increase. “It definitely decreases the amount of anxiety and the amount of planning that I have to do or budgeting with my money because I know that, with the stipend increase, I’ll be able to help my family or help myself a little bit more.”

However, six of the 21 senators present voted against the exemption vote, citing transparency, timing and accountability issues. Two former senators condemned the vote during a public forum.

“I think it’s honestly pretty embarrassing to tell people that I was on the senate and to now know that they’re doing this,” Nathan Waldman, a former senator who spoke out against the increase, said. “It’s really troubling to me that no student input was requested and, really, that pattern of a lack of transparency.”

Boyd released an op-ed through the Daily Emerald, but only after the vote occurred.

Waldman said students previously accused ASUO of transparency issues after ASUO voted to no longer pay for athletics tickets — without alerting the student body to those plans.

“While our outreach may not have been the best, everything ASUO does is public record,” O’Connor said. “We put a lot of effort into keeping it that way.”

Charlotte Klein, a senior who works in the EMU’s I-Fee-funded outdoor program, said the increase wasn’t a transparent process because she wouldn’t have known about the vote if Waldman hadn’t told her. The I-Fee — or incidental fee — is a mandatory student fee that funds programs and services for students, including legal services, sexual assault support services and Ducks after Dark.

Former senator Quynh-Chi Tran, who also spoke out against the vote, said the increase is self-serving.

“The fact that they increased it only for ASUO people, and it’s a really high amount, was just really, really disgusting to be honest and just felt really icky,” Tran said, “but also was really reminiscent of a lot of actions that took place when I was a senator this past school year.”

Many senators at the June 2 meeting said the stipends of other student organizations needed to be raised before ASUO raised its own. A few of them volunteered to devise such a plan over the summer, but O’Connor said senators did not raise the suggestion again after the meeting.

O’Connor said ASUO is waiting to change the stipend model for other student organizations based on how active those groups are next year.

“A student organization that was extremely active two years ago might not be very active next year,” O’Connor said. “We don’t know anything. That’s why I’d say it would be a poor decision on our part to try and rush anything and possibly mess anything up.”

Boyd said ASUO has a “three-pronged attack” to increase the pay of other student organizations and campus jobs. ASUO will soon increase the stipends of other student organizations following a different model than ASUO’s, Boyd said. All workers paid by the I-Fee will also receive a 20% raise through ASUO’s new basic needs program. Lastly, he said, ASUO hopes to advocate for raises for other campus jobs.

In the current stipend model for student organizations, individual student leaders may receive a maximum of $250 per month and a minimum of $50 per month.

Waldman said they are disappointed about the difference in pay between ASUO and other student organizations. They said most student leaders were not making $250. That amount is one-sixth of the ASUO president’s new monthly stipend, $1,522.50. Under the previous stipend model, the ASUO president made $660 a month.

Both former and current senators said they also think that the model over-assumes the number of hours ASUO officers put in and lacks accountability measures. ASUO officers receive a fixed rate and are expected to work a set number of hours in accordance with stipend rules. 

“The fact that they want to use the honors system for hundreds of thousands of dollars of our collective student fees, that’s just not fair,” Waldman said. “That’s not fair to students.”

During the senate meeting, ASUO officers said they will hold each other and themselves accountable. ASUO officers said the increased stipends will increase their productivity, allowing them to reach the expected number of work hours.

“We’re leaders for a reason,” Aguilar-Aguilar said, “and I don't think there needs to be a lot of hand-holding when you’re in a leadership position because you’re holding yourself accountable.”

Boyd said elections will also hold ASUO officers accountable. “If students realize, ‘you’re not doing what we want you to do,’[then] vote them out,” he said. “Get them out of here. Get someone else in that’s really engaged to contribute to the student body.”

Tran said she thinks the expected work hours — about 10 hours a week, as estimated by O’Connor — “scream an unhealthy school-work life balance” and will dissuade students from joining ASUO.

“It seems really hostile because it’s almost like, ‘if you don’t work all these hours then you shouldn’t be here because we’re all here to work a ton of hours,’” Tran said, “but — especially for a new student who just wants to experience what it’s like to be in student gov — it seems really intimidating and really cliquey and exclusive.”

Boyd said ASUO members are expected to work many hours due to the large budgets they handle. “Once you’re done with training, we throw you into the thick of it like, ‘alright, your committee has $1.2 million,’” he said. “You need to go and manage it. That’s a real job.”

Waldman and Tran said they also worry about the financial sustainability of the stipend model.

Although the current funds for ASUO’s increased stipends come from surplus, ASUO’s new stipend budget will be incorporated into the 2021-22 fiscal budget after an action vote. O’Connor said that vote will likely occur in July.

After that, the stipend budget will come out of the I-Fee.

O’Connor said she expects the new stipend budget to increase the I-Fee  — but only subtly, since the cost will be spread across the entire student body.

It is typical for the I-Fee to increase every year, O’Connor said — although the I-Fee will decrease ahead of the 2021-22 academic year.

Boyd said the action vote to officially approve the new stipend model has a deadline of Nov. 1.

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