ASCMC Senate Votes to Approve Stipend Changes

Last night, February 20, ASCMC Senators approved proposed changes to the stipends of ASMC Executive Board members, a proposal brought to Senate by the ASCMC Budget Committee. The lively discussion began with a presentation by ASCMC’s Chief Financial Officer Lacey McLean '12, which highlighted the proposed amendments to the current stipends. She explained, “The budget committee considered how much work each ASCMC member puts in... one of the things we wanted to do was make compensation clearer.” She then pointed out individual position salary changes as detailed in an earlier Forum article.

One senator asked where the funds to raise stipends would come from. McLean responded that the General Fund for ASCMC had grown larger in past years without any parallel increase in stipends. She stressed that the money would not be taken away from social activities or any other service that ASCMC provides, simply that it would come from a surplus of funds, resulting from last year's increase in ASCMC student fees, already incorporated into CMC's tuition.

ASCMC Vice President Aditya Pai '13 further elaborated that voting to change stipends would not affect or benefit the current position-holders with the exception of the position of the Editor-in-Chief of the Forum. Pai noted that when an attempt to increase the Forum editor’s stipend was made last year, the editor at the time of the vote had not paid his staffers or writers. Senators voted against rewarding last year's editor with a higher paycheck.

The discussion then turned to the most contentious topic of the night; the stipend of ASCMC’s President. No recommendation had been put forth by the Budget Committee to raise the President’s salary, but upon viewing the current salary of the President, several senators voiced concern at the $14,000 earned per year by this position.

Pai responded that the purpose of high payment for the position of President is “to put it on parity with the RAs. We called Dean Spellman, Dean Huang, and former ASCMC Presidents.  This has existed since the early 1990s so there wouldn’t be a talent-sink, or a lack of talented people running for ASCMC president.  We didn’t want to change that.”  Senate President Pro-Tempore junior Miles Lifson elaborated that some presidents donate part of their stipends back to ASCMC and further, some purchase things for ASCMC or the student body and never ask for reimbursement.

Senator Kayla Benker '13 voiced her concern that paying ASCMC members based on the importance of their work is a “fundamentally flawed way to look at [the issue].”  She explained, “I don’t think we should try to quantify, in dollars, the amount that a specific position requires.”

Pai responded, saying, “These are very important jobs; they handle $300,000 of your money so you want to make sure it is used well. If you actually paid them on a merit basis then ASCMC would go bankrupt.”  He elaborated that because of precedence, the Senate would need a very good reason to make positions unpaid in the future.  One senator agreed that asking ASCMC members to work without pay was essentially, “making people decide between having a job and working with ASCMC.”

With the discussion almost over, current ASCMC President Jessica Mao '12 added, “You guys have brought up great points, this needs continued discussion.  We spent a long time on this proposal and discussed it extensively. What would be good would be if senators worked with the executive board and revisited this issue.” Senator Miles Bird retorted that the Budget Committee had already investigated that very issue and that Pai had made senators very aware of proposed changes several weeks leading up to the deliberation.

Despite all the contention, the Senate voted to amend the constitution to accept all stipend changes with only one dorm--Claremont Hall--abstaining. When asked her response to the proceedings, the Chair of the Campus Life Committee, Carly Lenderts '14, conceded that she was in the middle of the debate, explaining she was “happy with tonight's decision. I do think the President's stipend should be lowered but believe the [other] adjustments made were appropriate."

Benker expressed her disappointment: “Senate has a problem in that we as a body seem to get frustrated if issues take more than 10-15 minutes to debate… It seems that the past few times a contentious issue has come up in Senate, after about 15 minutes, the goal of many senators turns from ‘what is the best solution?’ to ‘how can we get this resolved as quickly as possible so we can just stop talking about it?'’”

Senator Aseem Cipalkatti '15 disagreed that some senators’ views were not heard, saying, “I feel that the stipend issue seems like it was controversial, but after the Board explained the reasoning behind the stipend changes, it seemed like all of the ‘controversy’ was driven by only a few students. ASCMC Officers decidedly put in the work that would merit these new stipend amounts, and considering that we have a budget surplus, there's no reason that we shouldn't have approved them."

When the placards were put away and the senators filed out to snack, the vote had come down in favor of making the proposed changes to ASCMC stipends. However, several key opponents of the president's high salary were not, in fact, voting members of the Senate and could not vote to express their views during proceedings.

Benker raises the point that “the average CMCers shouldn't have to come to every Senate meeting to have their voice heard; Senate as a representative body should make an effort to understand the opinions of the CMC student body, not just the reasoning of the Executive Board or the narrow interests of a few.”

Editor's Note:This article was updated at 10:45am to fix a typographical error.