Power plays

As the difficulties of crafting next year’s budget weigh on the Student Government Association, this week’s unexpected news that SGA has cut many Tier 2 student stipends, while maintaining its own pay rates and even, in the case of the graduates, approving raises, is inexplicable.

Following last week’s budget recommendations by the Joint Finance Committee, which the Undergraduate House of Representatives and Graduate Student Senate were to vote on this week, a Student Stipend Committee was formed at the last minute to review student positions paid for by the Student Activity Fee. This committee met with Tier 2 organization leaders on Sunday, and in the case of the Technique, there was no indication that the JFC’s recommendations (which set almost all staff salaries at the same rate as last year) would be changed before voting.

Instead, and without any notification or insight into the deliberation process, this ad hoc committee decided to arbitrarily classify student positions into six categories that cap the maximum salary students can receive from SGA funds. Come Tuesday, student leaders had received no warning that their budgets could be drastically cut or any recourse.

Although the existence of this Stipend Committee has been characterized by the rushed, opaque way in which it has operated, the reason for forming the committee is certainly fair. Comparable work across disparate student organizations should receive comparable pay, and we know this is not currently the case. But to form this committee only days before a final vote, for the committee to interview leaders but fail to obtain enough specific information on the responsibilities of student workers in order to make an educated classification, and for the committee to remain silent and fail to provide any documentation that would shed some much-needed light on its role in the last-minute budget amendments is a blatant abuse of power.

If these decisions—and the murky manner in which they were undertaken—were necessary due to budget constraints, then SGA officials would have applied the same type of unsupported scrutiny to their own salaries. Using budget constraints as an excuse seems like the easy way out when the global economy is hurting, but the number of students (and thus SGA revenue) continues to increase.

Not only are JFC guidelines being ignored without any explanation, but there is no body to provide oversight and ensure that SGA does not abuse students’ trust by refusing transparency, effective and timely communication, and fair and informed decision making to speed and secrecy. Having already passed these budget cuts, there are no avenues left for organizations who feel wronged to air their grievances.

SGA has exercised its will with little thought as to whether the Student Stipend Committee’s 11th-hour deliberations made sense, were necessary or actually worked to the benefit of the students that these representatives were elected to serve. Rather than taking the time to look further into the unexpected recommendations, the UHR and GSS seem to have passed budgets in haste so they could leave their marathon budget meetings.

The way in which SGA has crafted this year’s budget is filled with instances of abuse of power. Using threats of zero funding that apparently they didn’t intend to carry out (as in the case of the Blueprint) as a means to exert influence and make a statement based on personal viewpoints is a poor governance tactic that has no place in SGA, as is GSS cutting IFC funding to make a political statement to UHR.

The actions of student government during this process leave much to be desired and suggest a dire need for increased communication, accountability and transparency. Student organizations, and the students they serve, deserve better.