SGA budget behavior a disgrace to themselves, student body

Normally I have admired the individuals in SGA for the often thankless hard work they put in around their busy school schedules. Recent activity, however, has made me embarrassed that these people carry the flag of student leadership and control millions of dollars of Student Activity Fees. I can’t ignore their deficiencies when they result in massive cuts to crucial positions in Tier 2 organizations such as my staff, our sister publications’ staffs and Interfraternity Council officers. Meanwhile, SGA chooses to keep its own myriad of vice presidents and other executives at the same high pay rates, even leaving the door open for raises for some.

SGA’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has diverged from any semblance of proper organization and transparency in the recommendations they return to the Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR) and Graduate Student Senate (GSS). These legislative bodies have foolishly continued to assume that the JFC is reviewing funding requests with a consistent and well thought out set of criteria, when in fact they are making up policy as they go.

The JFC released their recommendations for the fiscal year 2010 budget in March, leading organizations in the budget to believe those would be the exact recommendations presented to SGA. JFC members proceeded to make two new sets of last-minute recommendations that remained internal until they were put up for vote this Tuesday.

The latter of these recommendations, which the UHR and GSS approved with little deviation, came from a temporary Stipend Committee formed last week for the purpose of readjusting all the paid student positions listed in the Tier 2 budget. JFC Chair Austin Rahn later told me that the purpose of the Stipend Committee was not to reduce overall student stipends but to enforce fairness in pay across organizations. This is a noble pursuit but a demanding one as well. Even a well-managed committee could not possibly have arrived at accurate outcomes in less than a week, let alone sufficiently in advance of Tuesday’s votes to allow a response from affected organizations. For an example of the importance of advance notice, the Blueprint was able to convince UHR to provide a $40,000 printing budget after the JFC recommended zero dollars because they had several weeks to make a case.

The product of this Stipend Committee is a list of six categories with maximum pay amounts into which each Tier 2 paid student position was inserted. The first thing I noticed in the table is that the two SGA presidents are the sole occupants of the highest tier, while my position falls on the second. While SGA has traditionally budgeted each of these the same, next year the presidents will outpace the editor at least $1,000. Although this doesn’t affect any paychecks I’ll ever receive, I’m still biased so I’ll let you decide whether this is something that deserved even one second of public discussion before SGA convened to vote.

Much more egregious to me is the slashing in half of most of the rest of our editorial board positions and the 75 percent cut in assistant editor positions. I can sincerely state that next year’s News Editor will put in over 15 hours of work per week keeping tabs on what’s going on around campus with administration, campus crime, student groups and academics; managing his or her staff of writers and developing new writers; editing their work; investigating leads and reporting on typically one or more stories per week; and designing layouts that will require them to stay awake Wednesday nights often until the sun rises on Thursday. The JFC, and by accord the members of UHR and GSS, think this service is worth less than $4 per hour to the students of our Institute.

The Stipend Committee’s knowledge of how to pay our positions is presumably based on a hastily organized, superficial interview they performed with me on Sunday. Never once did they ask me about the responsibilities of assistant editors, who are crucial to our paper and put in 5-10 hours per issue every week. Yet somehow, SGA decided this work merits less than $2 per hour.

Not only did the tone of our interview indicate that we would receive the full amount of funding requested (which JFC had already recommended), Stipend Committee Chair Kimberly LeBlanc specifically told me that the Editor-in-Chief would receive a recommended raise which I did not request. Furthermore, another committee member acknowledged that given the fluid nature of our staffing, we (like some other larger groups on campus) can distribute payroll more efficiently from a lump sum than is possible through an evaluation of individual positions (which ended up being beyond their capability). Evidently they either radically changed their minds within two days or lied to me.

If we were given even a simple explanation of why SGA thought we were overpaid and our stipends should be so cut, I might understand. However, neither Rahn nor anyone else in SGA will provide useful answers, nor is any documentation of their process public.

It certainly would be much easier to accept these cuts if SGA had exhibited leadership and started with themselves. Unfortunately such a show of character might be too much to ask of the current crop.