Elected Student Government (SG) members will be voting on new revisions to the Student Leadership Stipend program at SG’s upcoming General Assembly meeting.
The program was first unveiled in fall of 2014, and it received serious student backlash after Student Government announced that executive cabinet members would be receiving stipends for their work. 700 students signed a petition in favor of a referendum on the program. There was no referendum, but the stipend policy has since undergone significant revision.
Calvin Cottrell, a Class of 2018 representative, said that the stipend controversy was mainly rooted in miscommunication between Student Government and the student body.
“[The stipend program] was [originally] planned to be done through Student Government by awarding these grants to people in the Cabinet, whose members are not elected but appointed [by the Executive Cabinet]. These members do a lot of administrative functions, and there are also several students [within Student Government] who put in a lot of outside time to help us….Because these administrative positions are so close to the elected student body, [students] didn’t think the stipend program was transparent enough. People thought if you won a seat on Student Government, you were….getting paid for that work, and that was never the plan,” Cottrell said.
Since the controversy, the stipend program has been completely redesigned to award financial grants to student leaders in RSOs, rather than students within Student Government. Fourth-year Tyler Kissinger, President of Student Government, proposed the revised program in April, and it was passed in General Assembly at the end of spring quarter.
“We are going to be giving grants to students who do impactful and substantial work through their RSOs. We’re going to be paying them and giving them these grants in lieu of them having work-study hours. The idea is that [these grants] will replace some of their work-study hours so that they can devote themselves to planning more things on campus,” Cottrell said.
Fourth-year Lauren Culbertson, chair of Student Government’s Committee on Registered Student Organizations (CORSO), said that there will be a total of 40 stipends available for students this academic year, with each stipend being worth $250.
“We’re opening up applications to everybody, so you don’t have to be on work-study to apply for the stipend. We’re trying to keep somewhat of a ratio of work-study to non-work-study and financial aid to non–financial aid. Everyone is welcome to apply for the stipend,” Culbertson said.
Cottrell said that stipends will be awarded on a quarterly basis in order to accommodate the typical time commitments of RSO leaders.
“We reached out to the leaders of the largest RSOs on campus, [and] we did a survey on what the time commitments were. We found that when running one of the largest RSOs, the average week comes up to around 10 hours, and that’s about how much time people put into their work-study jobs. So, for every hour that we’re paying [students] to not have a work-study job, they can put more time into their RSOs.”
Each application will be reviewed by all 11 members of CORSO on a need-blind basis. Applicants will be required to explain what type of work they do within their RSOs, what type of benefit they bring to the general student body through their RSO, and how having this grant would help them do more substantial work on campus. Both Cottrell and Culbertson said they encourage all students to submit an application for the stipend, regardless of their leadership position.
“There are no prerequisites to apply. You can apply no matter what level you are in your RSO. You don’t have to be the RSO’s president. You don’t even have to be on the RSO’s board. You just have to show that you do really important and influential work on campus to help bring new skills and information to the student body,” Cottrell said.
“RSOs are the lifeblood of campus, and they really contribute to student life and are a great place for students to build skills and have experiences outside of a regular academic environment. We’d like to provide some kind of incentive [for students] to take on leadership positions and be able to compensate them for the work that they do on campus,” Culbertson said.
Both Culbertson and Cottrell, who are spearheading the program, decided to make transparency a primary goal of the stipend program this year after last year’s controversy. This is particularly evident in the fact that elected Student Government members will not be eligible to apply for these grants.
“[Last year], students thought that Student Government had come up with a grant policy to pay itself, and that wasn’t what was happening. That’s why we went back to the drawing board to change the policy: we want to get across that we’re listening to people. We’re taking their concerns into account, and we’re trying to change things up. By going through RSOs and by having mechanisms in place to make sure that these grants are going to a variety of students, we get at the same idea [as last year’s policy] that Student Government wants to help people gain skills and have really impactful experiences here on campus,” Cottrell said.
Culbertson echoed this sentiment, stating that the stipend program was rewritten to specifically address last year’s concerns.
“We really want to emphasize that this is a brand new policy. It really has no attachment to last year’s policy, [and] we’re kind of open to anything right now, given the backlash we received with the stipend policy last year….The policy could always change based on the critique that we may get, and we want to make [the program] as accommodating to students as we can.”
Culbertson also noted that accountability measures were included in this year’s policy in order to ensure that stipend recipients were doing substantial work in their RSOs.
“We’re going to require students who receive the stipends to submit meeting minutes so that we have an idea of the work that they’re doing. We’re also going to have CORSO members check in on one or two meetings and events per quarter to make sure that students are putting in the hours that they said they were going to put in.”
The stipend is going to be funded through the Student Life Fee, and a total of $10,000 has been budgeted for the program this year. Cottrell said he hopes that the program receives more funding as it solidifies its presence on campus.
“We want to help the broader student body and community do more work through their RSOs. We will really be looking to have each of the representatives on College Council advertise for this program because we want as many people as possible to apply….Hopefully, in the next two quarters, we will get this program up and running. I’m going to try to increase the funding [of the program] so that there can be [more grants] to distribute.”