TCU Senate to hear resolution on compensating student leaders

The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate announced on its Facebook page yesterday that it will hear a resolution “calling on Tufts to Compensate Student Leaders,” most likely on April 8.

TCU Treasurer Emily Sim, a junior, is the lead author of the resolution. Other authors include First Generation Community Senator Alejandro Baez, a first-year; Women’s Community Senator Michelle Delk, a sophomore; and TCU Vice-President Anna Del Castillo, a senior. She said the resolution aims to make on-campus leadership roles more accessible to students. The abstract of the resolution, reproduced on the Facebook page, proposes “a stipend system that students can apply for to be compensated for their labor.”

Sim said that the resolution seeks to compensate not only TCU-elected students but also all student leaders based on their work and commitment to enhance the quality of student life at Tufts, thus making student leadership roles more accessible to students.

“Taking on a leadership role in a student group often demands as much time as a part-time job,” Sim wrote in an electronic message. “This means that low-income students, often from marginalized communities on campus, are financially barred from being able to pursue these positions.”

The resolution will also propose a universal stipend for all TCU-elected students starting in the fiscal year 2019 and an expansion on the scope of compensated student labor on campus. A similar resolution in the fall of 2016, which was discussed but not approved, proposed stipends of $1,000 each per year for the Diversity and Community Affairs Officer, the Parliamentarian and the Historian. Under the current stipend system, the president and vice president, in addition to the associate treasurer, judiciary chair, ECOM members and other positions are paid, according to Sim.

“Much of the work that Senate does, such as hearing funding requests and expanding university services, is administrative in nature and parallels the work that paid employees of the university also do. Having looked at best practices from other universities, I believe that paying TCU government positions will provide a higher degree of accountability and effectiveness,” Sim said. “Second, the resolution will expand the scope of compensated student labor on campus and lobby for a leadership stipend that all students on campus, not just senators, can access.”

Several senators said they are in support of the resolution, generally on the grounds of increasing the financial accessibility of student leadership positions.

Class of 2021 Senator Grant Gebetsberger said he plans to vote in favor of the resolution, as he believes the resolution will bring about increased diversity in student leadership.

“I strongly support it because of its implications for students from marginalized backgrounds. Many students face an impossible choice between leadership roles and other jobs — on or off-campus — that help them make ends meet,” he wrote in an electronic message. “This inherently reduces leadership diversity at Tufts. This resolution would allow students from all backgrounds to serve as leaders on campus, making sure that leadership positions aren’t dominated entirely by students who come from significant economic privilege and can afford to work without compensation.” 

Class of 2020 Senator Phil Miller also welcomed the resolution. He said while he will wait for the full text of the resolution, he finds the resolution to be “a great way to make senate positions more accessible to low income students.” He also added that, as the resolution will be heard before the elections for next year, it won’t be a self-rewarding measure.

“[The resolution] could also hold senators accountable for their responsibilities and increase their retention rate,” Miller said in an electronic message. “I think we also need to make sure this is fiscally responsible, and that we are balancing out all students’ needs. I definitely don’t think this is a form of self-rewarding because every student at Tufts has a vote and a say in who will be in these paid positions.”

However, some students expressed reservations about the resolution.

First-year Tyler Stotland said that, should Tufts provide funding for student leadership positions, some may exploit the policy.

“Students may try to start clubs or take leadership positions for the money, rather than passion or leadership experience. From my experience with numerous clubs at Tufts, both in leadership and team member roles, it seems like most people engaged in student organizations are genuinely passionate, qualified, and motivated,” Stotland wrote in a statement. “I would hate to see this healthy student club structure shift in the wrong direction.”

Pedro Andre Lazo Rivera, a former Class of 2020 Senator and the president of the Tufts Russian and Slavic Student Association, agreed with Stotland that the resolution could lead to potential exploitation. He also argued that the resolution should be decided by a referendum.

“If TCU Senators are on payroll as a conclusion of [the resolution,] then TCU Senators shouldn’t be the ones voting on it. If anything, that should be a referendum among the student body,” he said. “We don’t want TCU Senate to be deciding how to pay itself.”

He also argued that Senate should look into the culture around student leadership at Tufts before making financial commitment to address the issue. In addition, he raised a question in regard to how the resolution will be translated into an effective policy, given that there are several hundreds of organizations on campus.

“I would say look into the culture of student leadership first, before trying to address this by throwing money at the problem, because maybe that’s not necessarily the solution and it might not be an effective catch-all because every club works differently,” Rivera said. “They have different structures, different time commitment and there’s hundreds of them. So it would be very, very difficult to set up an effective system that doesn’t just become one big platform for students to bleed the university or the Senate dry.”

TCU Parliamentarian Adam Rapfogel, a junior, explained that Senate is allowed to vote on something that affects or benefits them.

“There’s nothing in our constitution explicitly forbidding us from doing that and it does happen in other ways often,” Rapfogel said in an electronic message, explaining TCU Senate’s parliamentary procedure. “For example, if you frequent the Asian American center and you’re writing a resolution to improve it, that benefits you. But I do understand the concern and would love for people to attend the meeting and express it if that’s how they feel.”

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