Student Senate Addresses Errors With Compensation

The following account documents the events of the past three weeks, which have resulted in a proposal for bylaw changes regarding student senator compensation. In order to be transparent and accountable to the student body, we have chosen to provide the following context for these proposed changes. The proposed changes themselves and our rationale for pursuing this particular course of action are listed at the end of this letter.

The Senate Treasurer as of fall 2012, College senior Steve Bii, and Operations Manager as of spring 2013, College sophomore Peter Arden, are required to review the timecards. This semester, they were admittedly lax in their duties; they didn’t re- view the timecards together until March. Shortly before spring break, Steve shared his concerns with Peter about what senators were charging for and sent a re- minder to all senators of what is and isn’t considered payable Senate work. A few weeks later, Steve approached Peter with concerns about College junior Eli Diop’s timecard. Eli is the liaison of Student Senate. Steve and Peter noticed two issues: billing for questioned activities and a large number of hours (77.5 hours during the pay period of April 8–21). The norm for Senators is around 20 to 30 hours per pay period.

We fill out timecards every two weeks for our work on Senate. A list of what we currently can and cannot be paid for can be found in our bylaws at The Office of the Student Treasurer office assistant, College senior Jeremiah Hay, processes the timecards every other Sunday and sends them to the controller’s office. In the first pay period (February 25–March 10) for the new Sen- ate this semester, he flagged Eli’s timecard for an unusually high number of hours (74.5 hours) and notified the student treasurer, College senior James Foust (who is also the student-trustee liaison of Student Senate). Be- cause this was the week of March 4 and Eli had done an amazing job of stepping up for the student body, James felt it was not the appropriate time to bring up the issue with her timecard. The next pay period (March 11–24), she had 48.5 hours, which is not particularly unusual for a liaison, and the pay period after that (March 15–April 7) she billed for 65 hours. Questioned activities billed for included examples such as Colors of Rhythm dress rehearsal (April 5), meeting aboutHip-Hop101budget(April 3),five hours spent emailing the Dean about orientation week in the fall, brainstorming ideas for new Senate working group and planning new outreach methods (March 28).

Eli explained that after read- ing the bylaws and speaking to other Senators when she came onto Senate for her first term (fall 2011), she understood that she could bill for her work with other student organizations on campus especially given that she ran on a platform of advocating for underrepresented groups of students. This understanding has been consistent throughout her three semesters on Senate. She served as secretary her first term. This semester, as liaison, the scale of her work has in- creased greatly not only because of the bias-based incidents on campus, but also because the role of the liaison is to act as “Senate’s spokesperson with the student body, staff, faculty, ad- ministration, Trustees of Oberlin College, and the greater Oberlin community,” and therefore the line between liaison and student is harder to draw. Eli understood the hours she was billing for to not only to be in accordance with her officer position, but to be“approved by Senate”because we were aware of her work. She maintained that all of her hours are considered Senate business.

Eli noted that if she had been notified that she was billing for incorrect hours, she would have stopped immediately. Her meet- ing with Peter and Steve on April 21 was the first time any billing issues had been brought to her attention. For more details on the conversations we have been having as a body surrounding this issue, see our minutes from April 21 and April 28 at fact that this issue was not caught sooner represents a major structural flaw within the Senate.

We, the Oberlin College Student Senate, admit partial responsibility in this matter.There is a lack of accountability in our timecard oversight system and the bylaws are ambiguous, which contributed to this mis- understanding. To resolve the problems we’ve had this semester, our treasurer and operations manager are auditing every timecard of every current senator. These audits have not been included in this letter due to time constraints and a desire to be transparent with the student body in a timely manner. Any hours in question were sent to Senators by Thursday, May 2, at 11:59 p.m. Senators will have the option of contesting question- able hours; however, the treasurer will make the final decision. Any hours that a senator was paid for but are then deemed non-billable will be deducted from subsequent paychecks.

Additionally, we will be voting on the following measures proposed by the Compensation Task Force this Sunday to pre- vent this issue from occurring again in the future:

1. Capping pay at 15–20 hours per week. Any additional hours worked can be brought to Senate at plenary for approval.

2. All timecards will be post- ed on the Senate website by the treasurer by 11:59 p.m. on the Sunday that timecards are due. The treasurer will receive four points for failure to do so.

3.The language of the bylaws stating what senators can be paid for for has been clarified. We believed the section of activities senators cannot be paid for was confusing, so it has been removed from the bylaws and added to our Senate Handbook (which every new senator receives). This makes it clear that you can only be paid for what is explicitly listed in the bylaws. “Student organization meetings” has been added to the list of activities a senator may not be compensated for.

4. We have instituted a warn- ing system for senators billing questionable hours. The treasurer will check timecards weekly and address issues with individual senators in the following order:

a. Formal warning via e-mail, extending the option of meeting in person.

b. Formal warning via e-mail, 3 points.

c. Formal warning via e-mail, 10 points.

d. Each semester, the treasurer/operations manager will randomly verify one activity on each senator’s timecard. If a senator is found to be falsifying hours, Senate will automatically vote on removal and censorship.

e. If these warnings and checks fail and non-billable hours are caught later, the non- billable hours that have been paid to a senator will be docked from future paychecks.

When faced with the above events, Student Senate was faced with two main options: to censure and discuss removal of Eli Diop, or to recognize that this was symptomatic of larger problems with the compensations structure.We have chosen the latter option. It would have been simpler to just censure one senator rather than reevaluating the system with which we compensate senators. In the spirit of collective responsibility, we are planning to reform our own mechanisms, so as to be fully accountable to the student body. This accounts for our delayed reporting of this incident and proposed changes. We have taken this extremely seriously, and have had several extra meetings to make sure that we solve this particular instance and make sure that ideally, this will not happen again. As always, Student Senate is to be a re- source for the students, and we welcome visitors to our plenary sessions,which take place every Sunday at 7 p.m. in Wilder 215.

–Oberlin College Student Senate
( The vote to send in this letter was 11 in favor and 5 abstaining.)