Following the controversy surrounding Student Senate Liaison Eliza Diop’s billing issues and subsequent resignation, Senate is initiating a reform of the rules regarding the payment of its members. Diop claims that the time card discrepancy was a simple misunderstanding of the work senators can legitimately bill for, spurring the conversation on ambiguities in the Senate bylaws. But the reform could also address a much larger problem that has gone unchecked in Senate and SFC for years — until very recently, members of both groups could bill for unlimited hours each pay period, a privilege no other student workers enjoy.
At a Compensation Task Force held by Senate on Sunday, senators voted to cap billable hours at 20 per week, a move that would hopefully prevent another debacle like billing 50 hours in a single week. (The fact that anyone could reasonably work more than a full 9-to-5 work week as a full-time student is bizarre, but that’s another issue.) This represents an important change to a system that had previously allowed senators to charge the student body, via the Student Activity Fee, for as many hours as they deemed appropriate for tasks such as writing e-mails and attending meetings.
The senate referendum sent out in fall 2011 framed the current funding system in the following way: “Should appointed members of the Student Finance Committee and/or elected members of the Student Senate receive minimum wage compensation?” This was an extremely misleading representation of the funding mechanism behind these organizations, and it illustrates the lack of clarity and transparency that has surrounded their compensation for years. Almost all student employees of the College receive minimum wage compensation; the question is not the wage per hour but the number of hours for which a student can be paid.
As members of the Review staff, we too are employees of the College, and our weekly pay is based on Ohio’s ever-fluctuating minimum wage (up to $7.85 at last count!). By contrast, however, the pay of each staffer is set at a fixed stipend of 3 to 12 hours per week, depending on the position. There are weeks when we work fewer hours than we are paid for; more often, though, meetings, e-mailing, story coverage and late-night production crises mean that some or all of us work many more hours than we are paid. The reality of holding a position that serves the student body is that you will inevitably put forth more effort than you are monetarily compensated for. And that’s fine, really, because such jobs aren’t only jobs — they’re passions, extracurricular activities and résumé builders.
We recognize that positions on Senate and SFC are more mercurial than our jobs at a paper with consistent deadlines, and we support their ability to report their own hours to reflect fluctuations in workload week to week rather than operating on a fixed stipend. But, like us, they should be held to the firm standard of an upper limit on their weekly pay, and accountability and transparency should be a prerequisite. The Task Force voted to allow exceptions to the 20-hour rule in special circumstances, which may be brought before the Senate body for approval. We hope Senate is consistent in limiting these exceptions to truly extraordinary circumstances, such as the barrage of activity and action surrounding the March 4 Day of Solidarity. Holding themselves to these standards can only increase the level of quality and responsibility on which senators currently operate.