VSA Exec. payment fails to address issues of exclusivity

The Vassar Student Association (VSA) recently proposed a constitutional amendment which allows for the VSA Executive Board to collect pay per hour of all VSA-related work—the receival of this stipend would be mandatory for every member of the Executive Board, without any exceptions. 

In years past, the VSA has asked the Administration for said stipend, and last year a letter recommending such a proposal was drafted and addressed to President Catharine Hill. Hill wrote back and referred the council to Dean of the College Christopher Roellke, who then brought the proposal to the Senior Administration. The Senior Administration then told Roellke that the VSA could be paid. but only if the money to pay them came out of the student association’s own funds.

As a result, the VSA has now drafted an amendment allowing the Executive Board to collect a per-hour allowance. The money for this stipend would come out of the Discretionary Fund.

The initial reason the VSA Executive Board asked for a stipend for their positions was to help make the VSA more accessible to students on work study. The stipend would open up the position to those on campus who have work study jobs and need to generate income throughout the school year. In doing so, those who have drafted the letter felt that students with work study jobs would not have to choose between holding their position and serving as an Exec. Board member—a position that requires as many, if not more hours per week as a work study position.

While this is a valid argument, we at The Miscellany News feel that this original reason for VSA Exec. to get paid has been veered away from issues related to accessibility in this new amendment. What’s more, if the VSA is going to pay themselves, it shouldn’t be coming out of the Discretionary Fund, a fund built from the money from the Student Activities Fee that every student must pay in order to attend Vassar. All of this is to say that the VSA would be paying themselves with the money from the student body.

We feel that the VSA has gone about writing and proposing this amendment in a misguided way. Instead of viewing the amendment as a way to help open the VSA up to the larger VC community, the drafted amendment now comes off with ulterior motives. It was stated in VSA Council on Feb. 15 that the passage of this amendment would be a foot in the door for house presidents to also be paid for the work they do, regardless of work study status. By allowing the entire Council to be paid, the VSA will be trivializing actual student financial need by blanketing this funding across the VSA.

As elected officials, VSA members should want to represent their constituency, regardless of compensation. We at The Miscellany News feel that money might actually bring people into the VSA who are driven by the desire to receive said compensation. It will not actually diversify the VSA, which consistently struggles with adequately representing people of color and lower socioeconomic background. The stipend no longer seems to be about accessibility, especially since no information about the stipend has been circulated around campus, meaning students at large don’t know that this is now an option for them.

There is a valid argument about paying these students for the work they are doing. We recognize that their work study positions can be prohibitive. Still, there comes the question of where to draw the line. There are other campus organizations that require similar amounts of time including WVKR, Vassar EMS, CARES etc. Should they then be paid to do their job as well, even though we all volunteer for our orgs?

There needs to be a valid reason behind what could make the VSA a worthier choice over other organizations on campus.

One clause of the current bill states that everyone who is elected to Executive Board must take the stipend, and must forfeit any current work study position. If the VSA is talking about accessibility, it should not be cutting off student availability to pursue interests at Vassar and still maintain a job. Vassar is an institution that pushes us as students to manage our time effectively. We have opportunities to try everything but must learn to find our niche, make commitments and find balance. People pursue what they are passionate about. Learning to juggle everything is part of the Vassar experience. If students are on work study, they should be able to pursue that as well. Students should not have to see these opportunities as an either/or situation.

Those elected to serve on the VSA are presumably there because they want to be there. The student body rightfully assumes that participation is voluntary, and making these positions paid would actually create a further divide on campus. Those on the VSA know what they are getting into when they run for those positions, and we believe that expecting compensation for something voluntary is not valid. 

Furthermore, monetary compensation would only reveal a greater conflict of interest within the current VSA. Due the the history of the VSA, where members tend to remain in power but move to different positions from year to year, means that every member of the current VSA faces a conflict of interest in voting for the amendment. It would only be proper for every voting member to abstain from the vote on this amendment.

We at The Miscellany News believe the VSA should do something like polling the student body to gain information on Vassar students’ collective stance on the issue. The question is not simply whether we think this action is valid, but also the nature with which it has been proposed and discussed. If the VSA does not properly inform the student body of this policy, there is a chance that no more people will apply. This further calls into question the reasoning for this decision. We would recommend holding a referendum on this issue open to the student body.

We believe the VSA should make this issue known by attaching a poll about it to their spring election ballots, which would increase the response rate of student input. All students voting in these elections could then vote on whether they agree with the decision to make Executive Board positions paid. Though this would delay the VSA’s ability to adopt the amendment into their constitution, the opinion of the student body is ultimately important to those who are supposed to represent them.

It is worth noting that VSA does make most of its decisions public. There are various venues for open groups and forums around campus detailing the current discussions the Council has, and students should be aware of how to access such information. Still there is an ongoing disparity between this public decision making and making said decisions as open and accessible as possible to the rest of the student body.

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