According to a post on the Facebook page of the Mississippi State University chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, the chapter is asking Student Association candidates to pledge to give up their salaries to the university or a local charity if elected.
In the post, which I picked up from a friend of mine, the chapter president Matthew Burrow said in a question-and-answer session YAL held with SA candidates Wednesday night, members of the organization asked the candidates, "If elected, would any of you commit to giving your salaries back to the school?"
According to the post, presidential candidate Drew Cleek said he would be willing to give his salary back to the university.
"YAL would like to encourage ALL of the SA candidates to follow suit," reads Burrow's post. "If they are serious about finding solutions to our school's budget crisis while acting in the best interest of the students then they need to address these lofty salaries" of which Burrow claims much of the student body is unaware.
What are these lofty salaries?
The SA constitution lays out $510 for the president per month for 12 months, which comes out to $6,120 in all. For each month from September through May, the vice president receives $400, and the treasurer, attorney general and secretary each receive $250.
Burrow further writes, "If they love Mississippi State University and our students as much as their campaign speeches would have you believe, then the money is irrelevant, and even slightly offensive."
For those who haven't heard of it yet, YAL is a politically-oriented libertarian student group that is a continuation of what used to be Students for Ron Paul during the last U.S. presidential election.
While I admire many of the economically conservative principles of the Ron Paul movement and YAL's interest in saving money, I think they are going too far in specifically urging our SA candidates to give up their salaries if elected.
Being an SA executive officer is a job. The SA president especially holds a high degree of responsibility. The executive council is involved in almost everything happening on campus with respect to students one way or another, from Bulldog Bash to textbook prices. I personally visited the president's office once last semester, and Blake Jeter was not sitting around twiddling his fingers. Like almost all student jobs on campus, executive council positions should carry a salary.
The salary of executive officers corresponds with the importance of their position and helps to establish a certain amount of accountability and incentive. The American Student Government Association reports more than 71 percent of universities nationwide offer some kind of compensation to student leaders. The University of Mississippi Associated Student Body's constitution allots $300 a month to its president and tuition for three academic hours in the summer. Mississippi State's student government is more or less on par with other university student governments, and I don't see a problem with it staying that way.
Furthermore, asking executive officers to give up their salaries is not significantly going to affect the budget crisis the state and its universities are in. Mississippi State is experiencing a three-year, $47 million state funding budget cut. A Jan. 24 Clarion Ledger editorial suggests the only escape from heavy budget cuts for Mississippi universities "is another substantial federal stimulus package or fiscal bailout for the states or one that is earmarked strictly for education."
I also do not think we should be particularly quick to try to fix a bad economic situation by taking it out on students, of all people. The university will experience a 6 to 6.3 percent increase in tuition next year as it is, which affects all students, including the future SA president.
If YAL were simply arguing for lowering executive salaries, instead of totally eliminating them, I would take their idea more seriously.
However, it is certainly admirable that Cleek actually agreed to give up his salary if elected, and such an action would indeed be beneficial for student clubs.
"I have a steady income from the military and my business so I have been blessed with the option to give back," Cleek said in an e-mail message. He went on to say, "This additional money could go a long way to improving our allocations for students. It alone is nearly a quarter of the budget already allotted by the Student Association to campus clubs, and think how much more [we could] help the students of Mississippi State if we had this to give."
Matt Watson is a graduate student majoring in Spanish. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.