|Student leaders often paid
Mary Beth Polley
From full tuition to annual salaries topping $10,000, universities across the country are offering student government leaders compensation for their efforts.
Student Leader magazine recently surveyed 150 public and private universities; of those, 88 percent gave some type of compensation to student government leaders.
Schools offer stipends, scholarships and cash so students can concentrate on student government without having to worry about part-time jobs, said Butch Oxendine, editor of Student Leader. Paying students also increases interest and professionalism, he said.
"Students are expected to put in 60 hours a week and handle multi-million-dollar budgets," Oxendine said.
At Boston University, where student government leaders do not receive any type of compensation, Student Union members said some form of compensation isn't such a bad idea.
"It's a really good idea to encourage a higher caliber," said Union President Meghan Fay, a junior in the College of Communication. "With not being paid you get students who are dedicated, but it's definitely a 40-hour week."
BU administrators maintain that involvement in student government should not be prompted by pay.
"They're getting a lot and putting a lot into the university. It's still a voluntary act," said Abby Elmore, director of the Student Activities Office. "The students who are involved do it because they enjoy it."
Elmore conceded that some students may not be able to run for Union or Senate positions because they need to hold part-time jobs, but she said that doesn't justify making the jobs paid positions.
"It's a decision each student needs to make," Elmore said.
While Fay and her colleagues don't receive compensation, members of the Student Election Commission are paid between $350 and $400 for their work. The SEC is responsible for running elections, putting together information about the candidates and counting the votes.
"They get the stipend because they have so much work to do in such a limited amount of time," said Justin McCullen, a College of Arts and Sciences junior and chairman of the Student Union Election Commission.
Elmore said she is concerned that extending pay to all student leaders might shift their priorities. Salaries or stipends might force student leaders to chose between being loyal to those who elected them and those who pay their salaries, she said.
But that's not the case, according to students at the University of South Florida, where top student government members are paid $10,937 a year. Student leaders never lose sight of their loyalties, they said.
"Student government is a voice for the students, to the administrations and senators in Florida who handle higher education needs," said Elain Bispo, a fiscal coordinator for the school's student government. "They don't just do the fun stuff, they do the hard stuff, too."
South Florida's student government has complete control over its $4.5 million budget, Bispo said. The money goes to finance an extensive array of programs, including a student escort service, a computer lab, and the cost for students to lobby the state government over issues of importance to them.
BU's student government budget is $250,000, and Union and Senate members have much less control over it. The money is split between the Programming Council, the Student Union Advisory Board and the 10 individual college governments.
Involvement in student government at BU has been notoriously low. Last year, only two slates vied for the top student positions on campus; the winning "U" slate didn't throw its name into the mix until after the deadline for declaring candidacy.
Jason Ilstrup, the Union's vice president of financial affairs and a CAS junior, said paying students might bring a higher level of professionalism to student government and increase participation.
"I think there should be some kind of compensation, a stipend or scholarship," Ilstrup said. "What we're doing is for the whole school."
With many students struggling to pay tuition and board, giving up 20 to 40 hours a week to participate in student government is not an option.
Jason Brill, president of the student body at the University of Miami, receives full tuition. Without that perk, he said, he would not be able to make such a commitment.
"I would have to take time out for a second job," Brill said. "They offer academic scholarships, athletic scholarships; I feel I've reached the pinnacle of leadership."