From the Daily: CSG should pursue compensation for all student leaders

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 7:11pm

Central Student Government President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior, concluded the Fall 2017 semester by vetoing resolution A.R. 7-026, which would have called for the use of University of Michigan funding to monetarily compensate members of CSG for their work. While this veto means CSG cannot further pursue the specific resolution, Sarkar has said that she is continuing to reach out to University bodies such as the Office of Student Life to seek an alternative solution to compensate members.

Given the high amount of time CSG representatives dedicate toward serving their student constituents, the desire for compensation is legitimate. However, monetary compensation for CSG members, whether through University funding or a tuition waiver, is not equitable to the leaders of thousands of other student organizations who invest equally significant time into their organizations. Sponsored Student Organizations are barred from paying their members due to University regulations on the allocation of student organization funding. This, despite the fact that  students who need to take a job while in school, uncompensated extracurricular leadership may put valuable opportunities out of reach.

While CSG may exist outside SSO policy — it relies primarily on a student fee of $9.19 per semester for its $800,000 annual budget — it should not view itself as more valuable to the University and its leaders more deserving of compensation than others.  Directing public funds into financial compensation for the CSG executive board would, therefore, place a greater financial burden on all students, with an inequitable benefit for only CSG. As the LSA Student Government noted in a statement against the CSG proposal, “The opinion of the body (CSG) is … that involvement in CSG is more important than any of the other 1,400 plus student organizations on campus.”

CSG’s unique role as the representative body of the entire campus does bolster the argument for member compensation. However, CSG’s current makeup falls short of accurately reflecting the University’s student body with 24.5 percent of the 2016 entering class coming from households that make $250,000 or more annually. According to the Central Student Government Demographic Report, approximately 37.2 percent of CSG members come from households that bring in $250,000 or more annually. This socioeconomic disparity between CSG and the University as a whole reflects the barriers to membership confronted by students of low socioeconomic status.

Although financial compensation is meant to increase accessibility for students of lesser means, we are concerned that Sarkar has suggested modifying the proposal to only compensate executive board members. Here, the proposal falls short in its mission to increase CSG’s accessibility to students whose participation may have previously been financially impossible by only providing compensation for a select number of students. Seeing as the majority of the executive board is comprised of non-elected students, there is also no guarantee that monetary compensation will not further exacerbate this barrier by serving as a vehicle for nepotism, promoting students with similar backgrounds as existing representatives.

In addition, the lack of participation in elections undermines CSG’s legitimacy as a body deserving of outsized compensation. Only 17.9 percent of students voted in the 2017 CSG election, reflecting low mobilization on the part of the student body. This is not to say that CSG does not work in the best interests of students, but rather that most students may not be wholly aware of CSG and its important duties.

Members could perhaps attempt to better fund the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, a program created by CSG last year in an effort to compensate student leaders for unpaid hours involved with their extracurricular commitments. This would give all students, regardless of financial need, the ability to become more involved without emphasizing the value of any one organization over another. While previous efforts by CSG to fund the scholarship through a $5 increase to student fees aroused opposition, we would hope that the discussions of funding mechanisms for CSG compensation could easily be extended to scholarship funding. Clearly, better outlets for extra funds are not impossible to find.

Other initiatives for addressing the executive board’s concerns exist such as academic credit compensation. Even though newer members of CSG are able to partake while taking full course loads, executive members often take on minimal credit commitments due to the longer hours needed for their positions. Similar credit compensation options exist for internship and research programs, and we can see how CSG experiences could provide similar educational opportunities.

We understand the reasoning and motivations behind CSG’s most recent efforts to secure compensation for their time, effort and dedication. However, the issues that may arise from monetary compensation, and, further, compensation for only the executive board, would place unequal value on CSG as a student organization compared to the hundreds of other student groups and leaders on campus.