Proposed compensation bill for SGA officials incites controversy among Senate and Stevens campus

Photo courtesy SITTV

The Student Government Association (SGA) formally proposed the “Compensation of Officials of the SGA” Act at its weekly meeting this past Sunday, which would entail the distribution of stipends to each member of the Cabinet, the Speaker, each Standing Committee Chair, and each Senator. The introduction of the bill has since sparked controversy among senators and their constituents alike.

Article VIII of the proposed bill specifies that officials must hold office for at least one-half of the semester in order to be eligible for the stipend. Additionally, any official brought up for impeachment would lose eligibility, regardless of whether or not they are expelled from office.

Sophomore senator Nicolas Nuila and junior senator Rami Kammourh proposed the bill as a continuation of an initiative proposed during former SGA President Matthew Hunt’s tenure, which suggested compensation be provided in the form of meal plans for members of the SGA. In his President’s report during Sunday’s meeting, Tommy Daly addressed senators and guests who packed into Babbio Center 122 for the Sunday night meeting. He stated that the idea for monetary-based stipends emerged from the Annual Conference on Student Government Associations, hosted by Texas A&M back in late February and is meant to serve as an incentive to better the SGA as a whole and reward the hard work of SGA officials. “For the Cabinet we saw this as an opportunity to provide some money back from the opportunity cost they take when deciding to serve the study body in this manner,” said Daly. “It’s impossible for me to show the amount of work, time and thought my Cabinet and I put into our positions.” As per Nuila, early proponents of the bill drew inspiration from various other Student Governments, such as Central Connecticut State University and Colorado School of Mines.

In his address, Daly also denounced the hateful comments that he and fellow members of the SGA had received via the organization’s various social media platforms. He clarified that the proposed bill was not drafted out of “greed or arrogance,” and asked that he, along with the rest of the SGA, be treated with “respect and kindness” when controversial bills such as the Compensation Act are presented to the public.

Nicolas Nuila spoke to “dispel certain misconceptions of the bill,” noting that he, along with the other proposers and sponsors of the bill, were not trying to “embezzle money” from the Student Activity Fund, which all undergraduate students pay into as part of tuition—now valued at $206 per semester. Nuila noted that the bill, although on the docket for approval, is still “in its infancy” and was meant to be thoroughly discussed before codification.

Senior Senator Andy Waldron also made note of the #PayMeBack Facebook campaign that emerged following the presentation of the Compensation bill, a hashtag initiative created to instill leaders to be proactive in the face controversy. “Efforts like Pay Me Back are great examples of how students can not only present their ideas on how they feel about SGA proposals […] but also showcase the incredible student leaders that we have on a regular basis.”

Speaker Reeba James opened the discussion, and hands rose in contention of the bill. James Romph, the Subcommittee head for Electronics and Gaming, argued that the SGA proposed this bill at an inopportune time, given that the Budget Committee had just completed objective and subjective cuts one week prior. Romph viewed the proposed compensation to be “a little bit wrong-sided” given the “drought in funding.” Vice President of Finance, Houston Migdon, voiced his concerns from a financial standpoint, noting the infinitesimal distribution of funds to elected officials of the United States out of the $3.65 trillion dollars budgeted. Correlating these numbers to Stevens’s own government system, Migdon finds the allocation of $800 to the president, $600 to the cabinet members, $250 to the Speaker, $200 to each Standing Committee Chair and $100 to each Senator to be “financially unsound.”

Corinne Casey asked that the SGA consider the time and efforts of other leaders on campus who she’d argue “are worthy of compensation.” She also spoke of her time as Recording Secretary of the Stevens Honor Board: “I understand what it is like to be a part of a serious organization that’s not fun […] staying up until one in the morning debating about the futures of students’ academic careers […] The SGA isn’t the only organization that does things that aren’t fun.”

Nuila and Daly both recognize that the bill was sent to the Senate for approval prematurely and plan to hold an extensive discussion on controversial topics as a way to ensure that there are no missing gaps prior to the Senate’s vote. Following Sunday’s meeting, Daly stated that he spoke to “between 50 to 100 students” regarding the proposed compensation bill, with a majority in favor of some form of compensation for SGA officials. “I wasn’t surprised about [the bill] being controversial,” said Daly, who was more taken back at the negative and directed commentary he and other SGA senators received following the release of the docket. He noted continuously that the SGA “is not just the budgeting committee [that] it used to be” and pursued the discussion regarding compensation as a way to “motivate and add accountability to the Senate.”

The resolution was voted upon and failed unanimously, however Senators and guests continued to discuss the proposal into the night, including Natalie Barillaro, whose own experiences with the Stevens Dramatic Society resonated well with Daly’s experiences within the SGA. “What I learned from Tommy’s statement, and the Pay Me Back campaign on Facebook, and all of the leaders who spoke tonight […] is that we all suffer from major burnout,” said Barillaro. “The problem that the Compensation Bill is trying to solve is that we are suffering […] because I haven’t done your job, but I have worked similar hours and understand.” She recommended that the SGA pursue other options to address the “burn out” student leaders face.

The audience dwindled, yet discussion continued well on into the evening until Speaker James closed the meeting.

Former SGA adviser Dean Kristie Damell and current adviser Mr. Christopher Shemanski were aware of the Senate’s ideas regarding compensation. Shemanski attended the Annual Conference on Student Government Associations along with Nuila, Daly and Vice President of Operations Cat Oesterle back in February and recognized that an overwhelming majority of the 40-or-so institutions in attendance had methods of compensating their SGA leaders in some way. “The Texas A&M SGA President got free dry-cleaning services,” said Shemanski, recalling his own experience at the large institution where the president was often required to attend large, public events on behalf of the student body.

Shemanski and Damell encouraged the cabinet to perform research—namely to identify how other universities provide compensation to SGA senators and to seek the opinion of their constituents—as well as consider the feasibility of implementing a stipend-based compensation, which would be difficult from an administrative perspective.

“Whether or not the bill is passed, it raises a good question and conversation about the SGA’s roles on campus,” said Shemanski. Dean Damell echoed his thoughts and is hoping that this conversation will lead students to approach their senators with their own concerns or suggestions in the future.

Given the response towards this resolution, SGA leaders who originally proposed or supported the bill might need to reconsider the methods of compensation going forward. It is the Senate’s hope that any further work on this idea is discussed thoroughly in a future Senate meeting discussion period and remain a united effort between Senators, Cabinet members, and the entire Stevens community.