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ASWSUV proposes reduced wages for student leaders

Candidates for student leadership at Washington State University Vancouver may earn lower wages than expected next year. Wage decreases for nearly all student government positions were part of the ASWSUV budget proposal recently approved by the student senate.

The biggest wage cut was proposed for the ASWSUV president and vice president who currently earn $16 per hour. The proposed budget will cut this amount to $13 per hour. The proposal also eliminates the executive team’s textbook allowance of $1200 per year, resulting in a total budget reduction of $7200 per year for these two positions. If approved by the S&A Fee committee, next year’s president and vice president will each earn $13,000 instead of the compensation package of $16,600 they have earned for the past two years.

The change in executive team compensation will impact wages for other ASWSUV student leaders as well. ASWSUV bylaws specify that executive staff wages must equal at least 50 percent of the amounts earned by the ASWSUV president and vice president. Currently these directors earn $8,000 per year, with the exceptions of director of legislative affairs and director of activities who are currently compensated an additional $1,000 per year. The proposed annualized wage for members of the executive staff will be $6,500 next year.

The budget proposal also reflects restructuring the student activities board that is currently a function within the executive staff. Next year, the SAB will function as an independent committee under the student senate. The activities director is currently compensated $9,000 per year, assistant director makes $4,000 and the other members of the activities board are not paid. If the budget proposal is approved, these wages will move to a pool of $20,100, which will be shared equally among five (or more) student activities board members paid at minimum wage.

Other line items completely cut from the budget include a retreat fund of $3,300 and a $3,000 sustainability fund.

The proposed budget redistributes money from wages to increase compensation for senate positions, provide student government training, and enhance the operating budgets for communications, legislative affairs, university affairs and student life development.

A textbook allowance of $2,400 for members of the elections board and $1,600 for the judicial board members has also been proposed. These positions are not currently compensated.

Budget controversy
The ASWSUV senate spent 13 hours negotiating the proposed budget, much of the discussion focused on wage reductions.

The compensation structure for all student employees on campus changed two years ago from an annual stipend to an hourly wage. Nguyen said he and ASWSUV Vice President Aaron Bruckner thought the resulting wages were “unjustifiably high for student involvement positions.”

“Aaron and I asked ourselves: ‘Are we comfortable disclosing that we make $16 per hour, and that money is coming from S&A fee dollars all students pay into. What do the students really have to say about this?’ Most students are surprised that we make anything at all. So, that was the justification we had,” he said.

However, student senator Michael Gay felt the wage reduction was unjustified.

“To me, a justification would be if there was some sort of budget shortfall, if students had complained directly that they thought the executive staff was making too much money, or if it had been demonstrated that the executive staff had not earned the wages,” Gay said.

“Those numbers were set in 2009 for the 2010 budget. Since then, tuition has gone up by almost 50 percent. The cost of living has gone up approximately seven percent. Everything in the world has gone up, but yet, those [wages] have stayed stagnant. And now to lower them is regressive.”

Gay said the wage reduction will make it harder for non-traditional students to serve as student leaders.

“There is a certain kind of attitude attached to this that is: ‘You’re a student and you’re getting paid with experience and the monetary compensation is just a bonus.’ However, I would say that in any job, you’re gaining experience. Just because we’re students doesn’t mean we should be compensated less for our work,” Gay said. “We are considered employees of the state. We have all the accountability of any state employee, yet to say we should be compensated differently because we’re students — that’s not right.”

To make his point, Gay compared wages at local businesses with the wages proposed for student leaders in 2013/14:

“You could go to Costco and get a job pushing shopping carts right now for $11 an hour and they’ll pay you benefits and time and a half. I occasionally come in on weekends for a meeting and I don’t get time and a half and I sure don’t get benefits.”

However, Nguyen feels the wage is reasonable.

“You’re still getting paid more than any student on campus. You’re probably making more than some permanent staff here. And $13 to $14 per hour is typical for a middle manager in the outside world, he said.

Nguyen is also aware that some students feel the wage change is radical.

“Yes, it is radical, but that doesn’t make it wrong. This has been a conversation for over three years of senators wanting to really evaluate our pay system. This is not just Aaron’s and my idea. It’s what we’ve been talking to students about. Is paying the president and vice president $16 per hour really the best way to use S&A fees? The change is radical, but there is nothing radical about $13 per hour at all.”

Overall, ASWSUV is requesting $16,700 less than last year, the first time in five years that the ASWSUV budget request was less than the prior year.

ASWSUV FY 14 Operating Budget Proposal

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Cyndie,
    I’m auditing a class (Death & Dying) under the Senior Citizen Tuition program at WSUV and picked up a copy of The Vancouger today. Your story caught my eye, but I’d like some clarification please.

    Your article quotes student senator Michael Gay as stating: “We are considered employees of the state. We have all the accountability of any state employee…”

    1. Who (or what document) considers them as employees of the state?
    2. Do the wages/compensation described come from student fees exclusively? If not, please describe.

    Thanks for your work and efforts as editor, hope you are slowing down a bit to catch up on life!

    kind regards,
    Ed Madden
    Ridgefield, WA

  2. Cyndie Meyer says:

    Hi Ed –
    Thank you for your question.
    ASWSUV student leaders are employed by Washington State University and are therefore temporary employees of the state. Wages for student leaders and students who work for campus media organizations are paid from the Services and Activities fees budget which is generated through a fee charged to every student at the beginning of each semester.
    Thanks for your good wishes!
    Cyndie