Guest Viewpoint

(Maisie Plew/Emerald)

This piece reflects the views of the author and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to letters@dailyemerald.com.

The ASUO has fought to prioritize student workers during this fully remote academic year through supporting union building activities and discussions, and ensuring safe and clean work environments on campus. As ASUO president, these efforts highlight the ultimate reason I ran for this position: to continuously strive to make the University of Oregon a more accessible space. Our campus could not function without the dedication provided by student employees; they are entitled to a fair living wage, benefits and representation.

It would be nonsensical to state we have achieved student-employee nirvana. Many goals and deserved benefits have yet to be implemented, and transitioning back to in-person instruction will surely present a new set of challenges for student employees that demand answers and swift responses. The newly elected ASUO Senate, Executive and I look forward to the continued prioritization of student employees and ensuring transparency in both ASUO and university administration. And this prioritization begins now.

Student government and student organization leadership positions are not accessible to everyone on our campus. Our stipend model is simply not structured to ensure that low-income students can participate in student leadership positions. The expected time commitment for these positions, coupled with minute stipend pay, allows for even a simple cost-benefit analysis to show the economic infeasibility for many students. For the last two years, both as senate president and executive president, I have worked a second job to make ends meet. As an employee, I feel my labor has been ill-compensated. And as a leader, I feel my commitment to attention has been less than full — this is unacceptable. Full commitment to student needs is the key requirement for the executive president, which I was elected to do.

The solution to this issue is simple: change our stipend model. This is exactly what we would like to achieve. Currently, our stipend model provides half the compensation for student leaders that Oregon State University does, and sits far lower than the Pac-12 average, while we retain a much larger budget than the average Pac-12 school. I propose, as ASUO executive president, that we veer away from our outdated, ill-adjusted for inflation, stipend model. We can enter a new era of accessible leadership by adopting a model similar to OSU’s. This will allow us to reward our student leaders with a stipend that better reflects the effort they put in to better our community.

OSU’s stipends operate on a “predicted work” model. Student government and student organization leadership collaborate to set an assumed amount of work hours for every student leadership position. They then pay the student leaders an agreed-upon fixed wage above minimum wage based on that estimation.

Currently, ASUO’s stipend model provides a flat, unchangeable rate for all three branches, while varying depending on a position's responsibilities. The same goes for student organization leadership. In all, ASUO’s budget for stipends is $203,000, 1.15% of our total budget ($17,595,371). Adopting OSU’s model would increase this amount to $668,624, 3.8% of our total budget. This figure may be reduced depending on the makeup of the newly elected ASUO senate this upcoming academic year, and I will be sure to inform you of what the final amount spent on stipends amounts to.

The ASUO and I strongly believe in the notion that higher pay increases productivity, quality of life and provides a more positive work environment; all of which is extremely important for students. We are a population faced with harrowing economic conditions, while over-encumbered with boisterous work loads. In addition to the projected benefits of a stipend increase, no extra costs or fees will fall upon the student body.

To summarize, this action will provide a wider, more fruitful monetary stream flowing toward student leaders, without charging ASUO’s constituency an extra penny. All of this can be achieved within the ASUO senate. Our 2021-22 budget is already set, but to adequately compensate our student leaders the senate can hold an exemption vote, allowing the current stipend model to be replaced without impacting the greater budget. Later in the year, the senate will have the option to fully approve this new “assumed work” model, certifying it as the official and permanent ASUO stipend model.

I greatly appreciate you, the reader, for taking the time to read through this proposed change. It is my job to provide transparency, especially when it comes to matters of finance and educational opportunities for anybody who wishes to better understand ASUO’s goals and operations.

The final note I would like to express is the impact I believe this will have on diversity here at UO. If we want to cherish and promote diversity within our community, we need to commit to it. We must commit to propelling diverse voices forward — it is our greatest tool in achieving our goals and pushing student interests within university administration. To fully commit to amplifying the voices of our Black, Indigenous and People of Color leaders, we must create spaces that support them not only emotionally, mentally and physically, but financially as well. The only way to do so is to adequately compensate a committed diverse set of student leaders. As I enter my fourth year in this student government, I hope that I can continue to create the necessary connections both internally and externally to establish spaces for future BIPOC student leaders to continue the fight for change.

Sincerely, 

Isaiah Boyd

ASUO Executive President