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USG leadership should be paid for their work

Weekly Columnist

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08

As you may have heard, UConn’s Joint Elections are coming up this March. These include elections for a wide variety of positions, but arguably the most important is for student body president and vice president. Whoever wins that race will be the official voice of the student body for the 2013-2014 academic year. He or she will decide how student fees are distributed and represent UConn students not only to the school administration, but to the state and federal government.

And he or she will do this, and the countless other tasks included in the position, for no pay.

As some people may have assumed, and others may be surprised to hear, the president of UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) does not receive any sort of compensation. This should be changed. Compensating USG leadership would make the organization more fair and more effective.

For those unfamiliar with the topic, this may sound like a strange proposal. But in reality, it’s unusual that USG leaders aren’t already being compensated. According to a survey taken by the American Student Government Association, about 71 percent of schools pay their student government leaders, including 86 percent of public schools and 89 percent of schools with 10,000 to 20,000 students. Some of these leaders are paid quite handsomely according to ASGA’s 2001 survey, the most highly paid president of the student body is Northeastern University, who receives a package of benefits totalling nearly $25,000 per year. Dozens of other presidents receive five-figure stipends or salaries.

The lack of compensation isn’t just unusual among student governments, it’s unusual among UConn student organizations. There are six student organizations at UConn funded directly by student fees: USG, UCTV, the Daily Campus, WHUS, SUBOG, and the Nutmeg Yearbook. Four pay their leadership; only USG and SUBOG have an all-volunteer membership.

Now some may say that USG and SUBOG have it right, and that student leaders should never be paid. But I would bet that most of those people have never led a fee-funded organization. It’s not easy. You manage a huge group of members, keep track of finances and work on ways to improve your group. I should know – I served as president of USG last year and regularly worked 30 to 40 hours per week.

Others may admit that it’s incredibly hard work, but that paying student government leaders may make people get involved for the wrong reasons. Someone may run for office just for the paycheck, with no intention of actually getting anything accomplished. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ve worked closely with every fee-funded organization on campus, including those with paid leadership, and every single leader is dedicated to their work. They get involved because they love the organization’s mission, not because they’re looking to get paid. There are easier, better-paid jobs on campus for people looking to skate by. Plus, there are impeachment procedures in place to prevent that from happening in USG.

To me, the amount of work USG leaders put in is reason enough to pay them, but there are a host of other reasons as well. Paying USG leadership would allow lower-income students to run for office. The current lack of compensation prevents most students who are paying their way through school from participating in student government, as their time is dominated by other jobs. Paying leadership would also make USG more accountable to students – maybe more people would pay attention to what their student government representatives are doing if they knew they were being paid to do it.

Now, I’m not advocating giving the USG President a $25,000 package like the president at Northeastern. But it’s undeniable that the position should get some form of compensation. Due to the unique nature of USG as the official voice of the student body—as recognized by UConn’s Board of Trustees—and the huge service that USG provides to the UConn administration, I believe that the president of USG should receive compensation directly from UConn, in the form of either a stipend or tuition waiver.

On this topic, I no longer have any skin in the game. I’m graduating, so I won’t be running for student body president ever again, and I’m not advocating for retroactive pay for past presidents. But I still care deeply about the future of USG and of UConn, and I’m confident that compensating USG leaders would make that future a bit brighter. 

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