Student Council 411

At the penultimate meeting of the current Student Council, Council members reviewed what they’ve accomplished over the semester (coming soon to a mailbox near you) and discussed initiatives for next semester.

Dining Services will be a major focus of next semester, particularly extending hours at Essie Mae’s and increasing the amount for meal equivalency so that students can get more than coffee and yogurt for breakfast. Council is going to be sending out a survey asking for student opinions on Dining Services soon.

Council is also looking into ways to make more people use the Philly Shuttle, after a recent survey showed that it is woefully underused and underpublicized.

As far as internal improvements, Council and Dean Smaw are in the process of institutionalizing anti-oppression training for all Council members at the beginning of each semester.

Council has also initiated discussions about paying students who serve as student resources, namely themselves and the SMART counselors. This would allow students who are on work-study to hold these time-consuming jobs without penalty.

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0 comments

  1. 0
    Jeff Kaufman says:

    Mark: Thank you for your detailed reply; I don’t know if A found it helpful but I think I understand your position better now.

    An overview of the argument might be something like: student council has power and can make decisions; student council takes time; students who must use their time to work so they can afford college do not have the time for student council; therefore a group of students is denied the power of student council. This problem would be solved by making it a paid position.

    There are, however, other solutions, and one of these is already mostly in place. Our financial aid program limits the number of hours it expects students to work while enrolled. If a student is needing to work four jobs then, as JRK said, this is not a problem best solved in a student council specific way but with the financial aid program.

  2. 0
    A says:

    Mark,
    I understand your points but still disagree. I understand that many people have to work in order to attend Swat; I am one of those people. 336 may indeed be a finite number of hours, but that’s a whole lot of hours. Assuming one manages to get 8 hrs of sleep a night (which few do), is in class for 12 hrs a week, works 15 hrs per week (which is more than the College recommends), and spends 3 hrs a day eating, that still leaves 170 hrs in a 2 week period to socialize, do homework, and participate in College sports and organizations. If one really wants to, they can manage to devote 20 of those hours serving on the Council.

    Personally, I feel that serving on Student Council provides additional non-pecuniary benefits that other campus jobs or positions do not. Power can be a pretty nice perk, as well as the prestige and resume building benefits from serving on Student Council. Additionally, regarding the comparison between Student Council and other campus services, both paid (like the game room) and unpaid (like SMART), some of these services do require payment because without compensation, few students would be willing to do them. I mean, working the game room doesn’t require much effort, but if it weren’t paid, I doubt anyone would volunteer to just sit there for hours at a time. Student Council is a fairly high demand position, considering the effort people go through to get elected even when they know there is no monetary payment for their commitment.

  3. 0
    Lauren Stokes ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    Mark–I agree with all of your points (OK, I just surrendered my neutrality as a journalist, but I won’t be here next semester anyway) and thank you for making them–we assume that everyone here can do everything at once, money and such be damned, but it’s just a classic bias of the noisiest people getting taken to be the norm.

    I still do have the concern about definition of services, slightly, since I also think things like what I mentioned above, things which have a significant impact, should be accessible to all students–it would be tragic if somebody couldn’t be an IC leader because of money, you know? Although I now see your distinction between administrative decisions and services. Thanks for continuing to make these points, which are the most important things despite all the problematic parts of the idea.

  4. 0
    Mark Lewis '10 says:

    Dear A,

    I’ve decided to respond to every part of your post. I have decided this because there are apparently many other people opposed to paying Student Council, and they may be thinking some of the same things that you are.

    What?! Seriously?

    Yes. This is very serious.

    If you’re using the argument that Student Council should be paid in order to make it accessible to all students, then couldn’t you make the same argument for any extracurricular organization.

    No. You couldn’t. Because Student Council is not just “any extracurricular organization.” It is one of the many arms of the College Administration. In addition to providing a service, whatever that precisely means, Student Council is empowered to MAKE DECISIONS.

    Should Knit-wits or Psi Phi or College Dems offer compensation so that students are able to be active participants without sacrificing other employment options?

    These organizations are welcome to do whatever they like. However, they are all very different from Student Council, for reasons stated above. These organizations are true extracurricular activities; Student Council is a part of the school administration.

    Or if it’s only services we’re talking about, maybe we should provide payment to students participating in Rotaract or SHIP. Why should we have to pay people to provide a service to others?

    My choice of the word service was perhaps inadequate. Does framing the issue as student administration clear things up? Members of Rotaract and SHIP should not be paid by the College because Rotaract and SHIP are not part of the College Administration.

    Also, I don’t see how participating in Student Council would prevent someone from working a few jobs.

    Every sixty minutes, an hour passes. Every 336 hours, a Swarthmore College pay period passes. For Swarthmore students, many of these hours are usually taken up by important priorities like academics, sleep, and maintaining one’s sanity. Additionally, some students use quite a few of these 336 hours in order to work at a variety of on- and off-campus jobs. These hours are special, because students get paid for the things they do with them, and they can use this money for things like paying tuition.

    Being a member of Student Council also takes up hours. Due to several of the laws of mathematics, 336 is a finite number. Therefore, the use of some hours for participating in Student Council does indeed restrict the ability to “work a few jobs.”

    I mean, if it’s something you want to do, then maybe you can cut back participation in other campus groups without sacrificing your academics or your earning potential.

    Actually, A, this is false. It is false for a very important reason. You appear to be assuming that everyone participates in “other campus groups.” This is not the case. Remember that discussion about 336 hours in a pay period? Many times, #hours for academics + #hours for money-earning jobs + #hours for sleep + #hours for maintaining sanity = 336 hours. That’s no room for campus groups, and no room for an unpaid position like Student Council.

    Look around, most Swatties are able to handle a million things at once; the time commitment to Student Council isn’t so prohibitive that it prevents students from doing nothing but the Council and their academics.

    Your statement about Swatties is probably true. Please remember, however, that our “millions things” are not always the same. Some Swatties have 4 classes, belong to several campus groups, go to a party every weekend, and hold a Student Council position. Other Swatties have 4 classes and 4 jobs.

    Plus, serving on Student Council has benefits of its own like having the power to directly affect College decisions, in addition to the fact that it looks good on your resume.

    EXACTLY. Because Student Council has the power to directly affect College decisions, it should be accessible to all students.

    Additionally, paying students to serve on the Council might motivate students for the wrong reasons. I think it would increase the likelihood of students serving solely for the compensation and not because of their desire to improve the College.

    I think that people will still have an interest in improving the College even if they get paid for it. People’s desire to earn money doesn’t eliminate their desire to serve the College. In your thoughts and words about this issue and other issues surrounding campus work, please remember that many people trying to earn money in college are doing so in order that they can continue to attend.

    Well, A, I hope this has cleared things up for you and for others.

  5. 0
    Lauren Stokes ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    I believe Bryn Mawr recently decided to pay their Council equivalent. If someone wanted to do some research and see how that’s worked out for them I suspect it would be quite informative.

    We checked with the editors of the Bi-Co News, and they say it’s not true.

    (Hey, maybe now that the school is loan-free for aided students, they’ll also start paying everyone for the time they put into their schoolwork! The perfect solution to procrastination!)

  6. 0
    JRK says:

    I severely doubt that anyone would do a 20+ hour a week job for 8 hours (or fewer) pay just for shits and giggles… nonwithstanding the very valid debate about what defines a “service” (… I mean, someone IS paid to sit in the freaking Game Room and do their homework…).

    I’d also be interested in seeing the information from the Bryn Mawr decision, if that is correct. I’m getting the feeling that this is more a story about Financial Aid than anything else (if you need to work 20 hours a week at Swat just to stay here, something’s wrong with the system, not just StuCo).

  7. 0
    Jeff Kaufman says:

    I believe Bryn Mawr recently decided to pay their Council equivalent. If someone wanted to do some research and see how that’s worked out for them I suspect it would be quite informative.

  8. 0
    A says:

    What?! Seriously? If you’re using the argument that Student Council should be paid in order to make it accessible to all students, then couldn’t you make the same argument for any extracurricular organization. Should Knit-wits or Psi Phi or College Dems offer compensation so that students are able to be active participants without sacrificing other employment options? Or if it’s only services we’re talking about, maybe we should provide payment to students participating in Rotaract or SHIP. Why should we have to pay people to provide a service to others?

    Also, I don’t see how participating in Student Council would prevent someone from working a few jobs. I mean, if it’s something you want to do, then maybe you can cut back participation in other campus groups without sacrificing your academics or your earning potential. Look around, most Swatties are able to handle a million things at once; the time commitment to Student Council isn’t so prohibitive that it prevents students from doing nothing but the Council and their academics. Plus, serving on Student Council has benefits of its own like having the power to directly affect College decisions, in addition to the fact that it looks good on your resume.

    Additionally, paying students to serve on the Council might motivate students for the wrong reasons. I think it would increase the likelihood of students serving solely for the compensation and not because of their desire to improve the College.

  9. 0
    Mark Lewis '10 says:

    AQ: Your concern for the cost/feasibility of Student Council is natural. I’m sure others are thinking along similar lines. My position on this issue, however, is that the question of feasibility and cost is largely irrelevant. An unpaid Student Council (and Committees! let’s not forget them either!) denies some students equal access to the administration of the College:

    -Student Council and Committees, however much anyone doesn’t like them, or thinks they’re corrupt, are an essential and powerful part of the College administration.
    -Being on Student Council or a Committee requires a lot of work, which is unpaid.
    -Therefore, students who must work other (paying) jobs in order that they can continue to attend Swat do not have equal access to the administrative capabilities of Student Council and Committees, because participation in these organizations requires a sacrifice of income and time.

    Maybe the introduction of a paid Student Council could be accompanied by other some increased accountability measures? For instance, is there any way to appeal Student Council decisions? Are impeachments generally possible? Greater accountability is of course good. I do wish to stress, however, that accountability issues–with the structure of Student Council or with past Councils–should not distract of the equity of access issue that is also at hand.

  10. 0
    AQ says:

    Jeff/all: Yeah, I’m getting that too; something’s up with all of the SBC sites. The “Student Council” link on the Dashboard leads to the correct site (and, currently, to the error page). I agree that some notice should be put up on the old site.

  11. 0
    Jeff Kaufman says:

    AQ: When I follow your link I get “I cannot connect to the database because:” and then nothing. I was looking at students/organizations/council which, I guess, is not their current website. Putting a note like “this is not our current website; you want [link].” would be nice.

    As for Council having “closed” appeals for which votes are not recorded, it doesn’t look to me like they can do this without (secretly) amending their constitution. And having official Council decisions for which we can hold no one accountable seems a bad idea to me, especially if we’re considering paying these people.

  12. 0
    AQ says:

    Are you guys looking at the current site?
    http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/org/sbc/orgs/stuco/

    I think they changed over from the old site sometime last semester. There’s a link to a list of members on the right, and minutes have been posted for up until Thanksgiving break. In general the recent minutes have been pretty sparse and don’t contain the information David is looking for–some of the older ones (spring ’06) are much more detailed/entertaining.

    Jeff: There have been recent cases of SC closing and not reporting votes on appeals of SBC decisions. I heard that this was because SC wanted its members to vote without worrying about public opinion (SBC decisions that get appealed tend to be very unpopular) but this was not an official explanation.

  13. 0
    Jeff Kaufman says:

    David German: “To the Gazette: In your Student Council coverage, you seldom report which Council members support and oppose various measures, or quote from the Council debate.”

    You can’t get debate quotes this way, but votes on motions are required to be in the minutes by the Council constitution:

    “3.3 All motions shall be decided by an open vote, and each individual
    vote cast on every motion shall be recorded in the minutes. Members must
    be present in order to cast votes.

    3.5 In special circumstances, SC may decide to use consensus for its
    decisions if no less than two thirds of all members present vote in
    favor of using consensus. In these circumstances, SC may also change the
    policy of open, individually recorded votes if no less than two thirds
    of all members present vote in favor of the change.”

    and:

    “2.8 Secretary. One such member shall serve a term of one year, running from the end of the fall examination period until the end of the following fall examination period. The Secretary shall keep and post all minutes of meetings…”

    They’ve not posted any minutes for this semester, yet, but when they do you should be able to look up how each member voted on any motion or resolution.

  14. 0
    Jeff Kaufman says:

    AQ: “Was there any discussion on where Council’s pay would come from? If it’s the student activities fund, then they’d either have to get the funding approved by SBC or appeal the SBC decision to themselves, which would be…problematic, to say the least.”

    It would be problematic, sure, but Council has done this before. In the incident David German referred to where Garth S.-C. was removed from the ballot by the election subcommittee of Council, several students including Chris Ford, David Chudzicki and I went to Council to object. As David German said above, Council eventually decided that despite their constitution providing procedures for dealing with alleged election fraud (section 1.6 ) they were under no obligation to follow them and they could if they wanted disqualify arbitrary candidates before or after the voting.

    During the discussion a Council member (I think Alex Leader-Smith, but I
    m not sure) brought up that at their previous meeting Council had voted to approve funding for a party hosted by several Council members for which SBC had rejected funding. SBC rejected funding because the Council members did not apply to SBC for funds, but just came to them after the party with receipts. He brought this incident up as a reason it was important that Council not be able to choose it’s successors.

    Minutes from this meeting and the previous meeting were never published; George Hang (who took notes at the meeting) claimed alternately that he was too busy, that he had lost the notes, that there never were any notes, and that there never was any meeting. If you look at Council’s minutes you can see they didn’t post minutes for Spring 2006 past Wednesday April 19, skipping Wednesday April 26 when the allegedly appealed funding to themselves and Wednesday May 3 when they decided that their constitution was an advisory document.

    No current Council member was on Council then, so I don’t hold any if this against the current Council, but with a history like this I don’t like the idea of paying them.

  15. 0
    AQ says:

    Was there any discussion on where Council’s pay would come from? If it’s the student activities fund, then they’d either have to get the funding approved by SBC or appeal the SBC decision to themselves, which would be…problematic, to say the least. It doesn’t sound like the kind of thing they can just decide on their own.

    At 8 hours per week for 10 council members for 27 weeks at $8.56 (current top pay scale), you’re looking at about $18,500 for the year. That’s a hefty portion of the SAF or the President’s Office funds or whatever. That doesn’t even consider the SMART team or anyone Lauren mentioned. There needs to be a lot more discussion of this issue and probably a student body referendum.

  16. 0
    David German '08 says:

    Lauren,

    I’m not sure whether I think all the roles you name should be paid, but I agree Student Council could legitimately consider paying them. There’s a world of difference between Council paying any of those people and Council paying Council – it’s all about accountability and conflict of interest.

  17. 0
    Lauren Stokes ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    Speaking as myself, one of my concerns about this initiative is that to me, it’s unclear what “student services” means.

    Some other positions on campus which arguably provide a student service and which are also arguably more inaccessible to students who need to work at a paid student service (because library workers, gardeners, SBC people…also all providing a service) :

    1. Campus media. Call me self-serving, but working ten hours a week and editing The Phoenix/Gazette are sort of mutually exclusive. Both publications will have some sort of pay system as of next semester, but one that is totally out of whack with actual effort expended.
    2. Facilitators of closed groups–SAO, SASS, SQU, Colors, Survivors, the Depression Support Group, hell, isn’t there a working class group now?–all of these students serve as resources for their communities and have probably put aside their life more than once to serve those communities.
    3. SHCs. Again, call me self-serving, but some of them are definitely spending as much time counseling as some SMART members.
    4. SCCS! Without these hard-working server-maintaining folks, you would have no websites or e-mail lists.
    5. I consider the people who bring awesome speakers to campus and those who put together things like Class Awareness Month and Coming Out Week to be providing a service to me (thanks, everybody, I’ve learned a lot!) just as much as Student Council, but are they getting paid for their hours upon hours of effort? No.

    I guess my point is just, I think it’s important to figure out what we want to mean by student services before any initiative to pay more “student services” is taken.

  18. 0
    David German '08 says:

    Mark,

    The idea that wages might increase accountability is interesting. So long as Council members can only be “fired” at election time, however, getting elected to Council would still be a ticket to a term’s worth of income unencumbered by actual job requirements. That’s pretty weak accountability. Perhaps a retroactive approach could create the correct incentives: at the end of a Council member’s term, the student body votes a salary for the incumbent between $0 and some maximum. The maximums are budgeted, but the representative is actually only paid the average vote.

    Regarding the history of ballot exclusion: In Spring ’06, Garth S.-C. ran for co-president. You can find his platform in the Gazette archives here:

    http://www.swatdaily.org/2006/04/20/student-council-platforms-2/

    Student Council used a homemade online voting system at that time. Garth discovered vulnerabilities in that system and notified the Council. They responded by removing him from the ballot. Phoenix coverage of the episode is here:

    http://phoenix.swarthmore.edu/2006/2006-04-27/news/16220

    Whatever S.-C.’s motivations were, the Council’s response was, in my view, entirely out of line. To justify it in the following weeks, the Council eventually claimed that it could remove people from the ballot for whatever reason it liked.

    Although no one involved in that election is still on Council, the incident illustrates my fundamental suspicion of the institution: as you say, it has some power, and that power has completely gone to its head.

  19. 0
    Lauren Stokes ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    At the meeting on which you report, did any Council members express reservations about the notion of putting themselves on the payroll?

    David–I don’t recall any Council members expressing reservations. I think they probably have different ideas about how it should be done (only work-study v. everyone, for example) but to my knowledge, every Council member is in favor of the idea.

  20. 0
    Mark Lewis '10 says:

    David, I think that you have a really valid point. I think in the most important way we agree–student providers of services to students, such as SMART, deserve a wage. The only difference seems to be that your perspective on Student Council does not accept them as providers of a service.

    I largely agree, I think. I don’t really see Student Council as broadly providing a legitimate “service” to the student body, but I see it this way precisely because of its restrictive wage-free status. Without wages, how can it claim to be representative? I guess I’m just looking at things in the reverse of you. Maybe having a wage will actually increase accountability? My thinking is that its easier to fire someone when they’re on the payroll.

    The incident about candidate exclusion is interesting. I guess it happened before I came here. What’s the story on that?

    to bundle a sinecure for themselves with wages for SMART counselors.

    I can understand this as a legitimate concern. However, I am also aware that the unpaid positions on Student Council (as well as Committees!) have been criticized from outside the organization, so it’s not necessarily self-interest.

    Student Council is a student activity at best, and arguably just a self-perpetuating clique.

    Again, I think I can understand and accept your frustration here. But remember, Student Council also has an enormous amount of power at the College! They sit in on Board of Managers meetings, among many other things. I don’t even know the half of what they’re up to. I just don’t like to see such a powerful organization basically closed to people who can’t afford to work such a demanding but unpaid job.

    [As a supplementary note to all I’ve been saying, I don’t want to discount the potential for past and present and future Student Council members who admirably have made or make or will make the sacrifice to participate in Student Council despite the extra and unfair burden of the lack of pay. ]

  21. 0
    David German '08 says:

    Lauren,

    Thank you for the clarification. I still think that it’s unacceptable for Council to liken paying itself to paying SMART counselors, but it’s good that the responsible approach is at least on the table. At the meeting on which you report, did any Council members express reservations about the notion of putting themselves on the payroll?

  22. 0
    Lauren Stokes ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    I do think it’s exceptionally sleazy, however, to bundle a sinecure for themselves with wages for SMART counselors.

    David–although Council discussed these two initiatives as coming from the same impulse, they’re not necessarily “bundled” in the sense of a piece of legislation–they depend on different groups of people, and one could easily happen without the other.

    Also, you make a good point about our coverage which we will try to incorporate in the future–one thing that does make that difficult is the structure of Student Council, where decisions rarely if ever come to a vote. At least during public meetings I’ve seen, Council members seem to have already come to consensus on larger issues if not on specifics.

  23. 0
    David German '08 says:

    Mark,

    I responded no because I don’t accept the characterization of Student Council as a service. As we saw a couple of years ago when Garth S.-C. was kicked off the ballot, Student Council claims arbitrary power to exclude candidates from its elections. After winning office with some combination of tacky fliers, empty promises, and election rigging, Council representatives are not accountable to anyone for their job performance. The results, predictably, range from ineffectiveness to outright corruption. Student Council is a student activity at best, and arguably just a self-perpetuating clique.

    I’m not surprised that the opportunists who have padded their resumes with Student Council are rent-seekers too. I do think it’s exceptionally sleazy, however, to bundle a sinecure for themselves with wages for SMART counselors. Unlike Council, SMART is a valuable service, and the good people who provide it deserve compensation for their time.

    To the Gazette: In your Student Council coverage, you seldom report which Council members support and oppose various measures, or quote from the Council debate. This is a disservice to readers who would like to hold their so-called representatives personally accountable.

  24. 0
    Mark Lewis '10 says:

    I don’t really understand how you can answer “no” to this… (Perhaps someone could explain it to me?) I think that paying members of Student Council and other student-services would be a huge improvement to the college.

    Think about it. If positions like Student Council are not paid, they are far and wide INACCESSIBLE to students who have to work other jobs to survive. Why would anyone want a Student Council that’s incapable of representing all students?

    Note to anyone involved in this change: don’t use a stipend system if its not necessary! Stipends perpetuate the problem of inaccessibility in a different way. A stipend system, in which working overtime is equivalent in pay to working only what is required of you, is not amenable to people who can only justify spending time with a job if they are paid for their time. The only jobs that make sense for stipends are those for which calculating individual hours would be impossible, such as RAs and SAMs.

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