Student senate discusses cabinet stipends

GVL / Luke Holmes - Student Senate was held in the Kirkhof Center on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016.

Luke Holmes

GVL / Luke Holmes – Student Senate was held in the Kirkhof Center on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016.

Jess Hodge

Conflict: every student organization experiences it, including the highest body of student government at Grand Valley State University – the student senate. During their general assembly meeting Thursday, Feb. 2, members of the senate brought forward the issue of transparency within the body.

The week prior, senators found out members of the senate’s cabinet are paid stipends each semester for their work. The stipend includes six of the seven vice presidents receiving $700, the vice president of finance and the executive vice president receiving $900 and the president receiving $1,500. This prompted the members to discuss why senators were unaware of this and the problems and riffs it has created within the body. 

Many people felt passionately about the issue at hand, both those who didn’t mind cabinet members getting paid and those who felt differently. 

Others, like senator Steven Henley, weren’t concerned with the money, but with the lack of transparency the cabinet had displayed by not disclosing they received stipends. 

“My goal was to get something written down where we could all see it,” he said. “If we’re elected, like as a democratic body, just like any legislature, you can see how much your state legislator is making, I feel like we should have that same policy here.”

Other senators felt as though they should also be compensated for their work on the body. 

“This (is) my first year as a senator and we have five classes and also almost a full-time job for other organizations and then also senate, and then (I have) community work in Detroit and Grand Rapids,” said Brianna Pannell, a member of the diversity affairs committee. “I feel like my senatorship has been challenged a lot of the time.”

“Next semester, would you look into opening opportunities to pay senators, maybe just like $50 or $60 a semester?” Pannell asked Bob Stoll, associate dean for student life and student senate advisor, who was at the meeting to try and clear the air of confusion and conflict.

He helped by explaining the process of which the cabinet members got paid. He said although they have a stipend, if one of the cabinet members did not fulfill their duties as well as Stoll had wished, he reserved the right to not give them the entire amount.

Ella Fritzemeier and Sean O’Melia, president and executive vice president of student senate, respectively, have both been on senate for four years, and apologized for not telling the senators, as they had never known any other way. 

Fritzemeier also talked about the discretion of the stipends and the reason the information is not broadcast to many people.

“We just don’t want people running for (cabinet) positions for the wrong reasons because the people up here (cabinet members) really care about the student body,” she said. “That’s why we’re all here and that’s why you guys are here too. I just don’t want it to incentivize the wrong people.”

Stoll also explained why the cabinet members received the stipend.

“For the last (over 30 years), the university has had the philosophy that it takes extra amount of time for those that are in leadership roles in the student government,” he said. “Often they’re not able to work and get employment on top of all of all that because we want them to be actively engaged in the role they’re in.”

Tensions seemed to subside for the remainder of the meeting, and there was talk of looking into peer institutions’ student government and their pay structures. Additionally, many senators mentioned adding the specific stipend information to the student senate constitution or bylaws so future bodies would be made aware of it.

Senate’s next general assembly meeting is Thursday, Feb. 9 at 4:30 p.m.