Public forum to inform students of stipend changes

A public forum is in the works to help students understand several upcoming changes to the student stipend program for the next academic year, according to the office of Student Activities and Leadership Programs.

A public forum is in the works to help students understand several upcoming changes to the student stipend program for the next academic year, according to the office of Student Activities and Leadership Programs.

Currently, there are not enough distinctions between student leaders who are paid a fixed stipend and regular student employees who are paid by the hour. Since there are differences in the nature of their work, the way in which they are being paid should reflect that as well, according to several university administrators.  Few students understand this distinction that presents a set of liability issues for the university.

“[A] student leadership position is not a job; [it is] more like an internship so you need to show that you are learning something,” said Aimee Shattuck, director for SALP. “A stipend is an award, since the student is not an employee, [and therefore] it should not be seen like a wage.”

According to Shattuck, part of the reason many student leaders that participate in a student group see their stipends as wages is because of the manner in which they are getting paid.

Currently, Human Resources processes all student paychecks, regardless of job title. Naturally, the first order of business is to find another venue in which student leaders can receive their paychecks instead of going through HR, Shattuck said. 

There are two other options the university is considering for the stipend program as an alternative to HR. Student leaders can receive their awards through a scholarship account, or through their pre-existing student account, in the same manner that they receive their financial aid disbursements in the beginning of the term.

Shattuck said SALP will not be changing the amount of the stipends, but will review the overall policy to emphasize the education component of the stipend.

“If students keep getting paid through HR, they will think that they’re employees, and it changes the nature of the relationship with their work,” she said. “We’ll have to show that this is an internship and that they’re getting paid for their participation.”

Currently, SALP manages 150 student groups on campus, 38 of which pay their leaders a stipend. These groups are quite diverse, ranging from cultural groups, such as the African Student Association, to political and academic groups, including Portland Pre-Health.

In keeping with the mission of SALP, student group leaders enjoy a certain level of autonomy in administering their stipend. This presents another problem with accountability, according to Shattuck. Since the money came directly from the student fees, the university requires a higher level of accountability.

“We value the fact that students lead their own group, so we’ve left [it to] student leaders of these 38 groups figure out who gets paid and how much,” she said.

The problem with accountability arises when a student leader is the same person who determines how much he or she will get paid. Currently, no check and balance system exists to determine whether the students who get paid are actually doing the work.

Due to the current stipend system, ASPSU Adviser Domanic Thomas said he cannot determine which student does what on a day-to-day basis.

“The students at large deserve to know what student leaders are doing with their time if they’re taking their student fees,” he said.

According to the Student Fee Committee budgeting system, ASPSU leaders receive the highest stipends among student groups, as the ASPSU president makes approximately $900 per month.

Thomas illustrated the flaw in stipend accountability with ASPSU by referring to an SFC member’s impeachment process earlier in the year, which lasted for two months.

“That was a lengthy process and during this time, the students involved weren’t working and still getting paid,” Thomas said. “[They] need to be more open and transparent in their process.”

Shattuck said the university is considering paying student leaders by their piecework. For example, writers for student publications are paid per article. In addition, she said the university is also considering paying student leaders by the hour.

For ASPSU, paying student leaders an hourly wage might be a problem as well, Thomas said. 

“If some one is in the office, can we make sure that they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing?” Thomas said. “Also, we need to be sure that they are being efficient with their time.”

Some students have complained to the university that their leaders are not working but are still getting paid. Shattuck said a possible solution is to have students track the progress of their project on the OrgSync system, where they can record the hours they work on their project. Another possible change may be to raise the GPA requirement from a minimum of 2.0 to a minimum of 2.5 for all student leaders.

The stipend forum will be held on Monday, May 24, from 3:30–5 p.m. in 298 Smith Memorial Student Union. Shattuck, as well as several other university administrators, will be on hand to answer questions and to receive student feedback.