USC’s Undergraduate Student Government will pay its members a collective $239,000 this year, according to a recently released budget addendum accompanied by its set of bylaws.
USG Treasurer Kameron VanWoerkom stated that the levels of student pay were in line with other universities’ student governments, yet USG pay is above average for the Pac-12 and other comparable California universities.
According to USG’s budget addendum, USG will pay $239,071.84 in “student stipends” this year. USG, like many other student governments, fiscally compensates students. Most Pac-12 schools, however, spend less on student pay than USG. The student government for undergraduates at UC Berkeley, Stanford and UCLA pay their workers $180,343, $79,350, and $44,660, respectively. In fact, of all the Pac-12 schools, USG is paying the most in salaries of any student government, with Cal coming in second at $180,343, nearly $60,000 less than USG. The average amount Pac-12 schools spend on student government is $106,765.
Breaking student government pay down by enrollment also reveals that USC pays itself the most per student. The total student enrollment of USC is 39,958. Stanford has 19,535 students, Berkeley has 35,899 students, and UCLA has 41,341 students. Per student, USG pays itself $5.98. Berkeley pays $5.02, Stanford pays $4.36, and UCLA pays just $1.08. The Pac-12 average is $3.12.
Another way to judge USG salaries is as a ratio of salaries to total budget for student governments. Having more money to manage would increase student representatives’ responsibilities, and therefore would likely require higher salaries. This year, USG has a budget of almost $1.89 million. Berkeley has a budget of $1.64 million, Stanford a budget of $3 million, and UCLA a budget of $5.54 million. The Pac-12 average is $2.03 million. As a percentage of total budget, 13 percent of USG’s budget goes to salaries. Berkeley spends 11 percent on salaries, Stanford 2.7 percent and UCLA 0.8 percent. The average for the Pac-12 is 5.3 percent. USG spends two and a half times as much as the Pac-12 average on salaries, despite having a budget that is less than the Pac-12 average.
The money that USG spends on salaries goes to both elected and appointed members. The highest salary, according to the USG bylaws, goes to USG President Christian Kurth, who will make $10,000 this year. Vice President Ryan Park and Program Board Executive Director Monica Parra will each make $8,000 this year. Thirty-nine other executives, directors, and co-directors make between $2,750 and $6,000 each year. The 12 elected senators will each make $2,000 this year.
Lily Chowana-Bandhu, the interim director of Campus Activities, said that the annual USG budget is sent to the vice provost for Student Affairs for approval. The vice provost and the director of Campus Activities can then make recommendations if they feel that changes need to be made to the budget.
Most of the paid members of USG are not elected. The president and vice president are elected in elections, and senators and assembly directors are elected by their constituencies. The other 29 paid directors are interviewed and then nominated by the chief of staff, senior director of communications, treasurer, president and vice president and then confirmed by the Senate, according to VanWoerkom.
Those non-elected members of USG are paid a total of $128,500 for the year. Elected members of USG collectively make about $74,250 for the year. In addition, student workers who run the front desk of USG and advise USG members on different organizational practices make $36,321.84 in total in hourly wages. The majority of the money spent on students at USG goes to students who are not elected, but rather chosen and confirmed by USG officials.
Each year, there are an unknown number of applicants to the positions. The applicants are interviewed and selected by the five highest-level executives. Only then do the names of the nominees appear, as they are confirmed before the Senate. Normally, the minutes of those confirmations at the Senate level are archived, but at the time of press, no Senate minutes were available for meetings after March 5, 2013. Confirmation hearings happen in late April and it is impossible to determine how much the senators learn about each nominee or question each nominee before voting on confirmation without access to those minutes.
Chowana-Bandhu said one factor that contributes to the amount USG pays its members is the vast time commitment of being in a leadership role.
“An aspect that you would want to consider is that these positions take time away from other opportunities on and off campus. As you may know USC is not cheap and by minimizing the compensation, you are essentially excluding a population of amazing student leaders who may not be in a position to afford this experience. However, too much compensation is not appropriate either,” Chowana-Bandhu said in an email. “The challenge is to find a good balance that is agreed upon and approved by students, Campus Activities and Student Affairs. At this point, there has not been a cause for concern and the leaders in positions with compensation have been working diligently to fulfill their duties.”
USG does not publish a summary of salary information by position. VanWoerkom said that the organization tries not to “easily hand out salary information without engaging in the types of conversations that I’ve had with [the Daily Trojan], working over time, becoming acquainted with the organization, what we do, why we do it, how we do it, [and] where the funds come from.”
Several other Pac-12 schools, including UC Berkeley, Stanford and UCLA, are more transparent about the amount of money they pay their student governments.
“In student government, you are elected to serve the students. Therefore, they deserve to hold you accountable to promises and actions that you take as an elected officer,” said D.J. Payton, a graduate student studying postsecondary administration and student affairs at USC, who also served as the vice president of the student government at the University of Utah last year. “Being transparent about actions and plans, as well as budgetary expenditures, is a fundamental way to maintain the legitimacy and respect between the official and the constituents. … If [transparency is] implemented correctly it can support the [Student Government].”
Kurth declined to comment on USG’s budget or the transparency of the payment process.
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