Having spent several years involved in political life on campus in what I call the “little world” and outside of campus in the “big world” I’ve noticed something interesting. The “little world” and the “big world” are not that different.
In both worlds all sectors of society fight to get a piece of a government pie that’s never big enough. In the “big world,” it’s corporations, unions and other special interests. In our “little world,” it’s student organizations, A.S. services and university programs .
In the “big world,” the media is all over the government like a fly on a horse’s ass. In our “little world,” we have the Sundial.
In the “big world,” Joe Citizen doesn’t vote. In our “little world,” Jane Student doesn’t either.
In the “big world,” politicians control billions of dollars. In the “little world,” the A.S. Senate exerts influence over $6,940,000.
There is a difference though. In the big world, elected officials get paid.
A.S. senators do get some compensation. A whole $75 per semester, free gym membership (and priority registration, which at this point just about half the school gets.
The problem is this: Being an active senator requires at least 20 hours a week. These 20 hours are hard to find considering that most senators are also active in other campus organizations, are full time students, have part time or full time jobs and have friends and families. I personally had to resign my Senate seat because I found that with A.S. taking so much time, I could not devote enough hours at my job.
The solution is simple: pay senators.
Before the knee jerk reaction kicks in, consider the following benefits:
First, if senators were to get paid they would be able to devote more time to advocating for students because they wouldn’t need to worry about making ends meet. They can do more to reach out to student organizations in their constituencies and alleviate some headaches associated with the finance process. They could then solve some real student concerns like parking, students might just find it in themselves to have more school spirit.
Second, senators will be able to be held accountable. Right now, almost no recourse can be taken against inactive senators. The issue here is that the Senate has real and serious responsibilities to students. The Senate happens to control more than $6 million of student money. So paying senators is a good way to keep them accountable.
Finally, paying the Senate would give otherwise uninterested students an incentive to join the A.S. Senate. Currently, the Senate has nearly a quarter of its seats empty, which means that many students at CSUN do not have a senator representing them. An important reason students hesitate to join A.S. is time. If senators get paid, then interested students would have to devote less time to work and instead join A.S.
Understandably, I could still see people reading this article and swearing under their breaths about my audacity in even considering this. If you are one of them, allow me to mitigate some concerns you may have.
We do not need to raise fees or take money from student organizations and programs to do this. All it requires is a simple restructuring of A.S. to cut several positions that are not needed. The stipend currently allocated to those positions would be reallocated to the Senate. All that the change requires is a few money transfers and it would reap massive benefits for the students of CSUN.
There can also exist a concern that it’s wrong to remove an elected official for not doing their job. If they are removed they can only ethically be removed through recall procedures by their constituents. However, there are rules now that remove a senator if they violate the CSUN Student Conduct Code, have three unexcused absences at Senate meetings or fall below a certain GPA. The real answer to that concern is that we are not asking for the senator to be removed, simply to stop getting paid if they do not devote enough time to their constituents.
Having served in the Senate this past year, I recognize the tremendous potential A.S. possesses to grow into an incredibly powerful advocate for students. Yet without a mindset change toward being a more professional and accountable government, A.S. will not achieve its true potential.
With the A.S. elections on April 17 and 18, I invite the presidential candidates to respond to the idea of paying senators and to tell us their own plans on ensuring Senate accountability.