SGA Senators Deserve Pay
Almost half of UMSL's student population was eligible for the Pell Grant in 2019. Because these students are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, they work to maintain financial security.
While UMSL prides itself on being a university that "reduces inequalities," the university still fails to reduce inequality within the very institution where these students should most be able to advocate for themselves: the student government.
The student government serves as the student voice of the campus, but this is impossible when students are more inconvenienced by joining. We are a campus of student workers, student parents, and students with financial needs. Students do not have time to take on an extra unpaid role as student senators.
UMSL should affirm the importance of senators by paying them livable wages. Other schools have already taken steps to provide student senators with wages.
Amidst a slew of very conservative and nationalist resolutions (e.g., resolutions ending the mask mandates, requiring the national anthem and pledges, and groveling to the local College Republicans chapter), the Texas State University voted for at least one positive bill called the Senator Pay Act in March 2021.
According to the bill, students would "receive a stipend of $20 per meeting," which would not "exceed $200" in total according to their school paper, the University Star.
Meanwhile, the University of Portland's student senators receive a stipend of at least $1100 while their executive board members receive at least $7000.
UMSL should follow suit.
Student senators understand what will draw new students to the university. They offer valuable insight to staff and faculty about student needs during committees. They create student-led solutions. They plan university programming. They research student needs. By paying a decent wage, senators can productively conduct these tasks without worrying about how to afford rent or childcare.
Former UMSL SGA senator and presidential candidate, Paymon Porshahidy, even advocated for senator pay during his 2019 run.
"It would entice more people to get involved… They have trouble filling seats and most elections go uncontested," Porshahidy said.
He was right.
In the past four years, the student government's executive board often went uncontested, and multiple senate positions were unfilled.
Part of this failure was due to the general lack of communication and transparency by the student government. The student government rarely updated their social platforms with valuable information including updates for candidacy filing and elections.
However, a major issue was the unpaid time commitment. UMSL students want to be involved. They want to be advocates. However, UMSL students also do not want to miss car payments or skip eating for a day or two. Because of this, the student government misses the student perspectives that would otherwise benefit the university, particularly the perspectives of Black people. This shows from the almost all-white student government senators and executive board.
Although no resolutions or bills have yet passed in the last three years to make senator pay a reality, now would be the perfect time for a change. As Porshahidy pointed out it is not fair that the "president, vice president, and treasurer get paid and [senators] don't."
We cannot expect meaningful labor without providing the proper compensation to make that labor viable. This is the case for senators in the UMSL Student Government. They cannot fully commit to their duty as student leaders and activists if they are not receiving compensation to cover living expenses in exchange for the work they do.
The student government is inherently different from other student organizations due to the way it functions on campus. It not only works alongside campus departments and staff to maintain programming and connect the student body to resources, but it is a tool that can change the campus environment. For instance, the Recreation and Wellness Center after a vote from the Student Government of the 2011-2012 academic year.
Since the student government is an integral part of the Student Involvement and the campus as a whole, all members of the student government (i.e., the executive board and the senators) should be receiving biweekly pay like other student workers across campus. This pay should at least be the equivalent of a $20 hourly wage (as they should be across campus for all jobs).
It is time for UMSL to invest more in the very students who contribute to the greatest change on campus. UMSL is nothing without the students.