Inside the RSOs: Part 1 of 3
Student paid fees fund SAC, SGA officers' full tuition
Sheila Guerrero’s collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia occupies an entire bedroom, with items ranging from dolls and posters to sleek white gloves. Brian Wilson
Each year University of Memphis students pay tuition, but some might not know their money also pays for the tuition for officers of the Student Government Association and Student Activities Council.
Five students, SGA President Hunter Lang, SGA Vice President K'La Harrington, SGA Chief Justice Joshua Jackson, SGA Speaker of the Senate James Johnson and SAC President Sydney McGhee all receive full tuition. Students pay half of SAC Vice President James Ramson's tuition.
SGA allots 15.2% of its $265,000 budget to four of the officer's tuition, which includes parking and monthly stipends. SAC uses 5% of its $400,000 budget on monthly stipends for five committee chairs, with tuition for two officers' tuition and stipends included.
The $68,752 used to fund these benefits comes from the Student Activity Fee, a mandatory charge included in student tuition.
Advisors of both organizations said this has been going on for at least 15 years, though they did not know exactly when or how the practice began.
Colis Chambers, director of student affairs finance and a member of the SAF Allocation Committee, said that she isn't sure if the student body has ever voted on where SAF funds go, but that any student could seek this information if they chose.
Still, the student body as a whole has no say so in the matter.
SGA advisor Stephen Petersen, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students, suggests that these students are compensated because their duties prevent them from being able to work whereas, according to him, a "normal student could go out and get a part time job to earn supplemental income to help support their education."
He later said, "And as a result, the administration has recognized that and has arranged for some sort of compensation package for only a limited number of students."
Several other universities also have organization's whose officers are compensated in a similar fashion.
Arkansas State University's SGA officers received about $30,000 this year for "salaries," according to their online budget. Their 2009-2010 vice president said the money is provided by a stipend from the state, not the students.
The U of M's SGA's budget lists $40,366 as executive stipends, 70.6% of which is tuition, 27.9% monthly stipends and 1.5% parking.
SAC's constitution and budget state that seven students get a total of $28,389, 69.9% of which is tuition and 30.1% stipends.
SGA and SAC presidents said they work hard to earn the tuition and stipend.
"My opinion on it is, I mean, I think it's a nice way of rewarding the hard work of dedicated individuals because I didn't just become president of Student Activities Council over night," McGhee said.
SGA President Lang also feels that he puts in a lot of work that justifies his tuition, which he called a "perk" that he is "very lucky" and "grateful" to receive. He agreed with Peterson's justification for the benefits, that he doesn't have time for another job.
In addition to being SGA president, Lang is the president of U of M fraternity Zeta Bet Tau and member of the U of M's touring musical ensemble Sound Fuzion.
Not all SGA members feel the benefits are warranted, however.
Freshmen Senate member Kevin Hayes, political science major, feels officers shouldn't take the stipends.
"I think it's wholeheartedly unfair," he said. "I almost think it's an emphatic disgrace. I feel that if you run for office, for a leadership position in student government, you'd be doing it for free, for the students. This in itself gives incentives to students to run for SGA, not to help the school or students or student body, but rather to help themselves get through college."
Darla Still, sophomore sociology major and president of Alpha Lambda Delta, a nation-wide honors society, said the benefits are unfair.
"Student's money should not in-turn pay for another student's tuition," she said. Still also questioned whether these officers worked any harder than other SGA and SAC members who aren't compensated.
Other students said the benefits are deserved.
Christian Dean, president of the Commuter Student Association and criminal justice junior, and CSA treasurer and health care administration and organizational leadership senior Aaron Keith both said SGA and SAC officers deserve it.
"If you are dedicated enough to fulfill that leadership role and be an advocate to students who do not do that on campus then I would support your full tuition as long as you use it and be effective,"Keith said.
Dean agreed, but added that other student leaders may be doing just as much work without such reward.
"[Keith and I] are here in the office working office hours all the time," she said, "but we don't get paid for it at all. And I mean we both need jobs, but we can't go out and have them because we are always here."
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