Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) considered giving all future members of the ASI student government a scholarship for their work. However, the ASI Board of Directors unanimously voted to defer the scholarship until further discussion, as they discovered that Cal Poly students may need to vote to approve the scholarships, the board said at a Nov. 18 meeting.
How the scholarship works
Under the proposed bill, all student government members would receive scholarships. The amount they are paid would be based on individual responsibilities and weekly work hours required by each branch of ASI, according to Chair of the ASI Board of Directors Tess Loarie.
If passed, the bill would not be implemented for the members on the Board of Directors and other student government members this year. This would eliminate a possible conflict of interest, Loarie said in an ASI Board of Directors workshop on Oct. 19.
Under ASI’s current scholarship policy, only the six students on the leadership team receive scholarships. These scholarships are awarded based on different percentages of their cost of attendance.
Currently, the ASI President receives a scholarship that covers 100% of student fees including housing, tuition, books and other living expenses. The Chair of the Board of Directors and the Chair of the University Union Advisory Board (UUAB) both receive a scholarship that covers 75% of these fees. Chief of Staff receives a scholarship that covers 50% of these fees. The Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and the Vice Chair of the UUAB both receive a scholarship that covers 25% of these fees.
This year’s leadership team scholarships will amount to $122,908, Loarie said in a Board of Directors workshop on Oct. 19. These scholarships are funded by Cal Poly student fees.
According to the ASI Budget Breakdown of the 2018 fall quarter fees, student government scholarships made up 0.4% of the total $110.50 that every student pays as their quarterly ASI fee. The cost of the leadership team scholarships amounted to a fee of $1.50 per student in 2018.
Funding for expanding the scholarship to all ASI student government members would come from the student government and ASI budget, but it would not increase student fees. Instead, funds from other student government items including travel, office supplies and programming, would be redistributed to the funding of the scholarships, Loarie said.
The discussion of expanding scholarships for student government members has largely revolved around the push for increased diversity, equity and inclusion within ASI.
By expanding scholarships and allowing for compensation of all student government members, College of Liberal Arts (CLA) board member and political science senior Parker Swanson said the bill may allow ASI to become more accessible to students who face financial hardship.
“As someone who had to decide between ASI and keeping my other job that paid me, this [scholarship bill] would have been a huge factor in recruiting me in past years,” Swanson said in an Oct. 21 ASI Board of Directors meeting. “So I think this is long overdue.”
“As someone who had to decide between ASI and keeping my other job that paid me, this [scholarship bill] would have been a huge factor in recruiting me in past years. So I think this is long overdue.”
Why ASI postponed voting on the scholarship
The week prior to when the Board of Directors was scheduled to vote on the scholarship, an ASI staff member discovered a section of the California Education Code that alluded the student body may need to vote to approve new scholarships, Loarie said. The clause said that in regards to student government scholarships, “the principle of establishing such payments shall be approved by a student referendum,” according to the California Code of Regulation, Title 5, Section 42659.
ASI’s legal consultants interpreted the clause as meaning ASI needs to pass a student referendum — which is a general vote by the student body — to offer more scholarships to ASI student government members, according to Loarie.
At the Nov. 18 Board of Directors meeting, ASI members debated over the interpretation of the language in the clause.
ASI Associate Executive Director Dwayne Brummett argued that the language in the bill proposed creating new scholarships for more student government members, thereby requiring the bill to go to a student vote.
“It has to do with transparency, where you have student government leaders creating compensation for other student government leaders without the general student body knowing about it,” Brummett said.
Multiple board members questioned this interpretation, arguing that ASI has already established the principle of student government scholarships, with the six student government scholarships given to the leadership team.
“That keyword is ‘principle.’ We have already established the principle of scholarships being given to student government leaders,” Swanson said. “The bill put forth is an expansion of that principle to allow for Board of Director members to be compensated for their labor. This is not giving ourselves money. We are setting a precedent for future years to fix a glaring structural inequality.”
“This is not giving ourselves money. We are setting a precedent for future years to fix a glaring structural inequality.”
It is unclear if the Cal Poly student body voted to establish the six leadership team scholarships, as there are student government documents dating back more than 50 years that mentioned student stipends, Brummett said at the Nov. 18 meeting. In the documents, there was no clear explanation of how the original six scholarships were established.
“We did our best to try to figure this stuff out before we even came to the officers and explained what we uncovered,” Brummet said at the Nov. 18 meeting. “We’re continuing to dig, continuing to research trying to figure out what other campuses have done and what their experiences have been, so it’s an ongoing thing.”
Several ASI student government members questioned how other California State University (CSU) campuses currently give out scholarships to their student government members.
ASI President Shayna Lynch said that after reaching out to several presidents of other CSU campuses, two presidents responded and said they both went through a referendum to approve their student-government scholarships.
According to ASI Executive Director Marcy Maloney, some CSU campuses including San Diego State University, pay their student government members on payroll instead. According to Maloney, if students are paid on payroll, they do not have to go through a referendum.
Several ASI Board of Directors alumni spoke during the open forum at the Nov. 18 meeting. They urged the current Board of Directors to vote to approve the scholarships and asked that they keep the students’ needs at the forefront of their minds while voting on this bill, not their corporate responsibility to ASI.
“I ask you, when you signed up to run to be a board [member], did you run because you wanted to fulfill some corporate responsibility? Or did you run because you wanted to serve the students who have been historically underserved at this university?” former chair of recruitment elections Conner O’Neil said. “The way that Cal Poly and ASI Student Government has been structured, it was built by oppressors who want to keep voices off the table. … You’re not going to be able to make an equitable change at this university if you play by the rules in which they have set forth for you.”
“You’re not going to be able to make an equitable change at this university if you play by the rules in which they have set forth for you.”
The 2019-2020 Chair of the Board of Directors Rob Moore also spoke during the open forum.
“Last year I was compensated around $24,000 for my role in the organization,” Moore said. “I can promise you that I was not doing 24,000 times the amount of work as any of you are today. That’s what inequality looks like.”
Although the Board of Directors voted to delay the discussion of the scholarship expansion bill, the bill can be reintroduced to the board at a later date. A board member could make a motion to reintroduce the bill whenever the board feels it appropriate to discuss the bill again.
At the ASI workshop meeting on Jan. 4, the Board of Directors discussed their next steps forward with the advice of legal counsel. University Union Director Michelle Crawford presented the board with their options.
One option would make the ASI Board of Directors employees. The students would get paychecks that would be based on an hourly rate. This move would not require a student referendum.
A potential concern is that this could limit some students that are interested in these positions, according to Crawford. If the students were to be paid by the university, students with pre-existing on-campus jobs may have a conflict since they cannot exceed 20 hours of on-campus work a week.
These students would also have to be eligible to work in the United States. This could potentially bar undocumented students from being able to hold these positions, according to Crawford.
Another option is to hold a student referendum, a vote through a secret ballot. The referendum would require campus support from the students and approval from President Jeffery Armstong to pass.
If the Board of Directors chooses this option, the referendum could be voted on in the spring, according to Crawford.
The Board of Directors will discuss the bill at a public Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 6 at 5:10 p.m.
Victoria Lachnit contributed to this story.