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Senate votes no on exec salary cut

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, The Daily failed to make clear that ASSU Vice President Kelsei Wharton ’12 resigned as a senator at Tuesday’s meeting. He did not participate in the vote on executive salaries. Also, graduate student Ryan Peacock was incorrectly identified as a senior.

The ASSU Undergraduate Senate was scheduled to approve the association’s operating budget for the upcoming year, but put on the brakes when an amendment to reduce executive salaries was proposed in the name of fiscal responsibility.

Administration & Rules Chair Alex Katz ’12 offered two alternate amendments proposing to cut either $3,000 or $1,500 from each of the executives’ salaries, which would leave them with either $7000 or $8,500 each for the entire year, including summer expenses for on-campus housing. Katz invoked a familiar rhetoric, used in an attempt to cut Senate salaries earlier this year, about the contradictory nature of what he considered high salaries.

Senators voted down a bill on Tuesday that would have cut the salaries of the ASSU executives. From left, Senator-elect Rebecca Sachs, ASSU Vice President Kelsei Wharton, Senate Chair Varun Sivaram, Senators Anton Zietsman, Shelley Gao and Dean Young, Secretary Derek Lu and ASSU President Angelina Cardona. The new Senate may take over on May 11. (JIN ZHU/Staff Photographer)

“We’re being a little hypocritical in the way that we’re paying executives and elected officials to such a high extent and then paying even a basic VSO [voluntary student organization] leader nothing,” Katz said.

According to Katz, that money could be better spent by adding it to the executive discretionary to be spent on a large campus-wide event, or could be pooled for VSOs whose officers have complained about reduced funding.

Senate Chair Varun Sivaram ’11 said he would reject the amendment, particularly because he could not see a better use of the money to be siphoned off from salaries. He challenged Katz on the utility of the amendment by criticizing what he saw as a “nebulous zone” for alternative uses of the money Katz was adamant to reappropriate.

The current combined executive salaries are $20,000, with a projected $10,000 to be paid out to the president and vice president respectively. Each is anticipated to need at least $3,000 for summer housing while they map out the year ahead.

Katz argued that executive compensation seems an anomaly not practiced by a number of other universities he researched.

Many senators were left questioning what seemed to them an “arbitrary” adjustment, as Sivaram put it.

“Stanford offers the unique opportunity for student of any financial background to have access to the executive position because they don’t have to relinquish the time commitment to working another job that might pay significantly better,” Sivaram said, adding that such an amendment could limit the ability for some students to apply and fulfill executive duties.

The discussion struck a more emotional tenor when newly elected ASSU Vice President Kelsei Wharton ’12 asked the group to consider a more grounded and personal approach to the legislation.

“Right now we’re talking about it very theoretically,” Wharton said, adding, “We need to get some money in our pocket just in case something comes up—and things do come up, as they have been in the past few weeks for me.”

ASSU Financial Manager Matt McLaughlin ’08 registered his wholehearted disagreement with the amendment, rejecting the roster of arguments made in favor of the reduction as “asinine.” He contested economic reasons for keeping the salaries at status quo.

Katz shot back that McLaughlin’s “bang for the buck approach” had less relevance for the Senate. “The business approach has less of a place here in a volunteer type of organization, a service organization,” he argued, suggesting that executives would be no less likely to fulfill their duties at a high caliber with a pay cut.

After much debate, and a litmus test for approval of his amendment, Katz withdrew his recommendation that executive salaries be reduced by 29 percent, allowing the body to vote only on an amendment that would collectively reduce joint salaries by $3,000.

The amendment was rejected in a 7-1 vote, Katz standing alone in support of legislation in line with a number of bills he has proposed this year in the name of a more fiscally conservative Senate.

Senate to Move on Ethical Oversight Bill?

The Senate also discussed a bill authored by Shelley Gao ’11 regarding ethical conduct oversight that would legislate the appointment of an independent auditor responsible for conducting “objective investigations” and queries about the way the Senate spends its money.

The specific duties, compensation and manner of appointment remain questions to be considered in upcoming meetings, but ensuring that the Senate is held responsible for its actions fiscally and ethically would be among the foremost thrusts of such an initiative, Gao said.

ASSU President Angelina Cardona ’11 suggested the possibility of reinstalling judicial advocates to oversee and bring to the attention of the Constitutional Council any ethically compromising acts.

The Senate seemed in relative agreement that what Ryan Peacock, a graduate student, called a “moral watchdog” is needed for added transparency.

Moving Toward Decisive Transition

In an effort to bind the Senate to a clear and expedient dissolution time frame, Communications Chair Lee Jackson ’12 proposed that the current Senate bid its final adieu after its May 11 meeting. With some resistance from senators committed to finishing up the Green Events Checklist and other legislative loose ends, the body is likely to vote on the bill to dissolve next week.

With the introduction of a “traditions” fund, created explicitly to provide backup funding for underfunded traditions under threat of disappearing, Appropriations Chair Anton Zietsman ’12 also suggested that the Senate perhaps cut back on some of its policy limitations to allow student groups to use this fund to initiate pilot projects.

The stipulations and oversight of such a fund and its uses will be further discussed as the Senate considers significant policy overhauls and reforms for next year.

All seven Nominations Commission appointees were also unanimously approved alongside the week’s funding bills.

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