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ISSUE 117 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/30/2004

Executive stipends increased: Senate votes to double pay, debates name change

By Stephanie Soucheray
Staff Writer

Friday, April 30, 2004

Student Government Association (SGA) senators voted to increase the SGA executive stipend in a controversial decision last Thursday. The increase, which will take effect next year, will increase the stipends from $900 to $2000 and will result in the allocation of $31,000 of the SGA budget to stipends.

According to a letter by SGA President Christie Larson 04, St. Olaf "requested an independent review of the Student Government Association as a part of recent budget conversations." An administrator from Gustavus Adolphus College recommended in his review that SGA "consider stipend revisions."

As a result of her recommendation, the executive committee met and debated the idea of a stipend increase in light of the recent 10 percent overall budget cut that SGA is scheduled to take. However, the proposal passed and went to Senate Thursday.

On a vote of 14-7 and one abstention, Senate more than doubled executive stipends. However, such a move is not unprecedented. In 1992, the annual stipend was raised from $450 to $900.

"Not only is a stipend increase long overdue, but also the increase, even at $2000, would mean that executives are earning approximately half of minimum wage," wrote Larson. Larsons response highlights the concern some members of SGA held about the previous stipend amount. They felt it could impede students from taking executive positions if they needed to spend the hours working.

"The SGA should not become a place where only the wealthiest St. Olaf students may hold executive positions," Larson wrote.

However, other Senators disagreed with the stipend increase. Inter-hall Council Chair Matt VanVleet '05 suggested SGA pay be based on inflation

"A 100 percent raise is a lot," he said.

Media Board Senator Pat Walsh '04 agreed. "I do not think we have resources for that; $31,000 a year is a lot," Walsh said.

Another order of business consisted of Senators debating the name "Student Government Association." Some members of SGA are now wondering if they would not be more properly named the St. Olaf Student Association.

Proponents of this possible name change believe that removing "Govern-ment" from the name would clarify the purpose of SGA and help remove an "us and them" stigma from SGA work.

The issue was first proposed by future Vice-President Janine Wetzel 05, based on a suggestion from former presidential candidates Jeff Foels 06 and Jay Decoux 05. When Foels and Decoux decided to concede in the presidential race this spring and endorse Seth Heringer 05 and Wetzel, they shared their idea with next years SGA leaders.

Talk of a name change is thought to be a symptom of a much larger problem surrounding SGA.

"There are two problems facing SGA when it comes to the student body," Wetzel said. "The first is apathy and the second is a general disconnect."

Heringer and Wetzel both have decided to make connecting to the student body one of their main goals for next year.

"A name change for SGA should be considered if it will help create a new attitude surrounding SGA," Heringer said. "It is not necessary, but could fall in with other categorical changes well be making next year to help SGA get out of its disconnected rut."

Because SGA has often been accused of being out of touch with the student body, some senators believe the name change would be a wise choice.

"In my four years at St. Olaf I have seen the disassociation students have from SGA," Senator Cassie Sennigan 04 said. "Changing the name may not cure apathy, but hearing the words Student Association could help get more students involved."

Some senators disagree with the idea of a name change, saying that removing "Government" will do little to inspire the student body. They claim that "Government" is the appropriate name for St. Olafs elected student group.

"SGA says so well what we do," Senator Matt Stortz 07 said. "We do programming, advocacy and appropriate a large sum of money (roughly $500,000 every year) for student run programs."

Stortz feels that the main issue facing students and their relationship to SGA is one of confusion.

"The biggest complaint we hear is the question, 'What exactly does SGA do?'" Stortz said.

Stortzs reply is that SGA does a lot, but the student body does not always recognize this fact.

"We need better communication between senators and residence hall councils," Stortz said. "SGA needs to utilize 55057.coms forum area, and we need to make visible a list of what SGA is working on for the St. Olaf student body."

Heringer expressed a need for SGA members to seek alternative ways of reaching the student body.

"Posters and a little chalk just dont cut it for SGA anymore," Heringer said. "We need to find a way to creatively communicate with the student body next year."

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