Gov. salaries questioned by senators

Feb. 24, 2010, 1:02 a.m.

Amid questions about the ASSU finances at Tuesday’s Undergraduate Senate meeting, Senator Alex Katz ’12 proposed to do away with many of the ASSU’s salaried positions, suggesting that salaries for many ASSU staffers and elected officials is indulgent, if not hypocritical.

“There’s an enormous amount of money being wasted,” said Katz, the chair of the Administration & Rules Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee.

“I believe it’s enormously contradictory to pay the majority of us in the room . . . it undermines our ability to fairly do this process, and I think it undermines our legitimacy in the eyes of the student body,” he said.

Katz said he has identified $34,000 that the ASSU could save if it eliminated a number of salaries and made cuts to other line items in its budget. Katz suggested that the dollars saved could be put toward additional programming.

The proposal would eliminate the salaries of all committee chair positions except Appropriations and would preserve the salaries of other work-intensive positions, including the ASSU president and vice president, the Senate chair and the Senate secretary. Stipends for executive cabinet positions would be cut across the board, allotting only $2,000 for the chief of staff job.

Although Katz’s proposal is only suggested for next year’s budget, some senators have suggested institutionalizing the changes by drafting a bill to amend the bylaws.

According to Senator Zachary Johnson ‘10, salary cuts could help the Senate organize a sort of “buffer fund” to provide backup to class cabinets when it comes to funding campus traditions.

“Not having funding for Mausoleum and Full Moon on the Quad is completely ridiculous,” Johnson said, alluding to the challenges junior class officers faced earlier this year to piece together funds for the Mausoleum Party.

“I think one of the primary things we can do as senators is to maintain the campus traditions,” Johnson added.

The Student Services Division (SSD) also came under further scrutiny at Tuesday’s meeting, when several senators again probed ASSU Vice President Andy Parker ’10 about the SSD and the possibility of it going onto the special fees ballot.

After significant opposition during last week’s meeting to what some senators felt were indulgent salaries, Parker returned to the floor with more modest stipends for SSD directors, cutting each of them in half.

The Senate pushed back harder still yesterday by suggesting that SSD should be put on the general fee, rather than special fees, as last year’s executive originally planned.

Several senators agreed that the umbrella organization of SSD ought to be dismantled, and its smaller parts should be handled within the general fee.

“I really don’t see the Wellness Room petering out and dying because it goes to the general fee,” said Anton Zietsman ’12, chair of the Appropriations Committee. “If these groups are successful, they will thrive as general fee groups.”

Some senators also agreed that fewer paid positions ought to be offered, suggesting that in the case of small ventures, only select and marginal stipends should be provided.

The Green Store, which was previously allocated a spending budget of $6,000, rose eyebrows as senators begin considering the financial sustainability of the venture, which does not break even.

Zachary Warma ’11, chair of the Student Life, Housing & Education Committee, took issue with charging students via special fees to subsidize biodegradable cups, then to “re-charge” students to pay for those cups to use for events.

Looking more broadly at the special fees process, Zietsman proposed a “three-part plan” to reforming what he suggested is a crucial challenge in the funding process — that “the majority of financial officers aren’t prepared.”

By providing comprehensive transition documents to future appropriations committees as well as education and greater incentives for financial officers, Zietsman said he hopes to address some of these challenges.

He suggested a monetary prize to provide an incentive for financial officers for the title of best financial officer voted on by the Appropriations Committee at the end of each term.

Meanwhile, the ASSU is set to hire a new financial manager, Raj Bhandari, pending Senate confirmation next week. If approved, Bhandari, a graduate student in management science and engineering and a 2007 University of Pennsylvania alum, would also serve as Stanford Student Enterprises CEO after Matt McLaughlin ’08 completes his two-year term at the end of June.

McLaughlin said he is convinced that Bhandari, who has worked with Citigroup and American Express, has the potential to transform the financial landscape of the organization.

“We are going to focus on a lot of renovations . . . aligned with the twenty-second century that we have going on at Stanford. We’re going to get real technological,” Bhadari said.

The Senate confirmed the Nominations Commission’s winter nominees and has held off on approval of any additional funding bills until next week, when it will vote on a bulk of bills at once.

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