Accountability, Transparency, and What We Expect of Our Student Leaders

Your Finance Committee Chair’s Reflections on Compensation

Jessie Garbeil, Contributing Writer

Let’s start off with a little introduction: I write this article as Co-Chair of the Finance Committee, as an individual incredibly familiar with the financial mechanisms of the Council, and as a little bit of a cynic. Since joining Council my freshman year of college, I’ve seen firsthand the tireless work that members of E-Board have put in each year despite facing adversity, disrespect, and lack of recognition for their efforts. As the chair of one of the most time-intensive and technical standing committees on Council, in addition to my own advocacy work as a representative, I am also all too familiar with how much labor is expected of individuals in higher positions on Council, but, like many people on this campus, I remain deeply concerned about the recent “E-Board and Chairs Compensation Proposal.” Aside from the clear conflict of interest of having members of Council – all of whom aside from graduating seniors could, in theory, benefit from the passing of this proposal next year – vote on this proposal, this process, and the ensuing backlash have been chaotic and frequently confusing, even for me. 

My frustration is rooted not in any lack of appreciation for E-Board’s work, any lack of awareness of the amount of labor demanded from E-Board and Chairs, or any personal dislike of the proposal’s authors. Instead, it is rooted in the message this proposal sends, the lack of practicality, and, above all else, the lack of transparency in execution. 

It is valid to argue that members of the Council deserve financial compensation for the work that they do, but, by this same logic, dozens if not hundreds of student leaders also deserve compensation. Even if this proposal is merely a pilot program and is intended to start a larger conversation about the labor demanded of many organization leaders, it is a program that will cost $34,000 a year; making this a nearly $80,000 trial period. In a utopian world, every club leader would be paid for their work, but to assert that this program is just the first step in a widespread effort to compensate more club leaders seems deeply unrealistic. 

Student Council lacks the funds to sustainably compensate its own leaders – given that the pilot program will deplete nearly $75,000 of the approximately $100,000 available for spending in the Cumulative Surplus Fund. Based on a past lack of administrative responsiveness to student demands, it seems unlikely that Clark’s administration itself will ever take over the financial burden of compensating leaders on the Council, let alone the hundreds of club leaders also putting in dozens of hours into advocacy and community engagement. 

Aside from concerns with the content itself, I am most concerned by the execution of this proposal. Since a vast majority of members of the Council were made aware of the proposal last Thursday, I have watched as representatives uninvolved with the drafting of the proposal have been forced to take on the labor of communication and clarification and, often, faced undeserved backlash. Even in light of the additional information posted today, I am frustrated by just how long it took for that clarification to occur. 

Rather than such a significant and potentially controversial proposal being sent out to the entire student body, the burden fell on individual representatives to communicate this proposal’s existence to their constituents. Rather than clarifying the limits of the Cumulative Surplus fund within the proposal and providing an adequate rationale for its usage, the burden fell upon members of the Finance Committee to assure students that this would not impact their club funding after we realized that some anger was rooted in the idea of members of Council being compensated whilst a portion of clubs are unable to receive their full budget requests every year. Finally, concerns about Council itself voting on compensation for its leaders have failed to be fully addressed, even as multiple representatives brought up the idea of a school-wide referendum on a very expensive proposal that lacks any significant precedence. 

I do want to emphasize one crucial point: criticism of this proposal without dismissing the work that leaders on the Council have done. The unpaid labor demanded of student leaders across this campus – especially those heavily involved with activism and advocacy – is often excessive, absolutely exhausting, and an unfair thing to demand of college students also balancing academics, employment, and social life. 

Particularly in my interactions with members of Clark administration as Finance Chair, I have frequently been frustrated with unrealistic expectations, condescending comments, and an unsettling sense that the administration relies on its students’ passion for advocacy as an excuse to fail to take meaningful action of its own. The frustration and exhaustion I have experienced in this role is nothing compared to what others – on past and present E-Boards – have endured, and I feel it is crucial to emphasize that even when criticizing this proposal. 

This proposal is flawed in its content and execution – from a logistical standpoint and in terms of the message it sends of putting a value on the work of student leaders and creating an almost hierarchical divide between the work of the Council and that of other organizations, which are already somewhat separated by processes like annual budget applications and a general lack of transparency. Ultimately it is unfortunate that, to a large portion of the student body, this administration will be characterized by this divide rather than an appreciation for the advocacy they have devoted hundreds of hours to and the change they’ve created on this campus. If anything, I hope that this ongoing conversation will eventually transform to a wider conversation about transparency, the role of the Council itself, and how student voices matter in decisions about our student government’s work.