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Student leadership awards: changes, reasons and responses

Emma Innes

News Editor

Art by Maizy Goerlitz

As students returned for the fall 2021 semester, they discovered several aspects of campus life had changed, including student compensation. The change from hourly pay to leadership awards was [announced] last spring, with impacted organizations being presented their leadership award amounts by members of the committee that investigated student compensation.

Lisa Holliday, associate dean of students and director of student engagement and leadership was a member of the committee. Holliday described leadership awards as “Financial aid awarded through the accounting office.” The awards will be in two payments during the semester, one on Oct. 1 and the second on Nov. 15. According to Holliday, the formula for determining the amount of the award for each position was the estimated hours of work per week multiplied by the minimum wage for Marion County which is [$12.75]. Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) Treasurer Michael Burke (‘23) said that awards will increase over time with a committee meeting yearly. Oregon minimum wage is [scheduled to increase] each year.

According to Holliday, the legal text the decisions for leadership awards have been based on is an excerpt from the [Department of Labor Field Guide] on when there is an employee relationship. Section 10b24: University or college students says: “ University or college students who participate in activities generally recognized as extracurricular are generally not considered to be employees within the meaning of the Act.” According to Holliday, the tasks and responsibilities of positions determined if it was to be paid hourly or by leadership award along with the text from the Department of Labor.

When asked about his experience on the committee, Burke, the sole student involved, said that most of the committee work was about how much to pay students. Burke said: “It was never much of a discussion about the leadership award parts and that’s primarily because, again, that’s something that came down from legal counsel and HR trying to follow Oregon labor law.” According to Burke, the decision of who to pay with leadership awards compared to who was hourly also came down from Human Resources and Willamette legal counsel.

Since the spring presentation there have been changes in the leadership awards for certain positions. Within ASWU there’s been a change in who is compensated. ASWU Justices were not included in the initial presentation of leadership awards for ASWU, while Senators were with a $500 award per semester. Then Chief Justice Sam Johnston (‘21) [ said] that regular justices should be compensated an amount similar to Senators. For the fall 2021 semester, Senators will not be compensated but Justices will with a leadership award between $250-$500. According to Burke, the change is due to ASWU not having the funds to compensate Senators. Burke said there is a plan to ask Vice President of Student Affairs Lisa Landreman to move up the student fee marginally to help secure the funds needed to pay senators and other positions currently being underpaid.

Community Service Learning (CSL) had their awards adjusted due to inaccurate reporting of the hours worked each week by those involved in CSL. Sadie Horner (‘24) a CSL Service Learning coordinator, said that previously CSL was compensated hourly, working 4-5 hours a week with a cap at 6 hours. The original leadership award for CSL was paying for two hours of work a week and the new award amount is $800 per semester, significantly less than what they were making, according to Horner. Horner said that last year CSL was told they could receive leadership awards but were not told the amount.

Horner, a first-generation and low income student, said she thought her two jobs with CSL and as a library circulation assistant would be enough to take care of herself but with the new leadership award it’s not. Horner sent out a set of slides against Leadership awards in early September and created a [petition] calling for them to be changed. She’s heard some students are happy about the two payments because they can save it but said “That’s fine if you can afford it, but doesn’t take into account students of lower socioeconomic status.” Horner further expressed frustrations regarding the implementation and lack of transparency, saying that she found the administration response to issues dismissive and based around a belief that upset students do not know what’s going on.

When asked about the student response, Burke said that he was at a few meetings where organizations were presented the changes and the amounts for their positions. “They were either very quiet or upset about it, which is understandable because it’s hard to be paid twice a semester. I think there wasn’t a ton of listening in a lot of those meetings that came together about where parts of this are coming from. Like how the university is broken in different parts, it’s not just one decision made by this committee.” Burke also mentioned he knew there was a graphic circulating that had good sentiment, but misinformation and he wishes the individual had talked to him first. Burke said the graphic was incorrect in claiming that the formula was not used, and that he was present for the math, saying it took a while. He said the graphic misunderstood who was responsible for the change and that it was not solely the committee.

According to Burke, the primary benefit of leadership awards is that leadership positions still get paid, as it would be legal for student leaders to not be paid since they are not considered employees. While Burke agrees with the frustrations of being paid twice a semester, having to pay rent himself, he believes they picked good times to send out payments. He added that the payments are not taxable and now go straight to bank accounts instead of student accounts.

When asked about what the student response has been, Holliday said that she believes it depends on the group, explaining that some organizations did not share the change in compensation with some students, and so those unaware of the change have expressed concerns and questions, which Holliday understands. Holliday said: “I think that the original reason that we came together is the important reason, is looking at this with an equity lens, and making sure that students who are in leadership positions are being compensated in a consistent manner.”

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Inez Nieves
Inez Nieves

Why weren't students made privy to the conversations going on between HR, legal counsel, and Willamette administration? Why was there no transparency at all about the official decisions, logic, and legal and labor justifications? Surely, more than one student representative is necessary to have a conversation about the entire school. The University's lack of transparency is, frankly, unsurprising, but disappointing all the same.

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