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Point-counterpoint: to compensate, or not to compensate

During Joint Board on Wednesday September 29, Andrea Conner presented the Student Staff Compensation Conversation. Senators, SGA officers and S&B editors took part in a discussion regarding the pros and cons of compensating SAs. Conner presented research on student leader compensation at 34 other peer institutions, which showed that all but one institution offered monetary compensation. Financial incentives, by encouraging more students to apply, would increase the applicant pool and could promote greater accountability of Student Staff. However, it is critical to consider Grinnell’s practice of self-governance and thus the unique role of our Student Staff in comparison to the role of RA’s in most other colleges and universities.

Stipends will negatively impact self-gov:

On our campus, SAs hold a certain leadership role and many of them genuinely enjoy the role they play in student life in the dorms. There is a competitive pool of applicants each year willing to commit to the responsibilities and time requirement as a Student Staff without monetary compensation. While students complain of SAs who fell short of their expectations of organizing study breaks, encouraging a floor community and mediating in student conflicts, or just to receive a single room, there is no guarantee that monetary compensation would improve the quality of the applicant pool or that it would be easier to weed out candidates who are driven by ulterior motives. In fact, if we were to implement compensation, the applicant pool may increase in number, but also increase disproportionately in number of students interested in compensation.
Conner pointed out that if Student Staff were compensated, the SA position itself would be restructured and would include more extensive evaluations and responsibilities. This would compromise the role of SAs as we know it, and would change the “flat hierarchy” of each floor and instead implement SAs as authority figures. Conner mentioned that with compensation, RLCs would closely monitor SAs thereby disrupting the role of self-governance by which our Student Staff currently operates. Even if more quality control is thought to be appropriate, RLCs could assist SAs in fulfilling their responsibilities.
This hierarchy would jeopardize the role of self-governance and would put greater responsibility on the Student Staff to monitor our personal conduct. The Student Affairs’ website explains that the College practices the principles of self-governance through “an administrative structure intentionally designed to challenge and support students to govern themselves.” SGA senators are not compensated for all of their efforts and services as student leaders so they answer to the students who elect them and not the administrators who pay them. If Student Staff, as part of the administrative structure, receive monetary compensation and act as authority, would Grinnellians govern themselves in the same way?

Stipends will encourage accountability in Student Staff:

By introducing stipends, Student Affairs can hold SAs and HWCs more accountable. Student Affairs could do this by professionalizing Student Staff positions to ensure they meet certain requirements throughout the year. These requirements could include stringent evaluations and have Student Affairs discontinue the practice of retaining SAs unconditionally. You can’t fire volunteers. This policy will ensure that only committed students staff members who harbor greater commitment to their position will be retained.
In addition to improving quality of applicants, a stipend will attract students who rely on campus jobs to afford their education. Financial need discourages students from investing their time into an unpaid position, such as Student Staff and also discourage them from applying for the position altogether. By compensating students for their work as SAs and HWCs, more students who rely on work-study for their tuition will apply to be on Student Staff and be able to invest their time in helping the students on their floor or in their cluster. This will broaden the application pool for Student Staff and therefore increase the quality of the staff selected.

Grinnell is unique in the way it handles its Student Staff positions but it is also worthwhile to note that we are the only one of our peer institutions not to offer them some sort of monetary compensation. We are part of a greater group of related schools who push each other for the betterment of our campuses. We need to question why we do not compensate students who provide fundamental services to the College. It is important to recognize the work Student Staff does for all of us, including supporting self-gov.

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    David NathanOct 1, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    When I was a student at Grinnell, my understanding was that if SAs were paid by the college, they would have the legal responsibility to enforce policies such as reporting drinking by students under the age of 21 or other illegal behavior, and there was a sense that this was not a responsibility or position that the college wanted to put SAs in.

    Having high school classmates that attended the University of Minnesota and who lived in the dorms, I have seen how the relationship changes between floormates and their SAs when the SA is effectively a ‘narc’. it becomes an matter of hiding various issues from SAs instead of using SAs as a first line resource for students in need. I like the model Grinnell had. And having a guaranteed single seems to be pretty good compensation to me. 🙂

    David Nathan ’01
    (an S&B reporter and news section editor, among other things while on campus :-))