Opposing the Re-Classification of Student Leadership Stipends
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Did you know that as a student of the Graduate Center, each semester you pay a Student Activity Fee, a portion of which includes a Student Government Fee that is allocated by the Doctoral and Graduate Students’ Council (hereafter, the DSC)? Through these funds the DSC provides: grants for student-organized activities, free legal consultations, money for chartered organizations, program allocations, an array of free classes and social events, donations to the childcare center and the health and wellness center, discounted movie tickets, daily free coffee and snacks in our lounge, and more! This money also funds The Advocate (our student newspaper), OpenCUNY (an open-source, professional digital platform that enables students to build their online academic presence), and the Adjunct Project (a network of activists dedicated to improving conditions for student workers and CUNY adjuncts).
A crucial part of this is also the payment of student leadership stipends to those whose labor goes into making all of this possible. In July 2018, members of the DSC’s Steering Committee were informed by the Business Office that student leadership stipends would henceforth be approved and processed by the Office of Financial Aid (a seizure of student funds from students’ hands) and be counted against a student’s total financial aid or assistance. Vague retroactive policy enforcement was cited as the reason for the sudden change. All affected students were opposed to this measure, which we fought while continuing to provide all of the aforementioned services with unpaid labor through September 2018.
While we have managed a victory by regaining the authorization to approve the processing of stipend requests, the administration is still maintaining that all student leadership stipends be reported to the Office of Financial Aid and counted as financial aid or assistance.
The members of the DSC Steering Committee are opposed to this change in accounting for two reasons. First, per the CUNY University Fiscal Accountability Handbook, the right to allocate student activity fees is firmly bestowed to students. The DSC’s budget is designed by students, voted on by students, and approved by the College Association, an organization with a student-majority of members. This ensures that all money paid toward Student Activity Fees goes directly back to all students. Any additional oversight from an administrative body within the Graduate Center is a threat to the democratic and transparent nature of our budgeting process.
Second, the Office of Financial Aid’s policies regarding the distribution of payments for International Students and Master’s Students are unclear and frequently result in delayed or the lack of payments to these students. Reporting student leadership stipends to the Office of Financial Aid unfairly burdens any International or Master’s student elected by their peers to serve as a student leader. Additionally, should any International or Masters student be ineligible for institutional financial aid, this new procedural change could bar them from serving as student leaders. This is a direct threat to the DSC’s commitment to fully representative student governance and represents the administration’s increased policing of International Students and Master’s Students who already enter the building with less, or no access to full and fair funding options.
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