The other day, I caught a item in The Gateway, the University of Alberta’s newspaper, about student union executives having their pay raised from $25,668 to $33,000, or by 28.5 per cent. Unsurprisingly, the article had more than its usual share of online comments from students.
Last year, On Campus compiled many of the student executive salaries across the country, and they varied between $20,000 and $35,000, often with very little correlation between the university in question and the amount of money/number of students they governed.
It’s fair for student leaders to think they deserve more money—they work long hours and are in charge of millions of dollars. They’re comparing themselves to executives of other organizations of similar budgets.
But students compare them to, well, students. Students who also have to work jobs and take classes at the same time, and who often don’t see the same benefits coming from their student union as other places they pay fees to—like their actual tuition dollars.
Much like university president salaries, student executive salaries are a hot-button issue, especially during times of relative economic hardship, because of the general gut reaction of “My Money Is Going Where?” At the same time, student union leaders tend to think that what they do is very, very important, and of course they deserve to be fairly compensated. Unsurprisingly, this creates tension, rarely of the productive type.
For example, at UVic, the student society realized they were in a financial crisis, the executive did what they could to reduce their salaries, held a referendum to increase student fees, and it passed.
At UBC however, the student executive of the Alma Mater Society (AMS) announced they were in financial trouble, only to ask for a $1,200 yearly health benefit package for themselves within the budget. Shockingly (at least to them), council took a month to pass their budget (though they got their health benefits), and the student body at large was so against a proposed referendum on increasing student fees to help the AMS’ finances that they postponed it until the new year. I’m not at UVic, and I don’t know how much impact the symbolic salary decrease had at that campus—but it is a line-item in the budget which always arouses tension, regardless of what province you happen to reside in.