New USG bylaws cause backlash within leadership

The USG Executive Cabinet is forced to review its bylaws after they eliminated stipends for assistant directors.

Faced with loud complaints from members of the USC Undergraduate Student Government, leaders of USG plan to rescind a decision to eliminate the stipends for assistant directors while increasing those of the incoming top officials. The move came just two weeks after the inauguration of new President Truman Fritz and Vice President Rose Ritch.

New USG bylaws were approved by the outgoing USG Cabinet in February with little public disclosure. These bylaws award Fritz and Ritch a $10,200 stipend, 13% more than their predecessors. To fund those and other stipend increases, the Cabinet quietly eliminated the $1,000 stipends that incoming assistant directors, or ADs, expected to receive.

Fritz told Annenberg Media that USG leaders plan to reduce his and Ritch’s stipends back to last year’s level, $9,000, while fully restoring the stipends for assistant directors.

The AD stipend removal was the subject of a heated online Slack discussion on April 7, as well as follow-up complaints by some of those affected.

“ADs have all of the exact same expectations put on them by USG as executive directors [EDs] do… I would love to hear how unpaid labor is something we’re supposed to be okay with,” complained Andra Astorga, former co-director of Latinx Student Assembly, in a USG Slack channel.

Fritz said that the Executive Cabinet is working to reverse the stipend increase for the president and vice president to help fund the restored stipend for ADs. Stipends for the rest of the Executive Cabinet will also be reduced, still granting them an increase from last year’s stipends.

“We made final decisions to move forward on paying ADs. … They’re a large portion of our membership, and in order to make USG accessible to all students, we believe they need the financial cushion,” he said.

Each even year, the USG executive committee meets to restructure the USG Constitution and bylaws. This year’s restructuring proposal was created by the 2019 Executive Cabinet, which included former President Trenton Stone, former Vice President Mahin Tahsin and Fritz, then senior director of communications.

Proposed changes to the bylaws, presented at the Feb. 18 Senate meeting, included converting the organizational structure to a three-prong model, changes to funding and a reallocation of the organization’s stipend funds.

The proposal was to be further discussed at the meeting one week later, according to the Feb. 25 Official Senate Agenda. However, the meeting minutes exclude any discussion or voting on the Bylaw Proposal.

As the new administration was inaugurated on April 7, the new bylaws went into effect, including a section increasing the stipend of senior positions while eliminating funds for ADs.

In a USG Slack channel titled “#core,” officers expressed their frustrations with the stipend changes, which they had become aware of during the inauguration. Annenberg Media received a copy of the messages from one participant in the discussion, which was later verified as accurate by others who took part.

“Many of us were not adequately informed of this decision, and our incoming ADs applied under the impression that they would receive compensation for their time,” Citlalin Lopez-Torres, co-director of Latinx Student Assembly, wrote in the Slack channel. “There was only one org-wide meeting where restructuring was a topic and it clearly did not go over all the changes… I am extremely curious to hear the reasoning behind it.”

The primary argument for retaining the stipend money in the chat concerned increasing USG accessibility. Without these stipends, several wrote, students would have to find work elsewhere, on top of their USG positions.

“I don’t see how we as USG can say we represent the student body when the lack of pay is excluding students from being in USG because they have to work,” wrote Laura Pearson, former assistant director, sustainability affairs.

The current assistant director for the Environmental Student Association, Dillon Cranston, confirmed that he was not informed of the change while campaigning for his position.

“I know a lot of ADs were depending on that subsidy for their groceries and housing,” he said in an interview with Annenberg Media. “I understand why they did it, I just think it’s misguided to take it from a different position’s pay, especially considering how much money USG has access to. It would only take a small percentage of, say, the concert committee’s budget to pull off what they wanted to do.”

Frustrations ran high among senior officials, especially ones who have held AD positions in the past.

“Did any of you consult even the bare majority of EDs, Senators, and ADs before unilaterally deciding this,” said Nathaniel Hyman, former executive director (ED) and AD of the Environmental Student Association, in the channel.

Hyman also questioned when the decision was made to eliminate the AD stipend. In response, former Chief Diversity Officer Jeffrey Cho responded with it having been discussed on March 6. There is no record of a meeting on that date on the USG Legislative Branch Google Drive.

“To my understanding, the main rationale for removing AD stipends was to bring the rest of the organization, particularly senators, closer towards minimum wage for the hours they have listed per the bylaws,” wrote Cho, after apologizing for the lack of communication about the issue.

Cho urged members of the channel to voice their concerns at the April 14 Senate meeting. However, the notes and minutes for this meeting have not yet been made available.

Olivia Frary, USG’s former director of marketing, also commented in the Slack channel, noting that the stipend proposals should have been brought up in an organization-wide meeting. She called to attention that the Programming Board was in a major state of flux during the proposal and administration changes.

Frary is referring to the removal of the senior director of programming, Montana Houston, following violation of USG policy and complaints from USG-affiliated assemblies in early March.

“It is not fair to anyone that a topic of this much importance was not clearly communicated during the process, but it's also not fair to have this discussion in an accusatory manner,” she argued.

The Senate recently met to hear the bylaw amendments. It is unclear when they will vote on its approval.