Students Working at $3.13 an Hour

In the constellation of student employment, a particular sector stands out: those who are hired by Senate, and who are compensated using student body funds. The greatest difficulty in writing this article was in finding clarity about the basic facts of the situation. While it is a well known fact that for most campus jobs the hourly rate is $12 an hour, Portland minimum wage, the entire payroll for students with student body positions is kept confidential. Even the overall budget of Senate, which each student contributes to through the student body fee, is confidential, because, in the words of Head Treasurer Mitzi Zitler, “The budget itself is confidential because it is.” All that can be said of the budget is that it is divided between the student body Payroll, Finance Committee, Top 30, identity-based funding, and the Student Opportunity Grant (funded by dividends on Senate’s endowment). Even reforms made to student body payroll that were made recently cannot be shared in detail, because, according to Zitler, “I just don’t want students to feel like it’s a competition.”

Many of the positions paid for by Senate are stipended, meaning that a fixed amount is paid out each pay-period of two weeks, regardless of how many hours are actually worked. Henry Oberholtzer, who is the KRRC Engineer, makes $25 every two weeks, and estimates that he works 4 hours every week for the station. This means that he makes an hourly rate of $3.13. When asked about whether or not he fears that this low compensation excludes low-SES students who cannot spend so much time on work that is essentially unpaid, he said, “I think the compensation is certainly low, and discourages people from often taking the position as a job. But conversely for those with time (a privilege, certainly), [KRRC] work is really out of passion for the station [and] the community around it.”

Even senators work on stipend. One former senator, who prefers to be kept anonymous, said that he was paid a little less than $200 a month, and estimated that at the peak he worked 4–5 hours a week. This meant that on some weeks, this former senator worked for $10 an hour, $2 below Portland minimum wage. This student, who is low-SES, said, “do I think the stipend could be improved, sure, but the money wasn't the problem: time was. Again, money wasn't the selling point for me, so I wasn't to concerned with the small stipend. Senate was very time consuming.” This adds another element to student work — the time commitment that is expected of students, and how that commitment excludes students on many axes.

Not all student body positions are the same, though. Some, while still paying an hourly wage of around or below the minimum wage, are compensated more handsomely. Isaac Schuman is a member of Honor Council who makes $90 every two weeks, and works 3 to 4 hours a week: meaning that members make at the least $11.25 an hour. They noted that while the compensation is not the highest, aside for the two hours set aside for meeting and office hours, all the other hours spent working are flexible. Additionally, mediation training, which takes an entire weekend, is not paid for, and while this training not required, it is expected of Honor Council members.

Importantly, Schuman recounts not knowing whether their stipend came from the school or from Senate funds. The most important lesson in all of this is transparency — the right of students to know where their money is going, and where their money is coming from.