Eva Timoney / Gavel Media

Should Elected Officials Be Paid?

Amid the contentious storm that is beginning to rage in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election, a different race is underway at Boston College.

This month will see the annual elections for the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC), and what is typically a pretty low-profile race has garnered just a little bit more attention this year over the topic of money. At least one of the duos running for president and vice president has made a point of stating that they will not accept their stipend if elected. Candidates Christian Guma and Kevork Atizinian have pledged that the money that would normally go into their stipend will instead be put towards the UGBC projects they have planned. This has given many of us a moment of pause, leaving us blinking in surprise and asking, “wait, they get paid for that?”

Yes, they do. The combined earnings of all the UGBC executives comes out to around $19,000, with the president typically earning a stipend of about $4000. While $4000 may not be an exorbitant amount of money compared to somebody’s annual salary in the working world, I would argue that it’s a little much for the winners of what is basically a glorified popularity contest.

First, I’d like to point out that the money that UGBC officials make is consistently referred to by the school as a ‘stipend.’ A stipend is usually used to describe a fixed amount of money that’s given to you to offset expenses related to the job you’re doing or the program you’re a part of. It implies there is an expected way that the money is supposed to be used, For example, if you take an internship in Wisconsin, you may be given a stipend to help pay for things like housing, food, and living expenses because your bosses realize that you aren’t from Wisconsin, and this presents a financial challenge. I am genuinely curious what the financial challenge is of being elected to UGBC. Is there a hidden cost to being in student government that this stipend is supposed to help out with?

Maybe it costs thousands of dollars to get into the offices in Carney, but it seems to me like the officials of UGBC are getting something closer to a reward. This would be fine, if the contest to get this position was worth $4000. This, of course, isn’t to downplay the hard work that goes into campaigning for office or the hours that candidates spend crafting their platforms and practicing for debates. It’s only to say that there is something off about getting paid for winning an election that, last year, had only about a 25% voter turnout.

I also recognize that there is plenty of work involved in being a part of UGBC. The students who are elected to these positions put in long hours to organize their various events and projects…but so do most of the student organizations on campus. I don’t get paid for writing for The Gavel, after all. The BC Marching Band doesn’t get paid. Health Coaches for the Office of Health Promotion don’t get paid. Countless students who contribute innumerable hours of their time to the university don’t get paid for it.

Students who volunteer for service organizations also don’t get paid…because they’re volunteers. They’re doing a service to others, just like UGBC officials should be doing a service to us. This brings up another important question, an age-old dilemma: if there’s money attached to the office, what’s to prevent people from running for it just to get that money?

Someone’s motive for running for office should be to serve his or her community. Money complicates all motives, so it’s certainly not out of the question in this situation. This argument has even come up about real elected officials like the president of the United States. They do get paid, but I would argue that the US government is operating at a slightly different level than UGBC, with maybe a little more on its plate. 

Aside from whether or not UGBC officials should be making any money on principle, there’s something to be said about the amount of money they’re making. A couple thousand dollars is no small prize. If any perspective is necessary, I worked an average of 30 hours a week in food service all summer and still didn’t make $4000. 

This isn’t meant to be an endorsement of the candidates who have promised not to take their salaries, or of any of the candidates for that matter, because I admittedly don’t know their policies. I encourage you to look them up, to vote, and to seriously examine whether or not you think your candidate deserves thousands of dollars.