This past Monday, April 25, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) voted overwhelmingly to delay the bylaw establishing salaries for AAS officials from taking effect until at least the beginning of the 2022-2023 academic year. The decision came after senators learned from the administration about certain obstacles to implementing the bylaw.
The initial bylaw, which was proposed by AAS Senator Cole Graber-Mitchell ’22 and passed by the AAS on April 4, aims to both boost participation within AAS and increase accessibility for low-income students who are unable to run because the time commitment prevents them from working a paying job.
During the AAS meeting on April 25, AAS Vice-President Jaden Richards ’25 informed senators of issues with the bylaw’s implementation that Dean of Students and Chief Student Affairs Officer Liz Agosto brought up in a meeting with him and AAS President Sirus Wheaton ’23.
Richards reported that according to Agosto, the AAS’ status as a nonprofit organization makes it difficult for the body to become an employer, and pay its officials. The AAS would also likely have to take responsibility for managing each paid official’s work authorization paperwork and tax forms, he said.
Richards added that Agosto also raised concerns about some students potentially being ineligible for payment, particularly undocumented students — who lack work authorization — and international students who are already working their limit of 20 paid hours a week. According to Graber-Mitchell, AAS members had already been aware of concerns about paying undocumented students.
In a statement to The Student, Agosto wrote that she is working with senators to “help [the] AAS understand their options and make informed decisions as they consider how to move forward.” Given the ongoing nature of these discussions, Agosto said that “it is premature to comment further at this time.”
One possible route forward, according to Graber-Mitchell, would be to pay senators through a grant model, giving senators a fixed amount of money at the start of their terms for the costs of being a student representative.
Whatever path is pursued, Wheaton hopes for close cooperation from the college in implementing a future version of the bylaw. “If we vote to do something as this independent body representing the students, then the college has a responsibility to help us do that certain thing,” he said, pointing out that taxes and legal issues are things “the college kind of has to hand-hold for us.”
Wheaton suggested that the problem could possibly be solved by having offices like Student Activities handle the payment, as they already do for many employees.
So far, Wheaton doesn’t think much help from the administration has been forthcoming: “It didn’t feel like something that they would be willing to offer up. It [felt like] something that you would have to fight for at every step.”
Candidates who have signed up to run in the AAS’ elections this week have expressed a variety of feelings about the bylaw’s delay. Ankit Sayed ’24 — who described himself as able to run for the Senate “almost exclusively because of the new bylaw” in an earlier interview with The Student — said, “At the end of the day, I am not wealthy and need to consider the tradeoff of doing unpaid labor for the college.”
Others view the delay as a chance to reckon with other issues in the bylaw.
Lily Popoli ’23, another current Senate candidate, thinks the bylaw is a great idea, but said that “before deciding to pay [the] Senate, we must consider all of the unpaid labor that is done by students on campus and address that issue.”
Senate candidate Henry Pallesen ’25 also hopes the delay will provide a chance “to see a more public debate surrounding the entire bill … especially on the merits of possibly only instituting a payment system for those with financial aid.”
Treasurer Dania Hallak ’24 expressed relief at the delay. “People did bring up the point of potentially only paying FLI [first-generation and/or low-income] students, and that topic was not heavily discussed,” she said. “So I think [the delay] w[ill] definitely allow us to look more at the bylaw and allow for more people’s voices to be included in the bylaw.”
Despite the delay, Graber-Mitchell remains optimistic about the bill. “I don’t really view it as a setback,” he said. “This is what forward progress sometimes looks like. I ended up writing something, kind of on my own, without talking to the people who are experts on this, and I brought it up and now it’s being changed — that’s how this works.”
“I’m hopeful that we will produce a workable decision,” he concluded.