A Student Assembly to discuss income inequality at Macalester, specifically the gap between the highest-paid and lowest-paid employees, will be held the second week after Spring Break. On Wednesday night, organizers received the number of signatures necessary to call a Student Assembly. The Student Assembly’s creation is dependent on the Registrar’s Office verifying the petition signatures.
Over the past few weeks, organizers have been collecting signatures to call the Student Assembly. The petition states that income inequality has been growing the past few years, and is especially visible at Macalester through different levels of compensation among employees. The petition states that the ‘income inequality ratio,’ defined as the compensation ratio between the highest-paid employee (in this case, the President) and the lowest-paid employees, is 42:1. Despite Macalester guaranteeing a starting salary of $14.17 an hour for all its contracted employees, many employees that subcontract with Macalester are paid less than that. The petition goes on to state that “this slope problem has not been addressed with input from the student body as primary stakeholders in Macalester’s operations.”
“Our goals are to really prompt the administration and Board of Trustees to take seriously combatting this nation and worldwide trend at a level here at Macalester,” Samuel Doten ’16, one of the petition organizers, said. “How can we be an example of civic engagement and social responsibility if we’re not practicing what we’re teaching?”
Student Assemblies are created after twenty percent of students sign onto a petition calling for one to take place. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition received approximately 450 signatures. Assemblies have the power to discuss issues and pass legislation on behalf of the entire student body. Under the rules of a Student Assembly, any student may attend. All students present are allowed to participate and have voting power.
At the Student Assembly, a bill and resolution will appear on the agenda calling for the school to reduce their income inequality ratio to 18:1 by 2020. In addition, the bill and resolution call on the school to negotiate wages for subcontracted employees so they are also paid at least $14.17 an hour, and establish an Income Inequality Commission inside MCSG. Because that bill and resolution received signatures of at least 5 percent of the student body, it was automatically placed on the agenda at the Student Assembly.
MCSG votes down Student Assembly
In addition to obtaining signatures, organizers of the Student Assembly tried to establish the assembly directly through MCSG. On Tuesday, they soundly rejected that resolution by a 3-22 vote, with one abstention.
During the meeting, representatives expressed concerns about why a Student Assembly was necessary for having this discussion, especially when past forums have not been well-attended.
“Why is the Student Assembly the way you want to go about this?” President Rothin Datta ’16 said. “We’ve had a history of hosting forums that are not very highly attended. [This would] speak on behalf of the entire student body, and make some pretty strong demands on the school. I’m concerned about what the implications are of people who are directly involved in this showing up and voting on something that becomes the voice of the student body. If people don’t show up, which they often don’t it would reflect the opposite.”
Blomgren challenged that assertion, saying they have received lots of interest and support while tabling the past few weeks.
“We’ve garnered a lot more public attention from the student body than we have seen at forums,” Blomgren said. “I think the simple fact that we’ve gone out and gotten signatures with people about this issue — that suggests that we’ve been able to connect on this issue and we’ll also be able to spread publicity too.”
Dean of Students Jim Hoppe questioned some of the numbers listed in their petition, saying it would be misleading for students to sign onto a petition with incorrect information. Hoppe said that the ratio of highest-paid to lowest-paid employees was actually 27:1 rather than 42:1. The 42:1 statistic included other forms of compensation for the highest-paid employee (such as the President’s medical benefits and compensation), while looking at just the base salary for the lowest-paid employee.
“You make good points about having the student body be involved in this, but if they’ve signed onto this petition with misleading numbers, I honestly don’t think that’s fair,” Hoppe said. “The numbers are important. If that’s why people signed the petition, then that’s not the way I think we should approach it.”
Samuel Doten ’16, who helped organize the petition, said that he was disappointed in MCSG’s response to what was proposed.
“We thought it would be obvious to the Legislative Body that there was momentum behind this and this is something that students do want to see happen. And they didn’t see it that way,” Doten said. “That’s their prerogative, but we got our signatures, we’re going to have our assembly anyways. And I hope members of the LB are there to have a good faith conversation about income inequality at Macalester.”