This week’s MCSG meeting featured a discussion led by Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) member Karinna Gerhardt ’20 and member-elect Ryan Perez ’20 about their proposed bill, titled Subsidy for Unpaid Internship Transportation (SUIT).
This bill was first introduced last spring by former AAC member Fabian Bean ’19, and would sponsor a program for students doing unpaid internships through Handshake. It would allocate $960 per year for 11 students to receive bus pass subsidies to help them get to fall semester internships, with 13 students receiving subsidies in the spring semester.
To calculate these numbers, the bill’s authors determined the average number of internships sponsored by the Internship Office in the past five years – 105 during fall semester and 127 during spring semester – and allocated enough money for ten percent of those to be subsidized.
Gerhardt and Perez first presented the bill at last week’s meeting, but after several members raised concerns about the use of the student activity fee for transit subsidies, as well how exactly recipients would be compensated, they made several major changes to the bill.
In the past week, the pair met with Internship Director Mike Porter and Associate Dean of Students Andrew Wells to discuss revisions. “[To subsidize the bus passes], we’re now using a reimbursement process, because from a student government standpoint it’s more ethical – though we understand that it puts the burden on the student in the beginning,” Perez said.
“The AAC will create and administer the [application] form,” Perez continued in a message to The Mac Weekly. They check which applicants are eligible via Handshake, and send the list of all eligible applicants to the Financial Aid Office, [which] sends a list of the appropriate number of students back who are most in need of the subsidy. We then similarly verify academic standing with the Provost.”
According to Gerhardt and Perez, all students are eligible to apply for the subsidy regardless of their financial need.
In the future, the authors would like the Career Development Center (CDC) or the Internship Office to sponsor the program. Gerhardt said that Porter agreed that he would like to see either the Internship Office or the CDC to sponsor the program within the next two to three years.
To expedite this process, Perez and Gerhardt added a sunset clause, which would terminate the program if MCSG decides not to renew the bill and another department on campus does not take responsibility for it.
“Our rationale for funding it up front and not waiting for the CDC to have the money is to collect the data and show the CDC that there is a need and desire of students on this campus,” Gerhardt said. “To show them the numbers to give them access to the folks who have made use of the subsidy.”
Perez and Gerhardt also added a component that would engage the community in the internship experience. All students who apply for the subsidy must agree to participate in an additional program facilitated by the Internship Office that would make them ambassadors of sorts for their internships on campus.
“Within the financial code it currently says that the operating fund can’t be used to fund anything that is politically related,” Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) Brian Yu ’19 said. “So… political internships wouldn’t necessarily be able to be funded through the operating fund according to how the financial code currently stands.”
In deference to that argument, Perez and Gerhardt agreed to accept a friendly amendment to the bill from Yu stating that students pursuing political internships would not be eligible for the subsidy.
FAC Chair Taneeya Rele ’19 raised another concern. According to the financial code, paying students using money from the operating fund is not allowed. “I would equate it to how Open Pantry is functioning right now,” Gerhardt said. “If someone goes into Open Pantry and collects items, you wouldn’t think of it as paying that students for the price of whatever they took from Open Pantry.”
“I think, similarly, if someone gets the bus subsidy, you’re not paying them the amount, you’re instead giving them an allotment that they use for the intended purpose,” she continued.
Other members of the Legislative Body (LB) raised concerns about the subsidy’s use of the student activity fee.
“I think something like this calls for a conversation about what the student activity fee is and how it should be used, and how technically this [bill] can effectively be seen as a redistribution of wealth,” Rele said.
“What the student activity fee is and what it should be used for [is] a good question,” President Malik Mays ’19 said. “There hasn’t been an official definition for it for years and this has been a problem for years, and so one of my goals for next [semester] is to define it so that we don’t have to have these conversations.
But Mays concluded that, in this case, because the subsidy would “benefit the Macalester community,” it could be used. He voted for the bill, which the LB passed. Gerhardt and Perez hope to put the program in effect in time for students pursuing 2019 internships to receive assistance.