Ira interview transcript

Click here for abridged audio clip of interviewOn Feb. 11, the General Body of the Inter-Residence Association [IRA] will vote on a compensation package for IRA’s seven-member Executive Board. A similar proposal last semester drew opposition from many students, who each pay a $15 dollar fee to create IRA’s budget. Here, IRA President Bob Just and IRA Vice Chair of Student Advocacy Peter Cesiro discuss the proposal with The Vermont Cynic.Interview by Sarah Rouhan and Patrick LaClair The Vermont Cynic: Why did you write the proposal?Cesiro: I originally wrote the proposal for compensation, because I’d really like to see the organization grow and be able to attract more people that would otherwise have to seek off campus work or seek other positions around campus that could pay. Whereas as it currently stands, the compensation package at $475 a semester that is offered to the executive board really isn’t substantial to even purchase a semester’s worth of books, if that’s really all someone’s trying to get out of it.The Vermont Cynic: Are you the only one that wrote this proposal? Are you in charge of the proposal, or did anyone help you?Cesiro: I talked to various people, but I am the one that composed it.The Vermont Cynic: Then how is this proposal different from the first one, if at all?Cesiro: I never saw the first one. It was an E-Board thing that never made it to general body.Just: Actually, it did make it to general body. I was looking through my E-mails last night, and I was looking through the compensation talking points I sent out, and it had a combination of both. But that was back in October. Peter came to me and said, “I need some help,” but I think I did a good job making sure the E-Board stayed out of this one. We really want to play this as unbiased, and we don’t want our hands in this pot right now. We saw what happened last semester and, in order for this to pass, it’s a General Body thing, not an E-Board thing.The Vermont Cynic: Did you get the idea for it from the previous one?Cesiro: I want to say yes, the idea was planted there; but it started there just because I’m new to IRA this year. After seeing the required office hours they have to have, even when they’re not scheduled on office hours, there’s always someone in here doing work before meetings, after meetings, before Exec and after Exec meetings. I originally thought it was a volunteer position, but after seeing all the hours people have to put in, I don’t think it’s fair for everybody to perceive this as a volunteer, or even for the people coming in, because then you’re really limiting who wants to do it. The Vermont Cynic: Why do you think students had such a sour reaction to the previous compensation proposal?Just: I think students had a sour reaction because I feel there was a lot of misinformation. A lot of people thought we were getting free room and board, and then people were definitely upset that RAs were going through a similar struggle with their compensation package, and that they’re looking for a better compensation package from ResLife. I think there was a lot of animosity between the two entities and people sort of sided with their RAs because obviously you see your RAs a lot more that you would hear about IRA or even see IRA sometimes, so I think a lot of it had to do with that.Also, people don’t really know exactly what we do still. So, to see IRA is getting free rooms or whatever, it’s like, what are they doing that deserves that? So I think there was a lot of scrutiny over whether it was legitimate or not. And that’s fair, because the residents, while they may not know much about us and we may do a ton of work here and they don’t see that, it’s their opinions and observations that guide our decisions when it comes to that.The Vermont Cynic: Is IRA doing anything to try and counteract that reaction and, if so, is it working?Just: I was reading through Peter’s bill and I noticed the compensation amount is for $1,500, and while that is a little over triple what we get right now, I think it’s a lot less than what was proposed in the first semester, and it’s a lot more reasonable for taking steps toward that goal and towards that vision we’d like to have for the organization. I think it’s a healthy compromise. But at the same time, if residents are against this once I send it out to all the residents, I can’t support something that they don’t support, because ultimately we’re here to represent them, not ourselves.The Vermont Cynic: Last time there was a meeting and all the RAs found out about this at one time. Talking to a few RAs, they know nothing about it this time. Why?Just: We were supposed to have a general body meeting on Wednesday, but I feel this compensation, as well as some other things we need to do, needs some time; not only with IRA general body, but residents in general. I was hoping to get that E-mail out this weekend so they have two more weeks to really look at it and tell people what they think and hear what the buzz is about. I think this definitely isn’t something that’s going to be passed without people knowing, because that’s obviously not the approach that would work. It was conceived that we were trying to last time, when in reality it was something that was very much still in the idea and brainstorming phase. I guess it was leaked that it was something that was going to happen. One of the RAs wrote a comment to the entire RAs and said “we need to act on this swiftly, because they’re trying to go behind our backs,” and that wasn’t the intention or what was going on at all. It’s a lot about where you get your information from.The Vermont Cynic: So it wasn’t on purpose that they haven’t heard about it?Just: No. I’m currently drafting an E-mail that has more than one thing in it, and this is one of the points. It’s just a matter of time before I finish that.The Vermont Cynic: Can you predict at all how people are going to feel about this proposal?Just: I think given how the last compensation went, people are going to be like, “this is going on again? They’re going for room and board again?” I think it really needs to be stated clearly that this isn’t what we’re going for; it’s a much smaller amount. I feel like their reaction, given the right information, will be mixed. Some people harbor some negative feelings toward IRA because of last semester and some people are optimistic and hopeful for it. I think it’s going to be mixed. But it’s ultimately what they let us know on those web comment forms when I send out the E-mail. The Vermont Cynic: Where is this money coming from? An IRA general fund?Just: We have an operating budget of $155,000.Right now the money would come from our budget, and if it came from ResLife I think that would be a huge conflict of interest, just because it puts us in a position where, we’re supposed to be advocating on behalf of the students to residential life and being like “you know you guys need to do something different about this” or whatnot, and if we’re getting paid by them to do that it puts us in an awkward position. I think it will always come from the IRA budget, which right now is 155,000, and now with this new student input, I guess we’re getting 150 students on campus for the new 300 students, but we haven’t accounted for how much that will bring us in yet. The Vermont Cynic: Where does your fund come from? Is that part of student tuition?Just: Yes. Each student when they live on campus has a fee that is put on to their student account that is $15, and that money is sent to us directly. The reason we have that fee is that ResLife implements that fee on the students, so in a way, if you want to go on technicalities, ResLife is giving us our budget because they’re allowing it. But it’s really the student money that goes directly into our account.The Vermont Cynic: There’s no possibility that with budget cuts would have any effect on your budget?Just: No. Our budget is safe. Very safe.The Vermont Cynic: There was an opinion article in The Watertower this week saying something to the effect of “Why isn’t Jay Taylor, who receives a weekly stipend, taking a cut?” Do you think there could be any backlash such as that?Just: I think the big thing is that student organizations such as SGA and IRA have fees we implement on students. We don’t get our budget from UVM, or from any office on campus, we get our money directly from the students. There’s been absolutely no talk of that fee ever going down. I mean, it could, but it would only hurt us as organizations to try to follow through with our missions and have a lower budget. But it’s not something that would happen at least next year that I can see. I don’t even know what that process would look like. But we get our fee directly from the students, so we have a very safe budget. Even if Jay Taylor, or any member that’s getting paid a salary, took a cut it would only go back into the SGA fund to be used for whatever they decide. It wouldn’t go toward faculty that would be losing their jobs; we don’t have any impact on that unfortunately. The Vermont Cynic: Has IRA traditionally seen a surplus in the fund at the end of the year?Just: You mean like a roll over? Last year we had $1,800 roll over, so it was very insignificant. We usually budget for $5,000 to roll over, that’s the safe amount. One year we had a lot roll over. Over the past our budget has been much more effective and much better at keeping track of everything. I’d say in the future it’s going to be very minimal, less than 1 percent of our budget to roll over.The Vermont Cynic: How much do you need for this compensation? Are you cutting anything? It’s a large budget, but what are you sacrificing?Cesiro: Around $21,000.Just: $21,000. I think that’s a little over 10 percent. Ultimately I don’t think any areas – I really can’t say as to whether or not things will be cut, but I don’t think that anything’s going to see a drastic change. If anything, it’s going to be minimal areas of other budgets to make this happen. But it wouldn’t be anything dramatic, hopefully.The Vermont Cynic: What kind of message do you think this sends, that you’re looking for compensation during these financial times?Just: I think this sends a horrible message, to be honest, and students are really going to resent organizations that are pushing for a higher compensation package, but it really depends on how you look at it. I’m not sure how I see it yet. I see this as a really great opportunity for the organization to continue growing and continue to attract people to the organization, because money talks. I think any organization, that’s why they have compensation. There are many other reasons, but I think that’s a big reason. So I really think it’s a matter of perspective on this, and how people are going to take it. I don’t know. There’s going to be some resentment because of the financial times for sure, but we’re hoping because of these financial times students don’t have to go get another job, which many of our E-Board members do have another job, either on campus or off campus, to even stay here at the University. One of the E-Board members had to leave the University last semester, because of financial reasons. We get it’s a hard time, but when our budget isn’t changing, it’s safe, we feel this is a good move for the organization to attract people and keep people interested in staying a part of it, I think. But, it’s all a matter of opinion. If the residents are clearly upset by this, then I won’t support it.The Vermont Cynic: So this compensation is equal for all seven E-Board members?Cesiro: Yes. The way I’m proposing it, there’s no tiers. It’s not a tiered system; it’s strictly 1,500 per semester per E-Board system.The Vermont Cynic: What was the reasoning behind that?Cesiro: I guess it didn’t cross my mind to do the tiers. Just for the simple fact that I always see a lot of E-Board members pitching in in other places that aren’t exactly there’s. So how do you say that technically you’re the Student Adovocacy or the NCC, even though you’re helping each other out, you have two very different positions. How do you say, “Yours is technically a higher position so I’m going to give you more money,” when everyone’s really lending a hand when needed.Just: I’ve been to a lot of conferences and we get to meet a lot of IRAs from around the East Coast and nationally and some of them do a compensation package where everyone gets the same, like we do now. Others have the President get free room, and even free board in some cases, the Vice President gets $3,000, and the rest of the E-Board members get $500. So there are different ways to approach compensation, but I think it depends how you want compensation to structure the organization. If you have a tiered system it definitely sets up a hierarchy within the organization; like the president’s the best and the most important one here. I think all positions are equally important in our organization. It would be unfair, I think, to set up a hierarchy right now.The Vermont Cynic: How did you pick the amount of the compensation?Cesiro: It was something I knew in my mind that I didn’t want to go over 15 percent of the budget, which it doesn’t. I didn’t want to go to $2,000. I realized that the $475 they were getting now didn’t work. So when the compensation was originally heard about last semester, what I did was I talked to a wide variety of students, whether because they knew I was on IRA or because I knew them as a friend, either inside or outside of classes, and really explained what was going on.So people were like “what’s this about free room and board?” and I’d say “well this is what they’re searching for.” A lot of people were unsure about that, so I knew even that was too much to be asking for, even if you said “well we aren’t going to give them a bed waiver, but we’ll give them that same amount of money.” So I cut that a little less than half, and came to what I wanted to see for the year for an Executive position and put that into the semester.The Vermont Cynic: Are you prepared for any backlash on this?Just: I hope so. I really just need to get mentally and physically more well right now, but I took it once and I think I can take it again. I have no choice.The Vermont Cynic: Is there anything you would’ve said last time, but would like to say now?Just: A million things … I would just say do your research. Residents, do your research. Don’t just make an opinion just to make an opinion, or go along with general thought. Make sure you know what you’re talking about, because a lot of last time was just misinformation that really hurt the organization and what we try to do every single day for these residents. It really impacts our ability to do a good job when we don’t have the support of the people we represent. I feel like the reason we weren’t supported last time was due to a lot of misinformation. Cesiro: I welcome anybody, whether they’d like to shoot me an E-mail, or ask, or ask another general body member or an Exec board member if they don’t understand what is going on, rather than relying on what somebody else says. Even IRA has an email address; it’s posted on the Web site. Shoot anything an E-mail and it will get a response.You will get an answer; it won’t just be an automated response. Just: Yeah, we don’t have that, unfortunately.The Vermont Cynic: So, how is this process now going to go?Just: So the next general body meeting is Feb. 11, and at that meeting this will be on the agenda to discuss as business. What I’ve decided what to do, after hearing a couple different opinions, is when the discussion starts to be about the compensation package, we’re going to remove the E-Board from the room. We don’t want to have a voice or influence on this decision. We think if the general body wants to do this, it needs to be not because we have any influence over what they think. So the advisors will run the meeting while we’re away, and after that it comes to a vote. If it passes, I have the decision as to whether or not to do this. If I don’t think this is good for the organization, we’ll throw it back to the general body and it needs to pass by three-fourths votes. And if it doesn’t pass, it doesn’t pass.The Vermont Cynic: Do you have any idea of which way it could go?Just: I have no idea. I feel like some students are going to be like, “Do we really want that negative backlash we got last time? Is that same thing going to happen? Do we want to do that to the organization?” I guess it could go either way. This is a different compensation amount, definitely a baby step toward what was proposed last semester, so it really depends on what they hear over the next week from people, and what they think about what happened last time, and hopefully what good things happen this time.Cesiro: That’s what I’m curious about. Hoping to see if people put what happened last time in the past and just look forward and realize this would be a good step toward the advancement of the organization and I’m hoping to hear both positive feedback and negative feedback from both. Our meetings are open, anyone can show up to an IRA meeting, speak and say whatever they want. So I welcome that.