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Reevaluate the costs of student leadership

By Thresher Editorial Board     1/30/24 10:18pm

Solomon Ni announced their resignation from the Student Association presidency Jan. 22, citing mental health concerns and burnout. Ni’s resignation resurfaces conversations about the responsibilities and benefits of student leadership. 

A perennial topic in our news sections, student leaders like Ni work long, solitary hours in the shadows of the Rice administration. Much of the SA presidency consists of tedious work behind the scenes, yet ordinary students hardly go a day without seeing the results of such labor — munch, for instance, was an SA initiative

During Orientation Week, student leaders are far more visible than Rice’s administration. The 33 O-Week coordinators provide an essential and highly marketable service to the university, organizing the welcoming committee for more than 1,000 new students annually. They review new student forms, pair roommates and set O-Week groups. The coordinators are the first Rice leaders many new students encounter.

Yet the university is struggling to attract and retain its next generation of leaders. Ni — and every other candidate alongside him — ran unopposed, and now he has resigned. At Martel College, just one of the three 2024 O-Week coordinators is a Martelian.

There is no easy fix. Some may say that students do not care, that they just want to secure a degree and leave. We strongly disagree. Rice students do value this university and do strive to improve it. There are students who are motivated to pursue leadership. It is not an issue of interested students — it is a consequence of a series of deterrents.

One such obstacle is money. Ni was not paid. O-Week coordinators receive a stipend that many say amounts to less than $1 per hour, in addition to room and board for the summer. Clearly, students who need to work to survive cannot easily serve as leaders. Beyond that, many students see a system rife for abuse, where the university can write a laundry list of responsibilities and avoid fairly valuing the results.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as throwing money at the problem. For instance, who should pay the SA president? The SA’s role is to fight for the students, often against the administration. If Rice paid them directly, it could create a conflict of interest. (It is far easier to increase O-Week coordinator stipends since their work is always in the university’s best interest.)

More broadly, we as a student body must figure out where we stand. There are a series of legitimate, difficult questions about student leadership to address. Beyond the source of the money, we must ask which positions need compensation and which should remain voluntary; we must also reevaluate the responsibilities student leaders hold.

While this is not the first time we’ve found ourselves having this conversation, we hope Ni’s resignation will reinvigorate these essential discussions and spur some sort of action when it comes to valuing our student leaders.

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Prayag Gordy, Riya Misra, Nayeli Shad, Brandon Chen, Sammy Baek, Sarah Knowlton, Hadley Medlock and Pavithr Goli. Opinion Editor Sammy Baek recused himself from this editorial due to his position as a 2024 O-Week coordinator for Jones College. Features Editor Sarah Knowlton recused herself from this editorial due to her reporting on former SA president Solomon Ni’s resignation in our features section.

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