After weeks of urgent calls asking for Student Bursar candidates, the situation seemed to conclude after one brief email from Jessica Grady, the Director of Student Involvement & Leadership: “Thank you to all who voted today … The Student Bursar position will remain open at this time.”
The majority of students who participated in the Special Election on Oct. 17 chose to abstain from voting, leaving the Bursar’s Office, the College Government (CG) Cabinet, and the Student Organization Funding Committee (SOFC) without a Student Bursar to fulfill the position’s usual duties.
Although any junior or senior is eligible to run for the position, the path to becoming the Student Bursar has historically been as follows: one becomes a bookkeeper their sophomore year, the Head Bookkeeper their junior year, and the Bursar their senior year. This trajectory did not actualize for the 2023-24 school year, as the student originally elected to be Bursar chose to step down in August before the academic year began, and the current Head Bookkeeper decided not to step into the role.
Members of the Bursar’s Office and CG explain that so few students desire the Student Bursar position because of three main problems: the immense workload, the pay drop in comparison to being a bookkeeper and the social consequences that come with the role.
“Being a bookkeeper can be stressful … when you’re dealing with financials about orgs that students are really passionate about … Then, the Student Bursar has a whole lot more stress because they are the face of the Bursar’s Office and SOFC, so when anyone has a problem, they’re the fall guy, they’re the person to blame. They’re supposed to be in charge of everything. And not only that, they have so many committees that they’re on: Academic Council, Cabinet, SOFC, Budgetary Advisory Committee,” bookkeeper Katherine Deane ’25 said.
The rigorous nature of the position demands experienced candidates, which is why the Bursar position usually falls to someone who has spent multiple years in the Bursar’s Office.
“It’s a bookkeeper and SOFC’s job to follow the rules, but it’s the Student Bursar’s job to bend and break those rules. However, a Student Bursar can only do that when they understand what the rules are, and unfortunately, [the person who ran for bursar] just didn’t have enough experience … We have no one authoritative leader … and if we were to elect someone who knows nothing about SOFC, we would still have this problem,” Deane said.
The Bursar’s Office usually consists of five bookkeepers, one Head Bookkeeper and the Student Bursar. Bookkeepers primarily act as liaisons between SOFC and student organizations, processing payments for orgs and advocating for orgs in meetings. The Head Bookkeeper works closely with the Bursar, making purchases, sending out emails and helping bookkeepers with questions and tasks.
The current Head Bookkeeper — who asked not to be named in the article — elaborated that the Bursar’s Office is still functioning without a Student Bursar.
“With the lack of a bursar, we’re operating pretty similarly as we used to. We don’t have a link to CG or admin, but personally I’m trying to sit in on as many meetings as I can to keep everyone in the loop. The bookies have been amazing and are taking on more responsibilities than they used to so that things can get done on time. Sure, it’s difficult keeping track of things because it’s a structure we’re not used to, but on the student org level, it shouldn’t be impacting them in a big way … [However,] I think CG is quite impacted because communication is less streamlined when there’s no bursar,” the Head Bookkeeper ’25 said.
Since the Bursar sits on SOFC, CG Cabinet, and the administration’s Budgetary Advisory Committee, they act as a liaison between the various groups to inform on college-wide financial issues.
“They have the biggest picture understanding of how all the little pieces are fitting together. They’re able to … come to Senate [and] go to other students to provide context on how our various financial processes work … They’re the person who can look at a situation and be like, ‘Listen, there are some special circumstances here. The regular policies shouldn’t necessarily apply the way we usually apply them. We either need to change a policy or make an exception’ … so we’re missing that wide angle lens to student finance,” CG President Ingrid Bell ’24 said.
However, part of the problem with the Student Bursar position is exactly how many commitments it entails: it takes a tremendous amount of time to attend all the aforementioned meetings and manage the numerical side of finances. Furthermore, if a student has been a bookkeeper for multiple years, becoming the Bursar would mean taking a pay cut.
“I won’t lie and say that at one point I didn’t want to be Student Bursar, but at this point, I just can’t afford to take the pay cut … [As a bookkeeper,] you start out with a baseline salary of $15 an hour, but every year I keep the job I get a pay raise … but the Student Bursar doesn’t have that luxury. They just get paid a stipend, and it’s a stipend of [about] $3,000 a year … If you do the math of how much the Student Bursar is working, it’s way more, so they’re making sub-minimum wage for a job that is way more stressful than my job,” Deane said.
Students in CG emphasize that a large part of this stress lies in the social animosity directed towards the Bursar.
“That person [the Bursar] is often just absolutely enemy number one on campus. It’s a job that gets a lot of hate every time an org doesn’t like their funding decision, every time a reimbursement is slow, every time something like that happens, people will say vile things. Bursars have had angry notes left on their doors, bursars have had people email them like call them slurs and emails, like people will be just awful,” Bell said. “I’ve heard the bookies say that part of it is a culture issue, like if folks felt less like taking that job was like signing up to be hated, they might be more inclined to take the job.”
Although bookkeepers understand there are emotional tensions surrounding the delegation of money, they share that they also hope to help organizations receive their desired funding. However, to do so, organizations must follow a specific set of procedures.
“When it comes to the Bursar’s Office … we even get a lot of hate, and I’ll be honest, most of the time, it isn’t our fault … We as bookkeepers have to follow college policy. It is our job, and we are also students, and this is our on-campus job. We’re not out to get you. If anything, we all want to help orgs get funded. It’s just we have to follow certain procedures and certain policies, and a lot of times, orgs don’t understand those procedures … but we’re here ultimately to help,” Deane said.
At the moment, no bookkeeper nor Head Bookkeeper wants to be the Student Bursar. There will be another Special Election in the spring, but there are doubts that anyone will get elected without changes made to the position.
“I think that someone who was a bookkeeper could definitely say, ‘Yeah, I want to be Bursar next year,’ but for this year, I can’t confidently say that anyone within the office would want to do it, especially knowing that they would have to do catch up for all of the fall semester’s workload in the spring as well. At this point it would be better for someone to come in, do the upkeep for this year, and then next year, it can go back to being like a student position,” bookkeeper Alex Dennis ’24 said.
While the absence of a bursar this fall semester has left a large hole to fill, the workload of the Bursar has been piling up long before this school year started.
“Last spring, a lot of the work that needed to get done by the Bursar’s office didn’t because there were external things [going on with] last year’s Bursar … Additionally, it’s such a big job that there have been problems with the role forever that have slowly stacked on top of each other. Last spring just pushed us over this critical point where it became such a big job and there was so much extra to do at the beginning of the year and everything was sort of falling apart that the person who had been elected just didn’t feel like they could handle all of that on top of regular school,” Bell said.
To address the issue of the Bursar’s workload, Bell, Jessica Grady and Dean Horton have been looking to hire a staff person to perform some of the administrative tasks that the Bursar handles.
“We’ve been approved to hire a casual-wage person, so somebody who would work a maximum of 15 hours a week, which makes it a non-benefited position … [They would help with how] every time you buy something for an org, you have to submit a reimbursement, or [when] a whole bunch of complicated formulas need to be run through Excel to spit out the final budget. Numbers and everything. There’s all this accounting, sort of clerical work, that it would be really great to have a person supporting. Their title would be something like administrative assistant to the Student Bursar’s Office,” Bell said.
The job has been posted since September, but there have been no qualified applicants.
“No one qualified has applied for it because it’s 15 hours a week without benefits and what grown-adult can take a job that’s 15 hours a week without benefits? … [We] are all talking about how much it would cost to hire a part-time staff person as a part-time benefited position,” Bell said.
The other way to incentivize the Student Bursar position is by raising pay. Before 2017, CG Cabinet positions — including the Bursar — were entirely unpaid. However, when Rose Whitlock ’18 realized this, she brought the issue to Senate and got a constitutional amendment passed, granting each CG Cabinet member a stipend of 3.5% of the Student Activities Fee.
Any student can propose a ballot initiative to increase the stipend for the Student Bursar. If proposed, the decision would be made in March during the CG election cycle.
“Until the pay issue is fixed, like the school comes together to increase the Student Bursar’s stipend, or the [harsh] climate when it comes to the Bursar’s office and SOFC is changed … I don’t think there’s going to be a Student Bursar anytime soon,” Deane said. “This issue of the Student Bursar not being paid enough and there being no Student Bursar has happened before, but it is a problem that will keep popping up until something is fixed … I’d like to see one of the senators from SOFC or general members of the student body bring up [this discussion].”
For now, the bookkeepers and Head Bookkeeper are sharing the responsibilities of the Bursar, and the Bursar’s Office is still functioning, albeit less efficiently than usual. The main concerns are the lack of communication between CG, SOFC and the Bursar’s Office, and the fact that orgs currently cannot hire student workers, as the Bursar usually processes the hires. Still, students have hope that the situation will change.
“I think the role needs a lot of restructuring and reorganizing, but I’m hoping that the workload will be reduced and made more manageable for someone to consider running in the future without it taking over their lives,” the Head Bookkeeper said.
Ultimately, members of the Bursar’s Office call for changes rooted in the student body.
“Again, if there was a pay increase, and Wellesley dealt with some of its student negativity especially towards the Bursar’s Office and the Student Bursar, I think that definitely, there will be Student Bursars in the future. It’s just that now, this culmination of events and factors make it so that there’s no Student Bursar. But I believe in Wellesley. We’ve had this problem before, and we fixed it,” Deane said.