The Rutgers Board of Governors hosted an open hearing on tuition rates Thursday night in the College Avenue Student Center multipurpose room, where members of the University community could discuss what a tuition increase or rollback would mean to them.
One student opened by saying she was $60,000 in debt. Another’s father discussed how he had to take out a loan to help his daughter pay for college, despite being a retiree.
A student’s advisor recommended that she take on a full-time job to help her pay for her last semester at Rutgers.
Several students prepared questions to ask the Board of Governors during the hearing, said David Hughes, president of the American Association of University Professors— American Association of Teachers. They hoped to engage with the members present rather than just have a one-sided conversation. Students at the meeting also requested a tuition rollback of 2.5 percent in the next budget.
“We’re going to actually rhetorically hold the governors and President (Robert L.) Barchi accountable for the misery that they have put upon this generation of students,” he said. “We see this hearing as being a two-way process. We want to know some things from them (so) we’ll ask them some questions and we’ll be expecting some answers.”
The value was a “modest one” to match Rutgers’ 250th birthday, Hughes said. The school’s $74 million surplus this year is a small fraction of the overall tuition revenue, but a 2.5 percent rollback still leaves a large chunk of these funds intact.
The board members were not allowed to answer questions based on rules set up by the interim secretary at the beginning of the meeting, said University spokesperson E.J. Miranda.
“The way this is working tonight is you talk, we listen. We listen with an open heart and open minds,” said Mark Angelson, who chaired the meeting. “We’re here to listen to you, not to testify.”
Members of the Rutgers One campaign asked several of the Board of Governors to discuss whether they would vote for a budget that included an increase on tuition, said Patrick Gibson, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
“The way these meetings are (structured), we have this one annual meeting where we get up to two minutes to talk to them,” he said. “There’s no real way to hold them accountable.”
Gibson set up an easel with a chart that included the board members’ names, as well as options for “yes,” “no” or “no commitment.” Angelson gave the response – a “no commitment.”
“You’re asking questions that even if we (wanted) to answer, we could not answer because we don’t have a budget yet,” Angelson said. “Well intended though I think your questions are, there’s no way for anyone to answer the questions that you’re asking.”
A board member saying they would “strongly consider” not supporting a tuition increase would have helped, Gibson said.
Multiple factors are weighed when determining tuition rates, Miranda said in a statement. Costs include employee salary increases and the school’s operational expenses, while the school’s income is based on revenues as well as government and private funding, according to the statement.
These factors would be taken seriously by the Board of Governors when determining the tuition rate, according to the statement.
State funding has remained flat or dropped off for several years, Gibson said. The amount of state funding that Rutgers will receive this year is already public information that the board has access to, which should help them plan the budget accordingly.
A presentation at the beginning of the meeting showed a 4 percent drop in state funding over the last several years.
Present tuition rates are prohibitive for many students at Rutgers, Hughes said.
School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Mariah Wood said the Board of Governors were happy to sit and listen but they could not handle having accountability shifted back at them. This is typical of her interactions with the board.
“In fact, last year they turned the microphone off,” she said. “People were telling heartfelt stories about their life and then the microphone turned off on them. So I have a lot of issue with them saying they’re here with an open heart -- the only reason they did that was because last year everything got cut off.”
Rolling back tuition 2.5 percent is “financially feasible” as well as being a measure that would help students, Hughes said. Because it was a surplus that was not expected, there is no need to necessarily make it up through other revenue sources.
“I like to think the best of people. I like to think that the governors are both humane and rational people, I like to think that they have the interest of the University community, of this generation of students at heart,” Hughes said. “If I’m correct … then yes, we will persuade them.”
Bushra Hasan contributed to this article.
Nikhilesh De is a School of Engineering junior. He is the news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.