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3 Senators back bill for student voting seat on Board of Governors

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Three state senators have joined Senator Patrick Diegnan (D-18) in sponsoring a bill assigning a voting student representative to the Rutgers Board of Governors.

Senators Bob Smith (D-17), Robert Singer (R-30) and Gerald Cardinale (R-39) agreed to cosponsor the bill, making it a bipartisan issue, said student assembly president Justin Schulberg. The School of Arts and Sciences senior said having bipartisan support may make it easier to pass through the Senate once it is out of committee.

“It’s always been a problem that students haven’t had a voting representative on the board,” he said. “RUSA has passed resolutions in the past saying we want a voting member, but what did that do?”

Schulberg said the only way to add a student as voting member is to modify the  Rutgers Act of 1956, which granted power to the Board of Governors.

“We found these two bills that were written 13 legislative sessions ago, or a decade and a half, calling for a student vote,” he said. “When we met with the Rutgers State Government Affairs Office they told us ‘We knew about this bill but it never made it out of committee.’”

RUSA members have been lobbying state senators and members of the assembly to support the bills.

Next week, the group plans to meet with Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-27), chair of the Higher Education Committee. Some students have already met with Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31), who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee.

“She was receptive to the bill, but at the time we didn’t ask her to hear it,” Schulberg said. “We’re rescheduling a meeting with Senator Cunningham and we’re going to organize a letter writing campaign from students to ask her to hear it.”

While the efforts to have the bills heard in committee have been ongoing for a few months, much of the support for it was garnered in the last 31 days.

Schulberg said the process to have the bill passed in either the Senate or the Assembly would take a while, but that it might pass through both houses and be signed by the governor within the upcoming academic year.

Anish Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and the current student representative, said he does not know how he would have voted if he was able to at the July 20 Board of Governors meeting,  where tuition was raised by 1.7 percent

He said he receives a two-page summary of the University's budget at the meetings, but it is not detailed enough for him to make a decision on voting.

The push for a voting student seat was brought into sharper focus last month after a Rutgers staff member was seen on video putting a student in a headlock prior to a Board of Governors meeting on the 2016-2016 tuition hike.  In a letter to the Rutgers community, members of RUSA said the incident was a result of a deeper issue: lack of student representation and transparency on the Board of Governors.

"Tension between students and University administrators and will naturally continue to build until these transparency and representation issues are resolved," the letter reads. 

RUSA has been circulating a petition among the student body, now with more than 1,500 signers, urging Rutgers to grant a student voting representative on the board. 

Nikhilesh De is a School of Engineering junior. He is the news editor of The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.

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