This past week, several new conversations have surfaced as more universities begin to announce their opening status for the upcoming academic semester.
Following Rutgers' announcement of the move to mostly remote instruction for the fall semester, University President Jonathan Holloway was asked about a potential tuition reduction during a press conference on Monday.
The Rutgers Board of Governors had previously passed a resolution to freeze the costs of tuition, housing, dining and mandatory student fees residence education for the 2020-2021 academic year as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to The Daily Targum. Holloway said that because tuition typically would have increased, this has already acted as a tuition reduction.
"In order to deliver the quality of education that we want to deliver - that we expect to deliver - the tuition is built into that machine," he said. "We do charge, I think, really the bare minimum. Now you may feel differently and parents may feel differently, because I know it's not inexpensive, but it is hard to imagine charging less given the complexity and the infrastructure demands of Rutgers in terms of what it costs for attendance."
A petition was created on Change.org to advocate for the Rutgers administration to cut tuition for the fall semester, stating that remote learning is not a direct substitute for in-person learning. The petition has gathered approximately 24,000 signatures as of today.
Maria Montalvo, a senior in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said asking students to pay the same tuition for an online education is unjust.
"When paying tuition, one is reimbursing for the peer engagement, for access to sophisticated facilities, for the easy communication with professors and for the limitless opportunities that future careers will seek from us," she said. "As much as an institution can insist that (it is) providing the same esteemed education, it still does not even begin to rationalize demanding full tuition."
When it comes to the comparison between in-person and remote instruction, Montalvo said remote instruction relies heavily on student flexibility instead of the adeptness of professors.
She said while assignments may be put up late due to issues with a professor's internet connection, students are still expected to comply with due dates despite facing similar problems.
Montalvo said certain departments, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, professors seemed to be more concerned about making courses more challenging to avoid cheating, as opposed to allowing students to learn in a more valuable manner.
Additionally, she said some courses were more difficult to convert to remote learning than others which resulted in them suffering and losing educational quality.
When it comes to international students, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a message regarding their eligibility to remain in the United States depending on their university's plans for the fall semester.
This guidance states that students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full course load online and remain in the United States, according to Rutgers Global. Students enrolled at schools that will operate under a normal in-person or hybrid model are bound by existing regulation and are therefore able to remain in the country.
University spokesperson Dory Devlin said Rutgers had 8,189 undergraduate and graduate international students enrolled in the last academic year.
Following this announcement, Holloway released an email statement on this announcement and how these policies would affect international students at Rutgers.
"These new policy proposals, presented in the midst of the global pandemic, are deeply troubling. The policies would have a devastating impact on students' ability to complete their Rutgers education," he said, according to the email. "Our University has a mission to educate and improve the lives of our community both locally and globally. Our international students are a critical part of that mission, and we will do everything in our power to defend their ability to remain in the United States."
Holloway said Rutgers is currently working with other universities to advocate for a congressional solution to these policies, as well as taking necessary legal action. He said they are also working to design course offerings that would meet the in-person requirements of this policy while preserving the health and safety of both the students and faculty involved.
Nishtha Trivedi, a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences and an international Rutgers student, said this policy will create many different issues.
When it comes to traveling back to their countries, Trivedi said students will have to risk the health of themselves and their families. She said that thousands of students gathering in airports to return home will only increase the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, Trivedi said that if the virus is not under control in their home countries, they may be unable to return for in-person or hybrid classes.
"This would put our degrees and academic aspirations in jeopardy. Many of us have already signed leases for apartments off-campus and if we have to suddenly pack out bags and leave, we'd have to break our leases - risk our landlords suing us over this or keep paying rent while not living there," she said. "All of these impossible options: transferring, traveling, taking a break or giving up entirely will contribute to a huge financial loss."
Trivedi said that when universities around the country shut down during the beginning of the pandemic, ICE and SEVP allowed international students on visas to take a full course load online, which is no different from them taking a full course remotely in the fall.
"Overall, I feel like this is a cruel attempt by this administration to force universities to open or lose their international students," she said. "I feel betrayed by the country that has promised me a better education than my home country could provide. I feel like international students are being treated as expendable or less than human because we have absolutely no say in the decisions that are affecting us right now."
On Wednesday, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration to block this policy, according to The New York Times. Today, Holloway announced that Rutgers will join Harvard and MIT as an amicus in the lawsuit, according to a press release.
"We are standing with the finest institutions in America who are joining as amici in this lawsuit to stop the imposition of proposed rules which, on their face, seem to be motivated by politics during the pandemic," Holloway said, according to the release. "The proposed rules are thoughtless and direct conflict with the values we hold dear."