Rutgers One, a progressive coalition of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, sent an open letter to the University calling for lower tuition and fees as well as financial transparency this upcoming semester.
Rutgers One Coordinator Leah Hunt, a School of Arts and Sciences alumna, said the main goals are to lower tuition by 20 percent, eliminate campus fees entirely and use the computer fee to purchase laptops and wifi for students in need. The letter also states these cuts should not affect the budgets for instructors and staff.
Gabriella DeGregorio, a School of Arts and Sciences junior who has been working with Rutgers One to organize a protest against tuition prices, said tuition prices should be lowered due to the differences between remote and in-person instruction.
“What we experienced online in the late spring was not the same as what we experienced earlier in the semester. To charge us as if those experiences were the same is to be ignorant of the student experience — and more importantly, student learning needs,” she said.
Shreya Patel, a Rutgers Business School senior, created a petition in July calling for lower tuition and fees, which has approximately 31,000 signatures. She said the University was not prepared to offer online classes last semester and is uncertain that there will be any major improvements in the fall.
“Even if they do provide services to transition into remote education this semester, I still know that there's going to be technical difficulties, I know there's going to be professors (having) problems with navigating how to be online because we've never done anything like that before,” she said.
The Daily Targum previously reported the University lowered the campus fee by 15 percent soon after the petition began circulating online. Patel said this reduction does not adequately address most students’ financial concerns.
“(The reduction is approximately) less than $300 that's being taken off, which isn't even the price of one textbook or even a parking pass, so I really don't think that's fair,” she said. “We definitely were hoping to get rid of campus fees — like eliminated completely — because we're not going to be utilizing any of the things that are going towards fees, like the recreational services, student centers and things like that.”
University spokesperson Dory Devlin said the University does not plan on lowering tuition and fees beyond the campus fee reduction since the Board of Governors already froze prices for the upcoming year.
“Tuition and fees are set at the minimum amount required to provide our 70,000 students with a world-class education. A robust Rutgers education, whether delivered in a remote, hybrid or in-person fashion, is comprehensive and is provided by some of the finest scholars in American higher education,” she said.
Rutgers One’s open letter also calls for transparency surrounding the University’s budget and the inclusion of students and workers in decision making, including on the Board of Governors and the Joint Committee on Investments. Hunt said this is important because the most recent audit was conducted in 2019, meaning the public does not know how money is currently being spent.
Andrew Goldstone, associate professor in the Department of English and member of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers Executive Council, said Rutgers is contractually obligated to provide preliminary versions of the annual audit when it declares a fiscal emergency. He said the emergency was declared, but the audit normally is not released until November and no preliminary reports have been provided.
“The University has claimed that it just doesn't have (preliminary reports), which frankly is a little hard to believe,” he said. “If they're going to meet their own deadline for their own audited reports, they definitely have preliminary versions of a detailed assessment of the University's current financial situation, but they have been totally unwilling to share that.”
Hunt said the University has a variety of sources it could use to make up for the loss of revenue due to a tuition cut, including unrestricted reserves, which she said amounted to approximately $580 million as of the last audit. Other proposals include a moratorium on new buildings and shifting priorities regarding capital assets, excluding green initiatives, a diversion of funding for athletics subsidies due to the cancelation of fall sports and a $200,000 cap on upper management and athletics employee salaries.
The Targum reported in April a variety of administrators, chancellors and coaches, including former University President Robert L. Barchi, took salary reductions between 5 to 10 percent for the following four months to mitigate the financial impact of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Devlin said University President Jonathan Holloway is taking a voluntary 10 percent pay cut for one year. The salary reductions for other administrators are set to end this month. Devlin said “each person was also subject to furloughs of varying lengths through fiscal year 2021.”
Goldstone said the University had 312 high-level managers whose salaries totaled approximately $65 million, according to the most recent audit. He said instead of cutting administrator salaries, the University chose to lay off part-time lecturers, which amounted to approximately $3.5 million in savings.
“If the University really needs to save money, it needs to look at management bloat and it needs to cut that back,” he said.
Hunt said although the semester is getting closer, the coalition will continue to advocate for financial relief for students. She said they are working on potential online and in-person actions to bring attention to student grievances.
“We want to make sure that students aren't discouraged by the fact that tuition has been due already by highlighting the fact that Rutgers gives refunds all the time,” she said.
DeGregorio said she believes holding a protest is important because administrators should not be trying to profit off students, many of whom are facing extreme financial difficulties due to COVID-19 and have already gone into debt to pay for their education.
“Whether ... Rutgers actually will refund us, it is necessary for students to make some noise and not allow Rutgers and other universities to get away with this shameful and greedy behavior during a pandemic. This is not okay. This is not normal. We as students cannot be complacent and let universities make this the new ‘normal,’” she said.