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RUSA amends constitution, Rutgers student governing councils voice opposition

Nicholas LaBelle, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly and a Rutgers Business School senior, said this amendment will allow the funding for each school to be more flexible based on its specific needs. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The Rutgers University Student Assembly recently held a vote for its fall student elections, as well as a referendum that included whether their constitution should be replaced by a new one.

Nicholas LaBelle, president of the Assembly and a Rutgers Business School senior, said in an interview yesterday that under the current constitution, Rutgers' professional school governing councils receive 80 percent of the student activity fee from students enrolled in that professional school. The remaining 20 percent goes to the Assembly, he said.

The new constitution includes a section on these allocations for Rutgers’ professional schools and their governing councils, stating that the Assembly will receive 100 percent of the student activity fee from students’ term bill, according to the proposal.

“All this does is allow them to change on a yearly basis to better fund the clubs across all schools,” LaBelle said. “So instead of having an arbitrary number that’s capping funding for each school, they can be more flexible to best reflect the school’s needs.”

During the Assembly's constitution reform meeting on Aug. 1, LaBelle said this amendment would allow for more funding to go toward other clubs at the University.

"Basically, professional school councils are not responsible for funding that many (organizations) compared to (the Assembly), and what we want to do is standardize funding across all clubs and set a precedent for all councils that have had trouble paying out those clubs," he said, according to the meeting minutes.

When it comes to allocating these funds, LaBelle said in yesterday's interview they created an ad hoc committee that would focus on the issues of student government and student fees. He said this committee has been charged with furnishing a report by the end of the semester that lays out multiple options for students and student government to choose from.

LaBelle also said that due to the current timeframe, the Assembly will keep this 80/20 split for the remainder of the academic year. 

The Targum previously reported that more than 10 percent of the Rutgers student population voted in the referendum. Of the 3677 total votes, 1964 were in favor of this change, according to the preliminary results.

LaBelle said back in August that the majority of schools supported this amendment.

"So (the Engineering Governing Council) EGC is very much opposed, the other schools were willing to do it as they saw it as a benefit more than a cost," LaBelle said, according to the meeting minutes from August. "I see it as a way to centralize the system, and as well make sure that we actually spend money on projects, clubs and things."

Contrary to LaBelle's statement, Ethan Zang, president of the EGC and a School of Engineering senior, said that neither the governing councils nor the professional school deans and corresponding faculty were made aware of this initiative in advance.

“Keep in mind that there were meetings that happened over the summer between the governing councils and (the Assembly) — particularly between (LaBelle) and the other governing council presidents — and we did discuss a number of really important topics, but this was never one of them,” he said.

Muhil Ravichandran, vice president external of the Pharmacy Governing Council (PGC) and a graduate student in the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, also said the Assembly did not consult them prior to proposing this change.

"I do not think (the Assembly) advertised the proposal well enough before asking the student body to vote on it in the referendum," said Gaurav Pathak, president of the PGC and a graduate student in the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy. "I myself did not know all the amendments being proposed, and the governing councils were not included in the tuition proposal discussion."

As for the reasoning behind the 80/20 split outlined in the Assembly's original constitution, Zang said that while it seems arbitrary, it is actually somewhat intentional. He said this is meant to model student involvement within a students’ school of enrollment instead of organizations that have to do with the University as a whole.

Rutgers’ professional schools also handle their funding differently than the allocations process the Assembly typically uses for their organizations, he said. The amount their organizations receive for academic and professional related activities require some level of technical oversight. 

“Often without a technical understanding of what they’re working on, it’s hard to understand or justify one of those organizations receiving as much money as they do, but it’s really important that they get that money because those organizations are so essential to not only the School of Engineering and how we’re perceived by prospective students and other peer universities, but also for individual student growth,” Zang said.

He said this means it is best for the governing councils to make these decisions within their own school because they are familiar with why these organizations need certain things.

Ravichandran said they use their funding to directly support the professional development of students in the pharmacy program. She said it allows them to organize outreach events, as well as reimburse students when they attend national conferences.

“Since the pharmacy school specifically is smaller, we have limited funding to begin with. Compared to the larger (School of Arts and Sciences/School of Environmental and Biological Sciences/School of Engineering) population, I expect us to receive even less funding as we are much smaller and have fewer organizations,” Pathak said.

LaBelle said this was a concern the Assembly was trying to solve when creating the proposal, according to the meeting minutes from August.

"Every institution likes to be its own thing and people don't like to give up authority," he said, according to the meeting minutes from August. "However, it is my view that (the Assembly) is for all students and we should be able to do these things even if it may offend other councils but not the students."

Pathak said he only became aware of the amendments being proposed during the referendum. He said many students were not aware of the implications of these proposed amendments until the actual voting period.

“If they had reached out to us, I think we could have had a more productive discussion and reached a better agreement that works for all of us,” Ravichandran said. “This lack of transparency and communication is concerning especially when this amendment is permanent, and this may set a precedent for the future.”


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