Rutgers paid SHI International Corp. approximately $5.7 million over the summer to purchase approximately 8,000 iPads for incoming first-year students at Rutgers–New Brunswick and Rutgers–Newark this semester, according to documents obtained by The Daily Targum.
The decision came under scrutiny internally due to the University’s existing relationship with SHI through the football stadium naming rights deal, according to a source familiar with the situation. After the program was announced, social media users on websites like Twitter and Reddit claiming to be Rutgers students or other Rutgers affiliates criticized the decision given ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) related budget cuts.
SHI is currently a contracted supplier for Rutgers, meaning the University was not required to have a formal bidding process to compare pricing from various companies, according to the University's procurement policies.
Last year, the information technology provider entered into a multimillion-dollar contract with the University for the naming rights of the football stadium. From Dec. 30, 2019, to June 30, 2024, SHI is expected to pay $7.25 million to the University, according to the official contract.
University spokesperson Neal Buccino provided email responses to questions from the Targum. He said the purchase was made in accordance with University procurement policies and was expedited due to the decision to continue remote instruction for this fall semester.
“The University makes every attempt to utilize its normal bidding process. (But), given the purpose and complexities of these purchases … it is difficult to speculate on how these purchases would have been made under a different circumstance,” he said, according to the email.
He said the University chose SHI as the vendor due to its ongoing collaborations with the company and their experience running similar projects with different organizations.
Buccino said the iPads were purchased with funding from the chancellors' offices as well as federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to the email.
The funding did not come from tuition fees, according to a website with iPad information created by Rutgers. The site mentions a general partnership with SHI related to the stadium but does not provide information on the iPads being purchased from the vendor.
Ed McNamara, senior director of communications and marketing at SHI, said the iPad purchase, which went through the chancellors' offices and the Office of Information Technology, is separate from the naming rights deal, which went through Rutgers Athletics.
McNamara said the project is ongoing and not all the iPads in their warehouse have been distributed. The company delivers the iPads when instructed by Rutgers.
Buccino said these remaining iPads will be distributed to first-year students in the Spring 2021 semester, according to the email.
McNamara said the project was created to help students successfully access their online courses amid the pandemic, but SHI did not know why the project was exclusively for first-year students.
“We’re just told ... the quantities that are needed and the timeline ... (they are to be) delivered,” he said. “We don’t necessarily know ... the policy behind it.”
Buccino said first-year students were given iPads because the University wanted them to feel connected to Rutgers despite remote instruction.
“The pandemic’s impacts have been especially acute for our first-year students, who have a critical need to establish the foundational connections to our campus community that are so important to their success in this remote environment,” Buccino said, according to the email.
Buccino said students who were not given an iPad but demonstrate a need for technology access can apply for support through the Office of Financial Aid or other programs.
SHI is continuing to make payments to the University for the naming rights to the stadium despite the delayed start to the football season as a result of COVID-19, the absence of attendees at games and the pro-rata refund clause listed in the contract in the event of multiple game cancellations, McNamara said.
SHI was scheduled to pay the University $625,000 on June 30, with an additional $675,000 scheduled for Dec. 30, according to the contract.
Approximately 6,200 iPads were distributed to first-year Rutgers–New Brunswick students, 1,450 to all new students at Rutgers–Newark and 398 to School of Nursing and Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year students at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Buccino said, according to the email.
He said international students did not receive iPads due to mailing restrictions, and students at Rutgers–Camden did not receive iPads based on a decision from their chancellor.
The iPad purchase was made over a total of 19 invoices, which Buccino said was due to the uncertainty surrounding enrollment.
“Each chancellor-led area, therefore, made a series of smaller purchase orders, rather than a single purchase order, for a total estimated number of students so as not to have a significant surplus of iPads that once configured could not be returned,” he said, according to the email.
The cost of the purchase reflects hardware, extended warranties, services, cases and related costs, Buccino said.
Each iPad, which students are allowed to keep permanently, came with 256 gigabytes of storage, a protective case, a carrying bag and two years of Apple Care+, according to the University’s website. The iPads also had pre-downloaded apps and links related to the University and remote instruction.