U. activists end 34-hour 'study-in'
After spending 34 hours occupying the third floor of the Old Queens building, yesterday evening the nine University student protestors remaining left the building.
What began as a group of about 20 protestors holding a "study-in" inside the building Wednesday morning turned into nine after some students left to attend prior engagements such as class.
The students refused to leave until University President Richard L. McCormick agreed to make a public statement in support of a tuition freeze along with other demands, but Gregory S. Blimling, vice president for Student Affairs, did not negotiate or share decisions with the protestors present.
"He's led us to believe decisions have been made, but he's not letting us know because this is a [situation] of distress," said Renee Coppola, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student and one of the protestors. "If there's an occupation, the demands can't be met. But at the same time, yesterday he said he could work with us."
The students came downstairs around 8:30 p.m. last night bringing some news to a crowd of protestors outside the building.
"Tomorrow afternoon, McCormick will issue a statement with a yes or no decision addressing each of our six demands," said Jorge Casalins, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
But the University issued a statement that said no agreements have been reached.
According to the statement, the students left voluntarily and there were no arrests. The University made no agreements regarding the students' six demands, and administrators will continue to consider the issues that were raised.
Besides McCormick's support for the tuition freeze, they also want the funds from the University's multibillion-dollar campaign "Our Rutgers, Our Future" to go toward students receiving support from the Educational Opportunity Fund, free transcripts for the first 10 requested, three student voting seats on the Board of Governors and the University's disaffiliation from the Fair Labor Association.
"If [McCormick] gives us something we don't want tomorrow, we need to do our part to make it known," said Molly Magier, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, to the crowd of protestors welcoming her outside.
The students who occupied Old Queens had other reasons for coming downstairs.
"It was 86 degrees up there. We had some tiny fans, but it was really frustrating," Casalins said. "Some of us were starving, others had hunger problems due to diet issues and mild to severe headaches."
The University said Dining Services fed the students throughout their occupation. But Coppola, who observes a vegan diet, said she would not eat what they provided.
"On Wednesday at 11 a.m., they ordered pizza but I can't eat that," she said. "They wouldn't let people bring food up to us. In the morning I was really tired because I didn't have enough food in my body. Then Dining Services brought us food at 2:30 p.m. [Thursday]."
Nicole Buffington, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she was happy the administrators listened to the students protesting.
"It's a step in the right direction with [the administrators'] agreement," she said. "It's a step forward in transparency at the University, and it shows that students can get things done here. I think there was a lot of media pressure."
Aside from updating those outside about their reason for leaving, the students also announced a meeting they scheduled for Monday with McCormick and Philip J. Furmanski, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, to discuss the voice of students on campus.
Earlier in the day, the students held a press conference outside of Old Queens to talk more about their cause.
Among those who spoke at the press conference was Rudolph Bell, a professor of history at the University, who spoke about civil rights protests at the University.
"In 1968, President Mason Gross ordered pizza for the people who occupied his office," Bell said. "He was here in New Brunswick, not on business in California. The vice president for Academic Affairs didn't inform students about the fire code, he talked to the students."
Bell stressed the importance of students' protest to make a difference at the University.
"We must protect access to higher education," he said. "We need to guarantee access to all qualified individuals."
After Bell's speech, Ryan Ramones, a School of Engineering sophomore who left the third floor of Old Queens Wednesday around 4:30 p.m., described the environment inside.
"There were police and administrators walking past us creating a buzz," he said. "There was a constant police presence, with officers counting us."
Coppola said she thought the police presence at Old Queens was excessive.
"We had none of our personal belongings, nothing could have been construed as violence," she said. "We're peaceful, so having more than one officer is off-putting."
Jill Weiss, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she believes the issues protested are important, and a decision should be made soon.
"Tuition keeps rising and I live out of state, I basically pay double so it's a big concern," she said. "These are pertinent issues that need to be addressed."