Students talk merger, affordable education
The Rutgers University Legislative Association, an organization that aims to connect students with the initiatives of their elected student representatives, held a “Take Back Education” meeting last night to discuss the possibility of losing Rutgers-Camden and higher education funding.
Joseph Cashin, corresponding secretary for the Rutgers University Student Assembly, said the status of the Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University merger remains stagnant in Trenton.
“Nothing has officially happened yet,” Cashin said at the meeting in the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus. “The findings of the [advisory] committee were published, and that’s what’s generating this discussion.”
Cashin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said the merger would be detrimental to University students and staff.
“If the merger is approved, there are going to be some layoffs,” Cashin said. “I think there will be a lot more faculty and staff that can be retained otherwise.”
Students, faculty and staff at Rutgers-Camden are also upset with the possibility of a split from the University, Cashin said.
“Rutgers Camden students don’t want this. Politicians have forced on us a medical school in exchange for a limb,” he said.
Students could actively fight the proposed merger by contacting their representatives in Trenton, he said.
A rally is planned for Feb. 15 in Trenton, before the Board of Governors meets, to review the advisory committee’s proposal, Cashin said.
“Other ways to lobby against this is to contact the governor’s office to voice your opposition,” he said.
The N.J. Legislature has 60 days to veto the advisory committee’s proposal before it becomes law, said Donggu Yoon, a former RUSA senator.
Matt Cordeiro, RUSA president, said state funding for higher education is also a cause for concern.
“Rutgers gets the same amount of funding from the state as it did in 1994,” said Cordeiro, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “We had 10,000 less people and weren’t as big as we are now, and that’s not accounting for inflation.”
Cordeiro said the government “dropped the ball” in funding higher education in New Jersey.
“We need to target these people to make sure that higher education is affordable,” he said. “In each of the 40 legislative districts, you get one senator and two assemblymen. These are the three folks you need to talk to in your district.”
Cordeiro said student involvement and grassroots contact would be crucial in lobbying state legislators to allocate more funds for higher education.
“If we want to get more funding than we did in 1994, we need to set up meetings with these legislators,” he said. “We need to tell them to vote for a budget that is higher education-friendly.”
Tuition Assistance Grants are also in danger, Cordeiro said. When a budget is passed, it can severely reduce the amount given to TAG recipients, who then need to supplement their grant with their own money or they cannot continue attending school.
Budget cuts have also discontinued the N.J. Stars program, another financial aid program, he said.
“Over the past few years they completely cut this program,” he said. “As a way to save money they told students that your education really isn’t worth it.”
Cordeiro said in cutting higher education funding, state legislators are indirectly harming New Jersey.
“New Jersey is the top state where students leave to go elsewhere,” he said. “And typically they stay there and don’t come back, which is hurting our state.”
Cordeiro said University students are not the only ones who can fight for higher education. Students from other schools in the state including The College of New Jersey, Ramapo College and The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey will have to unite to accomplish results, he said.
Spencer Klein, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, urged students in attendance to take an active role in fighting cuts to higher education funding.
“Make some kind of contact to your district’s legislators — whether you set up an appointment or just have a brief conversation about what’s important to you,” he said. “That will be taking a gigantic step forward.”
Klein said RULA has an even loftier goal than informing students about higher education issues.
“We want to mobilize students to contact their senators, discuss issues and identify what issues are important to them,” Klein said.
The development of RULA has been a long process, because it began as the Rutgers University Lobbying Association, Klein said.
“The Rutgers University Lobbying Association was absorbed into Rutgers University Student Assembly and became the Legislative Affairs Committee,” he said.
The Legislative Affairs Committee eventually created RULA, which is a more open branch of RUSA, said Katherine Yabut, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
“RUSA has come under fire recently for being out of touch with students,” she said. “Spencer developed RULA as an avenue for students who are not elected to RUSA positions.”