Rutgers Plan unconcerned with student needs
The first thing to note about Rutgers’ new Strategic Plan is that there is no serious talk about reducing the burden of tuition costs imposed on students. The increasing costs students have had to shoulder are mentioned only in passing with no further comment. If the Board of Governors truly cared about the mounting financial hardship students have had to endure, and its consequent detriment to genuine education, not to mention “creative expression and human experience,” they would make mitigating this hardship one of the main priorities of the Strategic Plan.
But, as this plan makes clear, Rutgers only cares about prospective students. Once you are enrolled, you are more or less guaranteed to shell out money until you graduate (barring the unlikely event that you transfer to another university). Once you have begun to shell out, the Board of Governors — the highest governing body of Rutgers — no longer cares about you.
Marketing and beautification are their priorities. This attracts more consumers to purchase the Rutgers commodity. Substantive improvements are not felt by people who have yet to attend, they are felt by the students who are already attending. One measure, which could substantially improve the educational experience of Rutgers students, would be reducing tuition costs. However, since Rutgers can still boast, with the aid of marketing dissimulation, of competitive prices and several other positive attributes — like the oft-repeated attribute of being a research university — this improvement is, from the Board of Governors’ perspective, entirely unnecessary.
As the Strategic Plan states, the highest aspiration of Rutgers is “To be broadly recognized as among the nation’s leading public universities: preeminent in research, excellent in teaching, and committed to community.” This raises several issues. First, note that their main, overarching goal is recognition. This is a marketing goal. Every corporation, like Rutgers, wants to improve its reputation.
Second, who is to decide what it means to be “preeminent in research, excellent in teaching, and committed to community?” Do the Rutgers researchers themselves give meaningful input (beyond gestures) to the Board of Governors on what constitutes research preeminence, and the policy decisions that entail? Do the teachers give meaningful input on what constitutes excellent teaching, and the policy decisions that entail? Does the Rutgers community get to decide, democratically, what policies would show a true commitment to community?
These questions, however, assume that the Board of Governors care what the Rutgers community thinks. They do not. Ultimately, they do not care about the reality the students, workers, professors and adjuncts that make up the Rutgers community face. This is because devoting care to this reality will not bring in more profit; it will not further enrich the Governors and the invisible network of investors whom they represent. This aim is achieved by marketing the Rutgers commodity, which ensures that we consumers continue to pay money for an education that has steadily both increased in price and declined in quality for several decades.
Page 27 of the Strategic Plan is quite revealing of how the students’ interests are taken into account. I urge you to look at it carefully. One sees a chart comparing the strengths and weaknesses of Rutgers. On the strengths side, one sees, among other things, “large body of living alumni and strong potential local corporate partners,” Key humanities and natural science programs rank among the nation’s very best,” “Small but highly ranked performing and visual arts programs.” On the weaknesses side, “Per capita faculty recognition and productivity average nationally but below AAU peers and aspirational peers,” and, crucially, “Student satisfaction with the Rutgers experience is disappointingly weak.” Since it is clear that this is far from the list of strengths and weaknesses the average student or faculty member would come up with, being predicated on a different calculus entirely, the question is raised: What is the calculus here used to determine what the strengths and weaknesses of Rutgers are? Judging by the language, which reveals a concern for “productivity, ”“rankings” and “strong potential corporate partners,” concerns which evidently have an equal if not greater weight than our “disappointing” satisfaction, the calculus is doubtless the productivity, growth and ultimately profitability of our collectively exploited activities and trivial pursuits.
Since our interests as students are only considered to the extent they benefit these true goals, it is a small wonder why our satisfaction is “disappointingly low.” Moreover, the Board and the network of investors whom they represent will neither act in our interests nor lower our tuition costs out of pity. They will only do so if we — students, faculty and workers alike — take steps toward reacting to the increasingly dire situation they have put us in. The first step might be to work as a community toward an understanding of what this situation is. This requires creating spaces for dialogue where students, as well as workers, professors and adjuncts who have their jobs on the line, are emboldened to speak out on higher education and other matters pertaining to Rutgers. Once this community-wide conversation happens, steps towards reacting to this situation might be formulated and proposed.
An intelligent look at the Strategic Plan reveals what most faculty, staff and students already feel in their bones — namely that despite the high-flown rhetoric, this is not, as University President Roberty L. Barchi says, a “plan written for Rutgers, by Rutgers.” Is it not evident that we, the Rutgers community, must create our own?
Shawmaf Khubba is a School of Arts and Sciences junior.