Can you hear us, Barchi? It’s us, Rutgers
Rutgers president’s inaccessibility frustrates, alienates concerned students
Old Queens is one of the most beautiful and historic areas on campus. As beautifully maintained as the lawns are, walking through them feels somewhat intimidating. Within the traditional brick walls of these buildings are the offices of University President Robert L. Barchi and the University administration. The atmosphere at Old Queens is fairly reflective of this administration itself — students often feel like a brick wall is in the way when trying to have their voices heard.
Students from Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops led a peaceful protest to Barchi’s office at Old Queens just last week. They brought letters with them requesting that Rutgers purchase its apparel and merchandise with companies that have ethical business practices, namely, those that do not employ the use of sweatshops with unsafe working conditions. Seven students entered Old Queens to speak with the secretary and request a meeting with Barchi, and the entire building was subsequently put on lockdown. The police arrived shortly afterwards (although the administration claims that they “mistakenly” called them) and the entire situation was made to seem much more serious than it actually was.
This just illustrates the lack of a relationship between students and University administration.
Activists from different student organizations on campus recently created a coalition called “Where RU Barchi,” with the goal of pressuring the president to directly address student concerns. The group is taking direct action to demand answers from Barchi. He announced this semester that he would not be meeting with students because he needs to meet with donors (just in case anyone wasn’t aware at this point, making it big in the Big Ten Conference is Rutgers’ main focus now).
Ronald Liebowitz, president of Middlebury College in Vermont, is an example of a president who takes student input into consideration while also keeping the practical interests of the university in mind. Several years ago, he was approached by students who were concerned about the carbon footprint of their university and its harmful effects on the environment. Despite a tight budget (much like every other university in this economic climate), Liebowitz took the students’ proposal seriously and helped them convince the board of trustees that it was an issue important enough for the university to consider. Now, Middlebury is known as one of the greenest campuses in the country, and it has cut down on its carbon emissions by 40 percent.
The student voice is important — after all, isn’t the point of a university to provide us with the resources to become the next world leaders? It’s incredibly discouraging to have our voices completely ignored not just by the president, but also by an administration so layered in bureaucracy that it seems no one is really taking our concerns seriously. We understand that Rutgers is a huge university, but that’s all the more reason for Barchi and the administration to make an extra effort to connect with students, even if it is just on a superficial level to appear more approachable. At the University of Nebraska, for instance, Chancellor Harvey Perlman regularly releases surprisingly funny YouTube videos to put a face to his position and invite students to connect with him on social media.
On the other hand, Barchi comes off as a foreboding father who is too busy with business meetings and work to cultivate a relationship with his increasingly resentful children. Those children are going to graduate soon and become alumni who might be potential donors — if only they didn’t have such serious daddy issues.
We would really appreciate a president who at least tries to care a little more about the student body. Getting enough funding to improve Rutgers is important, but so is listening to the concerns of the student body that the University is supposed to serve, and those things are not mutually exclusive.