NJPIRG holding referendum to remain on student term bill
Rutgers members advocate for student interests across the Rutgers campuses at New Brunswick, Camden and Newark as part of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, an independent student group which is currently undergoing its referendum to remain on the student term bill.
NJPIRG appears as an $11.20 charge on each student’s semester term bill. For the referendum results to be valid, at least 25 percent plus one person must vote yes from each division of each school at Rutgers. The group is hoping for 25,000 students to participate in the voting process across the University.
In the fall of 2013, Rutgers students voted to fund NJPIRG, with a voter turnout of more than 40 percent and 89 percent of voters choosing to keep the charge.
Arielle Mizrahi, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and state board chair for NJPIRG, said students should vote yes because the organization is the largest student-run and student-funded non-profit group in the state.
“We represent student campaigns, we represent campaigns students actually want,” she said. “The only campaigns we run are the ones students actually vote on.”
She said it is important to vote because it is a democratic vote that allows students to make decisions.
“To say that you go to a school where you get to decide and you get to vote for a non-profit that represents your interests on your own campus is a pretty incredible thing,” she said.
Mizrahi said this makes NJPIRG different from other groups on campus, because everything goes back to what students are interested in.
Most recently, NJPIRG worked with Rutgers Libraries to provide open-source textbooks for students. University President Robert Barchi gave the libraries a $12,000 grant to make "sure students can actually afford their education,” she said.
The way the organization's funding works, as well as how it works with paid organizers, separates NJPIRG from other groups on campus, she said.
“Some of our money does go off-campus, we have money that goes towards advocates and researchers that work on behalf of student interests,” she said.
While the Rutgers chapter works hard to represent students on a local scale, Mizrahi said NJPIRG also ensures representation on a national scale with other student PIRG chapters.
Some funding goes to advocates in Washington, D.C., such as Ethan Senack, the federal Higher Education Advocate for U.S. PIRG, who works on behalf of students for college affordability and textbook campaigns, and ensures higher education policy is on the agenda of elected officials.
“I’d love to go down to D.C. and lobby to make sure that my interests and student interests are being represented, but we’re full-time students, so we hire folks that can actually be on the ground and work for us,” she said.
Another portion of funding goes toward researchers and scientists who help to draft the reports NJPIRG releases. Earlier this month, NJPIRG released a hunger report which found that nearly half of all students reported food insecurity.
“We also have a textbook report that releases a bunch of outstanding numbers that Rutgers students are spending an average of more than $1,200 on textbooks a year,” she said.
Less than 20 percent of the budget goes to costs for renting space or clipboards.
“More of the money is going into the campaigns and more into people representing us and our training programs,” Mizrahi said.
NJPIRG plans to continue working closely with Rutgers libraries on the textbooks campaign and ensuring the open resource textbook program is implemented.
The organization is working on getting more professors to sign onto the program so those professors can implement the program in their classes, which in turn will save students money, Mizrahi said.
“Students who want to join can write up campaign proposals and we go from there. Campaigns in the future are whatever students vote in and whatever students want,” she said.
There are more than 60 polling locations available to vote across all four campuses in New Brunswick, as well as Camden and Newark. Polls open at 8 a.m. every day, and will be open three to six weeks depending on voter turnout. All students in all colleges, graduate schools or programs across each campus are eligible to vote, except students graduating this fall.
Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. You can find her on Twitter @snietomunoz for more.