Barchi says student voting seat on Rutgers board is unlikely; RUSA disagrees
In spite of a months-long campaign led by the Rutgers student assembly, University President Robert L. Barchi says a bill that would place two student voting members on the University's Board of Governors has "a low likelihood" of making it through the New Jersey legislature.
"Signing onto a bill and having that bill go anywhere in the legislature are two entirely different things. My own opinion, it has a low likelihood of moving forward " Barchi told The Daily Targum in a December interview.
Student leaders began again petitioning for bills A2134 and S2249 back in August. If enacted, one student representative with voting powers and one without would be placed on the Board of Governors. Unlike the 11 members appointed by the governor or the Board of Trustees for six-year terms, the undergraduates would be elected via student elections for two-year terms.
Three state senators— Bob Smith (D-17), Robert Singer (R-30) and Gerald Cardinale (R-39)— agreed to cosponsor the legislation five months ago. The bills are currently sitting in the Senate and Assembly Higher Education Committees.
Changing the board's makeup, however, requires modifying the Rutgers Act of 1956, which Barchi called a "politically charged" move that would open the entire act to debate. Not only does the act set up the Board of Governors, it establishes Rutgers as the state university of New Jersey, details scholarship guidelines and determines how the school will accept federal funds and private grants.
Of the proposed student voting member, Barchi said: "It’s not something I would oppose or not oppose, it just is what it is. Practically, it’s not something that is easy to do."
Student assembly president Justin Schulberg disagrees.
The two versions of the bill amend a specific portion of the Rutgers Act of 1956, which Schulberg said has been changed in the past in order to add more members to the Board of Governors.
"It’s true that the bill is subject to amendment, but no amendments have been put forth as of yet," he said. "Several legislators who we’ve talked to have said that they would only vote in favor of the bill if it were amenable to us, showing their strong commitment to the students of Rutgers University. Knowing that, we would work to keep the bill as simple and direct as possible, focusing solely on student representation."
The School of Arts and Sciences senior, along with other RUSA leaders, spent their summer pushing legislators in Trenton to support a bill that they hope will give students more input on rising tuition costs and fees. In-state students are paying $14,372 for the 2016-2017 academic year. Five years ago, that number was less than $13,000.
Since the summer, Schulberg said students leaders have managed to tack eight more cosponsors and primary sponsors onto the bill, though Rutgers administrators have expressed concerns.
Schulberg said a negative administrative position only hurts chances that the bill is passed.
"Despite their enthusiasm, some legislators have told us that without the direct support of President Barchi and members of the board, Trenton will not act with alacrity. Legislators have openly acknowledged that that position by the University administration will be the main reason the bill has 'a low likelihood of moving forward,'" Schulberg said.
Student backing of the decades-old legislation was renewed after video captured by The Daily Targum showed a Rutgers staffer holding an undergraduate in a headlock prior to a July board meeting. School of Arts and Sciences Senior, Patrick Gibson, was seen in the video looking through the board's files containing the 2016-2017 tuition hike. RUSA leaders argue the incident could have been avoided if students had a voice on the University's governing board.
In a letter to the Rutgers community, RUSA members said the incident was the result of a deeper issue: lack of student representation and transparency on the Board of Governors.
"Tension between students and University administrators and will naturally continue to build until these transparency and representation issues are resolved," the letter reads.
The one current student representative, Anish Patel, who does not have voting powers, told The Daily Targum in August that he is unsure how he would have voted at the July 20 board meeting where tuition was raised by 1.7 percent.
The School of Arts and Sciences senior said he receives a two-page summary of the University's budget at each meeting, but the reports are not detailed enough for him to form a decision.
"There are hundreds of bills presented every year in the state legislature," Schulberg said. "Many do not have a high likelihood of being passed until there is a force behind them. We hope that a strong student push can make the passing of this bill a legislative priority."
RUSA began circulating a petition among the student body five months ago urging Rutgers to place a student voting representative on the board, though the petition fell short of its 2,500 signature goal.