September 18, 2019 | 57° F

RUSA town hall leaves questions unanswered

Photo by Nelson Morales |

The Rutgers University Student Assembly hosted University President Robert L. Barchi’s first town hall last Thursday with members of the University community. Barchi’s extended speech left student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws unable to voice their concerns during the question-and-answer session.

University President Robert L. Barchi intended last Thursday’s town-hall style meeting to include the community voice, but many University students believe their perspectives were left unnoticed.

During the meeting, an assistant to Barchi alerted him to end the meeting before 9:00 p.m., leaving many students’ questions and concerns unanswered.

But the determined University chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws rushed toward the front of the room, asking Barchi to listen to their viewpoint.

Rutgers University Student Assembly President John Connelly pounded his gavel and called for order, which interrupted NORMLs’ efforts.

Joel Salvino, president of the University’s chapter of NORML, said his organization was on the event’s speakers list. He believes Barchi intentionally avoided their concerns, especially since he extended his scheduled speech from 30 minutes to 45 minutes.

“Here’s a man who’s an expert at stalling, an expert at filibustering,” he said. “We weren’t surprised with it. We were disappointed, but weren’t surprised.”

Salvino, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said NORML wanted Barchi to listen to a proposed amendment to the University’s code of conduct, which states that students found possessing less than two ounces of marijuana on University property will not be reported to the police, and instead will be sent to Alcohol and Drug counseling.

Currently, University students arrested for possession of marijuana lose federal financial aid, he said.

“We want to keep the police out of the dormitories for marijuana possession,” he said. “We think it should be treated just as underage alcohol consumption — it is just as illegal but treated completely differently … If you’re [a] convicted rapist, you won’t lose your federal aid,” he said.

But Salvino said he does not believe that Barchi and University administrators will take NORML seriously.

“They’re trying to marginalize and laugh at us … kids are dropping out of school because of simple marijuana possession,” he said.

The 9:00 p.m. deadline also stopped members of Students for Justice in Palestine from voicing their perspectives, said Mohammad Barakat, a group member.

“We were more disappointed with how the president handled the overall event, not just for our group, but for all groups involved,” he said.

SJP wanted to ask Barchi to take a firm position in support of human rights, said SJP President Aman Sharifi.

“As New Jersey’s state University, Rutgers must take every step to insure [that] all people’s rights and dignity are upheld,” said Sharifi, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

But even those who spoke felt the way Barchi structured the meeting left many open-ended questions and indicated that student organizations need to work hard to meet and have in-depth conversations with the University president about student issues, said Giancarlo Tello, a Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences junior.

“I think we figured out he’s going to be very much a politician about these issues,” he said.

Tello, an undocumented immigrant unable to receive in-state tuition, urged Barchi to show support for the In-State Tuition Act in writing.

Although Barchi actively supports federal action, he asserted that undesirable consequences might be the result of passing state bills A1659 and S2355, which would grant in-state tuition for students who attended a New Jersey high school for at least three years and graduated.

John Connelly, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, said he agrees with Barchi’s stance that current laws waste human potential by preventing undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition.

But he said the president did not provide an expansive explanation for his reasoning, and his stance does not match up with his previous statements.

During the meeting, Barchi said the bills inactively rest on the state docket, but Tello said they are active and the Rutgers University Tuition Equality Coalition and other statewide coalitions have cosponsors for the bills.

Barchi also claimed the bills will not provide students with federal aid. Tello said 14 other states passed similar legislation without facing challenges from federal law, so his claim should not factor into the University’s decision to sign in favor of the bills.

“I don’t know how that could be a concern when it’s not something that’s going to be a legitimate issue,” he said.

Margarita Rosario, a member of the Rutgers University Tuition Equality Coalition, said although the state legislature will not grant undocumented students access to federal aid, it will give them in-state tuition rates and state aid.

“A lot of students [in general] don’t receive federal aid but they do receive state aid,” said Rosario, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

But despite the negative feedback, Connelly said Barchi’s presence marked the beginning of an important dialogue with students and should encourage students to share in the University’s collective voice.

He said he appreciates Barchi’s push to involve the students in the University’s strategic planning process and search for new upper-level administrators.

Connelly said he looks forward to having a private conversation with Barchi to further understand his perspective.

“I would sincerely like to hear what exactly that is,” he said. “I look forward to getting him to clarify his position.”

Alex Meier contributed to this article.

By Hannah Schroer

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