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Administration ignoring responsibility to address students

Recently, the Students for Shared Governance coalition began the Where RU Barchi campaign to protest that the administration, and specifically University President Robert L. Barchi, who is denying meetings with student groups. These groups are interested in addressing issues that affect the University across all three of its campuses — such as divestment or apparel sourcing — over which only Barchi can make decisions, as opposed to Chancellor Richard L. Edwards, who only deals with the New Brunswick campus. Both groups and the coalition were denied the ability to schedule meetings in person, by phone or through email, even after meeting with other administrators. So we took to the streets, because although the term “shared governance” is stated as part of Rutgers’ policy, it is not practiced. Students, faculty and staff are deliberately cut out of the changes made at this school. We would like to address some of the concerns prompting such an outspoken response by students.

Those protesting are not a minority of students, nor do they represent a special interest. Compared to the entire student body, we are a minority. However, more than 15 student groups of diverse natures already make up the coalition, and more continue to join every week. We also represent ideas, which cannot be counted in bodies. Issues of transparency and shared governance are not special interests, but rather ones that affect the student body as a whole. When a community of students is being marginalized, their size doesn’t matter so much as their commitment to their cause. For example, the new library policy was originally justified because of a petition signed by some 400 students — however, the opposing student petition to revoke the policy collected more than 600 student signatures. There is a clear lack of consistency here. A legitimate dialogue with students is crucial before implementing campus-wide changes. All we ask is that instead of Barchi outright refusing to meet with any students, that he holds office hours open to all. 

Direct action is a non-violent method of generating change that has been used in the most effective movements in history. Direct-action tactics (like occupying Old Queens) are taken when the proper channels for reaching administrators are ineffective. It is true that Rutgers has a longstanding history of student activism, including protests against the South African apartheid, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. We use these as examples of great protests where non-violent action sparked change for the better. Why change our tactics if they emulate those set by the most effective movements in American history? Even if just one person is screaming their head off trying to get everyone else to see the monster creeping up behind, maybe it’s worth hearing them out or checking over your shoulder.

The administrative structure, by which students are supposed to adhere to, was created without the consent of the students, thereby preventing them from accessing their president. The manner in which the administration changed the policy regarding access to the president is a perfect example of how our policy of shared governance is consistently violated. Student voices have been shut out of these processes, exemplifying exactly the kind of undemocratic structure we are trying to work against. This structural change was put forward without any input from the 40,000 students that attend this University and has now prevented them from meeting with the person who implemented that change.  Meeting with your own president should not be considered a luxury. In fact, in many Universities, some of which are also in the Big 10, presidents hold office hours to listen to the voices of the students they represent. Meanwhile, at Rutgers, those voices are shut out by extra security guards.

Rutgers’ financial issues should not justify ignoring the student body. The financial problems mentioned by President Barchi are a result of administrative decisions, such as the merger with UMDNJ, which has forced Rutgers to absorb the medical school’s debt, or wasteful spending, like coach Flood’s massive pay raise. Meanwhile Rutgers still continues to spend excessively on athletics and construction. Last year, Rutgers had the highest subsidy spending on athletics in its division of the NCAA. Yet our administration goes on raising tuition, slashing library funding and refusing to negotiate fair contracts with faculty and staff who cover their expenses. To manage these costs, the Rutgers University Foundation, a huge operation handling fundraising, has managed to pull in a record amount of endowments for the University in prior years, which should leave the president time to engage with his students.

Our intention is to hold the governing bodies at this University accountable to their students. Rutgers University is meant to be a public one, and we’d like to see it start reflecting that by emphasizing the school’s relationship with its community.

This commentary was written by the Rutgers Students for Shared Governance coalition.

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