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Rutgers One fights for fair pay, tuition rollbacks

<p>Courtesy of Mary D'Anella Mercanti | Mary D’Anella Mercanti is a member of Rutgers One, a group that is working to help increase instructor pay and lower tuition costs for students.</p>

Courtesy of Mary D'Anella Mercanti | Mary D’Anella Mercanti is a member of Rutgers One, a group that is working to help increase instructor pay and lower tuition costs for students.

A coalition of students groups and labor unions are working to defend public education.

Rutgers One, an organization whose major members include the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Black Lives Matter and the Union of Rutgers Administration, are actively trying to ensure all instructors are paid fairly without burdening students unduly.

The Rutgers One coalition can trace its roots back to a wage freeze beginning in 2009. At the time, various organizations campaigned against wages freezes across the board. Since then, various members have organized protests against the University and other groups.

The organization has existed in its present form for close to two years, said David Hughes, president of the AAUP-AFT and professor in the Department of Anthropology. 

“It goes back to the campaign for a fair contract for full-time faculty, as well as students against sweatshops, (and) the beginning of their campaign against Nike,” Hughes said.

None of the previous campaigns were run directly by Rutgers One. Each campaign was orchestrated by its involved member. For example, the anti-sweatshop movement was run by USAS. The current campaign for tuition “rollbacks” is the first time Rutgers One has run a campaign under its own banner.

“Only in the last few months have we gone from a clearing house of ideas into an organization that’s trying to do something in its own name, the tuition rollback campaign,” Hughes said.

As a result, Hughes said Rutgers One currently has no official relationship with the University to date. The current campaign would solidify relations between Rutgers One and the University.

The goal of the tuition rollback program is to decrease the price of tuition by 2.5 percent. The rising cost of tuition takes a toll on the academic success of students, Hughes said. 

During the wage freeze, Rutgers informed the teacher’s union that wages were frozen because any wage increase would mean a tuition increase.

“But no, tuition went up in leaps and bounds. That taught us that there was no direct relationship between salaries and tuition,” Hughes said. 

Rutgers has close to $144 million in surplus, which would make a tuition rollback fairly simple, he said.

The Board of Governors considers many factors when deciding tuition rates and aims to make Rutgers affordable, said University spokesperson E.J. Miranda in an email. 

"The wide range of costs, from meeting negotiated salary increases for faculty and staff, to the operational expenses of campuses spanning the state, as well as all revenues and available sources of state, federal and private funding have been fundamental in setting tuition rates in the past and will be this coming year,” Miranda said.

Salaries and tuition are connected, Miranda said.

“The regular appeals from the unions too, on one hand raise salaries while on the other hand lower tuition, seem contradictory, at best," he said.

Rutgers One plans to hold a rally at a hearing on the issue on April 21, at 6 p.m. outside the College Avenue Student Center.

Mary D’Anella-Mercanti, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student and a member of Rutgers One, rejected the claim that it was a “protest organization.”

“I think it’s more of a group that observes various problems on campus, whether students are aware of them, or faculty are aware of them, and makes sure the administration does something about them,” D’Anella-Mercanti said.

Joining this organization can be empowering for students, and it is powerful to see the impact students can have on universities.

Both Hughes and D’Anella-Mercanti deny claims that Rutgers One is a radical organization.

“In my own view, I think what we’re asking for is something tremendously conservative. We’re asking for the promise of public education, which goes back to the early 20th century, to be honored by this administration,” Hughes said.

The organization is not radical but rational, D’Anella-Mercanti said. 

But both were also critical of Rutgers administration.

“The relationship between the administration and students tends to be somewhat patronizing, and they often pit faulty against students. What we aim to do is to work together and show the strength of the relationship between the unions and the students,” D’Anella-Mercanti said.

Hughes said the University has taken a “divide and conquer” strategy in the past, which prevented a coalition like Rutgers One from coming together. 

He said current University President Robert L. Barchi and said Barchi’s “top-down business plan” was designed to maximize profit at the expense of the students.

“The president is concerned primarily with advancing the academic mission of the University and ensuring that the resources are in place to foster academic quality. Any focus on economic efficiency is related to using our resources as effectively as possible," Miranda said.

Jonathan Xiong is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in biology. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @ra567.

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