Rutgers faculty, graduate student union proposes guidelines for CARES Act funding distribution

The Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers said relief funds should be distributed equally across all three Rutgers campuses. 
Photo by Rutgers.eduThe Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers said relief funds should be distributed equally across all three Rutgers campuses. 

The Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) sent a letter to Rutgers administrators proposing the establishment of a Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act Commission to handle the distribution of funds to students economically impacted by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a press release.

The CARES Act states that universities that receive aid must establish their own guidelines for distributing the funding, according to the release. University spokesperson Dory Devlin said the University received a total of $54 million from the CARES Act with $27 million specifically designated for student relief. 

“Rutgers students are hurting and we need support now. Luckily, these federal funds cost the university nothing. I’m proud of our proposal and look forward to its implementation. But we cannot wait,” said Alexandra Adams, a doctoral candidate in Biological Sciences at Rutgers—Newark who co-authored the AAUP-AFT's proposal, according to the release. 

The AAUP-AFT’s proposed Commission would consist of both undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of schools and departments, which it said will ensure transparency and an equal distribution of funds. 

“It is vital that Rutgers administers CARES Act federal funding in a way that reflects parity between campuses by treating the Rutgers student body as a whole and does not reflect bias toward a particular campus (i.e. New Brunswick),” the AAUP-AFT said, according to a petition. “No program or department will review applications, all applications will be reviewed solely by the CARES Act Commission.”

Devlin said the University’s chancellors will handle distribution.  

“The University will distribute the money to our chancellors in a way that reflects student need and they will distribute the funding to students,” Devlin said. 

The union said funding should be available to undergraduates, graduate students, professional students as well as student workers, like part-time lecturers or teaching assistants, according to the petition. 

The CARES Act funding should cover living expenses, including housing costs, food, transportation, utilities, caretaking expenses and healthcare expenses among other things, the AAUP-AFT said, according to the petition. The union also said the University should allocate some of the funding for international and undocumented students who are facing legal challenges during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Additionally, the AAUP-AFT asked for funding for home office supplies, books and research databases, which it believes will ensure academic and research continuity while students are working from home, according to the petition. 

“Because federal funds fall far short of what would be necessary to deal with the thousands of personal and familial crises undergraduate and graduate students at Rutgers face, it is imperative that the University’s system for determining and distributing aid balance multiple needs across many divisions within our community,” the union said, according to the petition.  

The AAUP-AFT proposal also asked for funds to be distributed on a rolling basis so those currently in crisis due to COVID-19 can get funds immediately while ensuring that any student who may suddenly face an economic challenge later can still apply for relief, according to the petition. 

The union said Rutgers should have the relief application, clear eligibility details, announcements and other information about the CARES Act Commission in a single, centralized website, according to the petition. 

Devlin said the criteria for funding eligibility and distribution is still being developed. She did not say when the information will be released to the public and did not comment on whether the University is considering the AAUP-AFT’s proposal. 

Todd Wolfson, president of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, said the University should set an example for other schools and act quickly for the sake of the students currently experiencing economic hardship, according to the release.

“Rutgers has a chance to lead American higher education by centralizing and coordinating CARES Act relief efforts. Thousands of students in this state and around the country need urgent help, but for too many, the institutions that are eligible for CARES Act funding are moving too slowly,” Wolfson said, according to the release. “By adopting the AAUP-AFT CARES Act Commission proposal, Rutgers would take a giant step (toward) a fair, equitable and transparent system of ensuring that students get the help they need.”