Statement of Rutgers University President Richard L. McCormick in Response to Student Sit-In Demands

April 29, 2011

For a period of approximately 35 hours, nine Rutgers–New Brunswick students (originally joined by several others) conducted a sit-in on the third floor landing of Rutgers University’s historic administration building known as Old Queens. These students acted independently of the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA), which is the elected student government for undergraduate students at Rutgers–New Brunswick. The students were courteous and caused no damage to the building. Last night at approximately 8:30 pm, the students left Old Queens voluntarily. No one was arrested, and I made no commitments to comply with any of the students’ six demands.

As I have in the past and will continue to do in the future, I will work with the elected representatives of the student government, RUSA, on issues of concern to students. To facilitate that process, I have set a meeting for early next week to talk with the new RUSA president, other RUSA officers, and other students about student concerns.

Below I have provided the university’s response to the demands made by the students who conducted the sit-in. The student demands are in boldface and our responses follow.

1. While you say that a tuition freeze is unlikely, we demand you make a public statement in support of it so Rutgers students do not have to take out excessive loans to pay for a public education.

University Response: While a final decision about a tuition increase will be made by the Board of Governors in July after the State budget is finalized, the Rutgers administration does not support a tuition freeze. State financial support to the university has declined to levels not seen since 1994, and the university will need to increase tuition for the next academic year to meet the demand for classes and to maintain the quality of the university. As in past years, the university administration will recommend to the Board of Governors only the amount of tuition increase that is necessary to maintain institutional quality and meet the instructional and other financial demands of the university. As stated under the next item, any tuition increase will also be accompanied by an increase in funding for Rutgers Assistance Grants to help our neediest students.

2. We ask that funds from the “Our Rutgers, Our Future Campaign” be donated to university’s neediest students, the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) population. By designating scholarships for the university’s EOF offices, they can then distribute the funds evenly to its population.

University Response: One of the highest goals of the “Our Rutgers, Our Future” fundraising campaign is support for financially needy students. Many of these students are, indeed, participants in the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program. To supplement a variety of federal and state financial aid programs, Rutgers has for many years provided additional financial assistance to needy students through the Rutgers Assistance Grant (RAG). In any year that Rutgers increases tuition, a substantial sum of money is allocated permanently from the tuition increase to fund the RAG program. Decisions about how to distribute scholarship money for needy students or funds set aside by the university through the RAG program are best made by the university’s Financial Aid Office, and not by the counselors and administrators associated with the EOF program. While the university has long invested both time in fundraising and financial resources to help financially needy students, the university will not change the process of distributing those funds by adopting the proposal set forth in the students’ demand.

3. We require that the university provides the first 10 transcripts free of charge to its students.
University Response: Although the university will not agree to provide students with the first 10 transcripts free, there has been an ongoing discussion about this fee and how best to fund the needs of the office that is charged with the responsibility for annually processing thousands of transcript requests. The university is open to discussions about this issue with elected representatives of RUSA and the Graduate Student Association, both of which have raised concerns about this fee. This topic will be among those we will discuss at the meeting with the new RUSA president and other student leaders next week.

4. We demand that the university disaffiliate from the Fair Labor Association since we have provided more than enough evidence that they have been violating workers’ rights.

University Response: Rutgers, like more than 90 colleges and universities across the country, belongs to both the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), believing that more oversight regarding the treatment of workers is better than less. In total, there are 207 institutions in the FLA and 180 in the WRC.

We have met with students several times during this academic year about the FLA. In response to student concerns, we invited the leadership of the organization to a meeting with students, which took place in late February. We followed up that meeting by writing to FLA president Auret van Heerden last month. Our letter encouraged the FLA to act on three recommendations prompted by our students: 1) to engage directly with students through a mechanism, such as an advisory body, by which students could provide input to the FLA on an ongoing and permanent basis; 2) to increase collaborations with the WRC, as has happened in the past in conducting factory investigations, to maximize each organization’s effectiveness in promoting workers’ rights; and 3) to ensure that all interviews with workers take place in neutral locations, away from the factory, in order to produce more frank assessments of each company’s treatment of workers. We are awaiting a response to our letter, and it would preempt the dialogue that we have established with the FLA for the university to disaffiliate at this moment.

5. We demand that you publicly endorse that the Rutgers University population have a voice in decisions made by the Board of Governorsincluding tuition cost. Three voting Student Members (one from each campus elected by their respective constituencies).

University Response: Rutgers has a long history of student involvement in institutional governance. Three undergraduate students are elected as charter (voting) members to serve six-year terms on our Board of Trustees. In addition, there is one undergraduate and one graduate non-voting representative on the Board of Trustees, and one undergraduate non-voting representative on the Board of Governors. Students are also represented as voting members of the University Senate and serve on many other boards and committees throughout the university. In addition, the Boards of Governors and Trustees hold a hearing each spring for the express purpose of soliciting student comment regarding the university budget, tuition, and fees.

We look forward to discussing with the RUSA leadership, as well as with elected student leaders from the Newark and Camden campuses, other ways in which students can have increased interaction with administrative leaders and gain more of a voice in the process of university decision-making. However, the university cannot add voting members to the Board of Governors or to the Board of Trustees without seeking to amend the Rutgers Act of 1956. This act of the legislature establishes the legal relationship of Rutgers to the State of New Jersey and grants to Rutgers independence in many areas that other public universities in New Jersey do not have. The university has no interest in seeking to amend that act.

6. We want support for the rights of all university affiliated workers by honoring contracts.

University Response: The university is in arbitration with several of its employee unions and we are unable to comment on the contracts or the issues in dispute.

Rutgers is a dynamic university that benefits from the interaction among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and administrators. It is this ongoing dialogue within the institution on substantive issues that helps define us as a university committed to student learning.

Richard L. McCormick
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey