Lawmakers nudge along idea of giving students more say at Rutgers
At eight of 11 of New Jersey’s public four-year colleges and universities, there’s a student with a vote sitting on their top governing body. One of the exceptions is Rutgers University – but lawmakers are advocating for that to change.
They’re treading lightly, though, three years after a pitched battle in Trenton over adding political appointees to Rutgers' Board of Governors that raised questions about Rutgers’ independence and the charter and contract that maintained its arms-length independence as the state university.
This time, it’s simply a resolution, AR256, asking the governor and Rutgers’ Board of Trustees, which together appoint the Board of Governors’ 15 members, to consider appointing a student as one of those voting members.
There’s a nonvoting student member on the board now, but Evan Covello, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, said more is needed for a voice for the roughly 69,000 students across Rutgers’ campuses to be heard.
“Being a student today isn’t the easiest thing. Sometimes it feels like things aren’t getting better for students. And to be a student today comes at a very high price – a price that increases every year and that we’re going to have to be paying for years to come,” Covello said.
“No one knows about the unique experience of a current Rutgers student, the challenges they face, the services they value and the bureaucracy they navigate on a daily basis, better than a current Rutgers student themself,” said Susanne Link, the legislative affairs chair for the Rutgers University Student Assembly.
Link said many other universities in the Big Ten conference, to which Rutgers belongs, have students with votes on their top governing bodies. So do eight of 11 public four-year colleges in New Jersey – all but Rutgers, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and New Jersey City University, she said.
“My question is simple: Why should Rutgers remain an exception? Why should the voice of Rutgers students remain unheard in the same capacity as students attending other public universities and colleges in our state?” Link said.
Rutgers officials say they’re open to the idea.
Pete McDonough, senior vice president for external affairs at Rutgers, said the university has no problem with the proposal, now that it has been amended to ask the appointing entities to consider a student. An earlier version of the plan asked the BOG to appoint one, but it doesn’t pick its members.
“The governor appoints whomever he or she wants to the board, and the Board of Trustees appoint whomever they want to the board,” McDonough said. “I haven’t even asked the chairman of the Board of Governors, but again, they really don’t have a say in their own makeup. Those appointments are left to the Board of Trustees and to the governor.”
David Hughes, president of the Rutgers chapter of the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers faculty union, said nobody currently voting on the Board of Governors experiences daily life on campus as students do.
“They need and deserve a voice in how the institution is run – financially, socially, politically. This is the sensible thing to do, which the other state institutions by and large do,” Hughes said.
“There is nobody on the Board of Governors right now who has day-to-day experience with what happens on any of our campuses. Their experience is mostly 10, 20, sometimes 40 years old because they were alumni, but they’re not involved in Rutgers now,” he said.
The Board of Governors has two nonvoting faculty members, in addition to one nonvoting student member.