Requesting Significant Reductions to Rutgers Tuition and Fees 2020/2021

Letter to President Holloway and the Board of Governors

We are requesting a 20% reduction in tuition and the elimination of campus fees for all Rutgers students (i.e. not only undergrad but also masters, PhD and professional students). This change in revenue for Rutgers should in no way result in cuts to instructor and staff budgets and jobs, and we support the Coalition of Rutgers Unions’ demands for reversal of all layoffs. We are requesting that computer fees go toward providing wifi and laptops to students according to their needs in order to foster equitable learning conditions for all students. Rutgers is a public university and therefore a commitment to accessible education should be at the heart of its mission. We are also calling for full transparency in university budgeting and stakeholder representation in governance and oversight. This means meaningful student and worker participation in all decision-making bodies, including the Board of Governors and the Joint Committee on Investments.

For the original letter with its linked sources, go here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/17FZX2wR55gwaRuhgoG1novCYD7Zj5lC5pgD77AU6pV8/edit?usp=sharing

Petition by
Leah Hunt
Stockton, New Jersey

To: Letter to President Holloway and the Board of Governors
From: [Your Name]

Dear President Holloway and Members of the Board,

We hope you and your families are doing well. President Holloway, we’d like to extend a warm welcome to you in joining the Rutgers community. Rutgers One is an alliance of student organizations, faculty and staff unions, Rutgers alumni, and community organizations that are united in advocating for social justice in our community. I’m writing to you on behalf of the student members of Rutgers One. We have been listening to student outrage about tuition and fee rates remaining the same despite the fall semester being delivered mostly online. Online learning can be a legitimate form of quality education, but the university is wholly unprepared to provide a high level of quality online education for all students. The COVID-19 crisis and the coinciding financial crisis facing Rutgers families has had devastating effects on household income, health coverage, and part-time job opportunities for students. Therefore, we have conducted financial research and developed a proposal for how the university can afford to provide students with a significant reduction in tuition and fees.

The students of Rutgers One are requesting a 20% reduction in tuition and the elimination of campus fees for all Rutgers students (i.e. not only undergrad but also masters, PhD and professional students). This change in revenue for Rutgers should in no way result in cuts to instructor and staff budgets and jobs, and we support the Coalition of Rutgers Unions’ demands for reversal of all layoffs. We are requesting that computer fees go toward providing wifi and laptops to students according to their needs in order to foster equitable learning conditions for all students. Rutgers is a public university and therefore a commitment to accessible education should be at the heart of its mission. We are also calling for full transparency in university budgeting and stakeholder representation in governance and oversight. This means meaningful student and worker participation in all decision-making bodies, including the Board of Governors and the Joint Committee on Investments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major increase in unemployment and subsequently, loss of health coverage. This means not only loss of household income, but risk of exorbitant medical bills should a family member become ill or injured. More than 1.3 million people in New Jersey have applied for unemployment assistance since mid-March. Recent business news outlets have warned that up to 50% of Americans are at risk of losing their jobs to the COVID-19 crisis and that 50% of jobs already lost will be gone permanently. These effects, as well as the virus itself, have disproportionately affected communities of color, which were already far behind white communities in terms of wealth and access to quality public education and other resources. A 2019 report by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice explains: “New Jersey has one of the worst racial wealth gaps in the nation, where the current median net worth for white families is $309,396, but the most recent data available shows that the median net worth for New Jersey’s Black and Latino families is just $5,900 and $7,020, respectively.” According to 2017-2018 data, at least half of Rutgers students are non-white. If Rutgers is truly committed to promoting racial equity, as stated in recent university-wide emails, then it should be bold and proactive about mitigating the financial hardship disproportionately affecting its students of color.

According to an independent financial audit by Howard Bunsis of Eastern Michigan University ("Open the Books" presentation), a 20% drop in tuition and fee revenue for the 2020/2021 school year would represent a $269.5 million drop in revenue (slide 46). I do want to point out that this model represents an 20% overall decrease in revenue from both tuition and fees, but we are requesting a 20% reduction in tuition and an elimination of campus and computer fees. These numbers are only meant to get a rough understanding of the type of change we are proposing. It's not possible for us to have the full budgetary picture anyway because the university has not released comprehensive budget information for this past year.

What can account for an approximate $269.5 million decrease in revenue from tuition and fees would be a combination of funding reallocated from:
- Unrestricted reserves
- A $200K cap to university management and athletics salaries
- Usage of recent government stimulus and aid funding
- A moratorium on new buildings and shift in priorities regarding capital assets
- Subsidies and borrowing usually given to athletics if programs are cancelled for the fall

The university has over $580 million in unrestricted reserves, which as the name implies, are not restricted in type or destination of use. Former President Barchi referred to these reserves as a "rainy day fund." If a global pandemic isn’t considered part of a “rainy day”, then what is? Additionally, on June 16th the Board of Governors congratulated the outgoing President Barchi on leaving Rutgers “on perhaps its strongest financial footing in recent history.” This statement is in direct contradiction of the university declaring a “fiscal emergency.”

Three hundred and twelve upper level management employees' salaries cost $65.3 million in 2019, with the average employee making $209K (“Open the Books” slide 55). Their average salaries increased by 6% between 2017 and 2019, which is far greater than the increases in faculty or staff salaries (slide 57). In fact, the average salaries for service, maintenance, and library workers decreased between 2017 and 2019.

We propose that all Rutgers management salaries are capped at $200K for the next year, including athletics coaches. If we truly are in a fiscal crisis, then the highest compensated workers are the best financially prepared to weather a decrease in salary. For example, capping upper level management salaries at $200K would yield $2.89 million, the reduction in the football coach's salary alone would yield $3.8 million. Furthermore, it is morally reprehensible for a multi-billion dollar institution to push all sacrifice onto workers who are vulnerable to losing housing, healthcare coverage, and food security.

Rutgers has received over $102 million in government funding this past year. In the spring, it received $27 million in federal CARES Act aid (the other $27 million was allocated for direct student aid). On June 30, Governor Murphy signed an appropriations bill with an additional $56.2M for Rutgers for the period of July 1 to September 30. Then another $19.2 million was awarded on July 2, the Governor’s office announced further CARES stimulus money via the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund ‘to support students and faculty for continuity of operations.’ (Source: “Rutgers’ Declaration of Fiscal Emergency: A Critical Analysis”)

Rutgers also recently sold the lab that created the COVID-19 saliva test for about $44.4 million, as well as real estate in Edison for about $28 million (“Rutgers’ Declaration of Fiscal Emergency: A Critical Analysis” page 4).

There has not been transparency so far on how these aid packages have been allocated. Shouldn't a portion of this aid and recent revenues go toward relieving the burden of tuition and fees on students? Students have been faced with exponential increases in tuition rates over the past few decades but the recent crises characterized by high unemployment, mass layoffs, dry job market, loss of healthcare coverage, and loss of family members have only exacerbated the diminishing affordability of a college education.

We also propose the university stop new construction projects and purchases of new capital assets in order to reprioritize the people of the Rutgers community during this crisis. In 2017, university capital assets increased by $197 million (while the amount paid for salaries decreased by $27 million) and in 2018 capital assets increased by $166 million (while salary expenses increased by $54 million; "Open the Books" slides 22-23). If the university imposed a year-long moratorium on new capital assets, the projected savings would likely be in the same range of $150 to $190 million. A global pandemic is not the time to be expanding, it's the time to start reprioritizing and protecting the people and academic programs at the heart of the university. Because without students, workers, and professors, you don't have a university.

Rutgers also usually spends between $20 and $40 million per year on athletics subsidies. If athletics are cancelled for the fall (which we believe they should be) or even the school year, these funds can then be used to bolster a reduction in tuition and fee revenue. Recently, Rutgers AAUP-AFT documented a total of $100 million had been transferred to athletics in the past year, a sum of money could be reallocated to serve the university - to deliver education to students - by reinstating laid off part-time lecturers ($4 million for the fall) and other workers, paying contractual raises (about $40 million), and then bolstering a reduction in tuition and fees.

Under no circumstances should a reduction in tuition and fees affect the budgets and jobs of instructors or staff. Any cuts to the employees and support systems that deliver education will result in a lower quality of education for students. For example, laying off part-time lecturers (PTLs) earlier this year was not only a cruel but illogical move on the part of the university. As explained in the article “Rutgers goes online this fall. Will students get the education they deserve?” by the President of the PTL union, Amy Higer and its treasurer, Bryan Sacks, many PTLs are experts in online teaching and many solely teach online. PTLs teach 30% of courses at the university and by laying off 20% of them, students have already noticed their courses being cut and the caps of the number of students in their classes increasing. The optimal number of students that an instructor can effectively teach is between 12 to 17, yet many schools nationwide are seeing caps being raised to 50. If PTLs only account for 1% of the university budget, why were they one of the first targets for austerity measures? Rutgers is undermining its ability to provide a “world-class education” just to save an estimated $3.5 million (“Rutgers’ Declaration of Fiscal Emergency: A Critical Analysis” page 10).

We hope that you agree that Rutgers’ priority now more than ever should be serving its students and helping them prepare for a bright future. That involves both reducing tuition and fees to provide relief from the massive student debt burden during a pandemic, as well as providing as high of a quality online education as possible, which necessitates the reversal of all employee layoffs, the provision of contractual raises, ending Rutgers’ relationship with the union-busting firm Jackson Lewis, and fair compensation for the work it takes to convert courses to online delivery. We don't have a cut and dry proposal for where the money should come from to make up for a 20% reduction in tuition and elimination of campus and computer fees. This is mostly due to the blatant lack of public information on the university's current budget. But from our research, we have found many different sources of funding that can be reallocated to supporting students and workers during this crisis. We are also more than willing to help with any future formulations of proposals related to lowering tuition and fees.

Moving forward, it would be in the best interest of the university as a public institution to involve students and workers in its decision-making processes. Students and workers are major stakeholders in the university and we are experts on the conditions under which we learn and work. To reference Higer and Sacks’ recent article again, most upper management positions are no longer being filled by teaching faculty. That means decisions being made about online learning are being made mostly by people who have never taught a college course, let alone an online course. Students want first and foremost an affordable and high quality education, but we have little to no say in the institution to which we collectively pay millions of dollars through tuition and taxes, and even go into heavy debt for. Because there is no real representation of student and worker interests on the governing bodies of the university, it has long been run like a corporation rather than the public service provider that it is. On top of that, comprehensive budgetary information is routinely hidden from students and workers who have the right to know the financial position and priorities of their public university.

Thank you for taking the time to read our proposal. We request you kindly respond to us as soon as possible so we can open up a dialogue. We’d like to let you know that students are already planning a protest on the matter and organizing toward a tuition strike. Hopefully together we can make those actions unnecessary by working on a plan to address this issue in the bold and justice-oriented way that it requires.

On behalf of Rutgers One student organizations and respectfully yours,

Leah Hunt
Rutgers One Coordinator
SAS/EJB Class of 2020

Cosigners - Undergraduate and Graduate Students of Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey (unless otherwise noted):

Shreya Patel, started petition for lower tuition & fees that garnered 30,000+ signatures
Nanette Dande, Rutgers United Black Council (President), Rutgers NAACP
Neeharika Thuravil, Former President of RU Progressive
Oluwatobi Omotoso, Rutgers Democrats
Kayla Fisher, Rutgers United Black Council
Ryan Webb, Rutgers United Black Council
Julisa Collado, Sociedad Estudiantil Dominicana (SED), Community Service Representative
Maya Ziab, RU Ving Tsun Treasurer, Rutgers Rocket Propulsion Lab Photographer and Social Media Director
Austin Lampitt, RRPL Propulsion Subteam Lead
Dhruv Champaneri, Ving Tsun Club
Gabrielle Rosenthal, President Rutgers Petey Greene
Melissa Aldave, CLAW & MASA - Event Coordinator
Pauline Monter, Anakbayan Rutgers
Sabrina Rimjhim, Vp of Marketing of MISA (Management Informations Systems Association)
Jazmine Alcon, Active Minds Co President
Mariah Diaz, Rutgers Engineers in Action Publicist, Chi Epsilon VP
Sunrise Movement Rutgers New Brunswick
Mariah Diaz, Rutgers Engineers in Action Publicist, Chi Epsilon VP
Sunrise Movement Rutgers New Brunswick
Jessica Cheung
Rebecca Cheung
Isaac Teodor Wolfgang Paez, Rutgers Formula Racing
Sabriyyah Thomas, Sophomore
Sabrina Rimjhim, VP of Marketing of MISA (Management Informations Systems Association)
Sucheta Gandhi, SEA
Victor Aguilar
Morgan Mark
Dominique Hazel-Criss, Black Lives Matter- Secretary
Summer Pierce, Black Lives Matter Community Outreach Co-Chair
Dominique Hazel-Criss, Black Lives Matter- Secretary
Wumi Akinmade, Minority Association of Prehealth Students/ President
Jeremy Masanque
Theodora Ekeocha, Twese
Felicia Paradiso
Angel Maisonave / Arly Gomez, Latino Student Council (Co-Presidents)
Haley Sklans
Max Lightman
Aaraju Adhikari
Ryan Rodriguez
Jacob Barth
Jesskomar Velarde Gargot
Abigail Pugh
Hitanshi Patel
Ishika Patel
Jacqueline Tran
Bryan Casana
August Tran
Aaron Tran
Janice Lee
Nadine Louis
Krupa Patel
Alexander Baker
Eagan Dean, TA
Alina Sipp-Alpers
Shafana Khan
Gillian Kenney
Katherine Marsan
Fausta Schiavone
Jessica Stephenson
Zeyneb Aamer
Laila Abbas, Alumna
Mahima Jacob
Allison Fink
Amanda Wells
Declan McNamara
Valerie Millering
Gwen Cheung
Mandy Singer
Julian Bowne
Skandaprasad Rao
Angelique Clark
Sarah Quartey
Janice Lee
Raphael Pereira
Nadine Louis
Melanie Garcia
Brian Kwong
Remy Velez
Uzma Mohammed
Melanie Garcia
John Hsu, Rutgers Alumni Association
Arunkumar Patel, Alumni & EE
Ayesha Mughal, Central Jersey DSA
David Letwin, PTLFC-AAUP-AFT
Alexandra Adams, PhD Candidate & AAUP-AFT union rep
Danyel Ferrari, PhD Candidate & AAUP-AFT union rep
David Winters, PTLFC-AAUP-AFT Vice President, Rutgers University Senate, New Brunswick Faculty Council
Dr. Heather Pierce, PTLFC-AAUP-AFT
Alicia M. Picone, URA-AFT RU staff
Justin DeBerardinis, HPAE Local 5094
Amy J. Higer, PTLFC-AAUP-AFT, President
Justin O'Hea, Co-President HPAE local 5094, Central/South
Mariana Gomez, HPAE
Kareemah Muhammad, Children’s Mobile Response
Central New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America