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Rutgers’ Budget Woes Felt Across the Board

Rutgers’ Budget Woes Felt Across the Board
Officials say they’ll find new ways to ensure diversity efforts don’t fall victim to cuts.
By Dana Forde

Budget constraints have forced Rutgers University, the largest public research university in New Jersey, to cancel 451 classes, increase tuition, layoff 185 employees and cut several programs, including minority recruitment programs. However, planning for a new series of general education requirements with courses involving diversity will continue.

More than 50,000 students who attend the university’s three campuses — in Camden, Newark and New Brunswick/Piscataway — are faced with an 8 percent increase in tuition for the second consecutive year.

“It’s already hard for me to figure out how to pay for school,” says 19-year-old sophomore Turquoise Bagwell. The Neptune, N.J., native says she was alerted to the tuition hike over the summer via an e-mail from university officials. She decided to take out two additional student loans and is currently looking for a part-time job. But she says she’s not convinced that she can handle the additional responsibilities.

“I have to keep at least a C average to keep my financial aid,” Bagwell says. “I don’t know how I’m going to handle it.”

The cuts are a result of the state budget signed by recently elected Gov. Jon S. Corzine in July. New Jersey faces a $4 billion deficit, and higher education will share the pain with a $30 million decrease in its $2.11 billion budget for 2007, says Mark Perkiss, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Treasury. Rutgers is already adjusting to a $66.1 million shortfall this year as a result of the state’s budget problems.

To compensate for the loss, the university implemented a combination of budget cuts and program reductions that are expected to save approximately $50 million, says Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda. Final decisions about which courses to cut were made at the departmental level. School officials first combined courses with multiple sections, creating fewer but larger classes.

Rutgers faculty members are adjusting to the larger classes by teaching more introductory classes online, says Dr. Jeffrey I. Rubin, professor of economics and director of undergraduate studies in economics at the New Brunswick campus.

While officials did not cut any courses specific to Douglass College, the university’s women’s college, the school’s dean, Carmen Twillie Ambar, says the entire student population was affected. “Any general cuts made to courses affect all students in getting the courses that they need,” she says. Ambar, who is beginning her fifth year as dean of Douglass, says she’s witnessed budget cuts every school year. But the cuts this year are the most substantial, she says.

As a result of the cuts, Douglass has reduced its student affairs, women and science programs and women and minority recruitment programs. “Both the breadth and depth of the programs and the number of programs will be reduced,”  Ambar says.

The cuts to Douglass’ minority recruitment programs are forcing college officials to come up with new ways to ensure a diverse student experience. Currently, 37 percent of Douglass’ 3,000 students are minorities.

“We’ll just have to rethink how we do it,” Ambar says. “Hopefully, we can do it in a way to recruit a diverse group of students to experience Douglass College.”

The university was also forced to lay off 185 non-faculty employees this year, with the majority of the layoffs coming from the university’s administrative departments, including accounting, human resources and purchasing. Some layoff notices were handed out as early as May and continued into August.

Ambar says none of Douglass College’s adjunct professors were laid off,  noting “it was a conscious decision to preserve academic programs first and then make cuts in other areas.”

In upcoming weeks, university president Richard L. McCormick is expected to appoint a permanent committee to formulate a plan on how to move forward. Ironically, even as classes are being cutback, college officials say they are planning a new series of general education requirements with courses involving diversity. It is unclear at this point if university officials will need to hire additional faculty or plan to use existing members to teach the new classes.

Dr. Cheryl A. Wall, vice chair of the university’s implementation steering committee for transforming undergraduate education, says the diversity requirement will complement a new global awareness requirement. Students will engage in political and theoretical debates involving race, ethnicity, language, migration and diasporas, gender and sexuality.

“Diversity can be diversity within U.S. culture and society; global awareness has to look at the experiences and cultures and histories of people outside the U.S. borders,” Wall says. “We are well aware that our students will live and work in a globalized environment and economy.”

Beginning with the 2007-2008 academic year, all incoming students will have options of which diversity classes to take. Regardless of major of study, all students will need to take three credit hours to fulfill each requirement. Specific diversity courses, Wall says, will be finalized during the current academic year.

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