Gov. Phil Murphy, following his inauguration last week, ticked off a list of lofty goals and progressive proposals for the state.
Yet allies and opponents have shown skepticism, or at least questioned, his vision for New Jersey
Rutgers President Robert Barchi made himself no exception, during a start-of-the-semester kick-off address at the Rutgers University Senate on Friday afternoon.
The question had been brought before Barchi, under the Murphy administration: Will Rutgers be able to reverse the trend of tuition increases and lower the cost for students?
Not likely, Barchi suggested.
“A rock and a hard place doesn’t begin to describe the budget situation in the state,” Barchi told senators. “If our new governor were to follow through with 25 percent of the things he says he’s going to do, we will be bankrupt.”
Leading up to his election, Murphy campaigned on increasing state aid to universities, meaning more money coming from New Jersey to support Rutgers University.
For students, that could mean reducing tuition and student fees.
“I don’t know where this money is coming from, but we don’t have it in the state,” Barchi said.
Certainly, Rutgers officials will continue to “lobby hard” in Trenton for the biggest chunk of state aid they can get, Barchi said.
“I’ve really worked hard with the entire administration for the past, going on six years now, to try to maintain the affordability and accessibility of a Rutgers education,” Barchi told the senate.
Barchi has credited that tactic with helping him keep tuition increases under two percent. In July 2017, the Board of Governors voted to raise tuition 1.7 percent, as part of a $4.4 billion budget for the upcoming academic year.
But with the minimum wage increase to $11 an hour, the university has been put in a tighter spot financially, according to Barchi, given the university’s 1 percent operating margin.
“It’s a fairly expensive thing to approach,” Barchi told the senate, adding that as a result, Rutgers took on a $4 million budget item to support the increases.
The $11 minimum wage applies to all on-campus and work study jobs for Rutgers students. It was announced mid-December and went into effect on Jan. 1, affecting up to 14,000 students.
“We are in a position where we have limited known revenue sources, and they’re all at risk, one way or the other,” Barchi said. “The biggest one we could expand would be tuition, which I committed not to do.”
Barchi said his goal would be to make sure the annual tuition increases don’t exceed the two percent self-imposed cap.
Students are still pushing for a $15 minimum wage on campus.
“While $11 is a great increase it is still a poverty level raise,” said Mariah Wood, a member of the Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (RUSAS). “Workers deserve to pay their rent and feed themselves, instead of having their labor exploited by the university.”
In December, RUSAS protesters disrupted the board of trustees meeting; part of their “Fight4Fifteen” campaign to push for a campus-wide $15 minimum wage.
Murphy has campaigned on the $15 minimum wage and made it one of his main priorities.
But Barchi, at the senate meeting, suggested it might a year before the wage increase makes it past Murphy’s desk, and even then, the minimum wage would increase in installments over several years.
The campaign recently became one of the bargaining demands in the broader contract negotiations underway by several Rutgers faculty unions.
Representing 20,000 university employees, the unions are bargaining for the terms of the new contract, with the current ones set to expire in the summer 2018.