The fight for higher ed: N.J. students join to protest $101M budget cuts

In spite of the harsh snowy weather, students of the College joined with hundreds of others in a statewide protest against proposed budget cuts to higher education on March 6.

“We will continue (to protest) non-stop until the vote on June 30,” Chris Portera, SGA president, said.

Student protestors from Kean University, Montclair University, Rutgers University and New Jersey City University brought speakers and picket signs to lobby outside the Soldiers and Sailors War memorial in Trenton.

“It was amazing, a very emotional experience,” Christina Puglia, vice president of community relations, said. “There must have been over 600 students there with megaphones and picket signs.”

“I think the weather helped us out,” Michele Weight, freshman English education major, said. “It let the administration know that we’re out there in the snow, in the sleet, no matter what because it’s important to us.”

Approximately 20 speakers, including Portera and other College student government presidents, addressed the rallying students.

Portera said the message students need to send to legislators is that cutting higher education is a mistake.

N.J. public universitites and colleges are facing a $101 million cut to operational aid and the College faces a $4.5 million cut. This is in addition to the 5 percent cut colleges are still dealing with from last year.

With the additional cuts, one of two things can happen, said Portera. Either tuition will increase dramatically, or the administration will be forced to cut already existing programs.

“We’re students that are looking to receive a top-notch education,” Portera said. “And this is a $100 million cut statewide. It’s going to affect Rutgers, Douglas, Kean. There are 100,000 different students who will be affected.”

Rutgers University first initiated plans for the rally, which then prompted the New Jersey Higher Education Coalition (NJHEC) to help with preparations. NJHEC is a representative group of student governing association across New Jersey.

“We found out about the rally about a week and half before it was scheduled to occur,” Portera said. “We kind of jumped on the bandwagon.”

SGA also held its own rally at noon on March 6 in the Brower Student Center before attending the statewide protest.

Over 200 students, administrators, professors and staff members attended.

Portera, SGA student trustee Rohit Thawani and Rachel Holmes of Rutgers University spoke at the rally about how budget cuts will affect the College.

“As a school we have so many good things going for us,” Thawani said. “We’re one of the best public education institutions. But at the same time, we’re getting hurt by the cuts. We’re the 38th lowest funded public school in the country,” he added.

Thawani said, however, that it is important to remember that there is still time to do something about the situation.

“The whole event is important. We need to let McGreevey and the administration know we are voters, too,” Weight said.

“I went to show my support and I was very impressed with the students who organized it,” English professor David Blake said. “It seems very promising and I hope it continues.”

Blake added, “You just can’t go away, that’s the trick.”

Portera said SGA will continue to encourage students to participate in its letter writing campaign to legislators.

“We will to continue to lobby, and contact legislators and say ‘here’s why this is a mistake,'” Portera said.