SGA: Vote or lose state funding

More than 75 students came to the Travers-Wolfe main lounge Thursday night to hear a Budget Cuts presentation given by the Student Government Association (SGA) and the Phi Alpha Delta fraternity.

In the presentation, Michael Strom, vice president of Legal and Governmental Affairs for SGA and community service chair of Phi Alpha Delta, said $143.7 million had been cut from New Jersey colleges in 2006 and that $8.1 million was cut from the College, including the $1.5 million that went to the Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Program (OSRP).

OSRP, a merit-based program that has been used to recruit students with high GPAs and SAT scores, has been phased out. Funding for current freshmen who still receive OSRP scholarships came out of the College’s reserves.

Dan Scapardine, senator of Culture and Society, said OSRP has increased the number of top scholars enrolling at the College by 50 percent.

“This is the reason many kids came here,” he said. “We really need to try to get OSRP back.”

Michela Fiaschi, senator at-Large, said the state emphasizes aid to K-12 schools. “We’re building these smart kids and they are going out of state,” she said.

Strom said the reason the state is willing to cut funding for higher education is because college students do not vote in large numbers.

“It’s an easy thing to cut year after year after year,” he said.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, an adjunct professor at the College, encouraged students to get active in the lobbying process. “The legislature often listens to those who shout the loudest,” he said.

At the presentation, SGA provided voter registration ballots. SGA also handed out personal petitions, encouraging audience members to have their friends sign them and return them to the SGA cube. Yellow cards saying “I support higher education” were provided for audience members.

Strom said his ultimate goal is to gain enough support to hold a rally on the steps of the State House. Strom hopes to invite other nearby colleges to form a “cohesive march outside the state capital.”

According to Dan Wilkens, a member of Phi Alpha Delta, Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s proposed budget for next year includes an increase of $1.6 million for the College. However, Wilkens stressed that this is not enough after the $8.1 million cut last year.

“It’s like falling off a ladder, getting back up, climbing to the first rung and declaring victory,” he said.

Billy Plastine, SGA senator at-Large, aid the cuts have caused the College to raise tuition 8 percent, the largest increase allowed by state law.

Plastine said the lack of toilet paper, trash bags and light bulbs in communal bathrooms puts an “extra burden” on students. He also said Residence Life employees got a cut in their meal plan, positions such as Peer Advisors were cut and $100,000 was cut from transportation, causing a restructuring of the Civic Engagement program.

Plastine said 46 staff positions are currently held vacant because of budget cuts, causing staff members to be “highly overworked and highly stressed.”

Flamur Rama, senator of Culture and Society, discussed how the budget cuts have led to larger class sizes and more adjunct professors. Rama said class size has increased to 32 – 35 students, up from 28.

Strom said SGA made a similar presentation in November but had a low turnout. Despite this, SGA decided to try again.

Strom said he was happy with the amount of students who showed up to hear the presentation this time. “While I will always wish that more students attend, the amount of people that turned out vastly exceeded my expectation, based on the presentations in the fall,” he said.

“Hopefully continued attention on this subject will keep this movement going,” he said.

In the meantime, Strom said SGA members will continue to meet with legislators.

“Hopefully the viewers of the presentation will begin influencing legislators on their own, through e-mail, letters or phone calls,” Strom said.

“The College needs around $15 million more funding just to get to the point where it was at six years ago,” he said. “The current $1.6 million increase barely scratches the surface, and is still a cut when you remember that $8.1 million were cut last year and even more in the years before. We all need to remember this, for the future of (the College).”