President Gitenstein shares what is on her mind

By Chelsea LoCascio
Editor-in-Chief

As the College’s president, R. Barbara Gitenstein has a lot to think about on the local, state and national levels.

When people ask her “What keeps you up at night?” she responds:  “the students… what’s happening that would put them in harm’s way.”

The Signal sat down with Gitenstein on March 8 to learn about what she believes are the biggest threats to her students’ well-being.

Gitenstein is concerned about local, state and national issues affecting her students. (tcnj.edu)

Mental health
The College identifies as a survivor campus, with five deaths by suicide in a four-year period, according to Gitenstein. Compared to other colleges, the College is very academically competitive, which puts a lot of pressure on the students, however, the College is making moves to provide long-term mental health care to its students.

Gitenstein cannot comment yet on what exactly the College has planned to provide more mental health services to students since the TCNJ Clinic is set to close at the end of the academic year, but she assures the students that there is a plan in the works.

Tuition cap
Gitenstein said she does not want to increase tuition any further, but it becomes problematic if the legislature tries to implement a tuition cap.

“TCNJ begins building its budget by positing what would be a reasonable tuition increase,” she said. “Then we try to meet the needs of the institution within that revenue limitation.”

One of the best features of New Jersey’s four-year public higher education is its diversity, but that diversity relies on each institution’s board of trustees, according to Gitenstein.

“The underpinning of that diversity is the fact that these individuals’ institutions have separate boards of trustees — each of which has the fiduciary responsibility to assure that the individual institution is true to its mission,” she said.

Gitenstein also said that since the state has not been generous with allocating money to higher education for capital investment, such as construction, the College is among the many colleges that have to borrow money.

“We had to sell bonds to fund these projects and one of the features of our bonds’ attraction has been the bond ratings (determined by the bond rating agencies),” Gitenstein said.

If the ratings go down, then it becomes more costly for the College to borrow money, which translates into greater costs for students, according to Gitenstein.

“The bond rating agencies have all said that one of the reasons our bond ratings are so high is because our board of trustees determine our budget,” Gitenstein said.

The president also said that although people do not like the tuition increases, the College costs less for the state per student because students are actually getting their undergraduate degrees in four years. Seventy-three percent of students at the College graduate on time  compared to the national average of 33 percent, according to collegefactual.com.

The president’s office is located in Green Hall. (tcnj.edu)

National concerns
Gitenstein called this a “disruptive time,” citing the second version of President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order and the recent riot at Middlebury College, which resulted in a controversial sociologist not being able to speak and an assault of the event’s moderator.

The Trump administration announced a second version of the immigration executive order on March 6, which would suspend immigration into the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya. The order would have gone into effect on March 16, but was frozen by a federal judge in Hawaii, according to The Washington Post.

The government said it will appeal the decision of a Maryland federal judge, who also blocked this executive order, CNBC reported.

“While I do believe that there are some significant improvements in the new travel executive in response to the legal objections that were raised, I continue to have concerns,” Gitenstein said. “Most specifically, I am concerned about what messages the order sends to the world and to our own citizens about the history of immigration, diversity and global engagement that is at the heart of the United States.”

At Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., students violently protested sociologist Charles Murray on March 2. Murray is most known for his book “The Bell Curve” from 1994, which connects lower socioeconomic status with race and intelligence.

In response to this incident, Gitenstein found herself asking, “How do we deal with those kinds of speakers?” and “Can we learn from them?”

Gitenstein is optimistic about one national issue, though the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream of Growing Our Economy Act.

Proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the BRIDGE Act allows people who have received work authorization or temporary relief from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to continue living in the U.S. with the federal government’s permission, according to the National Immigration Law Center’s website.

Former President Barack Obama announced DACA in 2012 in which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not deport undocumented youth who came to America as children and granted them temporary permission to stay in the U.S.

“These people have grown up in the United States — they have no conscious memory of life in any other country,” Gitenstein said.

She added that of the approximately 800,000 people that fall into DACA, about 300,000 are current students.

“I am not sure that the BRIDGE Act is the only way to address the needs of these individuals, but I am committed that their special status should be considered in any discussion of their immigration/citizenship status,” Gitenstein said.