Anticipated budget protest falls flat

At a rally outside the State House Annex on Monday, some two dozen students hold handmade signs and shout at passing cars in protest against Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget cuts to higher education funding. Most of the students were from Rowan, while only three were from Rider, joined by a few Rider faculty. Inside, students, administrators and K-12 teachers gave testimony to the Assembly Budget Committee. See Budget, p. 2.

By Melanie Hunter

Despite the drastic effects that Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget cuts could have on Rider’s incoming students for years to come, Rider students and faculty were barely represented at a rally Monday, April 19.

A sparsely attended protest, made up of about 25 students from Rowan University, five from Rider, and a few faculty members, carried on for about an hour and a half outside of the State House.

Meanwhile, dozens of students from NewJersey colleges gave testimony to the Assembly Budget Committee at a hearing the same day. Three Rider students were scheduled to testify, but all of them canceled (two were forced to drop out after their time slot was changed the day of the hearing).

“I was going to speak as an education major,” said Rebecca Davis, a freshman. “Knowing that they’re taking away from the budget teachers are using is very disheartening. It makes me wonder what will happen when I become a teacher.”

One of the most-discussed programs at the all-day hearing was the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF). Both grant recipients and program coordinators spoke. Many students from other colleges related their EOF success stories to the committee.

“It has provided me with the opportunity to be the person I am today,” said Asha Bailey, a graduate student at Rutgers and a longtime EOF recipient. “I am so thankful for the support that you’ve shown through the years.”

Rider students junior Missy Rebovich, senior Joe Gallant and junior Jonathon Padron attend the protest at the State House. Rebovich was disappointed at the turnout (see Letter, p. 9).

Christie’s proposed budget includes a 100 percent cut in direct aid to N.J.’s 14 independent colleges and universities, including Rider. In addition, the EOF  grant program would take a $3.6 million cut statewide, and the maximum Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) would be cut by about $4,500. About 900 students at Rider currently receive TAG awards, and about 180 receive EOF grants. Grants of current students will not be cut.

Despite adamant dissent from K-12 teachers, municipal officers and others across the state, Rebovich Institute Director Ben Dworkin says the whole budget will probably pass with few changes.

“The public hearings are really a bit of a dog-and-pony show within the budget process,” said Dworkin. “While testimony informs legislators and shapes the media coverage, the fact is that even a controversial state budget like this one will probably move forward with only some minor tweaks around the edges.”

But Rider Professor Judith Johnston, chair of the Assembly of State Conferences of the American Association of University Professors, was more hopeful.

“Legislators listen to students,” wrote Johnston, who was responsible for much of the organizing leading up to the event and secured a rally permit for Rider from the city of Trenton.

In the middle of this debate, student organizer Sarah Donofrio, president of the Rowan University Democrats, stood with her classmates in front of the State House.

“These are the types of programs we need in colleges to succeed,” she said. “It empowers us and readies us for the future.”

Despite the skepticism of many, the response from some of the legislators seemed promising. Democratic Assemblyman Gary Schaer told students that their presence was proof of the programs’ success.

“When I invest in higher education, I’m the beneficiary of the success of these college-educated students,” he said. “We need to remind ourselves of the human faces behind the numbers.”

Johnston was encouraged by the student turnout, but she still believes the college community has a long way to go.

“It’s time to get students involved,” she said. “This is the energy that will make a difference.”

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