Tuition for in-state undergraduates was approved to be raised by 2.7 percent at the July board of trustees meeting, setting the cost of attending Montclair State University to $12,789.86. At that same meeting, the board approved a 3.4 percent salary increase to $455,000 for University President Susan Cole.
Students and staff have questioned these approvals.
Rich Wolfson, the president of Montclair State faculty’s union attended the July meeting. As the union’s president, Wolfson is the only person outside of the administration who can speak at board of trustees meetings.
Wolfson publishes all statements he makes at board of trustees meetings for the faculty union members to read. His remarks at the July meeting included concerns about how tuition hikes might affect students and his disappointment with the lack of clarification from the board on how they determined to raise Cole’s salary.
“I have said it before that each dollar increase means more hardship on the part of our students and that if this increase, even the meager $335.04 it represents, prevents one student from attending, it is heartbreaking,” Wolfson said in his statement to the board of trustees.
Wolfson included a note at the bottom of the document containing his statement to the board, which was provided to union members. It reads as follows:
“After my remarks were completed, the board of trustees approved a raise in Dr. Cole’s base pay to $455,000 (3.4 percent) plus a 20 percent performance bonus ($88,000) based on her AY2018 salary. There was no mention of a retention bonus or any deferred compensation this year but without full disclosure of her package, there is no way to ascertain if that is also included.”
When @montclairstateu BOT today raised President Cole's salary 3.4% to $455,000 + a bonus of $88,000 she did NOT jump to her feet and object until her faculty and staff got anything close to 3.4%. #whoworksforwho?
— Maughn Gregory (@MaughnGregory) July 26, 2018
Upon reading the statement, university professor and union member Maughn Gregory tweeted his frustration with Cole’s quick acceptance of the increase in pay without demanding the same for faculty. The tweet received some support, but the controversy remained mostly a discussion among faculty with a lack of student perspective.
This is has been a trend for the BOT for years. Approve big raises and bonuses for her, approve tuition increases for students who already need a food pantry, and send the message to faculty and staff that they have to swallow it and smile. Feeling some #radicalrage
— reb goldstein, phd (@reb_goldstein) July 27, 2018
Senior business major Cierra Wallace serves as a representative for the student community on the board of trustees. As a member of the student and administrative communities, Wallace attends all of the board’s public meetings as well as their financial closed session meetings and represents students to the board of trustees.
Wallace confirmed that the board put a lot of thought into examining the budget before voting to approve it.
“The board extensively discussed the budget before it being approved in public session,” Wallace said. “We take into account all aspects of the university when approving the budget.”
Of 18 students interviewed of various years, majors and communities, only two had heard about the tuition hikes or increase in Cole’s salary. Most of the students claimed to know little or nothing about the board of trustees.
Sophomore musical theater major Emma Wilcox felt that the lack of resources for communication discourages students from learning more about the administration.
“You can never get in contact with a person on the phone at this school,” Wilcox said. “When they make it so difficult to contact and get ahold of the administration, it’s almost just a way to deter students from asking questions.”
Wolfson said that as recently as six years ago, there were more resources for the student and administrative communities to interact. He said that the board of trustees used to hold regular luncheons where students and faculty could eat and discuss issues with them, but those have since been scrapped.
The administration holds annual tuition hearings at the end of each spring semester. However, several students including Wilcox, said that the hearings are held at inconvenient times.
Junior economics major Ashley Rivera recounted her experience attending the tuition hearing in May 2017.
“I didn’t go last semester because I had class, but I went the year before and it was only like four of us,” Rivera said. “It’s important. That’s our tuition. That’s the money we’re spending on this school. More people should voice their opinions.”
Wolfson, who has attended many of the tuition hearings, agreed that not enough students attend.
“I’m always disheartened that not more students show up to tell their personal stories,” Wolfson said. “If you don’t participate, then things just happen around you and you have no real recourse.”
Although Rivera and Wolfson both felt that students should put more effort into attending the hearings, they acknowledged that various obstacles prevent students from attending, such as busy schedules or a lack of promotion of the hearings.
Wallace responded to these concerns, reassuring students that the administration makes sure to connect with the student community and takes their concerns into account.
Wallace believes Montclair State provides an abundance of platforms for students to talk to administrators.
“There are several student organizations that have meetings with President Cole. Not all 20,000 students will be able to have a personal meeting with administrators; however, there are student leaders that they may speak to,” Wallace said. “Our administration listens when we speak and tries make the necessary changes needed for students to excel here at Montclair State.”
President Cole also addressed concerns about the tuition increases in a written statement:
“As a New Jersey Public Research University, Montclair State University is committed to providing students with affordable access to a first-class education. In pursuit of that mission, Montclair State makes every effort to minimize any increases to tuition and fee costs, a task that becomes increasingly difficult each year, as state appropriations for the university remain unjustifiably low. This year’s combined tuition and fee increase of 2.7 percent continues to reflect the university’s emphasis on remaining affordable while assuring that students will have the opportunity to study in a very comprehensive range of academic programs in excellent facilities and with the benefit of an engaged and talented faculty. A few examples of the many high quality educational opportunities that make the university an excellent value for students are the exciting new Center for Computing and Information Sciences, the state-of-the-art programs in the School of Communication and Media, the opportunities offered by the new School of Nursing, and the rich programming of the fully AACSB-accredited Feliciano School of Business.”