“Jersey Shore” Arrives on the Banks

Commentary — By Paul Tyahla on April 11, 2011 at 8:35 AM

by Mark ‘Jay’ Williams

When the Star-Ledger reported that MTV party girl Snooki was paid $32,000 to speak at Rutgers University, many students and their parents were outraged that their hard-earned money would end up funding the “Jersey Shore” star’s spray tans.

Regrettably, the mainstream media did not question the University’s explanation of how the decision was made and where the funds that launched Snooki-gate were generated. The media’s reporting requires some clarification.

First, there is no “Student Activities Fee” on a Rutgers University student’s term bill. The following are the mandatory charges listed, which coincide with the Rutgers Tuition & Fee website:

a. Computer Fee $ 144.25 per semester
b. Campus Fee $ 1127.00 per semester
c. School Fee $ 45.50 per semester
d. Tuition $ 4963 to $5612 per semester (in-state undergraduate)
e. Housing $ 3418 to $3655 per semester
f. Meal Plan $ 695 to $2150 per semester

Although several newspapers reported that Snooki’s $32,000 payment was from the “Student Activities Fee”, this is incorrect. In fact, in the definition of the three mandatory fees on the student term bill (computer, campus and school), there is no mention of a student activity fee. Funds for student activities initiated and managed by the Office of Student Life and Leadership are budgeted from the above fees, mostly the campus fee. It is the discretion of Rutgers as to how much funding is given to student life activities.

Second, all student fees are funds of Rutgers. Once the monies enter a RU bank account, they no longer belong to students. The Rutgers Student Fund Rules and Regulations state,

“…as all University funds, can only be used to promote higher education of the people of this state. Like tuition payments, student fees are collected from the students, and it is the University’s decision to allocate them to certain student activities. Provided that an educational purpose can be found, the activities fund may be used to promote and encourage programs which are socially, culturally and recreationally beneficial to the entire student body.”

New Jersey statute (NJSA 18A:65:2) defines “student activity” funds as monies being the property of the University. Therefore, the University has an obligation to oversee the use of these funds.”

Rutgers Policy 300-01 thru 300-01.3 specifically identifies the Rutgers Office of Student Life and Leadership, the Student Life staff, and the process for project/program funding. The control of Rutgers funds for the use of “honoraria” for Snooki and other speakers is managed by the Office of Student Life and Leadership through a well-documented request-for-funds process, and specifically, all contracts must be signed by the proper Rutgers official.

Due to the Snooki fiasco, there will be greater attention to the use of taxpayer-subsidized University funds for social, cultural and recreational purposes. Because there are clearly articulated statutes and internal University policies in place, there is no need for additional legislation to micromanage what is intended to be a powerful learning opportunity. This learning opportunity is for student-led government and organizations to participate in the Rutgers experience, and gain valuable real world experience.

The reader, and Rutgers students and their parents, should focus directly on the Rutgers Student Fund Rules and Regulations, which declare, “…provided that an educational purpose can be found,” and ask themselves whether the Snooki “experience” met this criteria.

About the Author

Mark ‘Jay’ Williams is an Economics Fellow at the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing free-market solutions to the public policy challenges facing New Jersey.

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