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Demanding Tuition Freeze, Students at Rutgers Occupy Building

by Lisa W. Foderaro

Demanding a tuition freeze, better wages for workers and a greater voice for students, about a dozen undergraduates at Rutgers University on Wednesday occupied Old Queens, the historic administration building in New Brunswick, N.J., where the president, Richard L. McCormick, has his office.

About a dozen students occupied Old Queens, the Rutgers University administration building, in protest on Wednesday. (Aaron Houston for The New York Times) The students, representing a number of campus organizations, said that Dr. McCormick had not met their demands by their deadline of Monday. They were occupying a third-floor landing; 11 were planning to stay in the building until their demands were met and said they were prepared to be arrested.

Dr. McCormick was on a fund-raising trip in California.

The same group has been meeting regularly with Dr. McCormick since a protest on April 13, at which the president told them he could not promise a tuition freeze for next year. Last year, a cap limited the increase in tuition to 4 percent, but this year, public colleges are likely to have the ability to set their own rates, meaning the rise could be higher. At a recent legislative budget hearing, Dr. McCormick predicted that tuition increases at the state’s public colleges would be less than 10 percent.

The Rutgers University Board of Governors typically sets tuition and fee rates in July, after the State Legislature has determined the state budget and financial support for higher education.

“We understand that it’s not within President McCormick’s power to freeze tuition even if he wanted to, but we count on the administration to defend our interests,” said Richard Garzon, a junior who said he had transferred to Rutgers from a private college to save money.

In a statement, Greg Trevor, a Rutgers spokesman, said Dr. McCormick was “studying the students’ requests and consulting with other members of the university administration.”

“The president will respond to the students when he has reached decisions about their requests,” Mr. Trevor said.

He said the students inside the building had been notified that they were “officially trespassing,” but added that they were not going to be arrested at the moment.

Outside Old Queens, about 30 students gathered Wednesday evening to show their support for those inside. A tent was pitched on the lawn near a sign that read, “Education is a right.” To the beat of bongo drums, some students marched around the building, chanting, “The administration ain’t so tough, unless they put us all in cuffs.”

Among the students’ demands were a statement by the president in support of a tuition freeze; three voting seats for students on the Rutgers Board of Governors; and a speedy arbitration for workers at Rutgers whose salaries were frozen.

Joe Cashin, a freshman, emerged from the building around 6 p.m. to cheers. He called the university’s response “another way for the administration to brush us off like they’ve been doing for two weeks.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

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