NEW JERSEY — The annual Rutgers University Board ofGovernors meeting was temporarily closed to the public Tuesday night after itschairman ordered the installation of a folding door following a man’s outburstand chanting from members of the audience.
According to MattCordeiro, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, a man beganyelling at the chairman from the meeting’s microphone after Board ChairmanRalph Izzo denied Cordeiro’s request to speak to the board.
Cordeiro had beenoffered time from two other speakers during which to speak because he hadmissed the Monday noon deadline to request his own speaking time. Cordeirosubmitted his request two-and-a-half hours late.
In denying Cordeiro’srequest, Izzo cited a Board of Governors bylaw that requires a speaking requestto be logged with the Secretary of the University at least 24 hours before ameeting.
Izzo said he would notallow Cordeiro to speak during other speakers’ time because it violated theboard’s bylaws.
Upon this denial, aman used a microphone set up for speakers at the meeting to yell at the boardin defense of Cordeiro.
“It seems like rightwhen he walked up to the microphone and started yelling is when everything elsehappened, too,” Cordeiro said.
The man’s yellingspurred chants and raucous noise from union members in the audience who werethere to protest a potential faculty salary freeze. Two plain-clothes policeofficers removed the man at the microphone, and audience members grew louder,Cordeiro said.
To quell the protests,Izzo announced that he was closing the meeting to the public and hadmaintenance workers close the folding door, sectioning off the public’s seatsand the tables where members of the board sat.
Izzo’s move requiredall those in attendance to leave the meeting, though he allowed some members ofthe press to remain on the other side of the folding door.
Cordeiro said afterthe door was shut, those who were chanting filed out of the meeting.
“I do not know if thatwas the right way to handle it. I think they were about to walk out anyway,”Cordeiro said.
“I totally understandfrom … his perspective, trying to run the meeting you don’t want peoplealways chanting. Everyone left though, because they probably thought, ‘Why am Igoing to sit behind this wall?’ They thought it was over.”
Greg Trevor, spokesmanfor Rutgers University, said Izzo was attempting to maintain order.
“The chair remindedaudience participants more than once about the rules and the need to maintainorder so that the Board members could hear each other,” Trevor wrote in anemail. “The folding doors were quickly pulled back, and everyone was invited toreturn to the room in short order. A number of people did return to the room.This ensured that the Board meeting complied with the Open Public MeetingsAct.”
Cordeiro said he wasat the meeting to talk with the board about impending budget decisionsincluding a possible increase in students’ tuition and other student fees.
“I was there torepresent the students. After working on the student fees advisory board andnow as the president, I knew there were things I wanted to bring to theattention of the board and this meeting was the best opportunity,” Cordeirosaid.
Cordeiro said theagenda’s release at the end of last week gave him only three hours on Monday torequest a speaking time, and he questioned whether that was a reasonable amountof notice.
Mark Caramanica, thefreedom of information director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of thePress said that Izzo’s refusal to allow Cordeiro to speak was legallydefensible.
“Aside from the factthat the timing looks like a tactic, generally you have to follow theguidelines. [Cordeiro] didn’t meet that,” Caramanica said.
Izzo’s choice to erecta door between the board and members of the public, however, was a questionablemove under the Open Meetings Act, Caramanica said.
“What he should havedone was only remove those members that were being disruptive,” Caramanicasaid. “Selectively choosing who stays in and closing all others out isn’t theway to do that.”