NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—In a disturbing display of physical aggression by a Rutgers University staff electrician, a grown man ran towards a college student, grabbing him and wrapping his arm around the student’s neck at the school’s Board of Governors meeting on July 20.
The powerful 15-member board was about to vote on a 1.7% increase in tuition, one that the school had not publicized, leaving students and parents to wonder exactly how much of an increase was on the way.
Just minutes after the board started its public meeting at 1:30pm in Winants Hall, as they usually do, they immediately voted to enter a closed-door “executive session” held in a nearby conference room.
It was then that Patrick Gibson, a student activist and member of a coalition that had been advocating for a tuition decrease, approached the table where the board had been sitting and picked up a binder.
What happened next was astonishing, as the man in charge of the sound system for the board meeting proceeded to chase and then physically assault Gibson in a bizarre scene captured on video by the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Targum.
The perpetrator was a Rutgers electrician who goes by the first name “Russ.” As the video begins, Russ is shown following the much-smaller Gibson as Gibson leafs through the binder.
“I’m not going to tell you twice,” Russ says, just seconds before running towards Gibson and putting him in what appears to be a headlock.
“Woah!” exclaimed Gibson.
“How many times I gotta tell ya? Three times already, right?” Russ shouted at Gibson, with his arm wrapped around the activist’s neck.
Gibson appeared to walk away without an obvious injury.
The Targum’s Nikhilesh De broke the story, quoting Gibson as saying, “I was attempting to figure out what my tuition would be in the upcoming year.”
The 39-second video has been seen more than 10,000 times on YouTube, and by countless others on television.
Even after the story and video were published, Russ was overheard joking about the incident with an official from the Rutgers University Foundation while Russ packed up the school’s audio equipment.
“I’m in enough trouble already,” Russ said, declining to give his last name to this reporter.
Rutgers University police officers removed Gibson from the room, according to De’s reporting, and was unable to witness the board’s vote to increase tuition 1.7%.
The Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) and the University’s media relations department have not responded to multiple inquries from NBToday about the incident.
The RUPD’s online crime log shows that they are indeed investigating “Harrassment” and “Improper Behavior/Disorderly Conduct” as a result of an incident at 1:34pm in Winants Hall. But it’s not totally clear who the police consider to be the perpetrator of the alleged crimes being investigated.
Rutgers top spokesperson Greg Trevor told the TV show “Chasing News” that the incident was a “misunderstanding.”
It’s not the first time that a civilian employee of the university has inappropriately put their hands on someone.
In March 2015, a high-ranking Rutgers employee named Patrick Melillo forearm-checked this reporter, and held him down against an ottoman, allowing University President Robert Barchi to escape from a public meeting without having to answer questions from the press.
Melillo, who was 27 at the time, still serves as the Director of the President’s Office. Because there was no clear video showing the assault, RUPD detectives decided not to file charges in August 2015.
In 2013, Rutgers fired mens basketball coach Mike Rice for verbally and physically abusing his team, shoving players and whipping basketballs at their heads.
That scandal also cost the school’s Athletic Director his job, and President Barchi nearly resigned himself.
Since then a number of current and former student athletes have been arrested and accused of violent crimes, including at least two incidents where student athletes were accused of assualting Rutgers Athletics employees.
The scandals have cost the school millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements, severance packages, legal bills, and costly investigations.
The latest incident at the BoG meeting comes on the heels of news that one of the baseball team’s top pitchers is being sued by the team’s former manager, who said the university did almost nothing after he was assaulted by the drunken athlete inside a dormitory.
Rutgers University has not yet been named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but it is under consideration, as we reported.
The unfortunate incident overshadows what turned out to be the lowest tuition hike since 2011, the same year that massive student protests led the Board of Governors (BoG) to cut the administration’s proposed tuition increase in half.
It has also sparked renewed discussion about the role students should play on the BoG. Currently, students have one non-voting representative on the board.
Naturally, the students want at least one vote on the powerful board, whose voting members are selected either from the larger Rutgers Board of Trustees, or nominated by the state Governor and approved by the State Senate.
The current student representative co-authored an open letter in support of NJ Assembly bill A2134, which would add two student voting members to the board “to be elected by the students of the university” to two-year terms.
“We deserve voting rights to effectively advocate for ourselves in the university administration,” read the letter, penned by student body President Justin Schulburg, Vice President Evan Covello, and BoG representative Anish Patel.
The letter “denounced” both “the actions of the staff member who laid his hands upon a student,” and “the actions of the student, who broke the rules by attempting to access confidential materials without proper authorization.”
It’s not clear what material in the binders, if any, was confidential or “sensitive,” as Rutgers public relations office has alluded to.
“This incident is an unfortuante consequence of building tension between students and the administration,” concluded the letter. “The remedy is a vote on the Board of Governors.”
So far, an online petition launched by the advocates for voting representation has garnered 220 signatures in four days.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.