Monday marks the five-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting and Sen. Robert Menendez was in Newark to remember the three New Jersey victims. Menendez, who is working to impose severe fines on colleges and universities that fail to alert those on campus of possible danger, sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the proposal along with college costs, the Rutgers-Rowan merger and how he stays in touch with his constituents.
Menendez said Michael Pohle Sr., father of Michael Pohle who was one of the students killed at Virginia Tech five years ago, spoke to him asking for a law that would have severe enough penalties to make the schools issue emergency alerts immediately. Back in 2007, the Virginia Tech campus wasn’t notified about the shooter until two hours after initial reports of possible danger, Menendez said. He also said since the mass shooting, other universities across the country have failed to properly alert students.
The proposal calls for schools to lose 10 percent of all federal monies they receive outside of student loans and grants, forfeiting the money back to the federal government, Menedez explained. He said estimates put that amount from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than a million dollars.
“Our goal is never to collect a fine,” Menendez said. “Our goal is for universities to take it seriously about their obligation to [send] emergency alerts to their students.”
Menendez said he believes institutions of higher education should use more of their endowment money to help students afford a college education. “I understand that colleges and universities have challenges like everybody does in terms of meeting costs, but they have to understand what their core mission is. And their core mission is about educating the next generation of Americans,” he said. “You can’t do that if you can’t afford it.”
Menendez is currently involved in a reelection campaign where he has raised a lot of money. He has stressed the fact that he’s come from humble beginnings. To keep in touch with the voters who elected him to office, Menendez says he talks to his constituents often. “I come back to New Jersey every week when I’m finished voting. I talk to New Jeresyans across the state, every stripe of life,” he said. “I’ve listened to their challenges, particularly in an economy where many of them find themselves unemployed or anxious about their economic security. So I stay close contact with the very people I represent and that grounds me.”
Menendez also weighed in on the proposed Rutgers-Rowan merger. “I think having a world class university setting and research facility is incredibly important. I also think the Rutgers brand is incredibly important. I’m a Rutgers grad. I know what that means to me, what it meant to my son who recently graduated from Rutgers Law,” he said. “I think being able to preserve the brand and creating a world class research facility is not necessarily inconsistent with each other.”