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BOZTEPE: Students must support faculty, graduate union

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Last week I was part of my first rally, which as most of you know, was for the lack of equal pay for Rutgers professors on all campuses, low wages, scheduling restrictions, inequality based on gender and a lack of diversity among hired professors. Luckily, the professors have reached an agreement as of right now, but the same cannot be said for multiple facets of the University, such as the teaching assistants, part-time lecturers (PTLs) and graduate students who make up approximately 30% of the professors that teach the students. 

Again, just to really make sure this is clear and to show just how ridiculous this is, 30% of the professors that teach our students — almost 50% of our staff essentially — have received zero changes, aside from a few alleged talks about a 2% increase in their wages. I cannot sit idly by while I realize the fact that the student body has grown an astonishing 70% within the last 10 to 15 years, while the number of full-time professors has not increased by even 1%. 

Today, we will discuss these injustices in length. I will lay out some suggestions on what the students — even if this did somehow not bother us — would worry about if our tuitions would go up.

Before I dive in, I want to explain the importance of supporting your adjuncts and PTLs. As mentioned before, these PTLs teach approximately 30% of the Rutgers student body, but only .08% of the $4 billion budget Rutgers has is spent on the wages of 2,100 PTLs. Keeping in mind that the student body is only growing, the lack of new full time professors affects the level of education, the flexibility of schedules, the quality of in-class help and a limitation of further assistance if a student is part of a large class with just a professor and no teaching assistant. 

The current PTLs, adjuncts and graduate students are overworked, underpaid, disrespected and are not seen as valuable members of the Rutgers family. Let me remind my readers that the University would drop in quality and sustainability as a top state school without their help. Plus, a fair wage for them means more office hours and additional help for the students, along with easing the workload of a professor, as they would have an assistant. 

On April 8, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted: “I stand with AAUP-AFT Rutgers professors who are prepared to strike in order to defend affordable, quality higher education. When we organize and stand together, we win." The fact that a presidential candidate tweeted regarding our strike shows just how strong our voice is and how valuable our University is. 

But, on the two occasions I joined in the strike with the other union members, we were seen as threats. Allow me to elaborate. On April 17, students, PTLs and adjuncts all went with picket signs outside of University President Robert L. Barchi’s office and were greeted with police officers, not Rutgers safety police. We used no slander against the president, no harmful chants, no damage to the property and simply asked to speak to either Barchi or someone on his committee. 

Instead, they chose to bring more police officers and claim not one official was in their office at 4 p.m. Not only is that hard to believe, if that really is true, I would really like to know what my tuition money is going toward. 

The fact that my colleagues and I were seen as threats to those who control Rutgers — meanwhile, they have never seen the inside of a Rutgers classroom — was simply appalling. I am not the threat, the PTLs and adjuncts trying to have affordable salaries to stay afloat of their debts and life are not the threat. The real threat is this current administration versus what it means to be a part of Rutgers. 

Rutgers is one of the finest research facilities and universities, especially as a state college. The history is rich and the stories are plenty, but I fear the identity of Rutgers is being smeared and quite frankly disrespected. Considering the fact that Barchi said he would not give more than $20 million for diversification and equal pay on all Rutgers campuses due to a lack of funds, but quickly changed his tone after he saw the strikes getting stronger, shows dividends of the issues that come from the top. 

Red flags continue to be raised with a poorly-run bus system and lack of busses, heated rooms during the spring, insufficient classroom settings, overpriced parking tickets and the rise in tuition while money is constantly being spent on the sports facilities. This is simply absurd. 

Rutgers is a state school. A school for the people of New Jersey. People are welcome from all around, but ideally a state school, while prestigious, is supposed to be the most affordable option to receive a good education. Sadly, our tuition is only going up. 

This is despite the fact that Barchi alone makes $900,000 a year plus benefits, and Rutgers has millions and millions of dollars in separate funds that can be used to lower tuition and help properly pay our professors, adjuncts, PTLs and teaching assistants. 

If we want students to feel encouraged, attain a higher education and pursue their goals, we must lower the costs of tuition while paying those who teach, mentor and provide office hours a livable wage. The fight has only begun, and I urge my readers to follow news regarding the strikes and disputes closely. 

We are strongest when we fight together. Let us not give up the identity and pride we carry with us here at Rutgers. 

Kaan Jon Boztepe is a School of Arts and Sciences junior double majoring in philosophy and history. His column, "Kaanotations," runs on alternate Tuesdays.  

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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