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Board of Governors discusses economic challenges due to pandemic, Rutgers community weighs in on budget

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The Rutgers Board of Governors held a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming academic year, including leadership changes and financial issues due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

As he prepares to step down on July 1, the meeting was the last under University President Robert L. Barchi's leadership. To commend his work as president, the Board passed a resolution effective July 1 to give him the title of President Emeritus.

The resolution highlighted some of the projects Barchi oversaw during his eight years in office, including the Rutgers 2030 plan, the foundation of the Honors College, the University's entrance into the Big Ten Conference as well as the integration of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to create Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

At the start of the meeting, Barchi thanked the Board of Governors and other Rutgers administrators for their help with these projects during his tenure.

"I came eight years ago, thinking that I could do the job I was asked for in three years and go back to my retirement," he said. "There was so much to do and so much enjoyment out of the people I was working with and the opportunities and the challenges that here we are, eight years later, and, frankly, it is with mixed feelings that I step down and move on."

The Board also passed resolutions honoring the work of other administrators who are planning to step down in July, including Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon, who will return to teaching, as well as Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Barbara Lee and School of Environmental and Biological Sciences Dean Robert Goodman, who were both given the title of University Professor.

Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository (RUCDR) Infinite Biologics, the lab which developed the saliva-based COVID-19 test, was sold by the Board to Viking Global Investors LP for $44.4 million. The resolution includes a provision for a revenue share from the COVID-19 test and ensures Rutgers can maintain its COVID-19 testing capacity. The resolution states the investment company expressed interest in purchasing RUCDR prior to the pandemic.

The Board also discussed the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To address financial challenges for students, the Board of Governors passed multiple resolutions to freeze costs for tuition, housing, dining, residence education and mandatory student fees.

The Board approved a tentative budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year. Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and University Treasurer J. Michael Gower said it is unclear how much state funding the University will receive and said officials are still working to determine how funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act can and should be used.

Other unknown economic variables include enrollment, especially for international students, housing, dining, parking and athletics. He said the gap in funding would likely consume most of the school's unrestricted savings, so officials are working to find an alternative budget plan by the fall.

"(Budget) Version 1.0 today is based on our best understandings at the time, but it should be updated as new information becomes available. The finance staff will work through the summer with the president, the chancellors and the senior leadership team to update assumptions and projections. Depending on negotiations, the University will take initiatives to close the gap and adjust to the changing environment," Gower said.

The Daily Targum previously reported the University announced a hiring freeze for the upcoming year in response to the COVID-19 economic crisis, which would likely affect part-time lecturers (PTL). In addition, Barchi said he and other high-level administrators and coaches would take temporary pay cuts of varying sizes, the Targum reported.

Approximately 25 members of the Rutgers community called into the Board of Governors meeting to express their concerns with the University's expenditures and its plan to reduce the number of PTLs and other workers.

Karen Thompson, a PTL in the English Department, said the University needs to focus on the employees and students at the University because they are the ones who make the University successful. She said many PTL did extra, unpaid work to adapt to remote instruction last semester but were met with a 25 percent cut in PTL-taught courses.

"After more than 40 years of successful teaching, with rave reviews from student evaluations, should I take a pay cut or lose my job so that coaches can continue receiving millions without really working or because they've even been fired? So that administrators in huge numbers with enormous salaries should take perhaps a 3 percent temporary salary reduction?" she said.

Donna Murch, associate professor in the Department of History, member of the Executive Council of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers and head of its People of Color Caucus, also addressed the Board regarding its financial plans for the upcoming year.

She said Rutgers serves a diverse group of students and employs many of the minority residents in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden. She said approximately 20,000 faculty and staff at the University are members of various unions and called for the University to prioritize students, people of color and unions in its COVID-19 planning.

She said Barchi's administration spends millions on the Department of Athletics and salaries for top administrators. In addition to these expenditures, Murch and multiple other meeting attendees criticized the University hiring Jackson Lewis, a labor and employment law firm.

"It is deeply embarrassing that a research institution in a blue state like New Jersey has hired the most notorious union-busting firm in the country," she said. "We know from transparency requests under OPRA (the Open Public Records Act) that the Barchi administration has spent (approximately) $1.6 million between 2018 and March 2020 on Jackson Lewis. This is nearly half of the savings from firing 1 in 5 PTL."

Murch said this money should be redirected to the students, especially those who are immigrants or people of color, who need assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rutgers Dining staff members also called into the meeting to address the layoffs they are facing. Chris Hazel, a dining supervisor and a member of the Union of Rutgers Administrators and American Federation of Teachers, said approximately 80 staff members would lose their jobs by June 26, and some were forced to retire on July 1 to avoid losing their health insurance.

"Many of us, like so many working people in New Jersey, are living day to day, paycheck by paycheck. Our families - personal and work-related - are now being dismantled by this news," he said.

Nancy McCarthy, a Rutgers Dining employee, said the layoffs leave many employees without health insurance in the middle of a pandemic.

"We realize the financial status Rutgers budget is in (due to) the pandemic and not knowing if we're opening in September," she said. "We are willing to share the sacrifice, but we need (you) to do the right thing and put us on furloughs so that we can protect our families until we are able to start the reopening process."

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