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Rutgers AAUP-AFT files lawsuit against U. to honor public record requests

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The Rutgers branch of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) filed a lawsuit against the University last Friday that asks a superior court judge to force the Rutgers administration to honor Open Public Record Act (OPRA) requests for in-depth financial information about the University's spendings, according to a statement from the Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

Andrew Goldstone, associate professor in the English Department at Rutgers and a member of the AAUP-AFT Executive Council, said the University admitted that the Rutgers Athletics Department had $121.5 million in "internal debt" at the beginning of 2020, but failed to release information on who loans this money to the department, what the money was used for and what the terms of the loans are. He said they also denied several other requests for financial records from the athletics program.

"The basic principle is simple. Rutgers is the state's public university. It's supported by the public, and it serves the public. Its finances should, in general, be open to public view," he said. "But the Rutgers administration hates giving out information about the University's finances. Top administrators want to decide where money goes without asking anyone else - that means your money, the money students pay in tuition and fees, the money the people of New Jersey supply through state funding."

Goldstone said the University made several cuts to combat the economic hardships created as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, such as attempting to freeze salaries for unionized employees despite their contracts guaranteeing raises and firing approximately 200 part-time lecturers during the spring semester. The Rutgers administration has yet to say anything about cutting athletics-related expenses, even though the department loses approximately $40 million each year, he said.

The Rutgers AAUP-AFT worked with several other Rutgers unions to propose a program that would address the financial problems stated by the administration, Goldstone said. The program would have utilized federal stimulus funding to help save the University $100 million and preserve job positions as long as the administration agreed not to make layoffs, but was not accepted by former University President Robert L. Barchi, he said.

When asked about the goal of this lawsuit, Goldstone said they hope Rutgers will stop turning down requests and begin disclosing their financial information.

"Assuming we do get the documents we're seeking - and we're confident the law supports our right to them - then what I hope is that we can all use the information in a frank, substantive, public discussion about the University's financial priorities," he said. "Are we really going to be the kind of institution that spends $4 million a year to pay the football coach but puts adjunct faculty making $5,500 per course out of work in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a hundred years?"

Goldstone said this lawsuit is not meant to be evidence of having to choose between academics and athletics, but to instead show how the University is making cuts to their academic mission while continuing to fund an athletics program that does not make the money back.

"All that spending means Rutgers is less than it can be in terms of its central mission of teaching and research. It means canceled classes or larger class sizes as faculty get cut back. It means research doesn't happen. It means the tuition price will just keep climbing," he said. "That's a high price to pay. We're saying that the University needs to come clean about the financial situation of Rutgers Athletics, so students and parents and everyone else can decide if that price is worth paying."

When asked about the lawsuit, University Spokesperson Dory Devlin said Rutgers does not comment on pending litigation.

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