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Board of Governors meets as Rutgers community expresses opposition to layoffs

Yesterday's Board of Governors meeting was the first since University President Jonathan Holloway entered office in July.  – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The Rutgers Board of Governors held its first meeting of the academic year yesterday to approve a variety of resolutions, including a revised budget, among other measures. Members of the public called into the meeting to oppose ongoing layoffs that have been implemented since the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Daily Targum previously reported the Board passed the tentative fiscal year 2021 budget in July. Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and University Treasurer J. Michael Gower said at the time this was due to funding uncertainties due to COVID-19, including state appropriations and what expenses can be covered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“I told this Board at this time that there (were) so many unknowns that we would want to return to it now, with the greater knowledge that became available to us during the summer,” he said.

Since the semester began, the University has a clearer picture of the impacts on enrollment, housing, dining and athletics, Gower said. Officials also learned state appropriations will be restored for this year, how CARES Act funding can be used, the impact on patient care revenues and the costs of COVID-19 tests and other prevention expenses.

Gower said the revised budget is improved compared to the initial budget, but that it remains unbalanced and more measures must be taken to reduce expenses. The initial budget predicted an approximately $154 million budgetary shortfall, but the revised budget predicts a $97 million budgetary shortfall.

The Targum previously reported members of the University community, especially the Coalition of Rutgers Unions, have been outspoken against layoffs implemented since the beginning of the pandemic, which has affected approximately 1,000 employees, especially dining workers and part-time lecturers (PTL).

At the beginning of the meeting, University President Jonathan Holloway addressed the relationship between administrators and employees and said he is working to get to a point where these groups will be able to collaborate effectively. 

“Management must listen to labor, and vice versa must be the case as well,” he said. “I have heard that there have been some positive changes in this regard, on both sides of the table in the last couple of months ... but more work is ahead of us. Of course, we know we will not agree on everything. But I hope that we will understand that we share more in common than not.”

Board of Governors Chair Mark Angelson said 36 people signed up to speak at yesterday’s meeting. Angelson said the Board would only be listening to comments directly related to the resolutions that were being voted on.

A number of speakers were denied the opportunity to address the Board and told they could share their concerns at a forum at an unknown date, which Angelson said would likely be in November.

Many of the speakers were critical of the University’s decision to cut some of the lowest-paid workers in response to financial challenges, including Cynthia Saltzman, a PTL from Rutgers—Camden.

“Trying to save money by cutting PTL courses or laying part-time lecturers off is like, to use someone else's metaphor, ‘Bill Gates looking for coins in the couch cushions,’” Saltzman said.

Heather Pierce, a PTL in the Department of Political Science and member of the PTL Faculty Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, said most PTL have the same credentials as full-time research faculty but said Rutgers administrators often undervalue these employees.

Pierce also said there is significant research that shows the educational benefits of having smaller class sizes, and said reducing the number of PTL will enlarge class sizes and send a negative message to students, especially during remote instruction.

“The fact that PTL are undervalued, underpaid, without health insurance or job security tells our students that you, as an employer, don't even value the very education you're charging them tens of thousands of dollars for every year,” Pierce said. “If you are unwilling to pay a fair price for the product you are selling, why should anyone else?”

Grace McGarty, a library associate at James Dickson Carr Library, said the ongoing layoffs contradict Holloway’s message of creating a “beloved community” at the University. She said she recently received a layoff notice, despite working throughout the pandemic to arrange low-contact loans for materials and create new work-study opportunities for students, many of whom come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“I will lose the community, colleagues and job I love, my livelihood, life insurance, ability to save for retirement and possibly my home,” McGarty said. “As a person with a disability, losing health insurance becomes a matter of life and death.”

Alessandra Sperling, a department administrator in the Writing Program and member of the Union of Rutgers Administrators and American Federation of Teachers, said she used to be proud of being a Rutgers alumna, but the treatment of staff in recent years has changed her view of the institution.

“I felt (a) great distance between what I thought we were — a place that supported a community of educators and those who have held that mission — to a place that would rather take advantage of its workforce than embrace the ideals at once set out to uphold,” she said.

Sperling also brought up Holloway’s mission of strengthening the community and called on administrators to support the workers who make up this community.

“I implore you to show us a different Rutgers, the one that President Holloway evokes in his own words, and one that can turn me into a proud alumni again,” Sperling said. “This starts by immediately returning all staff who have been laid off to their positions and by saying that there will be no more layoffs at Rutgers of staff, because you too see the community we build.”

The Board meeting also touched on other ongoing matters. Holloway discussed some of the University's new initiatives since he took office, as well as the Spring 2021 semester. He said he will work with the chancellors to discuss their plans in the coming days. 

“We are working toward having a larger percentage of students living on campus for the spring and more courses being offered in-person, always being cognizant of public health realities,” he said. “Our return to offices and other spaces will be slow and deliberate.”

Holloway said he met with Deborah Birx, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) and other officials from New Jersey, New Brunswick and Rutgers—New Brunswick, to discuss COVID-19 positivity rates at the University.

Another one of Holloway’s goals is to improve the University’s reputation, which he said is not always consistent with the actual quality of education Rutgers provides. To do this, the Board approved a resolution to make Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Research and Academic Affairs Prabhas V. Moghe the University’s new executive vice president for Academic Affairs, who will help recruit and retain leading scholars.

Also appointed to a new position was Denise Hien, director of the University’s Center of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Studies, who will now serve as the Helen E. Chaney Chair in Alcohol Studies.

Other resolutions passed by the Board of Governors included revisions to the University’s affiliation agreement with RWJBarnabas Health and ratifying contracts with Zoom and Global Medical Supplies and Equipment for COVID-19 related services and supplies.


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