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COMMENTARY: Holloway must step in, fight for part-time lecturers

Rutgers part-time lecturers, many of which are affiliated with unions (such as the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, pictured above) have called out the University for massive layoffs and related issues.  – Photo by The Daily Targum

On Oct. 15th, more than 400 people attended an emergency School of Arts and Sciences faculty meeting. The faculty’s reason for calling this meeting was straightforward: Over the course of the fall semester, the upper-level administrators who function as management at Rutgers have continued to lay off part-time lecturers (PTLs) and staff members.

At the end of the meeting, Andrew Goldstone, an associate professor from the English Department, introduced a resolution that called for eliminated staff positions to be reinstated and for a committee of faculty and staff members to be formed to evaluate how future layoffs might be circumvented. (Goldstone’s full comments on why it is imperative to resist layoffs can be found here.)

Despite being given only 24 hours to vote, a procedural move seemingly intended to suppress the vote, the School of Arts and Sciences faculty voters still came out in force and passed the resolution by an overwhelming majority of 482 to 46.

What did SAS Executive Dean Peter March do once ballots were counted?  In a move that President Donald J. Trump might appreciate, he told the faculty that their vote was irrelevant because it did not match his predetermined course of action. In an unprecedented move, he wrote in an email on Oct. 22nd that he would be treating the layoffs as final, and that he refused to even form a committee. 

As the highest authority in the School of Arts and Sciences, March should be defending the employees he oversees, not passing down arbitrary budget directives. And, as the nominal leader of the faculty, he should be engaging with the faculty governing body rather than playing Trump with it.

March gets paid more than $400,000 a year — a sum that could be used to pay PTLs to teach 72 courses. You would think earning that kind of money, he could summon the fortitude to engage with faculty over budgetary matters, as the resolution proposed. But that would require the courage and desire to be something else but a highly paid hatchet man.

Losing one’s job is a terrible experience in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic, when access to healthcare can be a matter of life and death. As the Coalition of Rutgers Unions (CRU) has maintained from the moment the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) first became a threat, there are ways to handle the current predicament that avoid layoffs.

Over the summer, it was the unions that came up with a furlough plan that would have saved the University approximately $100 million, in a way that ensured that no one would have had to lose their job or take a salary reduction.

Management ignored this time-sensitive plan, which was reliant on federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds that expired at the end of July, without even bothering to explain why. As a result, more than 1,000 dining, facilities and other workers have already lost their jobs.

Now management’s line is that there is a $9 million School of Arts and Sciences deficit that departments and centers are responsible for fixing. Management refuses to acknowledge the University has more than $600 million in unrestricted reserves, a sum that has grown during the pandemic.

And even though the state of New Jersey is fully funding Rutgers at pre-pandemic levels, management has made no changes to the program of layoffs that it justified by claiming that the state would be reducing its support substantially. 

But the real kicker is that the $9 million figure might as well be pulled out of thin air. The University’s budgeting system takes a big “tax” from School of Arts and Sciences students’ tuition (and grants won by School of Arts and Sciences faculty) and uses it to pay for central management’s priorities — things like hiring more top managers and covering losses from the athletics program.

The CRU was forced to sue the university under the Open Public Records Act in order to gain access to financial records, with a New Jersey judge recently ruling in the unions’ favor, since management has been steadfast in keeping secret just how much money goes to servicing the debts that athletics spending has created.

At the last count, 312 upper-level deans, chancellors and provosts make more than $65 million in total. Despite hiring freezes on instructors, the University continues to add upper-level administrators with indecipherable job duties to its rosters, including three new senior vice presidents since September. 

For all these reasons, it is difficult to read March’s actions as anything but a move to retain management’s authoritarian, corporate control over what is, as we need to constantly keep foregrounded — a public institution whose core mission is teaching students.

Do you really think a school with $600 million in rainy-day funds needs to whittle down teachers who make $5,500 a course? How is increasing the size of classes forced to take place online due to the pandemic, a move that will only hurt students, at all helpful?     

March has left faculty with no confidence that he will do right. University President Jonathan Holloway seems invested in fashioning for himself a different type of image. He has said a lot about holding Rutgers to its principles and advancing social justice on campus.

Despite this rhetoric, Holloway is backing layoffs of staff and teachers that destroy lives and undermine learning. He needs to be held to task for this, starting immediately.

Andy Urban is an associate professor of American studies and history at Rutgers University—New Brunswick.


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

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