Yesterday, the Rutgers Board of Governors met virtually for its last meeting of the year to discuss current issues at the University, including the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination mandate for faculty, ongoing pay equity and intercampus equity issues.
Several community members raised concerns at the meeting as well as at a press conference held prior to the meeting by the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT).
During the meeting, several Rutgers committees, including the Committee on Health Affairs, the Committee on Finance and Facilities and the Committee on Academic and Student Affairs, shared reports on their progress and proposed numerous resolutions.
University President Jonathan Holloway provided key updates on Rutgers’ policies relating to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He reiterated that the University mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all faculty and staff, setting a deadline for Jan. 4, 2022 for all unvaccinated personnel to receive the vaccine.
Rutgers has also extended its telecommuting policy through June 30, 2022, providing employees with the option to work from home until then, Holloway said. The University is expecting the Future of Work Task Force’s recommendations for further policy revisions to arrive in the Spring 2022 semester.
“I want to make clear (extending telecommuting) is a recognition that flexibility is essential for retaining staff during this moment of what I'll call ‘employment reorganization’ nationwide,” he said. “We are still under executive order limiting indoor occupancy so we will continue to make this option available to managers.”
Holloway said Rutgers will have a reduced budget for the upcoming year since the government will no longer offer pandemic-related financial assistance to the University. He said these budget constraints were long expected and will likely exist for the next fiscal year as well.
Additionally, he introduced the University's plans to make Rutgers campuses “smoke-free” by January 2023 and said the University will revise current policies that already limit smoking on campus as well as invest in a campaign to provide resources to help smokers to quit.
On the topic of divestment of the University’s endowment, Rithikha Rajamohan, a graduate student at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and a member of the school’s Social Justice Committee, said Rutgers’ divestment strategy needs to be paired with reinvestment into the local communities that host its campuses.
“If we are actually to move towards stressing climate change, and more importantly, issues of climate justice, divestment really is only one-half of the flywheel,” she said. “We also need to think about how to reallocate and reinvest these funds back into the local community.”
Rajamohan said the funding and infrastructure disparities between Rutgers campuses and its surrounding communities are highly visible and the University is responsible for using its influence to address them.
She also said that Rutgers can follow reinvestment models set by other institutions such as the University of New Hampshire and Williams College, which includes establishing local solar energy systems, community loan funds and affordable housing.
Along with other Rutgers groups, the Bloustein Social Justice Committee is working to produce a report on reinvestment strategy with a list of demands for the University, Rajamohan said.
John Smith, also a graduate student at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and a member of the school’s Social Justice Committee, said that while the divestment is a step forward toward a just transition, he thinks more needs to be done in terms of working toward a sustainable future for Rutgers and its students.
He suggested amending the current investment policy to include provisions for environmental, social and governance metrics, specifically when regarding hiring decisions and investment consultants.
Smith ultimately asked the Board to implement a committee that will look into reinvesting in these areas and take into consideration how these economic factors affect the larger geographic context.
“We feel it's really important to put our money where our mouth is and to make the economic impact that's necessary to bring addressed transmission and sustainability,” he said. “Not only to Rutgers, but to our host communities and potentially in a national economic context as well.”
In response to these comments on divestment, Holloway said the University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Divestment has already recommended reinvesting into sustainable funds and initiatives such as the Rutgers Climate Action Plan, which addresses climate justice within local communities.
“I also lament the reference twice to ‘demands’ that are forthcoming. It would be much more productive if we can actually just have a conversation,” he said. “You might find that … in this case, the administration is already on your side.”
Mark R. Killingsworth, professor in the Department of Economics, spoke on the continued deficit spending of Rutgers Athletics at the expense of academic departments.
“For years on end, the University has been paying for Athletics by taking money from academics,” he said. “Rarely, in college athletics, has so much been spent by so few with so little to show for it.”
Killingsworth said the Board needs to reevaluate its priorities through a public discussion in order to reach a solution, which starts with increasing revenue from contributions and decreasing the cuts to academic funding.
Nancy Wolff, distinguished professor and director of the Edward J. Bloustein Center for Survey Research, discussed the University’s pay equity process and its impact on the University’s faculty and staff.
She said the University needs to be compliant with its obligations under the Equal Pay Act and that in order to reach a global pay equity settlement, all individual legal rights must be respected and the current pay equity process must be amended.
“We accomplished members of the Rutgers faculty have dedicated over a century to the educational mission of Rutgers by teaching thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, bringing in well over 40 million dollars in research funding and providing services to communities across New Jersey,” Wolff said. “As plaintiffs, we have committed to both systemic change at Rutgers and vindicating our individual statutory rights under New Jersey law.”
Next, State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-N.J.) spoke on pay equity and said that in her letters with Holloway, she was assured that pay equity claims were being attended to by the University as efficiently as possible in a review process that is both responsive and responsible.
“I'm a little dismayed in hearing Dr. Wolff’s testimony today,” she said. “But as you all know, we have the strongest pay equity law in the nation, and we are looking forward to Rutgers University living up to the letter and the spirit of the law.”
Deepa Kumar, professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, discussed her experience with the issue of pay equity at Rutgers and her involvement in the lawsuit for its violation of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, which was passed by Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) in 2018.
Kumar said that the wage gap between her and her male comparator is $50,000, but said she has received only a fifth of that amount through the process in which her salary is determined.
“Rutgers is failing miserably on the question of equity,” she said. “No matter how much evidence women marshal, no matter how many awards we may receive, gender and race discrimination gets in the way of pay equity.”
Kumar urged Holloway to reject the advice toward alleged anti-union law given from a law firm, deeming it opaque and unfair, and to instead rely on the University’s own faculty and expertise to help resolve the equity issue. She said that by making Rutgers more equitable, Holloway can set an example for other universities.
On the topic of pay equity, Holloway said the University has followed the negotiations process and provided transparent timelines and flexibility to the unions involved.
Applicants were able to offer feedback to chancellors for consideration and adjustment, and two-thirds of requests have already received determination, with some already receiving a salary adjustment, he said.
Holloway said that applicants also have the opportunity to request an additional review, and a final appeals process is available for cases that have not reached a resolution.
“I will admit from the start that no process is perfect and it took longer to get here than it should have,” he said. “But now, here we are executing as promised and we will continue to review and improve this process.”
In her comments, Wolff also said the University has not rectified the underfunding of the Rutgers—Camden campus since she raised the issue during the previous Board meeting.
Sarah DeGiorgis, a doctoral student in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers—Camden, spoke further on the University’s investment and said Rutgers needs to invest more in Camden’s students.
“What Rutgers is doing to Camden is the same as what the state has done to the city of Camden — starving us of money for lots of things that we need to do,” she said. “We need more money in Camden.”
At the AAUP-AFT press conference before the meeting, community members met to discuss race and gender equity issues at the University.
Haydee Herrera-Guzman, associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences and a plaintiff in a pay equity lawsuit against Rutgers, said she applied for a salary equity review two years ago and only recently received a salary adjustment recommendation from the University that still falls short in closing the pay gap between her and her colleagues.
As a tenured faculty member, she said she feels comfortable taking legal action against her employer over pay inequity, but faculty and staff with less job security may feel too intimidated to come forward with their experiences.
“I would like to see a fair and just process to apply for equity pay adjustments for everyone, particularly for the more vulnerable members of the University,” Herrera-Guzman said.
Kate Cairns, associate professor in the Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers—Camden, said faculty at the Camden campus are paid 26 percent less than faculty at the New Brunswick campus, a microcosm of larger inequities between campuses.
She said the University systematically devalues Rutgers—Camden through disproportionately low budgets that harm the campus’ students, most of whom are students of color and first-generation students.
The administration’s treatment of the Camden campus, Cairns said, also fuels the denigration of the city of Camden, which already faces harmful stereotyping and disinvestment.
“When Rutgers tells Camden faculty, staff and students that they’re worth less than their New Brunswick counterparts, they are participating in this systematic devaluing of the city and the people who live here,” she said. “We demand a voice in decisions about our campus, we demand the funding that our students need to thrive, and we demand equitable pay for all of those who work here.”