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Demonstrators halt U. hosted event to advocate for faculty, staff, graduate student issues

Yesterday, a coalition of Rutgers unions held a demonstration during a University public forum event hosted by Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway at the Cook Student Center.

The event planned to have Executive Vice President—Chief Financial Officer and University Treasurer J. Michael Gower field attendee-submitted questions.

Before the event commenced, members of various Rutgers unions gathered outside the Cook Student Center, seeking to voice their concerns about the University's finances and its treatment of faculty, staff and graduate workers.

Conway opened the event inside the building, saying that attendees could discuss their grievances with the panel of speakers. She then introduced Gower to the audience.

Directly after Gower started to speak, union demonstrators within the event's audience stood up and began speaking about the financial struggles of faculty at the University — specifically adjunct faculty. Some demonstrators juxtaposed these issues with the salaries of Rutgers administration executives.

Several seconds later, union demonstrators who had been rallying outside the student center entered the building and began chanting while Gower spoke. As the demonstration continued, it was announced that the event was canceled.

Subsequently, Gower and Conway left the stage, and the remaining audience members exited as the demonstrators chanted.

In a statement to The Daily Targum, the University said it would continue to meet with its unions and hear any developments regarding labor contracts.

"Our fervent aim is to reach agreements with all of our unions so there is no disruption to our students' academic progress. If necessary, we are fully prepared to turn to the courts to ensure that our students' academic progress is not impeded by an unlawful strike," the statement read.

The Daily Targum has previously reported on the Rutgers AAUP-AFT's concerns with the University's lack of contracts for adjunct faculty, professors and graduate workers. The union has since voted to authorize a strike.

James Prister, an assistant professor of professional practice and an associate program director at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, spoke with the Targum outside the event.

He said he had been affiliated with Rutgers since his undergraduate years and has experienced the University underpaying and understaffing its employees. He said Rutgers' lack of funding decreased professors' retention rates and discouraged faculty from working at the University.

He said the lack of sufficient pay was one of many issues the union has focused on, and its byproducts affect students, future professors and the patients of Rutgers-affiliated hospitals.

"I think it really makes sense to pay your employees a reasonable, fair market rate for what they do," Prister said. "I think that that's what makes for a good company or for a good institution. But if all of those funds just go directly to the top, to executive bonuses and to administration, then you end up with this kind of situation, right?"

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