In an interview published with The Daily Targum, University President Jonathan Holloway claimed that the University budget was in deficit due to the pandemic and said his goal was to make the University "profitable" again.
"I was named (University president) a week before (the pandemic) ... and I watched (Rutgers go from) being (approximately) $60 million in the black by the end of the fiscal year to being (more than) a quarter billion in the red," Holloway said to the Targum. "COVID-19 just devastated the University, financially speaking."
Sadly, the Holloway administration is acting as if Rutgers is as broke as they claimed it to be at the height of the pandemic. The administration has raised tuition and other student expenses by an unprecedented six percent and continued to cut classes at Camden, the campus Holloway derisively described as "more intimate."
The administration is dodging its obligation under our new union contracts to pay for raises for grant-funded faculty, postdocs and graduate workers, pushing the costs onto departments and schools. Adjunct faculty have had classes canceled and appointment letters delayed on the basis of made-up rules about course loads and enrollment minimums.
But Rutgers is not broke now, just as it was not in as much financial trouble as the administration claimed after the pandemic struck. The real purpose of the administration's financial pressure is to impose austerity on students and campus workers and create division among University stakeholders.
Holloway's specific claim that the University budget was in deficit by a quarter billion dollars during the early years of the pandemic is false. That was the administration's unsupported prediction to justify declaring a "fiscal emergency" in June 2020. This number was actually the total projected deficit for two fiscal years: 2019–2020, the year the pandemic struck, and 2020–2021.
Our unions argued at the time that this was a vast exaggeration, even for the 2019-2020 school year, when campuses were shut down in the middle of the Spring 2020 semester. The actual operating deficit for that fiscal year was $34.5 million — approximately half of the sum predicted by the administration.
The administration predicted a deficit of $133.5 million for the next year, 2020–2021. But thanks to pandemic aid from the federal and state governments and because the administration engaged in the largest wave of mass staff layoffs in its history, Rutgers had its best financial year ever.
The final operating surplus for the 2020–2021 school year was approximately $156.1 million. The following year, the administration predicted another deficit — and had its second-best financial year, with an operating surplus of approximately $96.2 million.
The administration predicted an operating deficit of approximately $125.5 million for the school year that just ended. We will not know the actual number until it is reported later this year. But thanks to our unions' efforts to keep state appropriations from declining in previous years and to win an extra $33 million in the current state budget to help pay for the cost of our contracts, there may not be any deficit at all.
Beyond that, at last count, Rutgers had approximately $900 million in unrestricted reserves, which increased by 75 percent during the pandemic, and its endowment has grown as well. A tiny fraction of either would pay for all our contract gains without raising tuition.
Overall, Holloway's statements point to a trend that is woefully familiar across higher education, as seen in labor disputes and downsizing efforts across the country, most recently at West Virginia University. Administrators want to remake public higher education so that it is profitable' to corporate and private investors — including risky hedge funds — that value the return on their investments above any educational mission.
The result is that some of the wealthiest people on the planet are treating our public universities like banks, offloading the costs onto students and workers in the form of tuition increases, downsizing and cuts to humanities programs and campuses located in historically underrepresented communities.
If our Universities are treated as nothing more than financial assets, the people who teach, research and learn will pay the price. And most infuriating of all, administrators like Holloway are doing this because they can — not because they need to.
We went on strike last spring to achieve a better Rutgers for everyone — students and their families, staff, faculty and the communities beyond our campuses in Camden, Newark and New Brunswick. We won many of our demands, but the administration is showing that they will keep inflicting cuts and austerity — unless we work together to turn the tide.
Do not allow Holloway and the Rutgers Board of Governors to sacrifice education on the altar of profit.
Todd Wolfson is the president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, and Bryan Sacks is the president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union.
*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.
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