“Camden Has Been Punished Rather Than Rewarded for Its Commitment to Providing Access”
CAMDEN, NJ—Rutgers University faculty are celebrating the US Department of Education announcement that Rutgers-Camden has been named a “Minority Serving Institution” (MSI)—and are calling on the university administration to acknowledge this recognition by reversing years of underfunding and neglect.
The designation, awarded to institutions where a majority of undergraduates are nonwhite, will give Rutgers-Camden access to extra federal funding and resources. They are sorely needed at a campus that has been “punished” financially within the statewide system, say leaders of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and counselors.
“The MSI designation tells us what we knew: that Rutgers-Camden is central to Rutgers’ mission of making a world-class education accessible to all in New Jersey, especially working-class students, students of color, and first-generation students,” said Jim Brown, president of the Camden chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT. “It seems the Department of Education is more willing than the Rutgers administration to recognize the importance of this mission.”
“While this will no doubt provide important resources to students,” Brown said, “I would hope that it would be coupled with a clear plan from Rutgers for supporting the students, faculty, and staff in Camden. To date, the Camden campus has been punished rather than rewarded for its commitment to providing access.”
According to Brown and other professors at Camden, the campus has faced years of budget cuts and tight spending restrictions because of a supposed financial deficit. In fact, Rutgers-Camden brings in more money than it spends; Rutgers’ current budget predicts a surplus of $10.9 million this fiscal year. But the university-wide administration requires all the departments at Camden, like the other campuses, to pay a “tax” to cover central expenses. After the transfer of funds out of Camden—to be spent unaccountably by the central administration, faculty say—the campus ends up more than $30 million in the red.
Donna Murch, an associate professor of history, president of the union’s New Brunswick chapter, and co-chair of the BIPOC caucus, said Camden is suffering financially in spite of its success in opening up higher ed to lower-income students.
“The Camden campus has been a leader in providing access to higher education for working-class students of color in New Jersey,” Murch said. “The school’s establishment of the Bridging the Gap program in 2016, which provides free tuition for households making up to $60,000 a year and partial tuition remission for those making up to $100,000, increased enrollment by 57 percent in its first semester.”
“At a time of such extreme downward mobility and economic precarity, the Camden community needs our support,” Murch said. “Paramount among this is the cancellation of its debt. Camden takes in more tuition money than it spends, and it should be rewarded, not punished, for serving the people.”
Along with Rutgers-Newark, the Camden campus serves the highest percentages of African American and Latinx students in the Rutgers system. Camden has nearly triple the percentage of African American students as Rutgers-New Brunswick, the largest of the university’s main campuses.
Keith Green, the director of Africana Studies at Rutgers-Camden and an associate professor of English, said the Department of Education’s designation “is a credit to our campus’s long-standing commitment to serving Black, Brown, and otherwise underserved students.”
“However,” he said, “it places even greater pressure on the campus and central administration to aggressively remediate a fact that flies in the face of our wonderful student diversity: an overwhelming majority of Camden’s full-time faculty are white. This plantation mentality tells our students that they are good enough to be in our classes, but that people who look like them do not exist or are not qualified to teach them.”
Issues of equity for Camden were at the center of a controversy last year that led to an unprecedented faculty vote of no confidence in the campus chancellor, Antonio Tillis. In late October, Tillis abruptly fired the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Howard Marchitello, one of the most respected leaders on campus.
Faculty members who confronted the chancellor at an all-faculty meeting believe Marchitello was fired for publicly criticizing what he called “structural and chronic underinvestment” at Rutgers-Camden, as well as a mishandled program to address faculty salary inequities throughout Rutgers. No confidence votes in Tillis and Provost Daniel Hart passed by wide margins in November.
“The Camden campus is grossly under-resourced, and this is a policy decision made by the Rutgers administration,” Green said. “Marchitello was vocal about this inequity. Regardless of who is dean, we need resources for our campus, whether it’s pay equity or adequate student services. It’s unacceptable for us to be the stepchild within the Rutgers University ‘beloved community.’”
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