“What You’re Seeing Now Is Everybody at Camden Saying Enough Is Enough”
CAMDEN, NJ—Faculty at Rutgers-Camden stood together with grad workers, students, and staff Wednesday to demand respect from the university administration and a greater say in the future of their campus.
In the morning, more than 150 people jammed into the largest classroom on campus to see Chancellor Antonio Tillis face tough questions about his abrupt firing of College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Dean Howard Marchitello late last month, apparently over Marchitello’s public criticisms of “structural and chronic underinvestment” at Rutgers-Camden and a mishandled pay equity program.
Later in the day, dozens of faculty stood outside BB&T Pavilion to congratulate former students attending an Arts and Sciences commencement for the classes of 2020 and 2021. Faculty had decided to not fill their usual roles in the ceremony as an act of protest over Tillis’s actions, but they mobilized to come to the venue and greet their students.
“We’re proud of our students and our campus, and we wanted to celebrate that outside the commencement,” said Jim Brown, an associate professor of English and president of the Camden chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents full-time faculty, grad workers, and postdoctoral associates. “Chancellor Tillis’s actions and the policies of the Rutgers administration are making it harder and harder on our students, and that is unacceptable to us. What we did today, as a united Rutgers-Camden community, is to stand up for the future.”
The unusual all-faculty meeting in the morning was called by the CAS Faculty Senate in response to Marchitello’s firing, which came without warning or even a conversation with one of the most respected leaders of the campus. But Tillis refused point blank to answer any questions about why Marchitello was fired, citing “personnel” matters.
“Chancellor Tillis’s decision-making process is baffling,” said Lorraine Minnite, an associate professor of Public Policy. “First he fires Dean Marchitello, a highly respected faculty and student advocate, in the middle of the semester for no reason and without a plan for succession in place, unleashing chaos on campus. Then he accepts an invitation by the faculty to explain this decision and refuses to explain it. The meeting was a waste of time. We have no more information about what motivated this firing than we did a week ago.”
Daniel Cook, a distinguished professor of Childhood Studies, was likewise dissatisfied with what he heard. Instead of addressing Marchitello’s firing, “Chancellor Tillis decided to lay out his vision for the future of the college,” Cook said. “He would have found a more receptive audience for his message had he called such a meeting weeks ago, prior to fomenting a tense, skeptical, and oppositional atmosphere. A vital aspect of trust has been severed before it had a chance to grow, and it will take significant effort at transparency and collaboration to begin to repair it.”
Arts and Sciences faculty will meet again on Friday to discuss what comes next. Later on Wednesday, though, many gathered before the Arts and Sciences commencement to celebrate their students and explain why they weren’t participating in the ceremony. The atmosphere was festive outside BT&T Pavilion: professors, many dressed in their full commencement regalia, posed for pictures with graduating students and their families, in front of balloons and a colorful backdrop.
The controversy over Marchitello’s firing is bound up with the outcry over Rutgers’ mishandled salary equity program, which dominated a university Board of Governors meeting last month. Faculty and staff joined Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg in sharply criticizing the initial decisions issued to professors who applied to the program.
In addition to addressing discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, and other categories, the program is supposed to close the pay gap for faculty on different campuses—specifically Camden, where faculty are paid on average 24 percent less than their equivalent counterparts in New Brunswick and Newark.
According to the union’s analysis, the 103 faculty who got initial decisions from the program in September were shortchanged by at least $750,000 and probably close to $1 million in all. Camden faculty fared the worst—equity salary adjustments for those who got them were less than half of what their colleagues at other campuses received, and one in five Camden equity applicants got nothing at all.
Marchitello had previously stated his misgivings about Rutgers’ handling of the program. At the CAS Faculty Senate at the start of the month, he said he had been instructed by superiors on several occasions not to speak to faculty members about pay equity—even though as dean, he had a central role in the process of recommending how much applicants should receive as salary adjustments for past inequities.
Jim Brown said the pay equity debacle and Marchitello’s firing are part of a broader pattern. “The central administration denies our campus equal resources and then punishes us because of the consequences of Camden being starved of funds,” Brown said.
Rutgers-Camden is nationally recognized for effectively serving a disproportionately low-income and nonwhite student body. Undergraduate enrollment has increased significantly in recent years, largely because of the Bridging the Gap program, which helps low-income students get a world-class education at Rutgers.
But this groundbreaking program brings in fewer tuition dollars per student, and the central administration’s budget system, known as Responsibility Center Management, punishes Camden for expanding access to the state’s most vulnerable students. At the faculty meeting Wednesday, Chancellor Tillis admitted that he was “no fan of RCM” and that the budget system created an artificial deficit for Camden campus that the central administration ought to take responsibility for.
As Brown said, “For years, we were told that we’re tens of millions of dollars in the red, so the Chief Financial Officer of the university had to personally approve any spending over $500. Meanwhile the athletics program is buying ‘power nap machines’ that cost $12,600. What you’re seeing now is all of the faculty, all of the staff and students, everybody at Camden, saying: Enough is enough.”
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