Press Statement: September 28
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Several hundred Rutgers University faculty, staff, and students and members of the community came together in person along with thousands online for a safe, socially distanced #March4RLivesRJobsRSchools through downtown New Brunswick on Saturday, September 26.
The demonstration was organized by an ad hoc alliance of Rutgers unions, student groups, and community organizations to draw attention to separate conflicts that share a common adversary: the Rutgers administration and its corporate and political partners. The march’s six demands were: stop the layoffs, save Lincoln Annex, reduce tuition and fees, stand for racial equity, stand for climate justice, settle all union contracts. In addition to the in-person march, thousands of people followed the event on social media as it happened.
Organizers say they planned the march route to pass sites representing ways that Rutgers exercised unaccountable and destructive power. Thus, the march began and ended at Lincoln Annex middle school, which would be demolished if Rutgers, Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, and the developer DEVCO carry through plans for construction of another medical building.
Looming over the march was the stunning announcement the previous afternoon that the Rutgers New Brunswick Writing Program had received a directive to cut all adjunct faculty for the spring semester—an effective layoff notice that could affect as many as 100 faculty, coming on top of more than 1,000 layoffs so far since the coronavirus pandemic began. Marchers said the austerity measure was especially brutal and reprehensible given that the New Jersey legislature settled on a state budget earlier in the week that added nearly $100 million more in funding for Rutgers by reversing threatened cutbacks.
Taking the microphone in front of Lincoln Annex as the march’s start, David Letwin, speaking for Part-Time Lecturers Faculty Council-AAUP-AFT, which represents some 3,000 adjunct faculty, set a tone of defiance.
“The administration decided to throw out of work as many as 100 dedicated, underpaid, vulnerable teaching faculty—five percent of the total PTL workforce at Rutgers—who are carrying out the core mission of this university under extraordinary circumstances, at a time when finding similar employment is nearly impossible,” Letwin said. “And PTLs are not the only ones facing this situation. Other vulnerable Rutgers employees, often of color, have already lost their jobs.”
“President Holloway,” Letwin asked, “is this how you treat what you have called your ‘beloved community’? We are angered, but we are not surprised. This summary termination reflects the administration’s top-down, you-are-disposable, we-are-all-powerful, and we-can-do-what-we-want-when-we-want-to-anyone-we-want-without-any-consequences attitude.”
Donna Murch, an associate professor of History and member of the Executive Council of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty and graduate workers, said that the previous week had been one of “excitement after we heard that our lobbying efforts as part of the Coalition of Rutgers Unions won nearly $100 million to restore the funding to our university.”
“But then, days later, what did we hear?” Murch continued. “The threat to lay off our most vulnerable faculty. This is the university’s response to having the restoration of its funding—it moves ahead anyway. Why? Because they think they can. But we’re not going to let that happen, are we?”
Lou Kimmel, executive director of New Labor, an organization representing immigrant workers and families, connected the layoffs at Rutgers to the administration’s attitude toward the community, exemplified by the plan to bulldoze Lincoln Annex. The top-performing school’s 95 percent Latinx, 90 percent economically disadvantaged students will be sent to learn for several years in a warehouse in a postindustrial neighborhood before going to a new school built on contaminated land.
Speaking at Parque Oaxaca (War Memorial Park), Kimmel said, “One of the first things that Rutgers tells students when they come in is not to come to this part of town.” He concluded, “They want to divide us. But I’ve got news for them: we’re all here, united as one.”
Skandaprasad Rao, a Rutgers undergraduate and one of the organizers of the march, likewise had the university administration’s high-handed attitude in mind as he tied students’ demand for lower tuition and fees at a time when nearly all studied and lived remotely to a call for solidarity with Rutgers workers.
“If Rutgers claims to be a just institution, they have to accept accountability from its students, from its workers, and from the community,” Rao said. “I cannot take pride in our institution. I cannot take pride in the Rutgers administration. But I take pride in being a Rutgers student—because I take pride in our teachers, I take pride in our staff, I take pride in our fellow students, and I take pride in the community that we live in.”
“We will not be divided by false choices that put profits before people; that use a faceless budget model as an excuse to cast aside the people at the heart of our community,” said Rebecca Givan, vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT in her speech to the marchers. “You will not pit us against each other, making us fight over scraps and excluding the most vulnerable among us from your beloved community. We are not disposable and we will not be treated as disposable.”
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