Union members were ready to speak out against layoffs and cutbacks at the October 7 Board of Governors meeting—until BoG chair Mark Angelson broke out a new rule designed to silence us. Many of our coworkers made themselves heard anyway. Here, we publish a collection of the statements that members of PTLFC-AAUP-AFT, URA-AFT, and Rutgers AAUP-AFT prepared for the public comment section. You’ll find more statements here and here.
Part-Time Lecturer, Writing Program, New Brunswick
I am speaking regarding item 19b, the appointment of Prabhas Moghe as Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs. I am a New Brunswick Writing Instructor and an executive board member of the Part-Time Lecturers union. Dr Moghe either initiated, or acquiesced in, a thoughtless and callous decision that harmed this university, its students, and teachers.
After nine years of service, with consistently flawless evaluations, two weeks ago, I was summarily dismissed, along with dozens of my New Brunswick Writing Program PTL colleagues. What kind of leader makes decisions like this? One who sees teachers and students as data points on a spreadsheet? A smart leader would understand that we PTLs are Rutgers teaching faculty, not some variable costs.
Let me provide just one example of the value we actually provide. I want to put a human face on what President Holloway terms “academic excellence,” as many of the other speakers today have done. This email arrived this morning from a student of mine in English 201— one of the programs that would have been decimated as a result of these layoffs.
Hello, Professor Swerdloff!…
I am so sorry to hear about this, and when I received [the news] I was truly upset by it because you were honestly one of my favorite professors throughout my undergraduate career. During the research in disciplines class I took with you, you taught me so many strategies to write a well-thought-out, well-organized research paper, and I took those strategies with me….
I still find myself using them 3 years post-graduation and now in my graduate career, and whenever I have assignments, I frequently reference notes from your class. If you were removed from the Writing Program, it would be truly detrimental to future students. It’s really quite hard to get students excited and passionate about writing a 15–20 page research paper, but you were able to do that, and I think that’s special and very valuable for a university! I’m sure the same holds true for your colleagues, and I am hoping that Rutgers reconsiders this decision.
Unfortunately…I will not be able to speak on the behalf of you and your other colleagues that are affected by this ridiculous decision. If you are speaking during the meeting, please feel free to read the Board what I wrote in this email.…If I was available to speak, I absolutely would….
I have many other messages from students and peers, and I have provided a few for the minutes, but in the interests of time won’t read them here.
It’s past time to treat us as valuable professionals instead of hyper-exploitable, disposable units of labor. President Holloway, members of the Board, you won’t end contingency by firing us contingent workers. If we are to have a new relationship between management and labor, do the smart and just thing: upgrade our status! That means full-time and fractional appointments, equal pay for equal work, job security, and, as an urgent first step, reinstate the rest of my Writing Program colleagues!
President, Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT
My name is Christine O’Connell, and I am the president of URA-AFT Local 1766.
I speak to you today because we are part of the beloved community that President Holloway referred to in his address to the University Senate a week and half ago. We are the community that serves our students, supports our faculty, and implements a myriad of programs that provide the face of Rutgers to the community in every county in the state of New Jersey. We do research, we advise students, until recently we fed every student, and so many other things. We are alumni, students, and proud parents of students. We are the backbone of the beloved community of Rutgers University.
But we don’t feel so beloved right now. Mass staff layoffs are being implemented in many departments, including Rutgers Gardens, a place of serenity and a hub of teaching and volunteering in the community; Rutgers Libraries, where the heart of research begins and is a place of study, resources, and services that students, faculty, alumni, and the community avail themselves; and today, staff layoffs are beginning in the School of Arts and Sciences, our largest school in New Brunswick.
They join the ranks of staff in Dining Services and our paraprofessionals who work for the Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program, who teach families who are food insecure in cities like Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, and Camden, on the unemployment line. EFNEP funding is secure, so this decision that devastated the women who work for that program—who are all people of color and mostly single mothers—was truly unnecessary.
We are some of the most economically vulnerable people across the beloved community who President Holloway acknowledges provide the work that is often overlooked and undervalued. Yet we, as a union, stepped up and reached out to our state legislators to restore funding in the state budget because we knew that it would hurt Rutgers and, by extension, all of us. We helped recover nearly $100 million in state appropriations with our members’ hard work two weeks ago. Yet the layoffs are still coming, and they are catastrophic to our members and their families.
We ask for you, board members, to reverse this layoff trend and rescind the layoffs already issued to help us continue to grow our beloved community into the exceptional research institution which we are proud to be a part of every day. We ask that you influence other decision makers that this is not what Rutgers should represent: a public employer that chooses to hurt those who are most vulnerable when there are other solutions that management will not consider.
We ask that you pledge that job security and health care will be paramount in your decision making and that the well-being of people is integral and vital to the success of our University. If we are to aspire to be a beloved community, even if we disagree sometimes, we have to believe that we are all in this together fighting this challenge and the challenges that lie ahead.
Associate Professor, English, New Brunswick
I am an associate professor of English at Rutgers, New Brunswick. I would like to ask you to do your utmost to protect and enhance the fundamental academic mission of Rutgers and reconsider the proposed budget. This new budget reduces the estimated operating deficit from June by almost 50 percent, yet I believe it omits significant sources of additional revenues and further savings.
Even on the terms of the budget proposed, however, it is now plain that the June declaration of a “fiscal emergency” was unwarranted. State support has been fully restored, student enrollments are at levels comparable to last year, and the university’s financial reserves have continued to grow. The university has the resources to safeguard its teaching, research, and service missions. This is an essential moment to show the public that these core missions are your priorities, too.
More than a thousand people, including several hundred Part-Time Lecturers, have been laid off since April. More layoffs are continuing to happen. Only recently, in the School of Arts and Sciences, we have heard about 15 staff positions being eliminated and continuing reductions in the availability of courses for Part-Time Lecturers. These are not superfluous people: these are the people on whom the quality of student education and the quality of research depend. Now is the time to make use of the state’s restored support and the basic strength of Rutgers’s finances, and bring those jobs back.
I also urge you to rescind the declaration of fiscal emergency made to the faculty and staff unions in early June. The emergency decision to freeze faculty, TA/GA, and staff salaries has been intensely demoralizing. It is time for the university to honor its contractual promises. Maintaining good faculty and staff working conditions is essential to maintaining the integrity of teaching and research at Rutgers, and essential to restoring trust at this institution.
New Jersey is in a state of emergency: it needs Rutgers to be strong. Short-term job and salary cuts may seem prudent, but they only harm New Jersey in the end, by undermining the public benefits the university provides. The university’s financial health allows you to chart another course. End the fiscal emergency, restore the lost jobs, support research and teaching.
Department Administrator, Writing Program, New Brunswick
Thank you for letting me speak with you today. Today, I will be speaking about the proposed budget and the potential for layoffs as a member of URA-AFT.
The threat of layoffs of staff will harm the functioning of Rutgers, of the School of Arts and Science, of the Writing Program where I work, and, most importantly, of our students. My role in the department is primarily scheduling our 50 courses, 600 sections, and over 15,000 students. Scheduling is only one part of the massive work done by the staff in the English Department and in SAS.
All of us work tirelessly to make students feel safe, secure, and supported in their educational endeavors, especially during this unprecedented time. Without our expertise, students wouldn’t know how to navigate the Rutgers system. In fact, I would argue that we are the community of the English Department, of SAS, and of Rutgers.
I know firsthand about our student experience because I am an alumni of Rutgers myself, having graduated with a BA in English and an MEd in Elementary Education. I used to be supremely proud of this great institution, my alma mater, where I loved working because of our great community.
Over the last several years, however, I began to feel disillusioned and disappointed by the way Rutgers treated its staff, who I think of as its backbone, and began to hate a place I once loved. I felt great distance between what I thought we were, a place that supported a community of educators and those who uphold that mission, to a place that would rather take advantage of its workforce than embrace the ideals it once set out to uphold.
But with a new president comes new hope. Today, President Holloway spoke of a beloved community, and I say that this should include engaging more meaningfully with that community—in fact, the very one that your staff creates. He further spoke about building better employee relations and that management should listen to its employees, again echoing a mission of community.
I implore you to show us a different Rutgers, the one that President Holloway evokes in his own words, and one that can turn me into a proud alumni again. This starts by immediately returning all staff who have been laid off to their positions and by saying today that there will be no more layoffs at Rutgers of staff, because you, too, see the community we build. This will allow your staff to go back to their incredibly influential work, the work that makes your jobs possible, without concern for their positions and futures. This action is what will return my confidence in Rutgers.
Part-Time Lecturer, Rutgers Arts Online
My name is David Letwin, and I’m speaking on the budget proposal with regards to hiring freezes and layoffs. I’ve been teaching at Rutgers since the fall of 2003. I’m here today as a Part-Time Lecturer and member of the executive board of our union, AAUP-AFT Local 6324, to stand with all PTLs in the fight to save our jobs.
When President Holloway spoke at the PTL virtual Town Hall in July, he explicitly said he opposed what he called the “adjunctification” of Rutgers. But the answer to low-paying adjunct jobs with no security and few benefits is not to fire or layoff PTLs—the teaching faculty of this university—and cut their courses, but to transform all PTL appointments into full-time positions for those that want them.
PTLs aren’t the only ones in danger. Other vulnerable Rutgers employees, many of color, have already lost their jobs or are facing layoffs, with the same cruel disregard for the suffering inflicted. All this while huge salaries are siphoned off to coaches and an ever-growing strata of high-level bureaucrats.
As the teaching faculty of Rutgers, we will not stand by and watch a public university be undermined on the pretext of an alleged fiscal emergency. We are here to say that PTLs and other Rutgers workers, our students—particularly from poor and working class communities and communities of color—and quality public higher education are not disposable.
Part-Time Lecturer, Anthropology, Camden
More than once, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when the country was hurtling towards almost Depression-era unemployment, PTLs have confronted the threat and reality of massive layoffs at Rutgers. I realize that these are difficult times, but shifting the burden to the most vulnerable members of the Rutgers community who play a vital role is neither fair nor sensible. It is cruel.
Trying to save money by cutting PTL courses, or laying part-time lecturers off, is like—to use someone else’s metaphor—Bill Gates looking for coins in the couch cushions. PTLs come from diverse backgrounds; they are self-supporting, Black, Latinx, with children, and single. All of us are now facing dire uncertainty; many do not know if they can collect unemployment insurance, have health care, or if they can find another job.
Rutgers is also getting terrible press. This will eventually affect enrollment, but it is already affecting our reputation. Some of the newspapers and periodicals that have mentioned that Rutgers is firing its adjunct faculty include: the Washington Post; Politico; the Chronicle of Higher Education; several New Jersey newspapers; and the Daily Targum. Furthermore, 1,500 renowned and influential scholars at universities around the United States have signed a petition saying that they will not speak or lecture at Rutgers because of its treatment and firing of adjunct faculty.
As a member of the University Senate, I recently heard President Holloway speak about his desire to create a beloved community at Rutgers. People were so optimistic about his vision, and I remain excited about his presidency. I trust that under his helm, and yours as the Board of Governors, you will re-envision the budget to be fairer and more equitable and preserve our jobs and salaries.