Controversial Firing Led to Outraged Faculty Demanding Answers
UPDATE (November 19, 2021): Faculty no confidence votes in Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Antonio Tillis and Provost Daniel Hart passed by wide margins, it was announced late Friday afternoon.
The no confidence resolution against Tillis passed by a vote of 94 to 56, with 19 abstentions, a nearly two-thirds majority. The resolution against Hart passed by a vote of 111 to 37, with 21 abstentions, a three-quarters majority. Around 85 percent of the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences cast a ballot.
CAMDEN, NJ—Faculty at Rutgers-Camden’s largest school are voting on whether they have confidence in Chancellor Antonio Tillis and Provost Daniel Hart to lead their campus. Voting on separate no confidence resolutions began Wednesday afternoon and will end Friday at 3 p.m.
The no confidence votes are in response to the abrupt firing of Howard Marchitello, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), at the end of October. At an all–CAS faculty meeting last week, Tillis faced tough questions from faculty, staff, and students about why he fired one of the most important and respected leaders of the campus without even a conversation. Tillis refused to provide any explanation, citing “personnel” matters.
A second all-faculty meeting voted to hold no confidence votes on Tillis and Hart, and the CAS Faculty Senate on Wednesday formally approved the language of the resolutions.
“The issue before us is clear: do we as the faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-Camden have confidence in a chancellor and provost who are indifferent to us and on a path to autocracy?” said Lorraine Minnite, an associate professor of Public Policy. “Do we have confidence in a leadership team that violated long-standing norms of shared governance with the abrupt, unjust, and unwarranted firing of our dean, in the middle of the semester, with no plan in place to deal with the chaos and fallout their bizarre behavior created?”
Most faculty believe the firing was connected to Marchitello’s public criticisms of what he called “structural and chronic underinvestment” at Rutgers-Camden and of a mishandled pay equity program that treated Camden faculty more unfairly than colleagues on other campuses.
Keith Green, the director of Africana Studies at Rutgers-Camden and an associate professor of English, said the no confidence votes would “make it a matter of public record that a trust has been broken, and that moving forward, it will take more than trite apologies to remedy what are systemic and structural problems.”
“We are the most under-resourced campus within the Rutgers system, and we need a chancellor that will champion us, not punch down on us,” Green continued. “We need a chancellor who favors input and reflection, not top-down decisions or outside consultants. A vote of no confidence sets the tone for conversations that we will have with this administration (or the next): we need to be a part of every meaningful decision and build our future together.”
Jim Brown, an associate professor of English and president of the Camden chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing more than 5,000 full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and counselors, said that there are wider issues underlying the current controversy.
Tillis was brought in this past July from outside the Rutgers system to lead the smallest of the state university’s three main campuses, one that serves a disproportionately low-income student body, with three times the percentage of African American students as Rutgers’ flagship New Brunswick campus. Camden is nationally recognized for its Bridging the Gap program, which helps low-income students get a Rutgers education they might not otherwise be able to afford.
But as Brown wrote in an op-ed article this month, “This groundbreaking program brings in fewer tuition dollars per student, and under Rutgers’ current budget system, Responsibility Center Management (RCM), Rutgers-Camden is punished fiscally for expanding access to the state’s most vulnerable students.”
Brown said that Tillis acknowledged at the all-faculty meeting that Camden is punished by RCM and stated that the central administration ought to be responsible for the supposed deficit that Camden runs according to RCM. “That’s a welcome discussion,” Brown said, “but the question is: do we have confidence that this chancellor will do something about it?”
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 in October. 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.
“This faculty vote is specifically about whether we have trust and confidence in a leadership team that fired a dean mid-semester without a clear explanation or any succession plan in place,” Brown said. “But this isn’t the end of what we need to do in asserting our role in shaping what happens at our campus and our university. This isn’t the end but a beginning—and an invitation to repair the damage that has been done at Rutgers-Camden.”
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