Camden Professors Stand Up for Their Students and Their Campus
CAMDEN, NJ—Faculty at Rutgers-Camden will confront the campus chancellor over a controversial firing at a rarely held all-faculty meeting Wednesday morning—and then in the afternoon will celebrate graduating students and advocate for Camden outside a commencement ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021.
The all-faculty meeting—at 11:20 a.m. on Wednesday, November 10, in Penn 401 (click here for the Zoom link)—was called to give Chancellor Antonio Tillis an opportunity to explain why he abruptly fired College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Dean Howard Marchitello late last month, without warning or even a conversation with one of the most important and respected leaders of the campus.
At a November 1 CAS Faculty Senate meeting, Marchitello linked his firing to his public comments about “structural and chronic underinvestment” at Rutgers-Camden and second-class treatment within the state university system.
“Our members in Camden see this firing, without warning in the middle of the semester, as an insult and a threat to everyone—faculty, staff, students, the Camden community,” said Rebecca Givan, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing over 5,000 faculty, graduate workers, and postdoctoral associates at Rutgers. “This is no way to run a public institution that’s answerable to the Rutgers community and the residents of this state.”
Camden professors, staff, and students will gather at 3:30 p.m. that afternoon outside BB&T Pavilion (1 Harbor Blvd. in Camden) to greet graduates as they arrive for the commencement. But the faculty won’t fill their customary roles during the ceremony. “Nothing makes us prouder as faculty members than these opportunities to stand with our students and families and celebrate together,” reads a letter from faculty to the graduates.
“Many of us on the Rutgers-Camden faculty will be out here to greet you today as you come to the ceremony, but we won’t be participating inside,” the letter continues. “We want you to know that this is because we have such deep respect for you and know the obstacles you overcame to be here today. We believe that too many of these obstacles were created by the university administration’s policies and actions that are making it harder and harder on Camden students and their families. This is unacceptable to us.”
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 New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg in sharply criticizing the initial outcomes for 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 meeting, 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, president of the Camden chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, 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 people-of-color 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.
“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,” Brown said. “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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