“How Can We Say that We Are Invested in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?”
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers University faculty called on President Jonathan Holloway and the Board of Governors to honor their stated commitment to equity and fairness at a Board meeting Tuesday, December 7, and at a preceding press conference sponsored by Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union that represents full-time faculty and grad workers.
As at the last Board of Governors meeting in October, the issue of pay equity dominated contributions from public speakers. The long-awaited initial decisions from a groundbreaking salary equity program, negotiated as part of the current union contract in 2019, shortchanged the first 103 applicants by at least $750,000 and probably close to $1 million in all, according to a union analysis.
On Tuesday, Deepa Kumar, a professor of Journalism and Media Studies and one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit charging that Rutgers violated New Jersey’s Equal Pay Act, described her own case to the Board. She said the annual salary gap between her and a faculty peer of similar experience and achievement is close to $50,000—yet the equity raise recommended for her in the first round of decisions was just one-fifth of that amount.
“How, I ask you, is it equity when 80 percent of the gap with my comparator in the lawsuit continues to be maintained?” Kumar said. “How can we say that we are invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion or claim to be creating a ‘beloved community’ when we have such a flawed process that treats so many of us who are women and people of color as second-class citizens?”
In October, Holloway responded to harsh criticism of the mishandled program by saying that he was “determined that we will address pay equity concerns in a way such that you will not have to come back to the Board of Governors repeating the very powerful and poignant stories and personal sentiments again.”
But Nancy Wolff, a distinguished professor and director of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, told the Board on Tuesday that, rather than being addressed, faculty pay equity concerns had been “inflamed on nearly every front” since the October meeting.
Wolff, who is also a plaintiff in the pay equity lawsuit, noted the abrupt firing of Howard Marchitello, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-Camden, who faculty members believe was dismissed for speaking publicly about chronic underinvestment at his campus and for meeting with the faculty to discuss misgivings about the salary equity process. Wolff also said the administration had dragged its feet until just a week before in responding to a four-month-old union proposal on fixing the pay equity program and settling the lawsuit.
“These missteps over the past two months by the administration have had consequences,” Wolff said. “Camden faculty voted no confidence in their chancellor and provost [because of the firing]. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have subpoenaed over 100 documents related to the pay equity settlement and are scheduling depositions with key personnel, including the Camden dean…I ask the Board to act swiftly to stop the harm the administration is doing to both the work and learning climate at Rutgers and its public image.”
Faculty speaking at the meeting were once again joined by state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who in October delivered a blistering critique of the university’s failures on pay equity. Last year, Weinberg, the chief author of the state Equal Pay Act, offered her wholehearted support for the pay equity lawsuit against Rutgers. “As you all know,” Weinberg said on Tuesday, “we have the strongest pay equity law in the nation, and we are looking forward to Rutgers University living up to the letter and the spirit of the law.”
At a press conference preceding the Board of Governors meeting, Kate Cairns, an associate professor of Childhood Studies at Rutgers-Camden, connected the effort to achieve pay equity at Rutgers to a broader struggle that she said needs to include recognition and resources for her under-resourced campus. The faculty, student, and staff response to Marchitello’s firing were shaped by a history of disrespect and disregard for the Camden campus and community, she said.
“At Rutgers, we have a budgeting system that forces Camden into perpetual austerity, effectively punishing our campus for expanding access to low-income and first-generation students,” Cairns said. “When the Rutgers central administration devalues Camden faculty, it devalues Camden students, staff, and residents. To say that Camden faculty are worth less is to say that this place and these people are worth less.”
Donna Murch, an associate professor of History, expanded on Cairns’s point, noting that Rutgers-Camden recently doubled undergraduate enrollment with its nationally recognized Bridging the Gap program, which waives tuition and fees for students from households with annual incomes under $60,000. “But instead of being rewarded for having a vision of an equitable and democratic university, Camden has been punished and structurally indebted,” Murch said.
“It’s in this context that I want us to think about pay equity: it’s important for faculty, but it’s also directly connected to the welfare of families in New Jersey,” Murch said. “We need to understand that the protest against the firing of Dean Marchitello for arguing that pay equity was part of the longer structural indebtedness of the Camden campus is, at its core, a racial justice struggle.”
As Nikol Alexander-Floyd, a professor of Political Science, said in closing out the press conference: “I hear, loud and clearly, the words of Fannie Lou Hamer being echoed: we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. There is no faint, no quit, and no stop in us. We’re going to continue to press for what it is we know the people of the Garden State deserve and to make sure that the promise for the state becomes a reality.”
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