Unions Want to Know Why They Can’t Get a New Contract, but Coaches Can
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Union leaders at Rutgers University want to know why the Board of Governors is signing off on a second multi-million-dollar coach’s contract in less than a month while the professors, staff, and other workers who make the university run have been waiting for more than seven months for new contracts to replace ones that expired last summer.
The Rutgers Board of Governors will hold a special meeting today to approve a “contract amendment,” apparently for basketball coach Steve Pikiell. Less than a year ago, Pikiell signed an eight-year, $29.5 million deal running through 2029–30. But reports indicate he will be rewarded again for going 15-7 so far this season. The terms of the “amendment” weren’t public before the meeting, but any further salary increase will likely lift him past football coach Greg Schiano’s $4 million-a-year paycheck.
“They’re scheduling special meetings to give away millions to coaches, and meanwhile, our unions are waiting for the administration to get serious about bargaining new contracts for 15,000 people,” said Rebecca Givan, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union that represents more than 5,000 full-time faculty, graduate workers, and postdoctoral associates.
“We’ve been without a contract since last summer—and without a raise at a time when inflation is high,” Givan said. “The administration still hasn’t responded to some of the bargaining proposals we made back in May. And their salary offer would amount to a 5 percent wage cut once inflation is taken into account. I bet Steve Pikiell won’t have to worry about his raise keeping up with inflation.”
In early January, the Board of Governors held a similar special meeting about a new offensive coordinator for the football team. Kirk Ciarrocca’s three-year, $1.4-million-a-year deal makes him the highest-paid assistant coach in Rutgers history. The university is spending another quarter-million dollars to buy out Ciarrocca’s contract at the University of Minnesota—and it will still be paying more than $1 million to the previous offensive coordinator fired in the middle of the team’s losing season last fall.
Christine O’Connell, president of the Union of Rutgers Administrators, which represents some 2,500 administrative staff at the university, contrasted the “eagerness to reward coaches” with increasing restrictions and barriers to hiring and promotion imposed by the Rutgers administration.
“I think it’s great that a Rutgers sports team is winning, but I find it remarkable that they refuse to recognize continued, sustained excellence and effort from people who have devoted years to the university,” O’Connell said. “We can’t get the administration to recognize, much less address, serious issues of understaffing and overwork among the people who keep Rutgers’ many departments and programs running. Maybe just one time they could have a special Board of Governors meeting about issues like that.”
Rutgers is becoming a national symbol of how big-time college sports programs drain money from academics and research. Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the university’s administration has sunk well over half a billion dollars into athletics from tuition revenue, student fees, taxpayer support, and loans. And there is no end in sight: spending on Rutgers Athletics hit a new high last year, in spite of program deficits totaling over $200 million in the three previous years. For their part, spending on coaches grew by over 40 percent in just three years.
Dr. Tzeidel Eichenberg, a delegate of the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), which represents more than 1,100 resident physicians at Rutgers, said CIR members feel “it’s hard not to feel devalued and disrespected when we are working 80-plus hours a week serving the citizens of New Jersey on the front lines, averaging less than $15 an hour, and struggling to pay our rent, while the university pours millions into athletics.”
“We need a real commitment from Rutgers to use its ample resources to bargain fair contracts with the thousands of employees working every day to keep the university running,” Eichenberg said.
Givan said the spending spree on coaches was “another symptom of the administration’s upside-down priorities. They keep pouring money into Rutgers Athletics, spending record amounts every year on a money-losing program, while they lay off staff and cut budgets for everyone else. That’s no way for a world-class university to serve the people of New Jersey. It can’t go on.”
# # #