Media statement: February 23, 2021
The Administration Is Losing Opportunities to Protect the Vulnerable, Say Union Leaders
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The Coalition of Rutgers Unions is calling on the university’s Board of Governors to join them in setting a new direction for Rutgers after a year of layoffs, cuts, and austerity, say leaders of the coalition, which represents 19 unions and nearly 20,000 workers.
Since the COVID-19 crisis began last spring, well over 1,000 members of coalition unions have lost their jobs, and cutbacks in academic programs have affected every part of the university community. Rutgers has the financial resources to avoid these outcomes, and it has thrown away over $100 million in savings by rejecting previous coalition proposals for a work-sharing program, according to Todd Wolfson, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents full-time faculty and graduate workers.
The Coalition of Rutgers Unions will hold a press conference on Thursday, February 25, at 1 p.m. to lay out its people-centered alternative. Click here to RSVP for the Zoom link.
“The Rutgers administration has barely touched the half-billion dollars in its unrestricted rainy-day reserves, and they’re still draining tens of millions away from teaching and research to subsidize a money-losing athletics program,” Wolfson said. “It’s inexcusable that they would choose to lay off workers and demand cuts from academic departments when they have the means to prevent this.”
“Not only that,” Wolfson continued, “but we once again did the administration’s homework in proposing a work-sharing program that would save at least $1 million a week from furloughs while protecting our members’ income through unemployment benefits. We hope President Jonathan Holloway and the administration work with us this time. Rutgers already threw away over $100 million when it rejected our proposal last spring, and the clock is ticking on millions more.”
The Board of Governors, which meets virtually today, has an opportunity to set a new course of openness and collaboration, Wolfson said. “Continuing an austerity-centered response puts the future of this great public research university at risk,” he said. “Our coalition is standing united to call on the board and the administration to change course and embrace people-centered proposals that protect the vulnerable and safeguard our future.”
Stop the Layoffs
Over 5 percent of unionized workers at Rutgers University have been laid off since last spring, amid a global pandemic and deep economic crisis.
The consequences of losing their livelihoods, health insurance, and other benefits are devastating to the victims of the layoffs and their families, said Christine O’Connell, president of the Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT, which represents administrative workers.
“It’s terrifying for people who have committed years of their lives—some of them 20 and 30 years—to suddenly lose their income at a moment when unemployment is high, to lose their health insurance in the middle of an unprecedented health crisis, to lose tuition remission for themselves and their family,” O’Connell said. “And all of us who remain at Rutgers feel the effect when we lose people who adapt to make the departments run during a pandemic, who continue to maintain the buildings, who continue to provide exemplary service to students and faculty.”
“It’s all so unnecessary when we’ve again given management the opportunity for greater savings than they get from cutting jobs,” O’Connell concluded.
Reappoint Laid-Off Adjunct Faculty
Adjunct teaching faculty at Rutgers have been hit especially hard by the layoffs and cuts, said Amy Higer, president of the Part-Time Lecturers Faculty Chapter-AAUP-AFT.
“Last spring, after quickly transitioning our courses to remote formats and working overtime to help our students get through that tough semester, we were rewarded by Rutgers with pink slips: 400 of us were not rehired for our regular courses in the fall and spring, even though enrollment stayed steady overall and in some schools even increased,” Higer said.
PTLs teach over 30 percent of undergraduate classes at Rutgers, so students are paying the price of the layoffs, Higer said. “Our class sizes are larger when online courses should be smaller, and our students have fewer courses to choose from,” she said. “By treating its teachers as disposable, Rutgers does real harm to students.”
The financial savings from this damaging cut is minimal. According to the PTLFC, the cost of rehiring all the adjuncts to teach their regular courses in the fall and spring semesters was less than Rutgers pays a single employee: head football coach Greg Schiano, who is getting $4 million in the first year of his eight-year contract.
Extend Funding for Grad Students
Not only did graduate student workers lose their raise due last July when the administration declared a “fiscal emergency,” but Rutgers has so far not agreed to extend all grad student funding to cover the extra time it will take to complete degrees because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.
For many grad students who have devoted years of their life to their Rutgers education—while working as teaching assistants and graduate assistants for less than a living wage, to boot—an extension of funding would mean the difference between finishing their degree and abandoning all those years of effort.
As with PTLs, the savings to Rutgers from withholding graduate funding extensions is a drop in the bucket in a $4.45 billion annual budget. The full cost could be covered by devoting just 1 or 2 percent of the university’s unrestricted rainy day reserves.
“Graduate students have lost time toward completion of their degrees that they can’t get back,” said Alexandra Adams, a PhD candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology in Newark and Executive Council member of Rutgers AAUP-AFT. “Given the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis on the lives of graduate students, we call upon the university to take action to ensure that all graduate students at Rutgers are given the necessary support to complete their postgraduate Rutgers degree without compromising their health or financial security.”
Center the Voices of Students, Staff, and Faculty
At its last meeting in December, the Board of Governors passed a last-minute resolution to restrict the number of speakers from the public at its meetings. Previously, well over two dozen people, mainly union members and students, signed up to speak to the governors, making powerful statements about the effects of administration policies.
Students, faculty, and staff have long advocated for exactly the opposite: greater openness and shared governance in the decisions that affect their lives directly.
As Nicholas LaBelle, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, stated before last December’s meeting, “Nearly all the peer institutions which we aspire to surpass recognize the vitality of student voices by having representation on their highest governing bodies. And overall they benefit from having the voices of students, who know the campus best, helping to navigate the future. Rutgers prides itself on empowering students and valuing the community, but as long as there are no student votes on the Board of Governors, that claim cannot be taken at full value.”
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