McCormick should mobilize community
On April 15, Tax Day, President Richard L. McCormick shared some bad news in a letter to the University community entitled "We must work together to solve our budget crisis" — a call for academic solidarity! The anticipated budget shortfall is about $60 million. The potential consequences are grim and include canceling searches for critical positions, eliminating courses and sections, reducing important services for students, faculty and staff, scaling back facilities maintenance and delaying major projects. Things look grim.
McCormick said he wants to avoid increasing tuition and layoffs. He then points to the collective bargaining contracts with faculty and staff that schedule 5 percent salary increases this year and writes, "We must consider the propriety of such disparities and seek appropriate solutions. Regrettably," he concludes, "unless we come together as a community to identify innovative options, layoff procedures must … take effect on July 1," along with increased workloads. Our president is telling the faculty and staff, who have not caused the financial problem, pay cuts or layoffs. Literally passing the buck. There are alternatives.
First, here's some context from the "Rutgers Budget Facts and Figures" Web site, located at http://budgetfacts.rutgers.edu/approp.shtml. The current University annual budget is $1.8 billion. The $60 million shortfall is a mere 3.75 percent of that. That's all? Maybe things are not so grim!
The current crisis is caused by the state government's neglect of higher education, which has failed to adequately support higher education for decades. Republican and Democratic legislators and governors alike have been passing a steadily increasing fraction of the costs on to students. Of the total student and state contributions, the students contributed 30.1 percent in 1989 and 58.6 percent in 2009. In 30 years, the student's share doubled and the state's share dropped by half. A relentlessly turning Trenton-RU screw!
Gov. Christie Whitman added to this burden because her state tax cuts benefited wealthy New Jersey citizens disproportionately. The annual revenue loss from those cuts continues to have negative consequences for higher education and public services in general.
A University's mission is to provide "for the instructional needs of New Jersey's citizens through its undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs." Together, the state government and Rutgers are failing the students in that mission because the students now provide the majority share of their own education, defeating the purpose of state funded public higher education. If the state had maintained its share, the students' current tuition burden would be much, much lower.
Real solutions are available:
Use the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 passed by Congress. Nearly $1.1 billion of federal stimulus aid is allocated to our state for K-12 and higher education. Right now Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers members are petitioning our state legislators to spend these federal stimulus dollars as intended by law.
Undo detrimental tax cuts — now is the right time. Repeal the Whitman tax cuts and pass progressive tax legislation to ensure adequate funding for education and public services for the future.
Can it be done? Sure! The Democratic government in New York is considering progressive taxation to cover its current debt. A March 2009 Gotham Research poll showed that 73 percent of the voters in New York support higher taxes on those earning over $500,000. New Jersey has a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature. Democrats claim that they support the needs of working families, ordinary people. They can demonstrate their support by insuring adequate funding of public K-12 and higher education and other important public services such as hospitals.
Real solidarity is not collective resignation or buck passing; real solidarity is collective action. McCormick should lead the University community in a campaign that demands that state government cover the budget shortfall with stimulus aid and a progressive income tax increase. He could mobilize faculty members who are expert in state policy to craft progressive tax legislation. He should organize the faculty and staff unions, AAUP-AFT and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, University students, their parents and New Jersey citizens to pressure state representatives to pass progressive tax legislation.
Adequate funding for higher education could include reducing tuition and fees so that students do not need to borrow money for their educations, hiring more faculty and reducing class sizes, increasing the number of staff and enhancing support services and speeding building maintenance and new construction.
McCormick, we can do this — together!
Larry Romsted is a University professor of chemistry and chemical biology.