Students should fight for fair faculty and staff contracts
During the semester, it can be difficult for students to keep up with the world outside of their personal responsibilities. We’re so preoccupied with classes, friends, jobs, extracurricular activities and applications to internships and graduate programs that sometimes, we can barely find the time to take care of our basic needs, let alone pick up a newspaper or pay attention to current events. But the forces at play, whether international, national or local, can have a huge impact on our daily lives, regardless of how much attention we’re paying to them. This is especially true of what’s bubbling beneath the surface of the University: There is much more going on at Rutgers than the everyday concerns of undergraduates.
What can be even more difficult to remember is the fact that we aren’t the only people who are affected by the University’s policies. The University administration’s decisions, its opinions and even its silences also affect thousands of people that students often take for granted: the faculty and staff of Rutgers.
They clean our residence hall bathrooms and serve us food. They grade our papers and exams. They ensure that everything at the University runs smoothly, from the offices to the libraries to the boiler rooms. Yet the employees of the University, who number in the tens of thousands, are struggling for fair compensation. According to a letter signed by various University union leaders and addressed to the University senate, faculty and staff at both Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey have had their annual salaries frozen for more than five years. As a result of legislation passed in 2010, the University has also decreased its contributions to employee pensions and health insurance, thereby forcing employees to pay for these benefits out of their own pockets. More than 20,000 staff and faculty are currently renegotiating the outdated and unfair contracts that have reinforced these policies. But this process has been complicated by an uncooperative administration, which has refused to provide a sufficient number of bargaining sessions with union representatives.
And so the pay freezes continue. Due to inflation, University employees actually make less money now than they did before the policies were enacted a few years ago. This is in spite of the fact that Rutgers has more than $1 billion in cash reserves, according to an April 2014 report on Rutgers’ finances conducted by Howard Bunsis, a professor at Eastern Michigan University.
The same report states that student tuition comprises about a third of Rutgers’ revenue. As we all know, this contribution is not easy for us — many students take out loans, work long hours or scramble for scholarships in order to afford the rising costs of our college education.
Student and their families worked hard to earn that money, and we have a responsibility to ensure it is spent wisely — that the University’s expenditures enhance our educational experiences — above all else. This spending should include appropriate compensation for the staff and faculty not only because they play a key role in the Rutgers community, but also because the University should not be allowed to perpetuate unfair labor practices.
The student body should support the renegotiation of employee contracts to ensure that these practices do not continue, and there are ample opportunities to do so. Rutgersaaup.org, the website of the Rutgers chapter of the American Association of University Professors, lists a number of ways to get involved, including information about mobilization meetings, a petition at reclaimrutgers.com and an email campaign addressed to University President Robert L. Barchi. You can also visit rutgersone.org for more information.
Remember that we, as undergraduate students, are the largest faction of the University community, which means that as a collective, our opinions could be immensely influential in a way that others’ are not. Our tuition dollars provide an enormous portion of the University’s revenue, a sum that should be funding our education. And such an education would be impossible without the dedication, the support and above all the labor of the thousands of staff and faculty who contribute to our undergraduate experience.
The student voice is powerful, and we should use it to support the people who have supported us.
Nomin Ujiyediin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and economics with a minor in women’s and gender studies. Her column, “Brief and Wondrous,” runs on alternate Mondays.