Got ethics? On why Reclaiming Rutgers should matter to you
As faculty, including teaching assistants and graduate assistants, have been negotiating their contract, which expired in August, they have begun to raise the question that the Union of Rutgers Administrators brought up after the 2010 salary freeze: has the administration “got ethics?” You may have seen “Reclaim Rutgers” signs hanging up on faculty doors. Maybe you have seen the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers rallying or tabling at the campus center.
This is a matter of everyone's concern. Public education in a liberal democracy often has competing social and economic goals. Our democratic principles tell us that equality and access should matter and that we should educate for citizenship, while our economic system privileges shareholder value and, at times, embraces anti-democratic practices, which transform education into a commodity. Increasingly, Rutgers finds itself siding with business and aligning itself with shareholders, promoting initiatives that are more appropriate for a corporation than for an institution of learning. To give one example, Rutgers balanced the athletic budget upon entry into the Big Ten but has systematically starved the library, making Rutgers libraries pay consortium libraries fees without providing budgetary support. This is inimical to Rutgers’ stated mission and vision of providing for the instructional needs of students, promoting research and engaging in public service. The question of “got ethics?” is not merely rhetorical. It is a substantive question that came out of the 2010 salary freeze and it is one that the administration can answer in negotiating the contract, particularly in removing the “subject to” clause.
This clause would allow faculty and TA-GA salaries to be “subject to” state funding, a provision that the administration already utilized in 2010 when it imposed a salary freeze without demonstrating any financial burden. Faculty, TA-GA and staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions. If part of the University's mission is to provide for student instructional needs and to promote research, it seems that treating faculty and staff as more than exploitable labor and listening to their concerns should be part of the ethical commitment of the administration to the University and to all of its stakeholders — students, faculty, staff and the public. When the administration has the power to freeze faculty salaries as it did in 2010, when it increases tuition — which has gone up 25 percent in the last six years — and when it places undue emphasis on athletics, it is not ensuring conditions conducive to creative inquiry and authentic learning. When the administration does these things, it communicates a strong message vis-a-vis its ethics.
As a TA and a GA, I believe that the duty to reclaim Rutgers is everyone’s and that the consequences of not speaking, of not doing anything, are high. If we want Rutgers to be an institution we are proud to teach at and to graduate from, then we need to make sure that the ethics of the administration are consonant with the weight of its mission. We need to reclaim Rutgers.
Deirdre Dougherty is a Graduate School of Education third-year PhD candidate.