August 18, 2019 | 74° F

DEANGELO: When professors are not valued, we all lose

Opinions Column: All That Fits


When the Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) occupied the sidewalks of the Scott Hall quad last week, they made sure they were heard.

Protesting their right to job security, the faculty union wielded signs and chanted phrases like, “Rutgers is for education! We are not a corporation!” for hours in a large circle. They have been organizing, marching and fighting University President Robert L. Barchi and his office for months over fairness in contract negotiations, but have received little in return.

As a result, Rutgers University is currently experiencing an important trial. Professors, the ones who hand students their knowledge and education, are finding themselves devalued by the higher administration in a variety of ways. 

In more blunt terms, they are struggling to survive.

According to the AAUP-AFT President Deepa Kumar, the institution of the modern university is changing. In her opinion, Rutgers has moved away from the service obligation of offering public education and is instead looking to turn a profit off the backs of teachers and students alike. 

“The priorities are all warped,” Kumar said. “We’re trying to address all of these inequities and turn the university into a democracy, where to students, staff and faculty actually determine what happens.”

For example, nearly 20,000 unionized faculty, lecturers, graduate students and staff at Rutgers have been working under expired contracts since July. This means there have been zero adjustments to the appropriate cost-of-living, nor has there been a pay raise in a number of years among other things.

More so, the negotiations and effort to renew those contracts have come at a snail’s pace. No conclusion has arrived because the administration has put little effort into hashing things out in the 43 sessions they have held, according to the AAUP-AFT. When the union asked for one 8-hour bargaining session a week, they were given a 3-hour session every two weeks.

When I reached out to Barchi and other executive administrators for comment, I received a response from spokeswoman Dory Delvin that read:

“Negotiations are ongoing and all issues related to employee contracts will be discussed at the negotiating table with the appropriate bargaining team representatives from the administration and the unions.”

Devlin’s response also touched upon negotiation agreements that were recently reached with other unions, but none were academic.

Though, the most jarring aspect of the faculty’s frustration deals with non-tenured part-time lecturers, or PTLs. These employees, often known as adjunct professors, receive just more than $5,000 a semester with zero benefits and health insurance to teach one course. Often, Ph.D. students, many of which are PTLs, have to teach multiple classes to make ends meet, which affects the time they have to give to the undergraduates paying to learn from them.

Part-time roles are supposed to exist as a small margin of the employed faculty at a university. But, Rutgers, along with many universities nationwide, has been increasing the amount of PTLs they hire, while also decreasing availabilities for positions held by accomplished tenured professors in an effort to cut costs. 

So, if the goal is to save Rutgers money, why has the yearly tuition rate hiked another 2.3 percent? If the university is saving by exploiting less-qualified faculty, where is it all going? 

In the eyes of the AAUP-AFT and other organizations at last week’s rally, the university is misusing their pocketed funds. Instead of lowering tuition costs, funding research and offering livable wages, Rutgers administrators have been raising their own salaries, hiring unnecessary administrators and handing out what they call “golden parachute” buyouts.

“When it's time to come to the table and talk about salaries, there's no money,” said Lucye Millerand, a representative from the Union of Rutgers Administrators (URA). “The workforce used to look like a pyramid here, now it looks like the Eiffel tower.” 

Barchi’s yearly salary is approximately 125 times more than that of an adjunct professor according to the most recent report,  He has also hired 247 deans who make more than $250,000. By this standard, the university does have money to spend, except the higher-ups would rather invest in other venues than in the quality of education they provide. 

When we think of politics, the reflex is to imagine major elections and shifts of power as seen this past Tuesday. But, these dynamics exist all around us. The politics of universities, the said greed and mistreatment of our faculty, is directly harming our education.

When faculty, our professors, lecturers, custodians, food workers and counselors are not treated with financial dignity and deserved value, the quality of our Rutgers experience goes down. And unfortunately, the cards to fix that problem are still in the hands of Barchi. 

Julia Deangelo is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring  in journalism and media studies. Her column, "All That Fits," runs on  alternate Thursdays. 


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Julia Deangelo

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