U. must consider faculty input to fix serious issues
While the University’s apparent response to Hurricane Sandy is a step in the right direction, many more steps are needed in a great variety of areas. A few local problems, have plagued Cook Campus departments for decades, and in this case, it happens to be the one I work in. By no means is this a complete list. Literally hundreds of other infrastructural problems have plagued our campus: From extensive heat outages lasting for months at a time, to intentional, secret electrical disconnections of every toxic fume hood in the building, to persistent natural gas leaks. Cook Campus has one electrician for 100 buildings. The list of problems goes on forever. Rutgers Vice President Richard Edwards told me personally that there exists no budgetary provisions for the maintenance any of the new buildings going up all over the University. Maintenance funds come from wherever possible — but not the football budget that is running about $28 million in deficit each year.
Our building has no centralized monitoring system for water quality just as we have no emergency generators, no monitoring systems in the building for power outages, for leaks and floods, for carbon monoxide release, and for the malfunctioning of fume hoods that contain countless toxic and volatile chemicals. We have safety showers with no floor drains, so some of us would be reticent to use them, even while our clothing is disintegrating from acid spills. Few of our refrigerators have melt-down alarms, and we have no built-in ways to detect the escape of radioactive isotopes, the escape of natural gas, etc. etc. I am not even sure if we have automatic fire alarms in the labs.
In dealing with major problems at Rutgers, I wonder if there has ever been a real attempt by the upper level Rutgers administration to elicit, and then to act responsibly upo, well-meaning and helpful comments from a representative body of the faculty and staff (Facilities included). By “representative” I mean “non-hand-picked by Old Queens.” The faculty committees charged with investigating major problems — at least those about which I have intimate knowledge — are often stacked with professors beholden to, and literally bribed by, the administration. In my 37 years at Rutgers, I have seen investigating committees operate this way more often than not. If the administration were to care about fixing things, they would invite members of the uncompromised university community to join with them in helping to solve problems. Failure to act responsibly almost always leads to irreparable damage—millions of dollars worth of valuable chemicals and irreplaceable microbial cultures, in the case of our department.
Our faculty “voice” is seldom, if ever, heard by the administration. Instead, when faculty members rightfully object to administration abuses, punishment is often the administration’s sole response. The University Senate seems to be in a similar place as the Faculty Council—almost powerless.
So, the Rutgers faculty members have no recourse other than to write letters like this one. Except for doing what we do best, writing, we just tough it out while the University administration focuses its attention on construction, football and deceptive publicity. What a place! It’s second-rate at best. Some would say that Rutgers is bringing up the rear end of higher education. I am one of those voices — and for justified reasons, I would assert.
William Ward is an associate professor of biochemistry and the director of the Center for Research and Education in Bioluminescence and Biotechnology at Rutgers University.