Scandals and SNAFUs: Rutgers Needs Accountable Leadership

Dear Colleague,
We’re sending this message mid-summer because there have been so many scandals and SNAFUs that impact us. We are deeply concerned about the lack of accountable leadership at Rutgers. The high volume of summer communications from faculty to our union office suggests that many of you are equally distressed.

We are very concerned by the sudden resignation of Chancellor Dutta after barely a year in that position. We would like to know the nature of the disagreements about the university’s future between him and President Barchi. In our brief interactions with Chancellor Dutta, it appeared that he was open to working with our union around a number of shared goals to make Rutgers a truly great public university. For instance, he spoke of freezing—and even lowering—undergraduate tuition and fees. However, tuition went up by 2.3% this year. We want to know, for the benefit of our members and students, what constituted the clash of visions between Chancellor Dutta and President Barchi.

Further, management agreed to pay $480,000, former Chancellor Dutta’s full salary, during a one-year sabbatical. We staunchly defend faculty  sabbaticals at full pay, but our members apply for this shift of duties after many years of teaching, research and service. We also guarantee to return to our regular assignments afterward. And we file a mandatory report on our activities during the sabbatical. Chancellor Dutta’s upcoming year sounds more like a half-million-dollar holiday than a sabbatical. The administration does a disservice to scholarship when it misrepresents the sabbatical. Management also undercuts our budget when it misspends money this way.

We are currently bargaining around this issue of sabbaticals and many other issues past the expiration of our contract. In fact, nearly 20,000 unionized employees as Rutgers, including our full- and part-time faculty, graduate workers and EOF counsellors, are now working without new contracts and raises. Despite a veritable army of full-time, highly paid top administrators (244 Rutgers administrators earn more than $250,000) whose job it is to bargain contracts in a timely and fair manner, our union has yet to receive any concrete counter-proposals to our major bargaining demands that we’ve made public since January.

On the medical side of the university, we do not share President Barchi’s enthusiasm over the new partnership with Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health. We do share our health care colleagues’ suspicions of this secretly planned privatization scheme that threatens access to medical care for the state’s most vulnerable populations. Many details have yet to be revealed or finalized, but we oppose the proposed transfer of $10 billion in public clinical health funds over 20 years to a private corporation. We oppose this deal’s impact on thousands of employees whose unions will be at best weakened and at worst busted as a result, denying thousands adequate workplace protections. All the while, Rutgers is upending a 50-year-old Newark Agreement with University Hospital, slashing services to North Jersey’s only Trauma One center, which disproportionately impacts Black, Latinx, and white poor and working class residents. We are working with Coalition of Rutgers Unions colleagues to challenge the deal.

In addition, management in late July failed to deduct union dues from thousands of employees’ paychecks claiming a clerical error. In further violation of the law, Rutgers directly communicated with our members and non-members in defiance of the NJ Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act that prohibits employers from encouraging members to resign or relinquish their union membership. Our coalition of unions has filed an Unfair Labor Practice, including the remedy that Rutgers reimburse our unions through their general treasury and not deduct double dues from our members’ next paychecks.

Finally, there is the Rutgers football credit card fraud revealed in early July. Given the adverse media coverage that has plagued Rutgers athletics, one would have expected President Barchi to have put in place a system of responsible and accountable oversight. Apparently he has not done so. What’s more, the athletics program—in stark contrast to our academic departments—continues to obtain limitless funds as it runs an astounding deficit of $47.4 million out of $99.2 million in expenditures (see Professor Mark Killingsworth’s analysis here). We demand stringent financial and academic discipline of Rutgers athletics.

President Barchi’s lack of coherent leadership and responsible oversight troubles us. The failed systems (Cornerstone and RCM), the disproportionate focus on big-time athletics and health care mergers, and the top-down management and leadership failures are holdovers of the Christie administration in Trenton. These problems, we believe, will ultimately be resolved through our ability to assert collective pressure to win our concrete demands.

We hope our colleagues enjoy the remaining weeks of summer and return in the fall prepared to join our efforts to push for transparent remedies to these problems and fair contracts for our members.

In Solidarity,
Deepa and David

Deepa Kumar, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
David M. Hughes, Vice President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT