Protestors at Rutgers Board meeting fight for new faculty contract, $15 wage for all employees

Hundreds of students and faculty picketed at Winants Hall on College Avenue before and during the Board of Governors meeting yesterday to demand a $15 minimum wage for all University employees and the state of current contract negotiations between faculty unions and the Rutgers administration.

According to a press release from the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), they were picketing for “job security, a cost-of-living salary adjustment and salary equity, gender and race equity in salary and hiring, academic freedom and affordable healthcare and education.”

The picketing before the meeting was organized by the AAUP-AFT, which represents more than 7,000 faculty members at the University. Deepa Kumar, the president of the AAUP-AFT and associate professor in the Departments of Media Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, said those who were non-tenured do not have the same academic freedom as tenured professors.

Most non-tenured jobs at the University are not secure, so these professors are unable to challenge their students to think critically because they are at risk of getting fired. Kumar said as a tenured professor she could take the time to stay after class and give additional help to her students. On the other hand, adjunct professors may hold more than one job, sometimes in different universities.

“The whole point of tenure … is to make people do things that challenge society, expand horizons and think of new ways in which to imagine the world,” she said.

Kumar hopes the protest will pressure the University to hire more tenured professors and focus on promoting diversity within the faculty. Currently at Rutgers, there are 30 percent tenured professors and 30 percent non-tenured professors, the rest are either teaching assistants or general assistants, she said.

This number was not ideal, and Kumar said one of the causes the AAUP-AFT is fighting for is an increase in the amount of tenured professors and maintaining a smaller but well-paid adjunct faculty.

Blake Ritchie, a part-time lecturer in Mason Gross School of the Arts, said since the current contract expired earlier this year, many adjunct professors are working off of the assumption that the University will continue to honor the conditions of the previous contract. She is also only being paid for the single class she teaches.

“It’s either enough to pay tuition or rent,” she said. “I don’t have the security of knowing whether I’m going to get reappointments semester to semester.”

Ryan Novosielski, a senior technologist in the Office of Advanced Research Computing at Rutgers—Newark, said the unions were also protesting for better healthcare conditions for workers. Previously, professors who were severely ill could take up to one year off, but the administration wants to reduce sick leave to three months.

During the Board of Governors meeting, students in the organization United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) donned Santa hats with “$15” written on the front. While University President Robert L. Barchi was speaking, students broke out into holiday carols parodied to advocate their cause.

One of their chants parodied the traditional Christmas song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” lyrics being “Rudolph the low-wage worker / had a very long work day / and if you ever saw him / he needs a living wage.”

Diyaa Capil, a Rutgers Business School junior and member of USAS, said $15 was a living wage for most of the country, but last year, students were only able to secure an $11 minimum wage from the University.

He said USAS and the AAUP-AFT have separate causes, but were working together in picketing to support each other.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to use the correct gender pronouns for Diyaa Capil.

Catherine Nguyen

News Editor