By Bob Boikess
When I arrived in New Brunswick in 1968, Rutgers was a sleepy little place. Its transformation into a major public AAU research university was due, in part, to the creation of an AAUP collective bargaining chapter in 1970. The economic status rating of our faculty went from a C to an A+ as Rutgers professors advanced to among the top tier of the highest paid faculties of public universities in the United States.
Faculty members had strong enforceable protections against any unfair or arbitrary treatment. Explicit statements supporting academic freedom, prohibiting discrimination based on a broad range of criteria, and defending tenure were incorporated into collective bargaining agreements.
Despite the inherently adversarial nature of collective bargaining, the administration and the faculty were able to work cooperatively toward common goals. My experiences back then as chief negotiator for the faculty for two contracts were very rewarding.
During my years as a department chair, I was able to hire outstanding faculty members in competition with highly rated universities, in part because I could easily demonstrate that Rutgers was a great place to work.
Our administration recognized that the key to improving the quality of the university was to improve the quality of the faculty and that we were especially well-positioned to do so. They launched a number of successful programs to accomplish that goal.
One focused on hiring “world class scholars,” another on diversifying the faculty by hiring more high quality women and underrepresented minorities. We became a member of the academic elite in the Association of American Universities (AAU) because of the quality of our faculty.
Indeed, management’s position in bargaining sends the message that the university would really improve if the tenured faculty would only go away. Their antipathy has become so apparent that a majority of faculty and graduate workers voted to authorize a strike.
After more than a year of negotiations, virtually no meaningful agreements have been reached and the administration has stonewalled a substantial number of critical proposals by the faculty, refusing to recognize how educational conditions have deteriorated under this administration’s leadership.
Consider how the university has changed over the years.
Since 1998, the size of the undergraduate student body has gone from 35,705 to 49,861, an increase of over 14,000. Over this period of time, the number of full-time tenure track faculty has decreased slightly from 2,123 to 2,110. In the past five years, even the number of teaching assistants (graduate instructors with full benefits) has gone from 1,260 to 906.
These cuts have not been occasioned by lack of funds. The state appropriation has gone from just under $300 million in 1998 to just under $400 million in 2017. Tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates have gone from $4,562 in 1998 to $14,131 in 2018.
Where is all that extra money going? Not to the faculty.
The additional teaching needed for the increased number of undergraduates is being done by adjunct faculty. Most of these adjunct faculty earn as little as $1,726 per credit per semester and have no health benefits or job security. Less than 1 percent of the university’s budget goes to adjunct professors and graduate workers, who teach over 30 percent of the university’s classes.
At the same time, the number of administrators at Rutgers and their cost has increased stratospherically.
Last year, there were 247 administrators with salaries over $250,000 per year.
Is it any surprise that the faculty now believe they must do something drastic and unprecedented, at least at Rutgers, to convince the administration that we all need to work together toward our common goal of improving public education in New Jersey?
If they were really responsive to citizens who want a state university of which we can all be proud, students and parents who are paying tuition and political leaders who understand that a high quality state university will be the driver of substantial economic benefits, management would start working together with the faculty to get Rutgers back on the path to becoming a great university.
Bob Boikess is a professor of chemistry at Rutgers University.