By Catherine Carrera
Rutgers University President Robert Barchi on Wednesday announced he would put an additional $20 million in funding – for a total of $40 million – to support efforts to hire, mentor and retain faculty from diverse backgrounds.
The announcement comes after Rutgers’ largest faculty union, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, said one reason it’s ready to strike is its view that the university has not committed enough resources to diversify the faculty during contract negotiations.
The faculty union, representing nearly 5,000 full-time faculty and graduate workers, has been meeting with the university since March to negotiate new contracts. The contracts for 24 university labor unions expired in July. About six unions have reached new agreements with university.
Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which has members across all three of the university’s campuses, says it’s fighting for a more diverse faculty to reflect the diversity of the state. They’re also asking for a higher wage for graduate workers, who are paid about $26,000 per year, and pay equity among gender and across the campuses.
The union asked for $15 million for a “Paul Robeson Diversity Hiring Initiative” for 2019-2022 to hire faculty from “historically underrepresented” groups. They want the initiative named after the former Rutgers scholar and political activist. The university has been celebrating Robeson this year in honor of the 100th anniversary of his graduation.
“Our strike threat is working, precisely why we need every member to sign up for picket duty,” Rutgers AAUP-AFT posted on its Facebook page following Barchi’s announcement. “These are steps forward, but we still have more to win.”
Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Deepa Kumar said the announcement was “a huge union victory.”
“It is this pressure that led to Barchi’s announcement today,” Kumar said, referring to recent protests by faculty and graduate workers at board meetings. “We made diversity hiring central to our contract campaign…Now we have to make sure that a significant portion of these funds goes to hiring faculty from historically underrepresented groups, particularly African-American, Latinx and Native American faculty.”
University spokeswoman Dory Devlin said Barchi’s announcement was not in response to the union’s demands at the bargaining table.
“It’s a result of Rutgers’ ongoing commitment to assist our schools and departments in attracting and retaining outstanding faculty that embodies our dedication to diversity and inclusion,” Devlin said.
“World-class teaching and research require a diverse faculty, and Rutgers is firmly committed to enhancing its faculty diversity,” Barchi said in an email to the Rutgers community Wednesday.
Barchi said he would extend the Faculty Diversity Hiring Initiative already in place at the university, which receives $21.8 million in strategic funding. Those funds were allocated over a five-year period from 2017-2021.
So far, the program has led to the hiring of 79 faculty, he said. Part of the funding goes toward covering half of their salary for the first three years of their hiring, he said. The money also pays for mentorship and retention activities, he said.
As part of the new plan, an additional $20 million from strategic funding will go to the initiative, which will extend through 2024, Barchi said.
“These funds provide the resources our departments need to recruit, hire, and retain outstanding faculty from groups who have been traditionally underrepresented in their fields,” Barchi said.
Union representatives claim the university has broadened the meaning of “diversity” in its initiative to include hiring white male faculty in predominantly white female departments. Union leaders have said they want the university to stipulate that the initiative is meant to hire those from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
“While faculty within departments and schools ultimately make hiring decisions for individual faculty members, the university leadership strives to provide the funds and the environment to enable our schools to hire the best scholars,” Barchi said.