Editorial: Students must stand in solidarity with Rutgers teacher union

After leaving his village in Colonial America, Rip Van Winkle wandered up into the Catskill Mountains. Fatigued from his climb, he sits down to rest and fell into a long slumber. Rip awoke to a new world 20 years later. The longevity of his sleep has become the most memorable element in Washington Irving’s classic fable. Few readers recall a small but significant detail that is often overlooked and forgotten.

Irving described that when Rip awakes and walks back to the village, the sign above the inn was no longer the familiar portrait of the English monarch King George, but instead had been replaced by the image of General George Washington. Rip slept through a revolution – snored through great social change that altered the course of history and American society. And yet, he continued his routine, displaced and lost in the new world around him.

Martin Luther King Jr. warned, “One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”

For decades, the working class of America remained in a coma induced by the demonization of collective bargaining, an anti-union legal environment and the other means of muzzling defiance of exploitation and wage stagnation. But there are now signs of a great awakening.

The year 2018 was marked by “no longer.” No longer will the public education system remain idle as billionaire-funded campaigns wage a war of privatization against the education and well-being of the future of this nation. No longer will teachers passively accept the legislative schemes that hollow funding for public schools and undermine the strength of public sector unions. No longer will professors and teaching assistants remain dormant as wages continue to stagnate and progress in faculty diversity continues to be nonexistent.

Approximately 485,200 workers took part in major work stoppages in 2018 — the highest level of involvement since 1986. Behind this tsunami of civil disobedience were the guardians of democracy, the teachers of America. The waves of teacher strikes in “West Virginia (35,000 workers) to Oklahoma (45,000) and Kentucky (26,000)” rippled outward across the nation. As nearly half of school funding comes from state budgets, funding for public education in most states never rebounded from the slashing it received during the Great Recession. As of 2016, 24 states were still spending less on total school funding per student than in 2008.

Economists Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel found “the mid-1990s marks the start of a period of sharply eroding teacher pay and an escalating teacher pay penalty.” Early in the 1990s, public school teachers and support staff in 26 of 42 analyzed states with comparable data had “above-average” earnings. As of 2017, teachers in only one state (Rhode Island) earned a paycheck that surpassed the average.

As the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) continues to negotiate a new faculty contract with the University, the union has begun preparations for democratic non-violent acts of civil protest. Fighting toincrease the ratio between full-time faculty and students, equal pay for equal work for female faculty and to raise the salary of teaching assistants, who earn $26,000 a year and have not seen a raise since 2013, the collective of educators have called for solidarity among the student body. A call that cannot be left unanswered.

The students of this University must shed their apathetic tendencies and indifference to avoid the tragedy of sleeping through the current demands of social change and progress. We must awaken to see that the fate of the efforts of our educators is intertwined with our own future. Our educational experiences are not isolated from the hardships of underpaid teaching assistants. Our identities as Rutgers students are not insolated from the injustice of unequal pay for equal work.

As the Targum reported, Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy has said, “I know people, I’ve had colleagues that have been PTLs in the past, and I understand that the amount that people are paid for courses is not something you can live on. If they don’t want to do this, they need to get another job. There are probably other people who can fill the role, so it’s sort of like supply and demand.”

We must not accept the administration’s inhumane and apathetic non-solution that acknowledges the amount of pay as unlivable and immorally recommends simply that those who are displeased with a paycheck that cannot maintain a reasonable standard of living should just get a different job. The students ought to question and oppose the administration’s contention that we should not try to address unethical practices of the school, that we should not go against the “supply and demand” of their market of depravity.

We must stand in solidarity with the educators that empower our learning. Our awakening must not be deferred any longer.


The Daily Targum’s editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

This editorial originally appeared in The Daily Targum here.