$65 M. athletic facility breaks ground as union says it may be ‘forced to strike’ after Monday’s planned meeting

By Jake Schmied and Brendan Brightman

Rutgers broke ground on the $65 million Gary and Barbara Rodkin Academic Success Center that will serve approximately 650 student athletes at a ceremony on Saturday, promising top-notch academics for current and future Scarlet Knights.

The new recruiting tool’s launch comes as the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) prepares for a possible strike after today’s final bargaining session. A strike would halt the teaching of approximately 7,700 faculty members.

“We had several lengthy bargaining sessions with management last week and have one more scheduled for Monday,” said Marian Thorpe, a graduate worker, in an email to The Daily Targum. “The administration still has not agreed to a functional process for making sure female faculty and Newark and Camden faculty are compensated fairly. Management also doesn’t seem to understand why grad employees and part-time lecturers should make a living wage. If the administration continues to refuse to pay these professors and TAs fairly, we will be forced to strike.”

The Gary and Barbara Rodkin Academic Success Center, located across from Athlete’s Glen of HighPoint.com Stadium, will house the men’s and women’s soccer teams, in addition to both of the lacrosse programs. The joint academic and athletics facility will also hold the entire athletics administration, the first building to put the departments under one roof.

“To have a home for all of our students for all of their academic needs, the best schools do,” said Athletic Director Pat Hobbs to The Daily Targum after the event. “So now we do too, alright, but ours is going to be the newest one on the block so it is going to have the best in class.”

Yet the union has raised concerns about the amount of money being taken away from academic budgets to offset Rutgers University Athletics’ deficits, which came to approximately $47.4 million in a $99.2 million budget last year.

Mark Killingsworth, a professor in the Department of Economics, said the money raised by Athletics — which the Targum reported last week to be $100 million — is to Hobbs’s credit, but it is for buildings. In the three years since the Big Ten build has begun, the deficit for current spending has more than offset that.

“The apparent reluctance of the administration to do something serious about faculty pay is kind of along the same lines,” he said. “They’re willing to run a deficit for athletics, but they are very tough about the magnitude of the increases they’re going to allow for faculty pay.”

AAUP-AFT’s Twitter account posted over the weekend that signs reading “Rutgers Strike!” had arrived and that picket captain training sessions were held throughout the weekend.

Compared to other schools in the Big Ten, like Ohio State University and University of Michigan, Rutgers ranks among the lowest in revenue, 10th out of 12, according to an article by North Jersey Media Group. Revenue in 2017 came to approximately $97 million, while top-ranking Ohio State University and University of Michigan brought in $185 million each.

Ticket sales revenue for Rutgers ranked 11th out of the 12 Big Ten schools, with $13 million, whereas Ohio State University brought in $62 million in 2017, according to the article.

In fact, a large share of the revenue for Rutgers University Athletics comes from the University’s non-athletic revenue sources — $33 million, including $12 million in student fees, according to the article.

The administration argues that the investment in athletics will one day lead to Rutgers University Athletics giving money to academics through revenue profits.

“This building is a real tribute to academics for our athletes, and for any students, actually, at Rutgers,” said Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy to the Targum after the event on Saturday. He said getting an unbelievable education is the most important thing for any student at an organization such as Rutgers

In his third season at the helm of the men’s basketball program, head coach Steve Pikiell led the Scarlet Knights to a program-best seven wins in the Big Ten Conference, this past season. Rutgers was named Sports Illustrated’s Most Improved Team after tying for 10th despite being projected to finish last in the Big Ten.

“It’s just another great sign of the great things going on here at Rutgers University,” Pikiell said to the Targum after the event. “The most important thing we try to do here is our academic mission and to graduate kids.”

Myles Johnson, a School of Engineering sophomore and center on the men’s basketball team, said the new building is going to be more convenient than the old facilities because it is near his engineering classes and will provide him with all of his tutoring needs.

Joey Downes, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and guard on the men’s basketball team, said in the past the difficulty has been finding a private place to sit down and do homework. He said the center will provide him with plenty of opportunities to do group work or sit someplace quiet individually.

A record 46 Rutgers student athletes — including Downes and Johnson — were named to the Winter 2019 Academic All-Conference. In the previous fall semester, the athletics programs combined for a 3.12 cumulative GPA.

Thorpe wrote that the best way to enhance academics for all of Rutgers students is to make sure all Rutgers educators have secure jobs and are paid fairly.

“We as instructors want to focus on teaching, advising and supporting our students. We can do that better when we’re not living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about whether we’ll have a job next fall. Rutgers undergrads, including student athletes, deserve teachers who earn enough to focus on teaching,” she said.

University President Robert L. Barchi, when asked about the union’s possible strike, said that he thinks Rutgers has great faculty and great people leading the unions in negotiations with his administration, according to an article by North Jersey Media Group.

“I think we’re close to an agreement,” he said, according to the article. “I fully believe that we’ll have an agreement and any notion of a work action is not something that we’re going to see here. I’m not overly concerned.”

This story originally appeared in The Daily Targum here.