By Shanna O’Mara
Members of Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) were almost exactly divided after discussing a proposed no-confidence vote against President Gregory Dell’Omo and his finance team, according to several faculty sources.
On March 7, Rider’s AAUP met to discuss the suggested no-confidence resolution that the executive committee released on Feb. 27. The document lists 12 specific instances that allegedly suggest Dell’Omo’s inability to “provide the leadership necessary to guide Rider University at this time,” according to the resolution.
Members of the faculty union opted to postpone the decision until the next chapter meeting on April 10, according to Rider’s AAUP President Arthur Taylor.
“We wanted everybody to have time to be heard,” Taylor said. “By 12:30 p.m., we hadn’t gotten through all of the discussion.”
The meeting adjourned just before 1 p.m., shortly after a motion to indefinitely table the proposed no-confidence resolution failed by a vote of 86 to 90. Associate Professor of Communication David Dewberry, on behalf of the union leadership, did not allow a student reporter in the room.
“We’re trying to be thoughtful,” said Barry Janes, professor of communication. “We’re trying to do what’s right for both the union and for our students. I thought it was a very healthy discussion to have.”
While Associate Professor of Journalism Aaron Moore called the discussion “argumentative,” both he and Janes agreed it was productive.
“I’ve been to other academic discussions, and it’s passionate because people are speaking from the heart,” Janes said. “I don’t necessarily think it was hostile. I want everybody to vote the way that they believe they should, and I respect that. We don’t all have to agree.”
Easy agreement was certainly not achieved during the meeting, Taylor said.
“I personally supported the resolution, but I understand that the faculty is anxious,” Taylor said. “They’re concerned. They expressed that in the meeting. Three people spoke in defense of Dell’Omo. Others spoke against the motion but not in support of Dell’Omo.”
Dewberry saw the divide firsthand at the meeting.
“I think the prevalent opinion was, a lot of people don’t have confidence in [the president] or question his confidence or his abilities,” Dewberry said. “But they’re not ready to say that right now, but they would be ready to say that at a later time, which would be at the next meeting in April. The future of Rider is in danger, no matter what.”
University spokesperson Kristine Brown said she is pleased to know that many union members are still willing to work alongside the administration toward a better future for the university.
“We are encouraged that many of our university faculty, coaches, trainers and librarians are optimistic that we can work together to discuss our challenges and find solutions that will ensure Rider’s long-term stability and competitiveness,” she said. “President Dell’Omo remains deeply committed to working with AAUP leadership. He will continue to meet with academic departments and other groups across the university and is open to all ideas that will help the university address the issues before us.”
Brown, as well as many faculty members including biology professor Jonathan Yavelow, agree that collaboration during this time is key and that conflict between administration and the union or within the union can only harm the university, its reputation and its students.
“I have been at Rider for 35 years and am heartbroken at the inability of the AAUP and the administration to come together for the benefit of Rider as a whole,” said Yavelow. “In my opinion, both sides have the future interests of the university at heart, and I believe both the AAUP and the president are genuinely committed to the university’s long-term success.”
Other professors, including history professor Thomas Callahan Jr., do not believe that the administration is willing to work with the AAUP to sustain the university’s future.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Callahan said. “The administration is basically refusing to negotiate, saying they’re open and willing to do so but then they don’t.”
However, Frank Rusciano, a political science professor, said it is important for the faculty to realize that what is in question is not a potential strategy to expedite negotiations but rather their opinion on whether or not the president and his administrative staff are fit to lead the school at this time.
“The real question is: Do you have confidence in the way he is running the institution?” Rusciano said. “When people make that decision, they should look at things stated in that resolution and say, ‘Well, are they true or not true? And if they are true, do they form a sufficient basis for saying we have no confidence?’”
Moore said he faced no hesitation when taking a stance on the resolution.
“I 100 percent support the president, and I think any vote of non-confidence is a foolish idea,” he said. “I think most of the faculty support the president. I think we see that with people who did not want to take an unnecessary step.”
Of the 90 votes cast in opposition to indefinitely table the motion, 28 were from Westminster Choir College, according to Jeffrey Halpern, chief negotiator for Rider’s faculty union. Dell’Omo presently has a team studying whether to sell the WCC Princeton property and consolidate to a single campus.
By a voice-vote majority, faculty approved a motion to delay the no-confidence vote until April 10, and conduct that vote next month via electronic ballot.
“Everybody in the bargaining unit will get to vote, whether they’re here [in the next meeting] or not,” Callahan said of the electronic method.
“We wanted to move away from the show of hands or people standing up to tally our vote,” Joseph Gowaskie, emeritus professor of history, said. “The votes will be anonymous, and it was delayed to give everybody a chance to think about it.”
Gowaskie said he supports the resolution.
“I’m in favor of the resolution,” he said. “I’m a strong supporter of the faculty, and I kind of consider Rider to be my baby, and I want to see my baby grow. Just as teachers grade students, the faculty is grading the administration.”
To determine this grade, many faculty members chose to extend the deadline, so discussions about the timing and significance of this vote may continue, according to Vice President of Rider’s AAUP Elizabeth Scheiber.
“The main thrust of the discussion seemed to be it’s not that faculty members had a lot of confidence in the direction [Dell’Omo] wants to take this university, but they were worried about what this actual vote of no confidence would mean, and they don’t want to hurt the university any further,” Scheiber said. “All of the faculty members that were there, whatever they said, it’s very clear everybody cares about Rider as a community, as an institution and as an academic enterprise. But they’re not really sure what we should do or what this all means if we would vote no-confidence. They are very worried about the future of the place under his leadership.”
Brown assured the Rider community that while the faculty union mulls over its decision, the administration will continue its work on behalf of the staff and students.
“Our goals continue to be the same. We are all committed to improving Rider University and maintaining a world-class curriculum with excellent student outcomes,” Brown said. “The president is confident in the future of Rider University.”
Additional reporting by Carlos Toro.