Letter to the Editor: Professor: AAUP concessions devalue Rider education

To the editor:

A little over a year ago, I wrote in The Rider News about the extravagant salary Rider’s president negotiated for himself just months before he warned our campus of a financial crisis so severe that we’d have to close academic programs and lay off faculty members. While President Gregory Dell’Omo took home, by his own account, $475,000 with the potential for a 30 percent bonus, your professors gave back a 2 percent raise to keep programs from closing. In 2017, Dell’Omo remains one of the highest-paid university presidents in the state of New Jersey, and now he claims that Rider’s finances will stabilize only if full-time faculty members agree to teach more classes for less money. What would such a change mean for a student paying $39,080 a year?

Part of what you’re paying for at Rider is the amount of time your professors dedicate to their teaching. Dell’Omo insists we begin teaching four courses per semester rather than our current three, which would spread our time 25 percent thinner. Students would pay the same tuition for professors with 25 percent less time to develop courses, plan lessons, design assignments, assess student work, mentor students, and help you find internships and jobs. You are also paying for the qualifications of your professors. Our job requires us to produce research and creative activity; we are evaluated on the quality and quantity of the academic work we produce, and if we are found lacking, we don’t earn tenure, and we lose our job.

Rider’s professors are active scholars who bring their expertise back to the classroom. If we start teaching 25 percent more courses, we will have less time to commit to our research, and we won’t be the established and active scholars you’re paying to teach you what we know and guide you toward employment and/or graduate work in your chosen field. Worse, a 4-4 teaching load will hurt Rider’s chances of attracting the most promising new faculty members to replace the professors Rider is pushing into retirement, as the most prominent scholars will apply to institutions who can grant them the time and resources to do their best work in the lab (or studio, or recital hall) and the classroom.

You’re already paying for less qualified teachers than you got last year. Rider advertises that “97 percent of full-time faculty hold a doctorate or the highest degree in their field” yet doesn’t mention that Dell’Omo demanded an increase in the number of courses taught by part-time (adjunct) instructors, who typically have not earned a doctorate and who rarely have the same research publications or training in classroom teaching. Rider’s adjuncts are not required to hold office hours, and they are paid so little that many of them race back and forth between four or five different colleges to piece together a living wage. Now, Dell’Omo wants to cut adjunct pay by nearly a third, which would reduce their compensation to community-college rates.

If Dell’Omo intends to run Rider like a community college, he’s going to have to justify charging $39,080 a year. Maybe he’ll lower tuition, the way La Salle University and Rosemont College have done, but I’d advise you to check the math. According to Philadelphia Magazine, La Salle cut its sticker price by $11,600 per year, but that cut saved the average student only around $1,000. Why? La Salle lowered its tuition but also reduced the amount of discounts and scholarships it offers students. LaSalle used to recruit students by offering more scholarships; now, it recruits by advertising lower tuition. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Rosemont made a similar move, slashing tuition and financial aid at the same time and saving the average student around $815 a year. It’s a shell game. Students continue to pay about the same as before.

I don’t mean to dismiss a discount of $815 or $1,000. That’s significant money (even if it’s a drop in the bucket when you’re paying $39,080 a year). But if you were looking for the least expensive education, you could have chosen a school that costs far less than LaSalle, Rosemont or Rider. For less than one-sixth of the cost, you could have attended a community college where it’s typical for professors to teach four or five courses per semester. So the question is: what does your tuition money buy?

Rider’s faculty took a pay cut last year. We have offered Dell’Omo a plan that freezes our wages, reduces Rider’s contribution to our retirement fund, and temporarily cuts Rider’s support for our research. Crucially, our proposal makes many of these cuts temporary — in order to help close Rider’s deficit — while Dell’Omo insists on permanent changes that will change the very nature of Rider as an institution. Your professors are willing to work with Dell’Omo, but we cannot agree to his plan to dramatically restructure Rider at the students’ expense.

—Mickey Hess 

Professor of English 

 

Printed in the 3/8/17 issue. 

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