By Shanna O’Mara
Westminster Choir College (WCC) full-time faculty received layoff notices on Tuesday afternoon, prompting faculty union action and outrage.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Collective Bargaining Agreement requires that the Rider administration gives notice about potential faculty layoffs if positions are to be eliminated.
President Gregory Dell’Omo reached out to the Rider community after the notices were delivered to provide an update on the WCC sale process.
“While we do not believe that the potential WCC transaction triggers the [Collective Bargaining Agreement] layoff notice provisions, we provided a layoff notice to WCC full-time faculty earlier today in case it is required and in an effort to share important information about the process with our community,” he said in an Oct. 31 email.
He also clarified that these notices do not mean faculty members have been laid off or fired, but that possibility still exists if the choir school is not sold to the international partner with whom the Board of Trustees is currently negotiating.
“However, in the event a transaction is not consummated, it may be necessary to transition to closure and provide an opportunity for teach-out of current WCC students,” Dell’Omo said. “This process would decrease the size of the student body and thus create the need to concurrently reduce the size of the workforce.”
The layoff slip read that if the sale is completed by the end of this academic year, WCC faculty members would no longer be Rider employees as of Aug. 31, 2018.
The AAUP released a statement, disappointed that the president “struck another blow” to the university by sending out these layoff warnings.
Jeffrey Halpern, the AAUP’s chief negotiator, said the faculty union will file a grievance indicating that the layoffs fail to meet contractual requirements. The grievance will likely be referred to arbitration.
Layoffs can occur only in cases of “financial exigency or the demonstrated financial need to eliminate or curtail programs or courses of instruction to protect the well-being of the university,” the agreement states. Halpern said this year’s independent audited financial statement for Rider found a $5.5 million increase in net assets, indicating that the university is not in a financial crisis.
AAUP President Elizabeth Scheiber said the union will be “organizing direct actions to protest the administration’s decision.”
However, Dell’Omo said the for-profit entity is communicating that it plans to keep the teaching staff.
“We believe we have found an entity that is committed to making the necessary investments in the institution to take WCC and its legacy to a stronger future. It is our understanding, at this time, that the partner would want the current WCC faculty and staff to continue employment after the transition from Rider,” he said. “We expect to know more in the coming months as the work with the potential partner unfolds.”
Union leaders will respond to this announcement in a news conference on Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. in Taylor Hall room 3 on the Westminster campus.