By Shanna O’Mara
Leaders of the union representing Rider University faculty have proposed a March 7 no-confidence vote against President Gregory Dell’Omo and his administrative team.
The Feb. 27 email from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) executive committee was sent to chapter members, advising them to review and consider the motion to declare that faculty and staff do not believe Dell’Omo possesses the adequate ability “to provide the leadership necessary to guide Rider University at this time.”
The resolution was drafted by two members, sent to the executive committee and then shared with the rest of the union, according to David Dewberry, an executive committee member.
“Support of this motion sends a very clear message to university administration, the board of trustees, and to the broader Rider community,” the message stated. “If passed, this is a strong and clear response to the actions and statements of President Dell’Omo during his tenure at Rider.”
University spokesperson Kristine Brown said the administration is mindful of the resolution and is disappointed by the steps being taken by the AAUP.
“It is unfortunate that the faculty union is seeking to create negotiating leverage, regardless of the damage that it can do, at a time when we need to come together to solve the important challenges we face,” she said.
Dell’Omo was unavailable for comment.
A similar resolution was drafted in November 2015 after the later-reversed decision to cut 14 programs and change three from majors to minors, which would have resulted in faculty layoffs.
“There was a brief discussion of the motion and then the person making the motion withdrew it,” said Arthur Taylor, president of Rider’s AAUP chapter. “The recommendation from the executive committee at that time was not to move the motion forward, not to vote on it, in the hopes of improving relations with administration.”
While the program closures and layoffs are mentioned in the first point of the resolution, Taylor said the relationship between faculty and administration has been tested even more over the past year and that the current state of the university called for such a meeting.
“Since that time, the level of faculty confidence in the administration has deteriorated,” he said. “Many of the specifics on the list with the resolution have occurred since 2015. Specifically, since that time, administration has made fresh demands on the faculty and has refused our attempts to negotiate in a manner which would lead to a compromise. It has also set hard deadlines beyond which they say they will not negotiate.”
In order to overcome challenges, Brown said the administration needs to work in accord with the faculty union.
“Since his arrival at Rider, President Dell’Omo has been open, honest and transparent with the entire university community,” Brown said. “He has met with academic departments, staff, students and others across the university and engaged in constructive dialogue about the financial challenges facing Rider. He has made it clear that the university needs AAUP’s support to help bridge the university deficit.”
Even if the administration and faculty work together for a common goal moving forward, some damage may be irreversible, according to Dewberry.
“What has happened in the last two years has done some pretty significant damage to the people in this institution, and we don’t want to see it go any further,” he said.
James Riggs, professor of science, supports Dell’Omo’s actions during his time at Rider, actions that are outlined in the resolution.
“I don’t think we should be dumping on the guy who’s trying to get us through a mess,” said Riggs, who has been at Rider since 1991. “This antagonism is completely counterproductive. He’s being very transparent. That’s different from what we’ve experienced, and I think he needed to get people’s attention, and he’s finally getting that attention. We need to work together to solve these problems, and we need to think about junior faculty and the future of the institution, not just people who have been here 25, 30 years like myself. The young people are the people that are going to be here to build the institution in the future, and of course, the students should be central to everything that we’re doing.”
Another point of the resolution mentions that Dell’Omo was praised at Robert Morris University, where he served for 10 years as the seventh president, for his “extraordinary contributions,” including increasing overall, residential and international enrollment while Rider’s enrollment rate has been declining since his tenure.
This is not a direct result of his work, according to Riggs, as “The Chronicle of Higher Education” has been predicting an enrollment decline since 2010.
“I think the union, the Board of Trustees and the prior administration are somewhat equally culpable for why the institution is where it is,” he said. “But he has a record of turning things around at Robert Morris. [The union] dings him for not doing that immediately here, but how could he? He came into a mess.”
Dell’Omo and his staff will continue to work toward improving the current state of the university and the outlook of Rider’s future, according to Brown.
“Notwithstanding this scheduled vote, the administration remains strongly committed to working together towards solutions that ensure Rider’s long-term stability and competitiveness,” Brown said.
While the administration works toward improving the university, the resolution states that the opposite is being done. It states that Dell’Omo “has put the stability of the university at risk by threatening to break off negotiations if no agreement is reached by August 31, 2017.”
“I’m convinced that Dell’Omo wants this resolved before the students get back on campus,” Riggs said, circling the date on his copy of the resolution. “He doesn’t want the students to be a bargaining chip in negotiation as they may have been in the past. He wants to get things settled.”