By Sarah Siock and Shaun Chornobroff
Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) started the process of asking the Board of Trustees to remove President Gregory Dell’Omo from his position by presenting a no-confidence motion to union members at a Feb. 1 meeting.
The AAUP executive committee sent an anonymous survey to its members asking if they support a call for the Board of Trustees to remove Dell’Omo.
The motion’s resolution blames Dell’Omo for Rider’s projected $20 million cash flow deficit, stating his strategic policies “have led to a weakening of the university’s financial condition.” The resolution also cites dwindling university enrollments, failure to improve student retention and increasing debt under Dell’Omo’s leadership.
“At some point, you have to say ‘we need new leadership,’” said AAUP Chief Grievance Officer and sociology professor Jeffrey Halpern, pointing to the increasingly worsening financial situation of the university among other complaints.
In 2017, less than two years into his tenure, the AAUP passed a no-confidence vote against Dell’Omo after he cut academic programs and attempted to lay off tenured faculty. The vote was the first-ever in Rider’s history, but it did not ask the Board of Trustees to remove Dell’Omo.
In an interview following the Feb. 1 meeting, Halpern said, “There were strong feelings on both sides” in 2017 about voting no confidence. In the most recent meeting, which Halpern estimated had 90 participants, he said not one member of the AAUP raised concern about the motion. Halpern, who has been at the university for four decades, said he expects the motion to be “overwhelmingly approved.”
In a statement to The Rider News on Jan. 31 Dell’Omo said, “As a leader, whenever you have to make difficult organizational decisions during challenging times, it comes with the territory that you are going to receive a certain amount of opposition. In making these decisions, it is important to keep a focus on the efforts to weather the challenges being faced and to work toward building a stronger future for the institution, while also being as sensitive as possible to the impact these efforts have on individual stakeholders. This is the commitment that my senior team and I, along with the Board of Trustees, have in guiding our institution forward. We don’t expect everyone to agree with, much less like, all of these efforts, but I hope the reasoning behind them is understood and that we can work together as a community for a successful and thriving Rider University.”
The motion also comes after the university administration’s announcement of a voluntary separation program for non-faculty employees to reduce salary and benefit expenses, with a warning that layoffs were possible if savings goals weren’t met.
“Before President Dell’Omo reduces staff whose work supports the educational mission of the institution, provides services for students, maintains the physical facilities and keeps the campus safe, he should take responsibility for the deficit and resign,” said AAUP President and political science professor Barbara Franz in an interview with The Rider News on Jan.27.
Student Government Association (SGA) President and senior computer science major Liz O’Hara recognized the complexity of the situation and the confusion it may spur among students.
O’Hara said, “The Student Government Association recognizes the right of faculty members to express their points of view through their statements regarding the removal of the President, but acknowledges that the decision ultimately lies with the Board of Trustees. In no way is the SGA taking a position on the statement calling for President Dell’Omo to be removed. We hope that more information will be released publicly to our campus by the AAUP and that all stakeholders will be given an opportunity to respond. We understand the complex nature of the problem at hand and will continue to advocate for an outcome that has a positive impact on the student body, as well as the longstanding health of the university for future generations of students.”
Another factor in the AAUP’s decision to bring this motion relates to Rider’s inability to sell its Princeton campus, formerly used by the Westminster Choir College (WCC). Rider moved WCC students to the Lawrenceville campus in 2020, but the Princeton campus is currently not marketed for sale as alumni and students fight the university’s relocation of the choir college in court.
“The botched sale of the campus of the Westminster Choir College has cost Rider millions including the lawsuits. At the same time [Dell’Omo] has continued paying himself and his inner circle of VPs very handsomely,” said Franz.
The most recent copy of the university’s IRS 990, which spans from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, showed Dell’Omo’s salary was $532,400 and $87,712 in additional benefits, nearly $55,000 more than the prior year. Eight administrators also earned a base salary of over $200,00. In contrast, Rider’s faculty went without any pay or cost-of-living increase from 2013 to the fall of 2021.
Faculty members have one week to complete the survey, multiple members of the union’s executive committee confirmed.