By Jake Tiger
At the front of the Yvonne Theatre was a highlight video of Rider’s recent achievements, and a three-year “Path Forward” for the institution. On the opposite end, a block of hushed and disgruntled professors hoisted signs commanding the university president to step down.
Rider’s annual faculty and staff convocation on Aug. 31 showcased the jagged rift between President Gregory Dell’Omo and Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), as another fall semester began with frustration, unrest and a silent protest amid the threat of faculty layoffs.
“For Rider’s path forward to truly go forward it needs to be with new leadership at the helm,” said AAUP President Quinn Cunningham in a statement emailed to The Rider News after the convocation. “[Dell’Omo] calls on us all to make sacrifices for the good of the institution, but he is conveniently forgetting that he is asking for sacrifices to fix his failures.”
According to Cunningham, an associate professor at the university, the administration asked the AAUP to take a $1 million cut over the next two years, despite the terms of the union’s current, five-year contract being agreed upon last September after multiple protests and just before a strike.
The AAUP has declined to take the cut thus far, making faculty layoffs, specifically in low-enrollment programs, a likely and ugly alternative this fall.
To voice its shared, long-standing disdain for Dell’Omo and the potential layoffs, the union organized a silent protest at Rider’s convocation for a second consecutive year.
Due to stipulations in its contract, the AAUP is barred from demonstrations considered to be “disruptive” to Rider, so union members chose to silently protest at the convocation, Cunningham said.
Protestors first marched in solidarity from the Bart Luedeke Center to the Fine Arts Building, entering together and taking their seats in the back of the theater.
The union did not make a sound for the entire convocation, instead bringing signs that sternly read, “RESIGN.” AAUP members stretched up with their signs any time Dell’Omo spoke, but whenever he passed the microphone to another member of his administration, they quickly dropped the demand.
“I must question the judgment, motivation and professionalism of those who have engaged in this self-destructive behavior,” said Dell’Omo toward the end of his presentation, prompting protestors to repeatedly thrust their signs high above their heads. “It’s so frustrating, not to mention harmful, to see some of the rhetoric that gets put out there in the public opinion about Rider. … It does nothing to ensure our future viability and success.”
Shortly after this statement, Dell’Omo’s presentation concluded and the AAUP protestors exited the theater, propping up their signs on the door as they walked out. The signs remained there for the Q&A portion of the convocation.
“I think it’s difficult to tell employees, who see the ship is sinking, to just be quiet and it’ll all be fine,” said Cunningham to The Rider News after the convocation. “I don’t think anyone’s at the point anymore of thinking that if we just sit quiet it’ll all go away somehow.”
Faculty layoffs became a real threat over the summer when Dell’Omo hosted a webinar for staff and faculty on July 27, in which he detailed his three-year recovery plan for Rider: “The Path Forward.”
During the Zoom meeting, Dell’Omo described the university’s financial situation as “dangerously uncertain,” and as a result, he stated that smaller programs could see cuts before the Oct. 31 deadline for faculty layoffs.
“In the higher education environment we find ourselves in, we no longer have the opportunity of continuing to offer every low-enrollment program simply on the basis of its individual academic value,” said Dell’Omo during the webinar.
It wasn’t until the weeks following Dell’Omo’s summer presentation and “The Path Forward” was put in place that the administration reached out about the $1 million cut, Cunningham said.
“If we’re in that poor of a financial situation that you’re gonna ask for give-backs, why is there enough money for [salary]increases?” asked Cunningham.
Jackie Incollingo is the faculty advisor of The Rider News. Incollingo had no participation in the writing or editing of this story due to a conflict of interest.