By Thomas Regan
Rider continues to face a projected deficit this year, according to the administration, just a year after the university nearly cut several academic programs and faculty members in response to an estimated $7.6 million hole.
The University’s bleak financial forecast has prompted another request for concessions from faculty, according to President Gregory Dell’Omo. Last fall, Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) negotiated a faculty wage freeze and other compromises to retain all academic programs and faculty.
“We are looking for places we can make room in our budget,” Dell’Omo said. “We are talking to the faculty union again — the AAUP. We are asking if there are some ways we can get additional concessions from them.”
Jeffrey Halpern, contract administrator for Rider’s chapter of the AAUP, said he worries more concessions will further damage faculty morale.
At the end of the 2015-16 academic year, 17 full-time faculty members left the university—six who found new jobs and 11 who retired— Halpern said, referencing his comparison of lists of the AAUP’s bargaining unit members from last academic year and the current year.
“That is an unusually high number,” Halpern said. “None of those people were denied tenure or promotion. Some of them—I know because I talked to them —would have preferred to stay if things were more stable.”
However, the AAUP and the administration plan on meeting within the next week, which Halpern said is a clear sign the faculty is prepared to negotiate.
“We asked for preliminary audit reports from last year,” he said. “We are still waiting for the notes from that audit and some projections about the year coming up. But we are going to be reaching out and setting a date [to meet with the administration] this week, I suspect.”
The AAUP disputes the severity of the financial situation presented by the administration.
“We don’t believe there is a fiscal crisis,” Halpern said. “We do believe that there are some matters to be concerned about. We will talk to them [the administration] and see if we can come to some meeting of the minds.”
However, both the administration and the AAUP do recognize that the decline in enrollment needs to be addressed. And though the freshman class is marginally larger than last year, it is still not where it needs to be, Dell’Omo said.
“Our freshman enrollment is coming in at 873, which is better than 862 we had last year, but it’s not nearly enough to help cover the expenses of our university,” he said. “That’s part of the problem.”
Dell’Omo said Rider is trying to address the issue of low enrollment by budgeting for investments in the campus like the renovation of Gee Hall and adding new academic programs, among others.
“It’s both dealing with the challenges and changes taking place from a cost side, but also from the investment side,” he said. “When you cut, cut, cut, you are basically cutting your future as well. So it’s a matter of how much we can cut and how quickly and which cuts make sense. If you don’t do the investment part, you are delaying the inevitable.”