By Sarah Siock
Following Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) no-confidence vote against President Gregory Dell’Omo, Chairman of the Board of Trustees John Guarino ’82 voiced his full support of the president and his disappointment in the union’s decision, in an interview with The Rider News on Feb. 14.
The Feb. 8 vote passed with an 86% majority and called on the Board of Trustees to remove Dell’Omo from his position at the university. The union’s no-confidence resolution states that the university’s $20 million projected deficit is a direct result of Dell’Omo’s unsuccessful strategic policies. The resolution points out Rider’s declining enrollment and the legal fees amassed from the failed sale of Westminster Choir College’s Princeton campus.
However, the Board of Trustees quickly responded to the announcement of the no-confidence vote. Within an hour of the vote’s results being made public, the Board of Trustees sent out a campus-wide email that declared its full endorsement of the president. Guarino said the swift endorsement was due to the board’s annual performance review of Dell’Omo that previously showed full approval of the president’s leadership.
“In the performance appraisal, we went through all the challenges of the university, of higher education and everything specific across campus. Very clearly, we gave our full support to Greg and what he was achieving and trying to achieve in a very difficult environment,” said Guarino.
The Rider News attempted to contact all 28 members of the Board of Trustees, but only Guarino responded to the newspaper’s inquiries.
The no-confidence resolution states, “Gregory Dell’Omo’s strategic policies have led to a weakening of the university’s financial condition that dramatic and dangerous increases in University debt; and three downgrades of the university’s bond rating.”
Union leadership continues to push for a new president at Rider, as Barbara Franz, AAUP president, said the trustees’ response did not fully address the union’s concerns. Franz added that, outside of resigning, it was “too late” for Dell’Omo to fix the issues presented in the no-confidence resolution.
“[The trustees’ response] was vague. It sort of claims that the board is satisfied with Dell’Omo. But here we have a president whose faculty overwhelmingly feel we need to remove him from office in order for the university to survive,” said Franz, a political science professor. “This is not because we don’t like him or because we don’t like his leadership style. It’s because we are in such a dire financial situation. It’s such a dire financial situation that we got in because of [Dell’Omo].”
Guarino said the university’s financial challenges were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the administration having to better align Rider’s costs and expenses. To cut costs, this year, the administration launched an academic and administrative prioritization process and a voluntary separation program for non-AAUP members. Both initiatives have been criticized by union leadership, and most AAUP members have refused to take part in the prioritization process, citing concerns that it will result in major academic program cuts across the university.
Guarino said the union’s participation in the prioritization process would help facilitate better communication throughout it and is encouraged. Moving forward, in all aspects of the university, Guarino said he wishes to see more conversations between faculty and the administration.
“Frankly, I don’t understand why [union members] would not want to be at the table. Of course, there are going to be disagreements. Everybody would not agree on everything that would be discussed, but you want to hear as many voices as you can. For the union to say, ‘don’t participate and don’t cooperate.’ I don’t see how that advances any of the goals of the university as a whole,” said Guarino.
However, Franz said the union’s no confidence in Dell’Omo comes from actions throughout his entire presidency, not only the university’s current financial situation.
“We ended up here with decisions that were made prior to COVID. They say [the administration] ‘it’s COVID there’s nothing you can do.’ That’s not true. Our peer institutions are doing well. They have good numbers in enrollment. They have good revenue streams. It’s just Rider is not,” said Franz.
From very early on in Dell’Omo’s tenure at Rider he has had a difficult relationship with the faculty union. 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. Franz added that the union is unhappy with the current academic prioritization process due to the administration’s unilateral decision to hire the outside consulting firm Credo to help facilitate the process.
“The faculty was always ready to work with Dell’Omo and engage in the governing process. But he didn’t ask us to hire Credo or sell the Westminster Choir College. We were not involved in any of those poor decisions,” said Franz.
However, Guarino said the trustees continue to speak highly of Dell’Omo’s decisions, and also praised Dell’Omo’s fundraising efforts.
“We’ve had great success in fundraising over the past few years under Greg’s leadership. Some of the highest we’ve ever had … When you look at these donors giving millions of dollars, they’re giving with their own money for naming rights … if they didn’t have confidence in Greg, do you think they would be giving millions of dollars?” Guarino asked. “We love the institution; we believe in its future. We just wish the union would join us in reaching that goal; that’s really what we want.”