By Thomas Albano
After a tense two weeks, during which nearly 300 students believed their majors and/or minors were terminated, and 14 faculty believed they were laid off, there is the possibility of a light at the end of the tunnel.
After meetings between negotiating teams from the top administration and the faculty union, a deal was proposed under which the cuts to academic programs and faculty layoffs would be reversed in exchange for significant concessions from faculty, including salary givebacks and the right to increase the number of adjuncts in Rider’s classrooms. This deal must be ratified by both the faculty and the board of trustees, or the matter goes to arbitration. (For statements, see p. 5).
These negotiations came about following a dizzying series of events emanating from a major announcement made by President Gregory Dell’Omo at a town hall meeting with faculty and staff on Oct. 29. The announcement resulted in the layoff of 14 faculty members; the elimination of 14 academic programs; and the curtailing of three programs from majors to minors.
Rider has been dealing with ways to combat a projected $7.6 million financial deficit, and the university will continue to face a multi-million-dollar deficit for the next couple of years, the administration has argued. It was projected by the administration that these cost-cutting measures would save the university an estimated $2 million per year. The AAUP had offered savings in excess of that number, according to union negotiations.
“Rider has been successful over the last several years in achieving savings in ways that have had limited impact on our students,” Dell’Omo said in an email sent to students on Oct. 29. “We implemented nearly $16 million over the past six years in permanent budget and personnel cuts, primarily in non-instructional areas. These reductions, however, have not been enough to close our budget gap.”
However, Jeffrey Halpern, contract administrator for Rider’s chapter of the AAUP, says he sees discrepancies in the numbers behind the cuts (see page 7).
In a statement made on the AAUP’s website, Halpern also says that the administration has pressured faculty members to not talk to students in regards to the recent cuts. According to Halpern, the university’s reasoning for this is that discussion about this matter may “scare students.”
“Our Agreement is very clear that you have the academic freedom to speak the truth to students as you see it without the fear of retaliation,” Halpern told faculty. “We all have the obligation of advising our students about their rights and providing them our best advice about the likely impact of the proposed layoffs and program eliminations.”
If a deal had not been reached by the morning of Nov. 14, some faculty members were considering not showing up for the Open House scheduled for that day. However, Bryan Spiegelberg, president of Rider’s chapter of the AAUP, said at an SGA Senate meeting held on Nov. 10 that the Rider community’s job now is to focus on the positive.
“Consider the long-term health of this institution,” Spiegelberg said. “Things have been done maybe correctly, maybe incorrectly, we’ll decide about that. But, I think the bottom line is that if we don’t fix this, and if we don’t tell current students and potential students that are coming in to the Open House on Saturday that Rider is the place to be — that Rider somehow is this dysfunctional place — if we don’t get the message out there to those students, then all of this is for naught.”