By Linda Materna
What is a university? I’ve understood it to be at its heart a place dedicated to intellectual inquiry across disciplinary epistemologies, to be a community of faculty, administrators and staff dedicated in consonance to transforming the minds and ethical compass of students to become enlightened and responsible citizens who lead productive and fulfilling lives. We all know that students have to earn a living, surely students must be equipped with skills to do so. But not for the sake of a university limiting itself to equipping students with narrow vocational training at prices unjustifiable for this technocratic vision, and for jobs that may disappear in our dynamically changing world.
Well, this latter path is precisely what Rider University has been pursuing since 2015 under the current administration and the Board of Trustees, to the detriment of the university’s long-standing and admirable mission. Look, for one egregious example, at the bungling of the sale of the Westminster property in Princeton and ongoing costs, the expense of moving the College to the Lawrenceville campus, and then, not surprisingly, the enrollment this fall of under 20 new freshmen. The university has distinguished itself, but shamefully in my estimation, inputting an internationally recognized and historically significant institution on life support.
But let me focus on my purpose in writing this letter: the hiring of Credo to lead a second prioritization that will eliminate programs and, likely, departments and faculty positions under the guise of underperformance. Funds have gone since 2015 to outside consultants and attorneys. Faculty and staff wages stagnated as administrators saw gains. I retired in 2016, earlier than planned, after experiencing the shocking faculty layoffs in the fall of 2016 (rescinded but clearly threatening), in which three pink slips went to three full professors in my department (cuts which would have eliminated two languages (German and Italian). The first prioritization process was launched. And now we have Credo, paid for in part by a $300,000 cut to the library budget (not to mention the closing of the library on Saturdays), and the stunningly shameless criteria that will be used to determine program viability. For Spanish and French, for example, the only student majors counted will be those SOLELY in declaring a major in the language alone upon enrollment, while it is well-known, particularly in Spanish, that most majors are double majors with education, that others double major with other disciplines, and that a number of our majors declare after their freshman year. Cynical by now, I’m not shocked that while the university seeks to cut costs through this process, the cost per student of a major or program will not be factored in. Majors in philosophy, history, sociology and modern languages, for example, have very low per-student costs, while, for example, those in the sciences and performing arts involve extensive and ongoing equipment expenses.
The only conclusion that I can draw is that the Credo hiring, and the entire prioritization process since 2015, is a shameless sleight-of-hand to give a stamp of legitimacy, with faculty involvement no less, to a foregone decision to reshape Rider University as an institution motivated solely by profit and as a vocational accreditation mill. It’s not the Rider that I proudly taught in for some 35 years, in which the liberal arts formed the core of student education, and in which faculty were valued and had a legitimate voice in governance. Woe to the faculty and to alumni whose degrees are being cheapened, assuming that the university itself can survive its largely self-inflicted indebtedness and narrowed view of its mission.
Dr. Linda Materna, Professor Emerita
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures