By Brandon Scalea
Rider faculty voted Nov. 3 to open negotiations with administrators aimed at reversing the program cuts and layoffs that were announced on Oct. 29.
The decision was announced following a meeting in the Cavalla Room of Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which some 300 faculty members attended. The negotiations must be completed by 23 days from Oct. 29; otherwise, the next step is arbitration.
At the meeting, faculty members expressed a variety of opinions, according to some who attended. Many spoke passionately and displayed solidarity with colleagues who face termination. Jeffrey Halpern, associate professor of sociology and chief negotiating officer for Rider’s chapter of the AAUP, agreed with some of the faculty in attendance that it is essential for Rider to change to meet changing times, but feels the faculty and student voices need to be involved in these changes.
“Normal institutions do change over time,” said Halpern. “But they change through broad-based conversations, normal governance processes, and input with looking humanely at the consequences of those changes.”
Bryan Spiegelberg, associate professor in the chemistry/physics department and president of Rider’s AAUP, said the fight is not just about reversing the cuts.
“We’re also fighting for Rider University,” he said. “The executive committee is doing everything it can to get through this in a way that Rider hopefully becomes a stronger place.”
Earlier in the semester, the administration had requested a giveback on the current contract, which the AAUP offered, on the condition that the contract be extended.
The administration declined that offer, and a few weeks later announced the layoffs and program cuts, which were unexpected to faculty and students. Halpern said that the announcement of layoffs was not a direct response to the AAUP’s most recent offer; rather, it came as the result of mishandling of money dating years back.
“We have unusually low debt for a private institution,” he said. Expenses have been paid for out of reserves, “when you could actually borrow it at historically low rates.”
“In retrospect, we believe it was an attempt by the institution to look poorer so it could do what it just did — lay off faculty, get rid of majors they didn’t like,” Halpern said.
Any givebacks negotiated in the next weeks would be at the discretion of the negotiators, but an agreement would have to be approved by the AAUP members.
“Any outcome of those negotiations would then come back to the faculty for a vote,” Halpern said. “All we asked for was the authority to negotiate.”
If the current negotiations fall through, or if an agreement is voted down, the case will go to an outside arbitrator to determine whether the layoffs and program cuts would stand. As described in the union’s contract, the arbitration would essentially be “winner take all.” If the arbitrator decided in favor of the AAUP, then the program cuts and layoffs would be canceled and the current contract would hold. On the other hand, if the decision were in favor of the administration’s position, the situation would stand.
According to Halpern, it really comes down to the direction the university is heading under this new administration, and whether this is really a financial issue.
“We will put on the table a package that will be very hard for [the administration] to refuse if this about saving money,” he said. “If this is about changing the nature of the institution and showing who’s in charge, then the likelihood of succeeding is very low. We’ll find out.”