I consider Greg Dell’Omo and his staff to be not only colleagues but friends. On April 11, however, I will send a strong affirmation that Rider faculty and professionals remain committed to excellence in education. I will vote that I have no confidence in the way we are being led.
I’ve worked here 43 years. During this time, I’ve seen Rider become an outstanding university with amazing faculty, tireless staff and vibrant students.
But Dell’Omo has veered away from his immediate predecessors in what I call the two v’s: vision and values. Presidents Frank Elliott, Bart Luedeke and Mort Rozanski never missed a chance — even when facing economic distress — to remind us why Rider exists. “To give every student the best education it is in our power to give” is the way Elliott used to put it.
From Dell’Omo, I’ve not heard a sense of mission. The value he focuses on is the balance sheet. As a non-profit institution, we need to sustain ourselves, but we do not exist to make money. We exist to enrich our students and the larger culture to which they contribute.
The president’s execution of his fixation on profit-loss is inconsistent. For example, Westminster Choir College gets demonized, but athletics gets a pass. (Neither program is a direct revenue center.)
Our 20 exciting D-I sports teams are worth every penny because they enhance campus life, win good publicity, solidify alumni loyalty and deliver hundreds of talented, disciplined student-athletes to our classrooms. However, Westminster, though it yields all those benefits — plus larger, international ones — faces eviction. Is that rational?
People ask Dell’Omo repeatedly: What will the sacrifices you demand bring in the end? A favorite on his wish list is engineering — a popular field in which the only things we lack are experience, faculty, reputation and facilities.
Added up, his demands imply a radically reduced Rider, generating less research and stretching full-time faculty thinner. “A $40,000 community college,” one professor fears. Most in our community reject such a vision.
Even if I agreed that money was all that mattered to a university, I would not have confidence in Dell’Omo’s business leadership. During his short presidency — marred by the sudden announcement of cuts to programs and tenured faculty in 2015 and the current drastic threat to Westminster — morale, reputation and financial projections have plunged south.
Strong leaders, when things go wrong, accept a share of blame. This president deflects all blame elsewhere: It’s the demographics. It’s the overindulged, underperforming faculty. It’s Westminster (all those recordings and not a single top-10 hit).
One thing he has done thoroughly, though, is herald bad news to staff and students. This misleading view spreads quickly to parents, alumni, high school counselors, donors and prospective faculty. A “no-confidence” vote will help counter his public relations fiasco. It will proudly assert that Rider is determined to remain outstanding and solvent, but not by following the current path. This vote tells a necessary truth. It’s the ethical vote.
I hope my vote will help push Dell’Omo toward a new approach. In order to work with open, willing partners, he needs to become one himself. When the faculty moves — painfully, repeatedly — toward compromise, he needs to respond with counter offers, not insist on all or nothing and shut down the conversation. When former Gov. Tom Kean, New Jersey’s most respected political leader, deplores highhanded treatment of Westminster, Dell’Omo’s reaction needs to be open and thoughtful, not dismissive.
Professor of journalism
Printed in the 3/22/17 issue.