In a meeting with members of the Rider AAUP executive committee in 2018, President Dell’Omo accused Rider’s faculty of ‘hiding in their classrooms’ while he does the hard work of ‘saving the institution’ from financial ruin. He is wrong on both accounts. Rider is not headed toward financial ruin, and its faculty are not ‘hiding in their classrooms’ from some objective truth. In fact, any objective analysis of the policies implemented at Rider in the past three years would conclude they are failing. Any conclusion otherwise would simply be an effort to hide from the truth.
This legacy of failed policy at Rider bears a striking resemblance to President Dell’Omo’s actions at his previous school, Robert Morris University, where as president he set out to perform the hard job of saving that institution. Following the decades-long trend of U.S. college presidents who imagine themselves high powered CEOs of some corporate enterprise, he attempted to bring a business-like approach to running Robert Morris University. Treating faculty as commodity labor and presuming ‘investments’ in education would somehow provide predictable returns, he instituted layoffs, sold real estate, froze faculty pay and benefits, ‘invested’ in new programs and sought foreign investment by reaching out to the Saudi government to bolster enrollments. Those policies ultimately failed to improve the financial situation at Robert Morris University and restructuring began soon after Greg Dell’Omo left to join Rider University in 2015. Robert Morris University continues to suffer from declining enrollment and a large budget deficit.
The lesson to be learned from the failed policy at Robert Morris University and other universities, which have pursued similar policies is that a not-for-profit institution of higher education cannot be run like a business selling common commodity products in a market. A university is something completely different. Drastic, disruptive efforts to cuts costs or sell assets in an attempt to provide capital for ‘investment’ in new programs did not work at Robert Morris University and will not work at Rider. Students, the primary source of university revenue, do not make decisions based solely on programs available, buildings, or in response to slick marketing, so ‘investments’ in these areas alone have little short or long term impact on the university’s revenues.
Unfortunately at Rider, senior administration and the Board of Trustees are oblivious to these failures and continue to cling to some corporate-inspired effort to run the university. The most notable failure of this effort is the long running attempt to sell Westminster Choir College so that the university can ‘invest’ in a currently non-existent engineering school or some other ‘promising new program.’ That this expensive effort which has cost the university millions is now drifting towards complete failure is obvious to anyone not hiding from reality.
It is highly unlikely that the sale of Westminster Choir College will complete by July of this year, at which time the prospective buyer has the option to discontinue their efforts to buy the school. This costly failure will represent a defining moment for the university. One can only hope that at this point Rider’s Board of Trustees will recognize that Rider’s future lies not in repeating the mistakes of the past, but in committing to the university as an institute of higher education, a cultural center which exists for the common good, an institution where Westminster Choir College is a necessary and welcome component of that which is Rider.
Professor of information systems and supply chain management