Letter to the Editor: Reflections from an uncomfortable man in the middle

To the editor,

As one of the department chairpersons at Rider, I find myself in an uncomfortable position. While I spend most of my time attending to professorial responsibilities, I am not considered a bargaining unit member and have no voice in the AAUP faculty union. Chairpersons are considered members of the administration, yet we have little influence when it comes to major decision-making at the university level. Thus I feel somewhat relegated to the sidelines as I watch the telenovela that is the political climate at Rider unfold as of late, affording me time to reflect rather than react.

A peek into the ivory tower reveals uncanny parallels to the lunacy of current national politics. Two parties dispute the financial state of the motherland. One party demands information from the other but refutes its legitimacy when it is delivered. One party seeks to retain hard-fought gains at the expense of thoughtful, perhaps sacrificial compromise as social climate changes;  the other party employs executive privilege when compromise doesn’t materialize. One party decries a lack of transparency in the proceedings of the other, yet hypocritically resists requests for transparency from within its own constituency.  Those individuals who question the “party line” are labeled as heretics. One party bemoans the bloat of the other’s policies yet trims little fat from its own. Construction ensues of barricades or bulwarks, defined by which side of them one stands on. Effective governance grinds to a halt.

Lest anyone suppose that I refer to Republicans and Democrats, let me recap this season of “Days of our Campus Lives.” The new president came to office facing a university in financial crisis, the severity of which was questioned by the AAUP. In an effort to “right-size” the institution in light of declining enrollments and growing costs, the president proposed financial sacrifice from administration, staff and faculty such as wage freezes and decrease in benefits. When the executive committee of the AAUP refused to accede, the president invoked his distasteful but legal right to unilaterally propose program cuts (with associated faculty reductions);  those cuts were not accompanied by similar reductions in administrative positions, particularly of those who failed to foretell the impending crisis and act accordingly.

These actions by the president poisoned the well with the AAUP, which now staunchly opposes his leadership (case in point: calls for a boycott of his upcoming inauguration, ultimately voted down by the membership). Meanwhile, attempts by some members of the faculty to establish a more open, transparent relationship between the AAUP executive board and its membership as the faculty union navigates policy change with the new president have drawn scorn and rebuke for invoking the very privilege to question establishment that academics espouse.

I watch the circus of current national election coverage with incredulity, but am even more alarmed at the polarization that has occurred within the shared governance structure here at Rider. Unless we are willing to allow the governance of Rider to become paralyzed in the same way that the federal government has been (which would be disastrous for everyone involved), all parties must work to be more conciliatory and cooperative. And if you, the reader, feel your hackles rise at this suggestion, then we have hit upon the crux of the matter.

—Dr. Todd Weber

Chair of Biology

 

Printed in the 3/30/16 issue.

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