Rider rescinds adjunct layoffs, union concerned

By Shaun Chornobroff

Three months after notifying Rider’s faculty union that the university was going to lay off six adjuncts, the union was alerted through an email from Rider’s Vice President for Human Resources and Affirmative Action Robert Stoto that the decision was being rescinded. 

The effect this decision will have on the university remains the subject of an ongoing grievance, said Jeff Halpern, the chief grievance officer for Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). 

The decision to part ways with the six professors, announced on Oct. 31, was allowed as a result of the collective bargaining agreement the union and the university came to on Sept. 11. The need for clarity surrounding the rescission centers around the effect it has on the agreement, as well as the university’s well-documented plans to eliminate a number of its academic programs. 

“There’s certainly a concern. Some of the concern comes with some fairly technical questions: Under which article of the agreement is this occurring? What exactly is being rescinded?” asked Halpern. Halpern said in his interview with The Rider News, he’d only reveal a certain amount of information because the dispute is still ongoing. 

Rider’s Director of Communications Rachel Stengel said in an email to The Rider News that as the university “reviewed the matter further, we determined that, for all adjunct faculty positions, semester-to-semester decisions about adjunct faculty course assignments are best made as each semester approaches.” 

When announced, the layoffs were the next step in the academic prioritization process the university was undergoing as part of a number of cost-cutting measurements. In June of 2022, the university revealed it was going to be removing 25 academic programs from its catalog, including undergraduate degrees in economics, healthcare policy and American studies. 

“This idea of reevaluating your resources and reallocating your resources has always been a part of running any organization, whether it be for-profit or not-for-profit,” Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo explained in a Nov. 1 interview, the day after the layoffs were announced.

While the decision has changed regarding the decision to part ways with those professors, the union questions if those adjuncts have classes to teach. Stengel said adjuncts are hired when full-time faculty are unable to teach available courses and stressed the impact COVID-19 has had. 

“In recent years, the pandemic has impacted the number of students enrolled, particularly freshman enrollments,” said Stengel. “As those cohorts of students make their way through Rider, it impacts the number of classes available.”

According to statistics provided by Sue Stefanick, the university’s registrar, Rider has seen a consistent decrease in the number of class sections it offers in the past five years. In fall 2017, Rider ran 1,831 sections, a number that it has not reached since. In addition to normal classes, sections include independent and supervised studies, study abroad, co-ops and labs among the many other avenues for students to earn credits. After trickling down to 1,739 sections in the spring of 2020, the university ran 1,798 sections fall of 2020. Since, that number has continuously plummeted down to 1,396 in the spring of 2023. 

In the same period, Rider’s enrollment numbers have dwindled. In fall 2017, Rider welcomed one of its largest freshman classes in recent memory and more than 5,000 students between graduate and undergraduate students were enrolled, according to statistics from Rider’s Vice President of Enrollment Management Drew Aromando. By spring 2020 the total number had dropped below 4,500 students and in fall 2022, the total enrollment sat at 4,054 students. 

Stengel explained the number of sections are dependent upon enrollment, emphasizing the number of students in each major is important. 

“When planning the number of course sections, the University strives to ensure that the appropriate classes are available,” said Stengel. “Because of the variety of programs Rider offers and students’ tendencies to double major or minor in a variety of subjects, each semester, there are a number of options open to students.”

As of Feb. 13, Halpern said he had not heard that the six adjuncts previously expected to depart would not have courses to teach. He, however, did not eliminate the possibility, saying he “may hear that as we move forward.” 

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