By Shaun Chornobroff
In the latest measure on its intended path toward future financial stability, Rider’s administration revealed to the school’s faculty union that it was not going to be reducing the amount of full-time faculty this year, but was laying off multiple adjunct professors.
Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was alerted of the university’s decision on the afternoon of Oct. 31, not long before Provost DonnaJean Fredeen alerted the Rider community in a campus-wide email.
The decision came on the day of the deadline for layoff notices agreed to by the university and the union as part of a five-year contract announced on Sept. 11.
While AAUP President David Dewberry estimated “six or so” members of the union received notification of being laid off, in an interview with The Rider News on Nov. 1, Fredeen explained the true amount of adjuncts who will not be retained is still unknown.
“The only part-time faculty who received a notice of layoff are those who have seniority status. We have part-time faculty who are not rehired on a regular basis,” Fredeen said. “They are hired depending on whether we have courses for them to teach and that group of faculty may be impacted as well.”
‘We’re aware of this and we’re disappointed’
The union has the right to bring any intended layoffs to an arbitration court, which Dewberry informed The Rider News over the phone that he intends to do. In an arbitration court, both sides submit their case to a judge, who then sides with either the university or the union.
“I reached out to all the people who were laid off and told them basically, ‘we’re aware of this, we’re disappointed, we’re disappointed that the administration has chosen to do this and that we will fight these proposed layoffs,’” Dewberry said. “… We’ve already started deliberating as the executive committee, with members of our negotiating team who are not on the executive committee, on the best way to respond.”
In her university-wide communication, Fredeen explained full-time faculty was safe from layoffs due to a high number of employees applying for an early retirement incentive offered to AAUP members by the university after the most recent contract.
As the university enters a time of transition, the layoffs and early retirements were anticipated by Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo.
“Whenever you go through these kinds of changes, you’re always going to be concerned about [change], especially if you start losing some really talented people. You’re always balancing the loss of talent and the need to sort of right the size of the university,” Dell’Omo said in a Nov. 1 interview with The Rider News.
The layoffs announced on Oct. 31 are the latest step in Rider’s academic prioritization process. In June it was announced that the university was removing 25 programs from its academic catalog, spanning a variety of different schools and majors, including courses offered by Westminster Choir College as well as shifting the university’s French and philosophy majors to minors.
The recent layoffs came within the 25 programs that are either being eliminated or archived by the school, and will become effective in the next academic year.
“It is not a judgment of the value of the discipline in terms of people being lifelong learners in a very holistic education,” Fredeen said. “It is a statement about the viability of these programs at Rider University. There are other institutions where these programs are extremely viable, they’re just not viable here.”
With controversy surrounding the administration in recent years, Dewberry sees the abundance of early-retirement applications as a sign of Rider’s declining reputation among its employees.
“The fact that a lot of people have taken the retirement is kind of proof that they don’t like working here,” Dewberry said. “When I was hired it was seen as a great job to have, it was a first choice, or a place of prime employment. It was like ‘Wow, you got to jump there, that’s a great place.’ It’s not becoming that anymore.”
Time to cut
For Rider president Gregory Dell’Omo, while he said he gets no joy in these decisions, they are necessary for an institution recovering financially from a debt that once soared near $20 million during the pandemic.
“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,” Dell’Omo explained. “But higher education has always been add, add, add and very rarely cut, cut or reallocate, and those days are gone.”
As the university continues to bandage its financial wounds, the union, which has passed two votes of no-confidence in Dell’Omo’s leadership since his tenure began in 2015, remains critical.
“The administration claims there’s a lot of external factors out there doing it, but one can’t help but think the leadership of an institution is to be held responsible for that,” Dewberry said. “It’s always disheartening for people to lose their jobs.”
As his administration continues to make cuts, Dell’Omo continues to maintain his sovereign goal of curating a university that the Rider community, past and present, can be proud of for the long term.
“Even though at times we may be criticized for being a little too business-oriented, or too cold, we’re trying to both preserve the institution, but also all the stakeholders in the institution, which are the faculty, staff, students and alumni, and everybody associated with the university,” Dell’Omo said. “We try to make them all feel that this is an institution that cares for the individual as well as for the institution.”
Originally printed in the 11/2/22 issue.