By Sarah Siock and Kaitlyn McCormick
Tension between Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) culminated in a “Save Rider Rally” on March 2 in front of the Bart Luedeke Center (BLC), where nearly 100 faculty and students gathered to call for the removal of Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo.
The rally was coordinated to coincide with a meeting between the Rider Board of Trustees and Dell’Omo that took place inside the BLC the same day. Dell’Omo, board members and administrators walked into the building while the crowd held signs calling for the president’s removal and shouted “Greg Dell’Omo has got to go.”
‘We must speak loudly’
“People came out and I think that’s important to the point the AAUP has been making for a long time. We really need to change the leadership of the institution in order to survive. We hope the Board of Trustees realize that they should look more deeply into Greg Dell’Omo’s career and see there is a lot of mismanagement,” said AAUP President Babara Franz in reaction to the large crowd at the rally.
The rally was a response to the Board of Trustees’ rejection of the AAUP’s no-confidence motion against Dell’Omo that passed with an 86% majority last month and called on the board to remove the president. However, the union strongly maintains Dell’Omo is unfit to run the university.
In a Feb. 25 communication announcing the rally to its members, the AAUP Executive Committee wrote, “For Rider to have a future, the Board of Trustees must carefully consider facts outside the information silo provided by Greg Dell’Omo and his financial team. … We must speak loudly and clearly and let the board know we are not backing down, we are not walking away, that all stakeholders should be heard and not patronized and dismissed without any consideration.”
The demonstration reflects manifestation of frustrations the AAUP has cited throughout the academic year, including Rider’s $20 million projected deficit, declining enrollment and the university’s decision to move Westminster Choir College (WCC) to the Lawrenceville campus in 2020.
In an interview with The Rider News on March 8, Dell’Omo said he recognized the faculty’s right to protest, but he did not agree with the rally’s premise.
“It really does not change the fact that we still have to make some tough decisions. We have to deal with the issues and deal with the reality that we’re confronted with. … I don’t agree one bit with the premise or the message [of the rally], and we’re going to continue working toward trying to get Rider back on the right track” said Dell’Omo.
WCC students also attended the rally to support the AAUP and have their voices heard by performing several songs. Orry Walter, a junior music education major at WCC, said he attended the rally to show the administration that change is needed at Rider.
“I do believe that doing this will send a message saying that not only the students, but the faculty and other members of this community are not happy with how the school is being run. … We’re surviving, but we’re just surviving,” said Walter. ”We’re not thriving, and we all feel like there could be a better way of doing things that is kind of being locked out because it’s not somebody’s plan.”
However, Dell’Omo reaffirmed his confidence in the decision to move WCC to Lawrenceville and said there is no possibility of the choir college returning to its Princeton campus.
“[The move] was a well-thought-out decision. It wasn’t a decision that was just made in a vacuum or by an individual. It was made through a careful study by the Board of Trustees and the administration over a number of years. …We’ll continue to work toward making [WCC] as strong as possible and where we have the resources to make investments, we’ll make those investments,” said Dell’Omo.
A different future
Some students, expressed their disappointment in the current administrative tone at Rider and their hopes for a stronger future under different leadership.
Freshman acting major Emily Porter-Siegel said, “It is sad and it is embarrassing that our school has taken something so beautiful and allowed it to become so incredibly harmed. … Schools are for education. They’re about education. They’re about bettering students and making sure we leave the world a better place when we’re out of here. We need someone who will represent those ideals.”
While Rider’s Student Government Association (SGA) did not take a stance whether students should attend the rally, SGA President Elizabeth O’Hara, a computer science major, did encourage students to express their concerns.
“Faculty members have every right to hold a peaceful demonstration like this one and express their viewpoints. And we hope that more students, if they don’t feel comfortable in this setting, come and use us to express their opinions and their viewpoints,” O’Hara said, watching the rally from the BLC balcony. “That’s what we’re here for as a Student Government Association, and that’s what we want, people to speak up and express their views, whether that’s in support of whoever or whatever decision. So we hope more people become more informed as a result of seeing this and use their voice in a positive way to create change that is going to impact our university and help the long-standing health of Rider.”
Shaun Chornobroff contributed to this report.
The Rider News’ faculty adviser Jackie Incollingo attended the “Save Rider Rally” on March 2, Incollingo did not partake in the writing or editing of this story.