By Thomas Albano
No students were present in the Cavalla Room when President Gregory Dell’Omo announced the cuts of programs and faculty on Oct. 29. But, when all received an email at 1:13 p.m., time stopped for some. Others sprang into action.
Students started petitions and formed groups to protest the cuts. Two petitions were posted on change.org, one specifically aimed at preserving the piano program at Westminster Choir College (WCC) and the other objecting to the overall changes and lack of student input.
The piano petition, set up by junior music education major Eric (John) Roper, reached 1,229 supporters as of 8:54 p.m. on Nov. 3. The title “Support the Piano Program at Westminster Choir College” reflects the fact that though the majors are going away, classes are still being offered.
Still, he feels Dell’Omo made a mistake by not including the voice of the Rider student body.
“I think that trying to meet deadlines kind of influenced his position to just, out of the spur, throw everybody into the fray,” Roper said. “I think that the situation was handled very poorly. Some sort of presence by students would’ve been a useful thing.”
Kade DePack, a sophomore entrepreneurship major with a French minor, was one of those who first learned of the cuts through Dell’Omo’s announcement.
“My roommate asked me if I saw the email, and I was like, ‘What email? Oh look, there’s my major and there’s my minor,’” DePack said.
Students on the WCC campus share sympathy for the students and faculty affected, even if they do not know them personally, Roper said. He mentioned Jack Sullivan, professor of English and director of the American Studies program, who has taught courses at Westminster.
“He’s well-liked by everybody,” Roper said. “So the fact that American studies was on that list as well, we were very upset to hear that.”
The other petition, “Oppose Rider University’s Decision to Cut Majors, Minors, and Graduate Degrees!” which had 1,465 supporters online as of 8:54 p.m. on Nov. 3, was set up by a group on the Lawrenceville campus dubbed the “Save My Major Coalition.” The board was formed by sophomore political science and arts administration double major Kenny Dillon.
The student response to the petition, Dillon said, was rapid.
“Before I can get the thing printed and stapled, I have people with me ready to sign it,” he said.
Dillon says one of the main reasons that “Save My Major” was founded was because, like Roper, he felt Dell’Omo mishandled the situation. Students should have been included in the decision making, he said.
“I feel like it was cold,” Dillon said. “I know it was done behind closed doors, and as the tuition-payer I feel left out of a conversation that affects me and others like me directly.”
A third protest movement, “Bring Back GEMS at Rider,” was formed on Facebook on Oct. 30. Started by Pilar Melani, ’15, its aim is to restore the geological, environmental and marine science programs that were cut. Melani is encouraging students and alumni, regardless of year or major, to contact Dell’Omo about how the cuts are affecting education.
She criticized the president’s methodology.
“He looked at what programs were the smallest and had the least ‘success’ for alums and cut those out,” she said. “But he forgot what Rider is known for: our small, student-centered classes and departments.”
Roper said students are taking none of this lightly.
“They feel blindsided and they feel they weren’t informed,” he said.