Media Statement: November 12, 2020
Rutgers Ordered to Turn Over Documents about Program That Loses Tens of Millions Per Year
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers AAUP-AFT is celebrating a victory after a New Jersey superior court judge ordered Rutgers University to turn over information about the tens of millions of dollars funneled annually to an athletics program that routinely loses money.
In a ruling last month, Judge Michael Toto found that Rutgers violated the state Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by wrongly withholding in-depth data sought by the union to explain why Rutgers Athletics is a perennial financial drain on the university. Though the union will not get all the information it requested, Rutgers must turn over a substantial tranche of documents through an electronic dropbox by November 20, and it was ordered to pay attorneys’ fees and court costs.
“First and foremost, this is a victory for transparency at a public institution that needs to be responsible to its students, its workers, and the people of New Jersey,” said Todd Wolfson, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents more than 5,000 full-time faculty and graduate workers.
“Earlier this year, we submitted detailed requests about Rutgers Athletics’ finances, following all the rules of OPRA, but the administration wrongly thought it could deny them using deceptive reasoning. We went to court because secrecy and evasion have no place at a public university, and the judge agreed with us.”
According to the union’s analysis of available information, Rutgers Athletics has needed an ongoing annual subsidy, generated in part by mandatory student fees, of between $20 million and $40 million for the last decade. On top of that, a sketchy “summary” of the program’s debt disclosed earlier this year showed an unexplained $76.1 million increase in what the administration called “internal debt,” as of January 2020.
The union filed its suit in July when it “couldn’t get answers about this financial black hole,” Wolfson said. “That’s a total of over $100 million transferred to athletics in a period of a year, with no explanation or accountability—transferred away from the university’s mission to teach and research and serve,” said Wolfson.
The union’s complaint also sought answers about varying public explanations of the athletics program’s finances, including instances where “loans” or “advances” were characterized as revenue rather than debt, and conflicting explanations about whether other debts were “internal” to the university or owed to outside or “external” creditors.
Andrew Goldstone, associate professor of English and chair of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT University Budget and Priorities Committee, said he looked forward to an “honest discussion” of the athletics program’s finances once the data is disclosed. “We went to the lengths we did to get these numbers so we could start a conversation that management has tried to avoid: whether the price of Rutgers Athletics is something that students, parents, and the workers at the university want to pay,” Goldstone said.
Rutgers has invested large sums to try to reach the top tier of college sports, Goldstone said, including an eight-year, $4 million-a-year contract to rehire head football coach Greg Schiano, who also got a promise of new training facilities and a “football command center” that will cost up to $150 million.
“We suspect, based on what we’ve already been able to learn, that Rutgers Athletics isn’t on any sort of trajectory to closing its budget gap,” Goldstone said. “So it’s not just a question of how much money was spent last year but whether the public really wants an indefinite future commitment to shoring up an Athletics budget from tuition money and student fees.”
Goldstone and Wolfson said the question of priorities is even more urgent now, with the coronavirus pandemic and a deep economic slump taking their toll.
“Since the pandemic began, the administration has laid off more than 1,000 union members and asked for drastic program cuts,” Wolfson said. “And with sports disrupted, the athletics program is likely to need even more money to stay afloat this year.
“This can’t go on. If we’re going to prevent even more damage from being done, we need a conversation involving the whole Rutgers community about what we want for the future of our university. We’re calling on Rutgers to set an example of what a public university can be in this challenging moment. That starts with coming clean about Rutgers Athletics.”
# # #