Union members were ready to speak out against layoffs and cutbacks at the October 7 Board of Governors meeting—until BoG chair Mark Angelson broke out a new rule designed to silence us. Many of our coworkers made themselves heard anyway. Here, we publish a collection of the statements that members of PTLFC-AAUP-AFT, URA-AFT, and Rutgers AAUP-AFT prepared for the public comment section. You’ll find more statements here and here.
Student Coordinator, James Dickson Carr Library, New Brunswick
My comments address agenda item number 11 and the “Pursuing HR Options” issue. I have already received a layoff notice, which was based solely on a budget decision to eliminate lines of library staff. This is the very staff the university deemed vital to return to campus first during the COVID closure to support the university mission as a premier research institution.
Staff are an integral part of the vision of Rutgers as a “beloved community.” Layoffs of those who work diligently to support research directly contradict the ideal of “re-centering the academy within the university.”
I perform the functions of two full-time staff jobs as both the Access Services Resource Sharing contact and my primary role as Student Coordinator of 21 federal work study undergraduates. I took the initiative to write detailed procedures that became the prototype used across the library system for low-contact loans and returns of physical books and media during COVID-19.
With just one month’s notice, student coordinators learned the libraries would be the only employer of Work-Study students this term—only virtually. So I created 90 hours of high-quality curriculum content and built a new website as our virtual forum, crafting assignment modules with themes that engage and enrich the students academically, personally, and professionally. I continue to mentor them on these same intangible life skills.
These students represent the most socioeconomically vulnerable and underrepresented members of society that Rutgers vows to protect and nurture. They are overwhelmingly students of color. But my layoff will hurt these students. They’ll lose their trainer, timekeeper, confidante, budget analyst, and sole professional reference for future education and jobs.
The personal impact for me is devastating. I will lose the community, colleagues, and job I love—my livelihood, life insurance, ability to save for retirement, and possibly my home. As a person with a disability, losing health insurance becomes a matter of life and death as I can only afford and receive the treatment that manages my chronic blood disorder through my current health plan.
Consider the spectrum of harm caused by layoffs that disregard the value of individuals who exemplify Rutgers’ ideals daily. Staff committed to excellence and service are not just ledger entries. They are dedicated, caring people…like me.
Part-Time Lecturer, Writing Program, New Brunswick
My name is Karen Thompson. I’m objecting to these administrative appointments in light of the following concerns: I’ve been teaching part time at Rutgers for over 40 years, yet I recently found myself among those targeted for layoff. “Layoff” isn’t quite the right word since Part-Time Lecturers or PTLs (as we’re called) are supposedly hired and rehired each semester. That means I’ve been hired and rehired 80-some times.
Laying off PTLs saves very little money, and no one would even try to say cutting PTLs is cost-saving. One top administrator’s salary could account for 20 PTLs. Evidently, after years of increasing the use of PTLs for teaching (now over a third of the courses at Rutgers), the administration is finally interested in reducing PTLs to protect RU’s reputation—Rutgers leads the Big Ten in the use (or rather abuse) of PTLs/adjuncts.
When dozens of PTLs in the New Brunswick Writing Program, including me, were notified recently they would not be teaching next semester, there was widespread outrage among students and full-time faculty as well as PTLs. The plan was changed, and some of us got reassurance we would be back next term. But what about the rest of the PTLs who won’t be? What about the students who won’t have course offerings they expect and deserve? And what about the librarians who are being laid off next month. At least one of them, I heard, is close to retirement, saddled with a disability, and set to lose health coverage. PTLs, as you know, receive no health coverage—even during a pandemic.
Why are the most vulnerable employees being cut, even when Rutgers is well-placed financially, when state funding has recently been restored, when coaches continue to be paid long after they’ve stopped working, and when increasing numbers of high-paid administrators remain complacently safe from layoff?
Rutgers worries about its reputation without understanding that treating students and employees in this manner affects the RU reputation. The RU-screw may still be its most famous slogan. It’s no wonder the endowment is one of the smallest in the Big Ten, when students and employees may leave Rutgers with such bad feelings. Who wants to donate to an institution that threw you out, or threw out your friends and family?
Our new President Holloway speaks of the “beloved community,” but are some of us excluded from it? He mentioned “invisible employees” who should be more recognized. Are PTLs among them? He says he is interested in making Rutgers a place people want to work. But is that happening—or the reverse? Show us the Rutgers that values all its employees, especially those in close contact with students, like PTLs and librarians.
Teaching Instructor, Anthropology
My name is Bridget Purcell, and I’m a full-time Teaching Instructor in Anthropology at the New Brunswick campus. I’m here to stand in solidarity with my PTL colleagues in the Writing Program and to call out the cruelty of any layoffs in the midst of a pandemic and an economic collapse. As my colleagues remarked, there is no good budgetary rationale for this act. In other words, the problem is not economic; it is moral and political.
We want to believe that Rutgers can be a moral leader in this moment of society-wide reckoning with questions of racial and economic justice. President Holloway, you’ve called Rutgers a “beloved community,” in which all members “deserve to be recognized and respected for a job well done.” And you’ve specifically acknowledged the “so-called invisible work[ers]” who make this university run. How, then, can this administration lay off our most economically precarious colleagues, from Part-Time Lecturers to dining and custodial services?
I’m asking the board to tell our administration that they have a choice. Either they can champion social justice or they can lay off our most vulnerable community members. Either they can praise essential workers or they can treat their own workforce as disposable. They cannot do both.
I’ll add that keeping Part-Time Lecturers on the payroll is the floor, not the ceiling, of what they deserve. These positions should be converted into full-time jobs that accord respect, job security, and fair compensation. This is not too much to ask. We are here because as teaching faculty, we know the value of our work. It’s high time that our salaries and our working conditions reflect that value.
Part-Time Lecturer, Labor Studies and Employment Relations
The people who keep the university running, from the PTLs to the dining workers, continue to suffer under decisions which treat us as disposable. PTLs have put tremendous effort into converting courses to an online format, with no additional compensation, in a job with low pay and no benefits. The reward Rutgers has given us is repeated waves of layoffs, the latest in the Writing Program. We are being treated as third-class citizens, and we refuse to accept that. All PTLs in the Writing Program must be employed if Rutgers is to continue teaching this core competence to its students.
But not only do we need our experienced teachers, we also need realistic class sizes in this period of pandemic, and especially for writing-intensive courses. One of my courses has had its cap raised by 20 percent, and the same has happened to many others. How will larger class sizes enhance Rutgers’ reputation? In another critical area, we will be asked to return to campus in this dangerous time, though we have no health insurance.
With enrollment stable and state funding restored, there is no excuse for the university to continue making its teachers and students suffer. It can find millions for a notorious anti-union law firm and for athletic coaches but so far has failed to fund the teachers at the center of its core mission. We expect to be treated with the same dignity that you expect to be treated with. We will accept nothing less.
Stephen Patrick Schaefer
Library Associate, Paul Robeson Library, Camden
I am asking to comment on the proposed budget, specifically the item “pursuing HR actions” in the presentation—in other words, layoffs.
I am pretty new to Rutgers—just over six months now—so I don’t presume to speak for everyone of my colleagues in the University Libraries and in other Departments who are similarly affected by recent decisions. However, I can share my own experience, and hopefully by analogy, I think I can voice some version of our concerns.
I was hired in mid-February. After a long effort of trying to improve my job and career situation, I pulled up stakes, and my wife and I drove across the country. I arrived at the Camden campus in late March, one week after everything was forced to shut down. It has been a challenging six months, but I have been grateful for the opportunity to pursue my own personal goals while contributing to an institution whose effects ripple out into the community and the wider world.
However, that brief opportunity is now at an end. The pandemic and subsequent economic turmoil has upended many plans and expectations. The current proposed budget, however, expects those upended plans to be passed on and paid for by upending the lives of individuals in the Rutgers community, in the form of layoffs.
The data the university is using to determine this budget is not incorrect, and viewed from the perspective of data and prevailing theories of management, the choices are not incomprehensible, vindictive, or even in all ways unreasonable. However, the data does not show how those decisions specifically complicate, put on hold, or even possibly ruin the plans and hopes and lives of the affected individuals.
The university is asking members of the Rutgers community to sacrifice for the greater good of the university’s position in the world, its reputation, and its future. However, I argue that the greater good—the position, reputation, and future—is the Rutgers community of which we are an integral part. In conclusion, I ask the Board of Governors to please reconsider your decisions and work with our unions to help find a more equitable solution than the one currently offered.