Press Statement: September 25
When: Saturday, September 26, starting at 3 p.m.
Where: New Brunswick, gathering at Lincoln Annex School, 165 Somerset (see planned march route below)
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers unions, students, and community members will participate in a safe, socially distanced March4RLivesRJobsRSchools in New Brunswick, starting with a speakout at Lincoln Annex middle school (165 Somerset). The march was organized jointly by the Coalition of Rutgers Unions, with 19 unions representing 20,000 members; student organizations, including the Rutgers University Student Assembly; and long-time social justice groups and community organizers in New Brunswick.
According to organizers, the march route through downtown New Brunswick was designed to pass sites that each represent ways Rutgers and its corporate partners exercise unaccountable and destructive power.
— The march will begin and end at Lincoln Annex School, 165 Somerset. Rutgers, in partnership with Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) University Hospital, and the developer DEVCO, is planning to demolish the school to make way for another medical building. Lincoln Annex’s 95 percent Latinx, 90 percent economically disadvantaged students will be sent to learn in a warehouse for years to come.
— Across the street is the giant RWJ medical complex. In addition to the threats to Lincoln Annex, physicians and health care professionals in the RWJ health care system are among the 1,500 medical faculty represented by AAUP-BHSNJ, which is one of three Rutgers unions that has been denied a new contract by Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences for more than two years.
— Toward the end of the route is Old Queens, headquarters of the Rutgers administration, which has presided over more than 1,000 layoffs since the start of the pandemic, refused to reduce student tuition and fees, defied calls for full divestment from companies contributing to the climate crisis, and enforced policies on students and workers that damage racial equity.
Speakers at the start, during, and at the end of the march will address the six demands developed by the organizers:
Stop the layoffs
Rutgers University has carried out more than 1,000 layoffs since the start of the pandemic, with threats of worse to come, says Todd Wolfson, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty and graduate workers.
“The excuse for this is a fiscal emergency that simply doesn’t exist,” said Wolfson. “Rutgers has a rainy-day fund of unrestricted financial reserves that went up again last year. Enrollment is down only slightly. And just this week, we got the welcome news that state appropriations for Rutgers will be restored to pre-pandemic levels. That’s close to $100 million in threatened cuts that have been won back.
“The last justifications for the administration’s layoffs and cuts are vanishing. It’s intolerable that they are still considering plans that will destroy even more lives. Rutgers needs to stop all layoffs and cuts now, bring back the more than 1,000 people who have already lost their jobs, and turn in a new direction.”
Save Lincoln Annex
Rutgers is working in conjunction with Robert Woods Johnson Hospital and the developer DEVCO on a plan that would bulldoze Lincoln Annex, one of the top-performing schools in New Brunswick, and transfer its students to study in a warehouse in a postindustrial area where there are environmental concerns.
The university and its corporate partners claim that the community supports its “development” plans, but parents of Lincoln Annex students say otherwise, according to award-winning investigative journalist and Democracy Now! cohost Juan González, a veteran of many community struggles in New Brunswick.
“President Jonathan Holloway just announced a $15 million Mellon Foundation grant for a new Rutgers Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice,” González said. “Yet Rutgers officials and RWJ continue to trample on the wishes and desires of the largely Latinx Lincoln Annex community that resides in the shadows of their campuses. It’s not enough to ‘study’ racial justice around the world; you have to be willing to practice it in your own backyard.”
Student Votes on the Board of Governors for Tuition
Despite learning going mostly online and off campus, Rutgers has not reduced tuition or dropped fees more than a token amount. Nicholas LaBelle, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly connected the need for a student voice in governance to the other issues of the march.
“Educational equity, climate justice, respecting our local community and its childrens’ future—these are all issues that matter, regardless of age or position in life,” LaBelle said. “Students are the lifeblood of Rutgers, and yet too often their voice goes unheard. Students need a voting seat on the university Board of Governors to be heard on tuition, climate issues, and protecting our campus community.
“Rutgers is a revolutionary place that acts as a symbol of progress for many, and students need to make sure it stays that way.”
Stand for Racial Equity
Donna Murch, an associate professor of history and cochair of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT People of Color Caucus, says that leaving the most vulnerable to bear the brunt of the crisis, as Rutgers administrators have done, inevitably has a deeper impact on communities of color, on campus and off.
“The layoffs that have already taken place during the pandemic have already disproportionately affected Black and Brown workers,” Murch said. “Additionally, further staff layoffs being threatened now would likely have a deeper effect on smaller departments, including those that speak directly to Black and Latinx studies.
“Just as Rutgers’ corporate vision has affected workers of color in the university, we are seeing similar impacts on communities of color in New Brunswick, including the closing of one of the highest-performing public schools in the city that serves an overwhelmingly Latinx student body. Saturday’s march for lives, jobs, and schools is also a march for racial and economic justice.”
Stand for Climate Justice
Mollie Passacantando, a Rutgers undergraduate and member of Students for Environmental Awareness, says that the university’s actions on climate change don’t measure up to its words. “By supporting the displacement of Lincoln Annex and designating a new school site in a brownfield zone, Rutgers is actively committing climate injustice,” said Passacantando.
“Rutgers has been behind in the climate movement. We’ve been behind in establishing a carbon baseline, behind in divesting, and behind in establishing an office of sustainability. We need to create an office of sustainability with full-time staff to carry out our climate action plan. This office needs the power to reach between Rutgers departments to make real change, and climate justice needs to be a foundation upon which the office is built.”
Settle All Union Contracts
The medical school at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital is part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, which is presided over by Brian Strom, one of the most aggressive administrators in the Rutgers system, says Dr. Catherine Monteleone, president of AAUP-BHSNJ, the union representing medical faculty.
Because of Strom’s intransigence, three unions in the Coalition of Rutgers Unions have been working without contracts for more than two years, Monteleone said. “Now that Rutgers has the money restored from the state,” she said, “they should do right by their medical faculty heroes who served admirably during the pandemic and settle our contracts that are more than two years overdue.”