On Monday, faculty union representatives bargain with Rutgers University management in an all-day session to see if an agreement can be reached concerning union demands for a new contract. If not, 80 percent of union faculty — both full-time professors and part-time lecturers, including graduate students — have pledged to strike.
In a well-organized campaign, demonstrators prepare to cancel their classes and picket at all three Rutgers campuses — New Brunswick, Newark and Camden. The work stoppage threatens to shut down a school servicing over 70,000 students, which will be one of the largest disruptions at an educational institution in New Jersey.
“What we’re fighting for is nothing short of righteous,” said AAUP-AFT president, Deepa Kumar, at a final rally to pressure Rutgers University president, Robert L. Barchi to consent to contract demands before today’s negotiations.
Kumar, a tenured professor in the School of Communication & Information continued. “We’re fighting for equity, we’re fighting for diversity. We are fighting for fair wages for our least paid workers, our graduate employers, so they don’t experience food insecurity.”
After a many-month appeal to the university for pay equity, more diverse faculty and increased salaries for graduate student workers, the next step is the picket line for the more than 19,000 members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT chapter.
If the strike goes through, it will be the first in Rutgers’ 253-year history, and the first for a Big 10 university. Many believe that the measures that faculty are willing to take are long overdue.
“We are fighting for equal pay for equal work for female faculty in the twenty-first century. The idea that female faculty will be paid less for the same job is shameful,” said Kumar. On average, female faculty earn $10,000 less than their male counterparts.
Pay is not the only issue for full-time faculty. Representation is an ongoing problem that has been around since the university’s inception.
At the New Brunswick campus, the main vein of the three-campus institution, there is a 50 percent female student enrollment, but only 20 percent tenured female professors and 30 percent of female faculty make it to earn the title of a distinguished professor.
“We’re fighting for the hiring and retainment of diverse faculty, salary equity for women and people of color. We are also fighting for fair promotion standards so that more women can be promoted to full professors,” says Carlos Ulices Decena, an assistant professor who holds a dual position at Rutgers in Caribbean Studies and Women’s & Gender.
“New Jersey is an extremely diverse state,” adds Kumar. “15 percent of are African American and 20 percent are latino or Latina and that’s actually reflected in our student body but that’s not true of our faculty body. Only 4.2 percent of our tenure and tenure-track faculty are African American and 3.9 percent are Latino or Latina.”
On top of the gender pay gap, another major problem that union organizers point to is the low numbers of faculty hires. Currently, full-time faculty command about 30 percent of the classes, while the rest are left to temporary-contract instructors who are either part-time lecturers or graduate workers serving as teaching assistants and or graduate assistants.
While they call for more full-time faculty, and a diverse pool that narrows in on providing more representation to the 35 percent of Black and Latino/Latina students, the faculty union also push for better wages and job security for adjuncts and graduate students.
“One of our most important issues raised by our contract negotiations is how much the lowest paid academic workers make,” said Donna Murch in a video post on the Facebook post on AAUP-AFT.
Murch, a tenured professor in the History Department, explained that, “one of the largest category are graduate students and part-time instructors and they are making very, very little money.”
According to AAUP-AFT documents, graduate student workers make $25,969 per academic year and part-time instructors earn $5,128 to teach a 15-week course with an average of 33 to 42 students.
In their research, AAUP-AFT showed how less than 1 percent of Rutgers’ budget, or 0.8 percent goes to part-time instructor salaries. On the other hand, 244 administrators at Rutgers make an annual salary of $250,000 or more which is $80 million of the budget.
To worsen the pay gap, this year, adjuncts, who pay out-of-pocket for healthcare, were told their insurance cost would increase.
In the midst of demanding that Rutgers Administration meet the union’s contract asks, last week, Rutgers broke ground on a $65 million athletic facility that will foster an environment for student athletes to train and learn with classrooms for tutors to set up.
Kumar says, “The choice here for the Barchi Administration is that you either honor these demands or we have no choice, but to go on strike.”