NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Over 200 Rutgers faculty, students, and staff gathered outside of the Board of Governors (BOG) meeting last Thursday at a "Rally For Respect."
Later that day, as expectecd, the board named Greg Brown, an Illinois resident who serves as the CEO of Motorola, as its newest leader.
Brown was instrumental in the failed effort to bring former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to campus for the 2014 commencement, which sparked national controversy.
Rutgers One, a coalition of faculty, students, and staff, organized the large rally, focusing mainly on the injustices university workers have faced from the administration over the past several years.
The unions represented were AAUP-AFT, AAUP-AFT-PTLFC, AAUP-BHSNJ, CWA Local 74, HPAE, IBT Local 97, IUOE Local 68, Doctors Council SEIU, and URA-AFT.
Their goals are to fight for fair contracts at the bargaining table, ensure no more layoffs, and to challenge “management’s misplaced priorities,” according to the event flyer.
Professors, students, and at least one representative from each union were present to speak. Together they addressed how the issues they all face are interconnected.
The unfair practices of the Board of Governors is what motivated Rutgers One to launch the Reclaiming Rutgers campaign.
“We want to reclaim Rutgers as an institution where the voices of faculty, students, and staff actually matter in the running of the university,” said Deepa Kumar, an Associate Professor at Rutgers New Brunswick and representative of the AFT-AAUP.
In a creative tactic to coincide with the speaker’s list, the unions set up a laundry line where workers could pin up cut-outs of clothing with messages listed on them, so that they could “air out their dirty laundry."
The Board of Governors’ lack of interest in the voices of the Rutgers community was evident when students were blocked from testifying during the open session about the issue they care about most: rising tuition.
Although several students applied to speak regarding the cost of tuition, some received emails saying "public comment is not permitted for tuition cost at this meeting” because it is not an "action item" on the agenda.
However, BOG member Ralph Izzo had invited students to speak at the June BOG meeting, after listening to student input at an April tuition hearing on College Avenue.
As usual, the BOG will be deciding on tuition rates and student fees for the upcoming year at their July meeting, which falls on July 11 this year. Any hike in tutition will likely be fought by the Rutgers One coalition that has coalesced in recent years.
“They do not want to hear our opinions, they do not want us to express our opinions,” said Rutgers student John Lisowski. "They want us to accumulate debt while they make millions of dollars in profits"
Rutgers Student Ezra Sholom stood in support with professors at the rally, expressing solidarity for their cause
“Union contracts are not being respected, and students can’t afford to pay for their tuition here. We are all struggling together, therefore we should all be organizing and mobilizing together,” he said.
“We want Rutgers to respect our experience. We want no layoffs, but right now they are laying off UMDNJ legacy people,” said Kathy Hernandez, Executive Vice President of the Communications Workers of America 1031. “Rutgers has to come to the table so we can negotiate.”
All unions at the University have expressed issues with upper management, even those who have newly arrived.
“We have had problems already with the university abiding by our contract,” said Judy Cunha, co-president of HPAE 5904.
After the Rutgers absorbed the University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ, the Healthcare Professionals and Allied Employees says their members have faced issues with unjust layoffs.
Although the unions are facing many issues from the administration, their solidarity with one another appears to be growing, as they have been turning out many more members to protests and rallies than in previous years.
Editor's Note: David Bedford is a Rutgers student who participated in the Rutgers One protest.