NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Late Friday morning, students and faculty gathered outside the College Ave Student Center with coffins and costumes to hold a mock funeral procession down College Ave.
The funeral was organized by the Students for Shared Governance coalition and the Reclaim Rutgers campaign to symbolize the loss of faculty, student, and staff rights at the univeristy.
On one coffin, it said “RIP Student Voices,” and on the other was written “RIP Fair Contracts.” In respect for the funeral, protestors wore all black.
The Reclaim Rutgers campaign fought for the same issues last week in collaboration with the Students for Shared Governance (SSG) coalition. They organized a large walk-out protest of faculty, students, and staff across all Rutgers campuses.
The AFT-AAUP, the main faculty union working on the Reclaim Rutgers campaign, organized the funeral march with the SSG coalition, who are the organization behind the Where RU Barchi? campaign.
Where RU Barchi? campaign was launched to draw attention to president Barchi’s unwillingness to meet with students, said Sivan Rosenthal, a Rutgers sophomore.
The protest was set to coincide with the faculty-staff bargaining session occurring at roughly the same time on Busch campus.
According to Sherry Wolf, the campaign organizer of the AFT-AAUP, the faculty and staff have been bargaining with the administration for several months, following a four-year salary freeze.
They are fighting for “fair contracts” for faculty and staff, but are already two months past the expiration of their contracts.
While marching down College Ave, protestors carried the coffins to the beat of a marching drum, while chanting phrases such as, “Hey Barchi! Step off it, put people over profit!”
The march was headed for Old Queens, the location of the administrative offices of President Robert Barchi and others.
Once the protestors arrived at Old Queens, they were surprised to be let inside; at last week’s protest, they were locked out of the building.
Barchi and other important administrators were not present to address the students and faculty, who instead spoke to senior executive associate Kevin Melillo.
Senior executive associate Kevin Melillo met with the protestors inside, but declined to comment on all issues.
He suggested they email administrators to make appointments with them, but faculty and students declared they have already tried to no success.
According to Rutgers junior Marisa Jaminez, when students of United Students against Sweatshops met Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Felicia McGinty, she said that only Barchi had the authority to address their concerns.
Without any success in scheduling a meeting with Barchi or other administrators, the protestors marched back outside with the coffins, and held a ceremony in front of the main entrance.
Marisa Jmenez delivered a eulogy for “fair contracts” and “student voices.”
She opened with, “We are gathered here today–in solidarity–to express our deepest grief over the death of collective bargaining, of shared governance, of fair salaries, and of affordable tuition.”
The eulogy expressed the grievances held by students and faculty, and the ways in which they feel disrespected by the Univeristy.
“Since April 11, 2012, the demands of staff and faculty have been ignored and disrespected, denying fair salaries along the way… We live in a day in which the suppression of student voices is so severe, it is safe to say that any semblance of shared governance is dead and buried.”
Following her eulogy, students and faculty laid roses on the coffins outside the building.
After a final round of chanting, tombstones were erected on the lawn of the Old Queens campus, and the coffins were marched back down College Avenue.
Rutgers University Spokesman E.J. Miranda addressed the issue, stating “Rutgers cares deeply about its employees.”
“Rutgers has historically strived to compensate its employees fairly; we have always placed a high value on faculty and staff excellence and we have provided our employees with salary and benefit packages that are among the most competitive in the nation for public research universities.”
As of the October 31 bargaining session, a contract agreement has still not been reached between the unions and the administration.