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What the Rally was about

 

 

On Monday, October 17th faculty, staff, and students rallied at Richard Stockton College to send a strong message to Governor Christie and the college presidents: Invest in Higher Education.   As president of the Stockton Federation of Teachers representing approximately 350 faculty and staff members at Stockton and as one of the organizers of the rally I’d like to offer our Union’s perspective on the purpose of the event.

 

We have watched over the years as our state’s commitment to higher education has eroded.  As a result, NJ is now at or near the bottom in national state rankings for metrics such as per capita spending on higher education and percentage of the total budget allocated to higher education. These cuts in higher education spending are shortsighted and misguided. The economic future of our state is tied directly to the development of a highly educated workforce.    

 

According to September 2011 statistics from the National Bureau of Labor, the current rate of unemployment for college graduates is 4.2%, which is less than half of the average for the population as a whole. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that the average annual starting salary offer made to last year’s college graduates was just over fifty-one thousand dollars. Numbers like these point to what many parents and students already know – a college education is a wise investment. It is an investment that makes sense, not only for individuals, but also for states. As long as New Jersey allocates less to higher education than almost all other states, our competitive prospects will be diminished. Real leadership comes from knowing how to wisely prioritize the spending of scarce resources with an eye towards long term public good.

 

On individual campuses there needs to be greater scrutiny of how public money is being spent.  Too often infrastructure projects seem to be built with that primary goal of marketing the college to perspective students rather than to providing them with the best possible education when they arrive on campus.    At Stockton we have seen a large expansion of administrative space while some faculty members have to share 10’ x 12’ offices and we struggle to provide adequate classroom spaces.  Last year we spent over 20 million dollars of public money to acquire the Seaview hotel, and millions more to renovate the old building.  While this was certainly at “marquee” purchase it benefits a relatively small number of students.  As the Governor and the college presidents emphasize the cost of employee contracts we wonder why the same level of attention has not been focused on managerial salaries and perks.  Why, for example, should taxpayers foot the bill the for the college president’s house?  A house he owns and will be able to sell when he leaves the college?  Before laying blame for all our economic woes on the backs of public employees, let’s carefully consider how to most efficiently spend the public’s money to deliver high quality education. 

 

And yes, we do think that part of the commitment to excellence in higher education is an investment in human capital. In order to build a world-class system, workers must be paid a competitive wage and be able to labor under fair and safe conditions.  The specifics, the terms and conditions, must be worked out through good-faith collective bargaining where both sides are willing to engage in give and take and compromise. Our Union has engaged in this process with the state and the college presidents for the last 40 years, and in general the process has worked. Recently, management has decided to abrogate some of the terms of the existing contract while negotiations are under way. This is unprecedented, and we do not believe this is a constructive way to reach agreement. Sabbaticals are one of the areas where management has made unilateral changes to our contract during ongoing negotiations. Our complaints about these changes seem to have led to the mistaken impression that the rally was about sabbaticals.   It was not.

 

It was about standing arm in arm with our students and demanding that the colleges and the state prioritize accessible, affordable, high quality college education. There is no wiser investment than in the direct education of the citizens of the Commonwealth.

 

Tim Haresign

 

President, Stockton Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2275

Associate Professor of Biology, Richard Stockton College

 

     

 

 

Faculty salaries, benefits, and working conditions are under attack!

This could lead to:

Faculty flight: Some faculty members might just choose to leave and go to another public or private institution where they will receive more respect and support for their responsibilities. The most talented faculty would be those most likely to obtain positions elsewhere.

Rising numbers of faculty without terminal degrees: If the State of New Jersey system of higher education is perceived as being under distress, it might well become difficult or impossible to find new faculty or replace those who depart with qualified individuals. The College might be forced to hire faculty who do not have the highest degrees in their fields.

Rising numbers of adjunct instructors:Likewise, the College might be forced to fill vacancies with greater and greater numbers of adjunct instructors. Most adjuncts are dedicated teachers but often have other full or part-time jobs to support their families.

Less one-on-one time with faculty: Part-time and adjunct faculty members are simply not on campus as much as the full-time faculty. They are rarely afforded any permanent office space in which to meet with students. If the College is forced to hire greater numbers of part-time and adjunct faculty, students will lose the ability to find their faculty for assistance, guidance, advising, mentorship…

Rising class sizes: If the College suffers faculty flight the administrators may be forced to increase class sizes. The larger the class size, the less individual attention faculty can give to students.

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Loss of Academic Freedom: If faculty lose equity of pay, the administration of the college could potentially control what is taught in the classroom by using pay and perks as a system of rewards and punishments. Without academic freedom, students cannot learn to develop independent, creative, and critical thinking.

Brain-drain: If talented full-time faculty choose or are forced by their economic circumstances to leave the College, there will be less cutting-edge research taking place on the campus. Students will no longer have the chance to be involved in these challenging research projects.

Less high-level research on campus: College support for faculty research is being reduced, sabbaticals are being withheld. Colleges need to invest in their personnel to function at the highest level and maintain a national reputation. If the reputation of the school suffers, it will affect students' chances of getting into graduate schools and finding employment. Likewise, students currently enrolled may lose the ability to partner with faculty doing research. It will be increasingly difficult to recruit top-notch faculty to a school that will not adequately fund their research.

Less inspiration: Let's face it, excellent teachers inspire students to learn, to develop, to grow, to flourish for years to come. If Stockton cannot hold on to its most talented teachers the students suffer – imagine losing your most inspirational faculty member. Imagine losing a faculty member who has changed your life for the better.

Loss of morale: Cutting faculty medical and other benefits can only lead to a loss of morale. Who could be happy to come to work at a place that does not protect them during their most vulnerable times or respect and reward their valuable work? A loss of morale changes the entire environment at the college for the worse.