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Republican Policy for Higher Ed: Starve It, Bleed It — While You’re At It, Build A Football Stadium

March 31, 2012, 4:20 pm

Those of you who have friends at Rutgers University, New Jersey’s flagship R-I, know that, like many public institutions, it has had to absorb deep cuts in state funding over the past few years:  last year it lost 15% of its budget.

Those of us who have been in the position of managing cuts at the departmental and divisional level for the last few years have all kinds of stories to tell. Personnel cuts are often directed at the most vulnerable workers: remaining secretarial staff and administrative assistants have to take on more work; food, sanitation and maintenance services get “outsourced” to for-profit companies; and the adjunct teaching force is cut (see how flexible it is to hire faculty by the course?  Milton Friedman told you this was a good idea!) Best case scenario for all non-administrative staff is that positions vacated through retirement or other voluntary means (this often includes retirement buyouts) are not refilled, resulting in bigger classes, longer work hours for full time faculty and shorter hours for departmental offices operating on floating secretaries.  One worst case scenario is that whole departments are eliminated; in a second, worst-er case scenario, whole campuses vanish.

In the past five years, Rutgers has gone through a process in which the several, often contiguous, campuses that made up the university have been consolidated under one administrative apparatus and a uniform set of student services.  Formerly separate entities in New Brunswick that had different missions, and often separate faculties, have been integrated under the new systems. In a move that seemed rad to me when I was interviewing there a few years ago, students can now go to “advising pods” on any campus where complete strangers help them adjust their schedules. Perhaps the saddest loss is the evisceration of Douglass College, formerly New Jersey College for Women, and the last public institution where women could choose a single sex education. Douglass mounts programming aimed at women, but the campus’s integrity and identity as a college for women has been eroded by closing its dining hall and assigning housing and residence advisors through a central office. Non-Douglass students live on the campus, while Douglass students often live elsewhere, making college a hub for programming rather than an actual women’s community. A new dean fired staff members and a top administrator who were instrumental to the College’s feminist mission and its connection to the Rutgers Women’s Studies department (a prestigious program of study originally founded at Douglass.) Douglass, as it now exists, continues to have a troubled relationship to alumnae who valued the college’s autonomy, although longstanding rituals that link current students to a Douglass tradition, threatened by budget cuts several years ago, were saved.

Reorganizations at Rutgers continue that continue to trouble faculty and students. This post in Roxie’s World, “Excellence Without Money:  New Jersey Style” reminded me that several weeks ago I had received an email asking me to help publicize the effort to stop the merger between Rutgers’ Camden campus with Rowan University. Founded as a Normal School, Rowan was known for most of my youth as Glassboro State Teachers College (they had crackerjack field hockey and lacrosse teams, and several of their alumnae coached the young Radical.) Perhaps most famous as the college Patti Smith never graduated from, Rowan has an extension campus in Camden and is in a whole heap of financial trouble because of a bad decision to partner with, and expand, Cooper Medical School. Rutgers organizers in Camden fear that this merger will make the closure of their own campus inevitable, a campus that is a thriving cultural bright spot in a struggling city.

As my correspondent explained it, “All of this has to do with a lot of corrupt South Jersey politics and the one-step-above-junk-grade bonds of Rowan’s medical school, Cooper. The history is pretty ugly and details can be found here. We are reaching out to everyone as we battle on through lobbying efforts, media buys, and gearing up for potential legal action (and raising the money to do all this). Our students have taken in the lead in so much of this effort and their brilliant graphic and media skills appear in this website they created.  Our union, Rutgers AAUP/AFT is with us every step of the way and helping with lawyers, guns, and money, (no, wait that would be Warren Zevon, it is just lawyers and money).”

Here is the narrative at Roxie’s World, from their own correspondent at Rutgers:

Cooper is broke. It relies on the state for funding and has bonds one step above junk grade.

The solution, according to the political bosses, is to take over Rutgers Camden so that Rowan-Cooper can use its cash flow to borrow money at better rates. And yes, of course, the governor and his political cronies are covering up this naked cash grab with talk of creating a bigger and better university in southern New Jersey. When politicians talk about improving education, lock up your wallet, and your children.

When folks object to us calling this move a “hostile takeover” we just switch to Anschluss. And when our friends say, “Well, that’s just New Jersey,” we say, “Have you been paying attention to what is happening to public education in this country?” Your bond rating or your endowment just might be bait for some of your own political “leaders.” On March 22 Rowan released what it called a plan and we call a fantasy. It is “take the money and run” and not of the Woody Allen variety. The proposal is to grab the money (all of Rutgers Camden and its assets) fourteen months after a legislated takeover and then it promises to figure out how to create a research university — there are no details, there is no budget, it is the land of hope and dreams . . . and not of the Bruce variety.

It really makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  Instead of reorganizing the campus where mistakes were made, let’s spread the pain around, create a sprawling campus that does less for everyone and then — in the name of efficiency — sell the land in Camden to a developer.  If lessons are to be drawn from elsewhere, as administrative units are consolidated, staff and faculty will become “redundant.” With luck, whole departments will become redundant!  Even more administrators — who never seem to go away in the aftermath of such transitions —  will have to hired to process the travesty, shifting tuition revenues towards “administrative costs.” The further adjunctification of teaching staff will be necessary to “provide a flexible education force for the twenty-first century,” and tuition increases will pay for everything.

My crystal ball also says that Rowan University’s football team, now Division III, will be slated for an upgrade too (Division II, which is a slender group of schools who are in God’s waiting room to become BCS schools), on the theory that big time football will “generate revenue and visibility.” Here’s the 2010 report on the finances of Rutgers’ athletic program: sum includes donations made by alumnae/i, sponsorships, gate receipts, gear, the whole shebang. Guess what the current revenue from athletics supports at Rutgers? Athletics. That’s all: not books, faculty, financial aid (except for athletes), tuition reductions, housing or labs. $26.6 million in, $26.6 million out (actually the athletic department finished the year $2.00 in the red.) That doesn’t count the $130 million football stadium, the $16 million upgrade, or the maintenance costs of a stadium that was supposed to take Rutgers to the Promised Land when the university revamped its programs in the 1990s. Nor does that budget count the actual cost of educating the athletes brought to Rutgers on scholarship (usually around twice the official number cited for tuition, fees and housing.)

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg is showing his support for Rutgers-Camden by asking for a federal investigation into the possibility that there are dirty tricks behind this one (in New Jersey? STA-aaaaahp!!!!!)  You can show your support by going to this website, donating money to help fund the defense of the campus, and signing the petition.

Tell Chris Christie and his big business pals that you are sick of conservatives running education into the ground in the name of efficiency and reform.  Stop it in New Jersey. And while you are at it, tell Bruce Springsteen that Rutgers Camden activists are trying to get hold of him.

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