Teach-in, May 6, 2014

Please join the teach-in in protest against honoring Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers on May 6, 2014. Human rights attorney Jumana Musa will be offering the keynote address.

Teach in flier

Teach-in flier

Library cutbacks?

Rutgers makes a healthy profit, due in part to rising admissions, rising tuition, stagnant wages and increasing reliance on non-tenure-track faculty.

While there seems to be no limit on the amount the university will spend on building its sports teams, libraries are apparently too expensive to remain a priority. A faculty member sent us the following email from a university librarian:

Regrettably the Libraries have had to discontinue our
subscription to Books in Print due to funding cuts.
Books in Print will no longer be available after May 19th.

Upcoming Event: Open The Books, April 10th

Our union, AAUP, is planning a great event at Rutgers next Thursday, April 10th:

Open the Books flier

Rutgers is a state university whose finances are open to the public in theory, but recent history shows the reality is much murkier. Despite mammoth sports subsidies and managerial bloat, students, faculty and staff face cuts and fee hikes that indicate Rutgers’ Old Queens management has misplaced priorities.

That’s why faculty, students and staff have invited celebrated accounting expert and Secretary-Treasurer of the National AAUP, Dr. Howard Bunsis, to be the featured speaker at our Open the Books event. Dr. Bunsis, Professor of Accounting at Eastern Michigan University, will present an exposé of Rutgers’ financial situation and answer questions.

Faculty and staff union reps, along with student organizers, will also be on hand to help coordinate our next steps to Reclaim Rutgers.

As we count down to April 10, let us know how you’ll be a part of this landmark event!

  • RSVP to aaup@rutgersaaup.org (help us plan for seating and refreshments)
  • Print or request a flyer and share it: on your door, in your department, and at your meetings
  • Build solidarity in your community by inviting your colleagues to attend
  • Retweet and share the event with your networks

What I Would have Said to the Board of Governors If I Had Been Allowed to Speak, by Jackson Lears

Jackson Lears, a Distinguished Professor of History, recently sent us this open letter regarding the University’s intractability over Condoleezza Rice’s role as this year’s commencement speaker:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I come to you today as a loyal member of the Rutgers faculty who has proudly served this university for nearly thirty years. With my colleagues, I share a sense of alarm at your invitation to Dr. Condoleezza Rice to speak at the 2014 commencement and to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. I urge you to rescind your decision for several reasons.

One is procedural. Contrary to previous practice, faculty were involved only minimally in choosing the commencement speaker, and members of the university community at large were not consulted. The selection committee apparently proceeded on its own and in secret.

The other reasons for my concern are substantive—and here we come to the heart of the matter. Even if the Board had consulted faculty, I and many of my colleagues would have opposed the choice vigorously. As National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice knowingly collaborated in the Bush administration’s campaign of distortions and untruths that sold the invasion of Iraq to the American people—an invasion with calamitous consequences for thousands of American soldiers and more than a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians. But the gravest charge that can be brought against Rice is simple: there is no question that while she was National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State in the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice condoned, facilitated, and ultimately sought to justify torture.

Allow me to provide some particulars, as I can only assume the Board was unaware of them when it made its offer. According to a report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2009, Rice gave CIA Director George Tenet verbal approval to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees in 2002, when she chaired the National Security Council. The phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” was the Bush administration euphemism for torture, which included waterboarding detainees, forcing them to maintain painful bodily positions, depriving them of sleep and food, and slamming their heads against the wall. In 2006, Rice’s top aide Philip Zelikow warned the administration that such practices could be considered “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” and were therefore “prohibited” under U. S. law “even if there is a compelling state interest asserted to justify them.” Rice surely was aware of this legal memorandum by her right-hand man, who later concluded that the Bush interrogation techniques constituted “a felony war crime.”

Yet she persisted in temporizing on torture. In 2008, testifying before Congress, Rice claimed she could not remember authorizing Tenet to torture detainees. A few days later, at Stanford University, Rice shifted her stance, telling students that “if it [torture] was authorized by the president, then it did not violate our obligations under the [Geneva] Convention Against Torture.” This was a version of Richard Nixon’s infamous assertion: “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” It also recalls the bureaucratic functionary’s classic defense that he was “just following orders” in carrying out war crimes. As recently as April 2013, in a video meant to accompany the opening of the Bush Library in Dallas, Rice defended the administration torture program, saying it kept us safe in the years following 9/11.

Torture is not a partisan political matter; it is a legal and moral matter. Cruel and inhumane punishment is not only an offense against the United States Constitution and the Geneva Conventions; it is an offense against the fundamental standards of human decency.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice sanctioned the use of torture and has continued to defend it even after her top aide warned that she and her colleagues were violating the law. To invite her to address the Rutgers graduating class, and then to award her a Doctor of Laws degree, honoris causa, is a travesty of all the ideals this university embodies. I urge you to rescind your invitation to her.

Jackson Lears
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History

Pearson Inc., Rutgers and the fight for Quality Education

by Deepa Kumar

Pearson, Inc., which dominates the world of education testing and technology, was recently in the news because of illegal practices carried out by its charitable wing. Charitable foundations are not supposed to be in the business of making money, hence the word “charity.” But in a move that would have made Scrooge proud (both Ebenezer and the duck), the Pearson Foundation was involved in wooing clients for the parent company and developing profitable products. This should hardly come as a surprise given the rapacious, profit-hungry corporation that Pearson is. In 2012, the company raked in $1.4 billion in profits.


It was therefore disturbing for us to hear that the administration at Rutgers had signed a contract with Pearson, Inc. that will fork over even more money to this corporation. In a lucrative contract set to expire in 2020, Rutgers would hand over 50% of initial tuition dollars to Pearson, Inc. At a time when student debt has reached record proportions crossing 1 trillion dollars, it is simply wrong to take money from our young to pad the coffers of a for-profit corporation.

In addition to stealing from our young, the Pearson contract offers few protections for faculty. Top of the list is the question of intellectual property. When intellectual property is not protected, it opens the door for the outsourcing of a course without the consent of the faculty member who created it.

This creates two sets of problems. First, courses can be outsourced to low paid part time faculty who are the new underclass of the education system. Not only are adjunct and other contingent faculty exploited financially, but they typically do not have access to healthcare, unemployment insurance, pension benefits and all the things that people need to live. Out of 1.5 million university faculty in the US, 1 million are contingent faculty. The Pearson-Rutgers agreement only encourages this trend because agreements with corporations are ultimately about making profits; this trend is visible in other sectors of the economy as well since neoliberalism has  created a permanent army of contingent workers from whom super profits can be extracted.

The second problem with this is the quality of online education. When a senior professor offers a course to let’s say 300 students online, s/he has about a dozen teaching assistants who play the role of facilitating discussions in smaller groups, something that is vital to promote learning. When this course, developed by the tenured faculty member, is outsourced to a part-time lecturer who is not given the same kind of teaching assistance and support, the end result is a course that has been compromised in terms of the quality of education in order to enrich for-profit corporations.

A recent University of Pennsylvania study found that only 4% of students enrolled in the giant MOOC’s courses (Massive Open Online Courses) actually finish a class. Even smaller online classes can fail miserably. The much touted 100 person online courses at San Jose State offered in partnership with the Udacity company, were a flop.

In other words, there is much thinking to do before rushing headlong to adopt online education. And the people who should be involved in doing this thinking are faculty, i.e. those who actually teach courses and may know a thing or two about learning practices. Yet, Rutgers administration signed this contract without faculty involvement. A committee made up of 15 administrators and 2 faculty members, all of whom were sworn to secrecy, made a decision that impacts all faculty.

Additionally, the Pearson contract encroaches upon academic freedom. A bureaucrat at Pearson can censor material s/he considers to be “obscene, threatening, indecent, libelous, slanderous, [or] defamatory.” This is not just an attack on academic freedom, but upon free speech, and upon the diversity of instruction offered to adults.

But this story is not just about doom and gloom, it is about the power we have to fight back. When the faculty was made aware of the Pearson contract they rose to challenge, passing a strongly worded resolution against Pearson. The first victory was won by the Graduate faculty in New Brunswick, who effectively suspended future graduate courses being offered through Pearson. This was followed by a similar vote by the Faculty Council, New Brunswick. Then an overwhelming majority of faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) not only voted in favor of the Pearson resolution, but also went a step further passing two other resolutions. One requires that courses be labeled to indicate whether they are online, hybrid, or in class. The other states that online courses must carry the same expectations and requirements for student/instructor interaction as exist for classroom and hybrid courses.

During this holiday break, those of us who were involved in this struggle, have much to celebrate. When we organize, as we did through our union Rutgers AAUP-AFT, we can win. These victories though are just the first steps towards asserting faculty governance and taking power back from Pearson, Inc. It is a small step in a larger struggle against the corporatization of education in the neoliberal era. It is about reclaiming the university as an institution dedicated to training the next generation of citizens who can participate meaningfully in a democracy without being straddled by debt. It is about putting students and faculty first, and removing the profit motive from education. This is a long struggle, and we have a ways to go.

Yet, as I sit back with my cup of egg nog this holiday season, I cannot help but smile at the thought that we made Pearson Scrooge spit out a “bah, humbug.”

Deepa Kumar is an Associate Professor at Rutgers, New Brunswick.

A Proud History and A New Era

On New Year’s Day of 2014, Nancy Cantor became chancellor of Rutgers-Newark. One Rutgers welcomes her with high hopes for what her leadership can mean for our university.

A year ago, we entered a spring semester of fierce debates over the future of Rutgers-Newark. In searching discussions and impassioned meetings, our faculty and students displayed an impressive commitment to the idea of a Rutgers-Newark that combines access and excellence.

We emerged from that semester with pride in being an integral part of our home city of Newark and pride in being a full presence in Rutgers University. The appointment of Chancellor Cantor builds on and strengthens our efforts to define ourselves and chart our course into the future.

Chancellor Cantor has a deep commitment to making universities centers of opportunity, democratic renewal, and engaged scholarship. She can be a great force for making Rutgers-Newark an ever stronger university by building on our unique strengths.

There is much work to be done. Rutgers-Newark is a school with engaging students and a distinguished faculty. It is also a school where students and faculty alike yearn for stronger staffing and better facilities that will free us to do our best work.

In all the debates of 2013, what emerged clearly was a widespread pride in all we have accomplished at Rutgers-Newark. Under Chancellor Cantor, we have a great opportunity to make real our highest visions for our future.–Robert W. Snyder

Needed in Strategic Plan: Shared Governance, Academic Freedom, Responsive Leadership and Effective Communication

In a recent resolution, the Rutgers University Senate urged that “‘Robust shared governance, academic freedom, and responsive leadership and effective communication’ be added to the strategic plan framework as a separate foundational element.” The resolution, which was endorsed by President Barchi,  was very similar to one backed by faculty councils in Newark, New Brunswick and Camden and by the Rutgers University Student Assembly. For a full copy of the resolution, click “Continue reading.”

Read more

Rutgers, Inc., or How Thorstein Veblen Explains Today’s Policies in Higher Education

By William Vesterman, reprinted from AAUP, Sept.-Oct. 2013

On April 3, 2013, Rutgers University head basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for abusing his players. The university’s president had discovered the abuse in November 2012. This delay is representative of the wider institutional culture in modern American universities.

When Robert L. Barchi became president of Rutgers in September 2012, he proposed a year of university self-study. But after two semesters of strategic planning sessions, online surveys, town hall meetings, focus groups, and other dog and pony shows, nothing has changed. Barchi announced that Rutgers’s goals were still those he had proclaimed on his inauguration—teaching, research, and service. Entirely obvious and general functions for a university, these are hardly worthy results of a year of institutional soul-searching. They do remind one of Virgil’s pretending to take seriously the advice of his slaves for the improvement of his farm—it made them more efficient by making them feel more important. Read more

More Good News on Future of Rutgers Board of Trustees

By Matt Friedman and Kelly Heyboer/reprinted from the July 17 Star-Ledger

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) said today she will not bring a measure to the Assembly floor — proposed by her Democratic legislative partner, Senate President Stephen Sweeney — that would disband the Rutgers University board of trustees.

“I don’t think that speaks to improving or retrofitting the governing structure,” Oliver said during an interview with The Star-Ledger editorial board. “I don’t think that’s the way to do it.” Read more

A New Chancellor and a Welcome Colleague

Unable to resist the lure of a free lunch (available without leaving the building), I attended an impromptu and informal lunch on Friday, June 21st to meet  our new Chancellor, Nancy Cantor. As best I understand, there was an open invitation to those of us foolish or unfortunate enough to be on campus on a Friday afternoon. 

Chancellor Cantor was introduced by the new acting Chancellor (until December 31, 2013), Todd Clear, dean of the School of Criminal Justice and a member of the search committee. Todd spoke (not so briefly) followed by brief remarks by Chancellor Cantor, and then she responded to audience questions dealing with P&T requirements for faculty in the performing arts, campus research funding in general, the importance of the sciences to Newark, and (my question) her role as a voice for Newark in President Barchi’s ongoing strategic planning efforts. She assured us that she will speak up for Newark faculty, students, staff and values in the planning process – which has been put on temporary hold for the summer – and she urged us all to participate to the maximum extent possible.

I was very favorably impressed, both by this brief exposure to the new Chancellor and with President Barchi’s willingness to appoint someone with far greater standing and recognition in the national academic community than he has.  It takes a confident leader to appoint such a prominent and strong subordinate.

It is time for good news in Newark, and I believe that our new Chancellor will be a welcome colleague.—Peter Simmons, Newark Law School