Professors at nine public New Jersey colleges have banded together as a union to demand a fair contract. Their last contract expired on July 1, 2019, but they will remain on the previously agreed 2017 contract until a new deal is reached.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a nonprofit association of university faculty members and other academic professionals, has expressed concern about the current contracts. The association is concerned about the increase in non-tenure track faculty and the lack of protection and job security for these professors.
But little has been said about the specific reasons why William Paterson University professors have joined the statewide protest. University President Richard J. Helldobler’s university-wide email addressing the professors union mentioned little about the specific concerns plaguing William Paterson professors.
What he did say was that the American Federation of Teachers, a teachers union that is a part of the AAUP, has declared a “work to rule.”
“Work to rule means that whatever is unobligated by, in my contract, I’ll do, but I’m not doing anything else, and faculty do a lot of other things,” said Sue Tardi, president of the AFT at William Paterson University. “We care about our students, we care about the university, we step up to plate. You know, there are committees we don’t have to join.”
Professors often claim a work to rule so that universities will take notice of and hear out their workers’ requests. This begs the question of what, exactly, in the current contract is problematic for William Paterson’s professors?
The most prominent issue is the lack of financial support for assigned released time for research, or ART.
“Right now, according to the contract, you have to teach a certain amount of courses per year,” Tardi said. “So, what ART provides is released time from teaching, of one course, up to one course per semester. You can apply for a two-year period for you, instead of being in the classroom, to be doing research.”
To receive ART, professors must submit research proposals. Research proposals describe what they will be doing, why it is important, how long it will take and the amount of funding necessary. Proposals that are likely to meet the goals and expectations outlined are described as “meritorious proposals.” Recently, these meritorious proposals have been denied by the university.
“In the last go-round of ART two proposals out of all that were submitted, hundreds of proposals, were questionable,” Tardi said. “All the rest were meritorious and it was only because of finances that they weren’t supported.”
Administration officials at a recent public Board of Trustees meeting cited William Paterson’s recent failure to meet enrollment and retention goals as the reason for the lack of funding for the meritorious proposals.
“When the fiscal situation was good, if you gave a meritorious proposal, you were granted that time,” said Tardi. “Now they’re finding reasons not to approve because they’re looking at the budget.”
The union hopes that an agreement that takes into consideration the needs of both professors and students for receiving a quality education will be reached.
In her speech to the Board of Trustees, Tardi said, “Without an effective ART program we will not be able to recruit high-quality faculty and may lose some of those faculty already on board.”
The Beacon will continue to report on the teachers’ union as the situation unfolds.