By Sarah Siock and Shaun Chornobroff
From the early days of Gregory Dell’Omo’s tenure as president of Rider University, there has been a constant mistrust between his administration and the Rider chapter of the American Association of University Teachers (AAUP). The university’s recent partnership with higher education consultancy Credo is the latest example of AAUP’s frustration.
Opposition to the Creed
The partnership was launched in June after a financially difficult year for Rider due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Credo website, the firm works “to help higher education thrive in order to have an impact on student success.” However, in an email to union members sent on October 1, AAUP leadership condemned the partnership, saying it would “embolden further missteps” and asked members not to commit. with the representatives of Credo.
Credo, the union says, has a “disturbing pattern of drastic cuts to programs and departments, and cuts in student services,” and called on faculty and students to “engage in educational but disruptive action.” at the university to protest against Credo and the process.
Barbara Franz, professor of political science and president of Rider’s AAUP, told The Rider News: âCredo was hired to justify and justify reducing Rider’s programs and eliminating professors. Credo will simply provide coverage for actions that the administration is already planning to take. “
In an October 5 email to the AAUP executive committee, Robert Stoto, vice president of human resources at Rider, as well as Mark Solomon, vice president of legal affairs and general counsel for the university, wrote : “The actions described in this email should they occur, including calls that professors do not participate in the process of forming a contract-initiated working group, and that professors engage in actions” disruptive â, would violate our contract. “
The email advised the union to “cancel the October 1 communication” and share it with its members.
In response, the AAUP executive committee made its position clear.
âThis attempt to intimidate AAUP leadership is a violation of both our contractually protected academic freedom rights and federal employment law. Members of the bargaining unit are not required to be part of working groups. Calling on our members not to volunteer to do such work is not a strike or a slowdown, but simply a call to exercise their contractual rights to choose the valuable activities they will carry out. The exercise of our right to advise our members does not interfere with the normal activities of the university, âsaid the email from the head of AAUP sent on October 6.
The university’s associate vice president of marketing and communications Kristine Brown previously told The Rider News that the university has chosen to engage with Credo, “given all the complex and multifaceted challenges facing Rider is confronted”.
Brown explained that the engagement will consist of two phases. The first phase, currently underway, will focus on three aspects of the operation of the university: admissions, student success and efficiency, and prioritization.
âIn short, the first phase will deepen, through the collection, review and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, those critical institutional functions that directly intersect with the student experience and the financial health of the institution. Credo will then identify areas with the greatest impact to improve the student experience at Rider from the top of the hiring funnel to graduation, as well as opportunities to increase resource efficiency across the board. university, âBrown said.
Brown said the second phase is about to begin and will run until 2022 with a focus on administrative and academic efficiency.
âCredo’s recommendations will be reviewed and prioritized by the university for implementation with the primary goal of ensuring that Rider remains an attractive competitive choice when students and families decide which college will provide the best investment value. We need to be responsive to all of the factors influencing higher education today so that we can transform Rider into the strongest institution possible, âsaid Brown.
Brown did not disclose the cost of Rider’s partnership with Credo.
Recalling the past
Several professors have expressed concern that Credo’s prioritization process could lead to layoffs and the shutdown of university programs. Faculty highlighted Dell’Omo’s tenure at Rider in 2015. In October of the same year, the university announced the dismissal of 14 faculty members, the elimination of 14 academic programs and the reduction of three major to minor programs. However, after negotiations with the union, which resulted in a freeze on faculty salaries for the current academic year and the next, programs and faculty were rescued.
Philosophy professor Joel Feldman said: âIt was clear to me that they intended and wanted to eliminate programs, they were all small programs, relatively smallâ¦ and that the goal was not to prioritize and develop. ‘improve things, but it was to cut and eliminate. ”
According to the administration’s planned layoff plan in 2015, programs at risk included advertising, American studies, art and art history, business education, business economics, l economics, French, geosciences, German, Italian, marine sciences, organizational leadership, philosophy, piano, sociology and web design.
Before negotiations took place in 2015, Feldman learned he had been laid off and that the philosophy major would no longer be offered at Rider. He is currently one of the two remaining full-time professors who teach philosophy.
âIt was pretty clear to me that it was the humanities, liberal arts, and social sciences that were in their sights,â Feldman said.
What is Credo?
The AAUP did extensive research on Credo which they compiled into two documents titled âA Bargaining Unit Member’s Guide to Credoâ.
The research details Credo’s history of institutions with which they have engaged in the past.
A paper that was posted to the AAUP website on September 28 said, âLikely led by Credo – Bethel, Elon, LaSalle, Marquette and Wartburg have all made huge cuts to core programs. This has resulted in cuts, consolidations and closures of entire programs. These include foreign languages, classics, political science, performing arts, visual arts and history. The sciences, especially physics, have also undergone significant reductions. Even sports programs have been drastically reduced in some cases, although they are often the favorite project of administrations. ”
A blog post posted on April 16, 2019 on the Credo website read, âCollege and university leaders must explicitly and unequivocally embrace an entrepreneurial mindset, educating their campuses on the financial realities and complexities of business. institutional income, expenditure and discount rates â.
It’s a logic that Joel Phillips, professor of composition and music theory at Rider’s Westminster Choir College, disagrees.
âThe idea of ââa university is that there are supposed to beâ¦ fundamental elements that support an individual’s education,â Phillips said. ” What [programs being removed] comes down to knowing which majors are the most profitable? “
The evaluation of Credo students
Rider’s partnership with Credo will also focus on student retention and recruitment, as the university is currently experiencing a downward trend in enrollment numbers. Dell’Omo said in the fall call that Rider’s total student count was 3,827, down from the 4,218 students in the previous academic year.
The first phase of the Credo partnership includes a âstudent experience assessmentâ.
In an October 1 email sent to students, Dell’Omo said that the Credo team “engaged a number of separate student groups to hear first-hand the experiences of students before and after the event. ‘registration”.
Acting Principal Major Christianah Akinsanmi was a student selected to speak with a Credo consultant in a group on September 17 and October 6. Akinsanmi said the consultant asked the group about their experiences at Rider and focused on the issues of students of color.
Akinsanmi said, âBecause we were multicultural students, they wanted us to focus on our experience and whether we had ever been disrespected by the teachers or how we felt when contacting them about issues that concern us and our identity. “
Akinsanmi explained that the first meeting consisted of 11 students and the second was smaller with only six students. At both meetings, no Rider teacher was present and Credo representatives asked questions. The group was informed that the meetings were confidential, but Akinsanmi asked how the students’ words would influence the assessment of Credo.
âI feel like they’re going to take my language and my experiences and use it to support the administration and whatever they choose to do,â Akinsanmi said.
An uncertain future
With AAUP’s continued opposition to the Credo partnership, the consultancy’s impact on the university remains uncertain.
âThis is an administration that is not about cooperation, it is not about consultation, none of that,â Phillips said forcefully. “They want to issue edicts, they want to issue marching orders, and if you don’t want to line up and follow those orders, they want to get rid of you.”
Feldman echoed Phillips’ sentiment and said he would not engage with Credo representatives.
Feldman said: “At this point, I think we’ve learned our lessonâ¦ and I think particularly with knowing the Credo dossier, it is essential that the faculty not collaborate in our own demise.”
However, Brown said Creed’s work will continue with or without the involvement of the AAUP.
She said, âThe engagement with Credo is designed to ensure the viability of Rider University during a time of critical competition in the higher education market. We hope that professors will lend their time and talents to collaborate in this work for the good of the institution as a whole. The administration’s invitation to faculty participation remains open, but work with Credo will progress regardless of faculty participation. “