Rutgers Faculty on Strike; Most Philosophy Faculty Support It (Updated)


Rutgers faculty yesterday began a strike, halting teaching, research, and service activities as part of the effort to obtain pay raises, more job stability for adjunct professors, living wages for graduate student workers, increased support for caregivers, greater security in academic freedom, and other improvements.

Graphic from AAUP-AFT listing its goals in the current negotiation.

According to The New York Times, the strike—the first in the school’s history—is by three unions representing approximately 9,000 full- and part-time faculty. Further information about the strike is here.

Many members of the Department of Philosophy at Rutgers have signed onto a letter supporting the strike. It says:

Faculty, Teaching Assistants, Graduate Assistants, Postdoctoral Scholars, and all other workers represented by Rutgers AAUP-AFT have been working without a contract for nearly nine months.

The quality of education, research, and public service at Rutgers depends on the quality of our working conditions, but these conditions have been impaired by salaries for PTLs and graduate students that have declined significantly when accounting for inflation and rising costs of living. Adjunct faculty receive unfair wages for the classes they teach, and their academic freedom is undermined by lack of job security. Graduate students receive far less than a living wage, which hampers their ability to research, teach, and learn, and threatens the quality and prestige of graduate programs at Rutgers, including the program in Philosophy. The loss of department-level authority over course scheduling continues to frustrate our ability to offer an effective curriculum, with no demonstrated benefit to students and demonstrable harm to faculty. 

We, the undersigned faculty members of the Department of Philosophy, endorse the AAUP-AFT contract campaign demands, including those for fair salaries and stipends, job security for adjuncts, and departmental control over scheduling. We stand in solidarity with all Rutgers workers seeking a fairer and stronger institution, and affirm the right of workers to bargain collectively and to take collective action, including strike action, when necessary to attain just demands. We affirm the spirit of the resolution passed by the English Department, from which this statement is adapted.  

The administration’s position is that it is illegal for Rutgers employees to strike and that “the university may go to court to maintain university operations and protect our students, patients, and staff from disruptions to their education, clinical care, and workplace. The university may seek an injunction in court to compel a return to normal activities.”

An open letter from scholars from around the country to Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway asks, among other things, that he

rescind your administration’s threat to use the power of injunction to punish, fine, and arrest workers taking job actions. At a time when we are experiencing a full frontal assault on critical histories of the American past, academic freedom, tenure, and the right to organize as public-sector workers, we ask you to work with the campus unions toward a just and fair contract.

The letter concludes:

We know you are familiar with these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoken on the eve of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was supporting a strike by sanitation workers who were being threatened with court injunctions:

Now about injunctions: We have an injunction, and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.”…Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

In an email, Rutgers philosophy professor Alexander Guerrero says:

I completely support the efforts of the union to improve the working conditions, compensation, and job security for all those who teach at Rutgers. I have also been disappointed in President Holloway’s misleading rhetoric concerning the legality of a strike and his willingness to be on the wrong side of history in attempting to prevent peaceful efforts to organize collectively to improve working conditions.

Those with further information about the strike are welcome to share it.

UPDATE (4/11/23): Faculty in the Department of Philosophy at Rutgers University Newark have unanimously endorsed the following statement:

The Philosophy Department at Rutgers-Newark fully supports the strike as well, and especially our unions’ core demands regarding the working conditions for part-time, non-tenure track faculty and graduate workers. Our unions are asking for a living wage for graduate workers, and pay parity, job security, and medical insurance for part time lecturers, among other things. Part-time lecturers’ current salaries are below a living wage when teaching 6 courses a year. If someone can obtain 6 courses a year, that is not enough to live on in northern New Jersey so adjuncts try to obtain other work leading them to travel around the state, which undermines their teaching. It is in Rutgers’s interest as a university to meet these demands. They have sufficient resources: according to the union, about $800M in unrestricted reserves, and the football coach is paid $4 million/year. This strike is for the sake of Rutgers and for fair working conditions in higher education more generally.

(via Katalin Balog)


Thinker Analytix

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Jar Jar Binks
1 month ago

I think if the faculty ‘really’ support the strike, they should agree on equitable pay for themselves too (as opposed to taking often 7-10 times more than a temporary employee) and force the administration to accept reasonable salaries too. Otherwise it’s all just empty virtue signalling and hypocrisy. But it’s never going to happen since it is in the interest of the faculty to have a large underpaid class of teaching staff – it enables them to have low teaching loads and very high salaries. They are not going to give that up.Report

Herbivore
Reply to  Jar Jar Binks
1 month ago

Ah yes, the classic “empty virtue signaling” of voting to strike, striking, and supporting a strike. C’mon, faculty. Actually do something!Report

Gabagool
Gabagool
Reply to  Jar Jar Binks
1 month ago

This comment is so unhelpful and wrongheaded that one suspects it was written by a crack team of strike-busting media advisors. The **main** goal of the strike is to improve the situation for adjuncts and NTT employees. Rutgers has the money to do this and refuses to simply because it would like to reduce its overhead. This is not some zero-sum game where the only way to allocate resources toward non-TT faculty is by taking it from TT faculty. And anyway, why think that the TT faculty at Rutgers are overcompensated? Instead, it seems to me that TT faculty across the English-speaking world are dramatically undercompensated relative to the amount of resources they invest to obtain the credentials required to get a TT job and the opportunity cost of going into academia (not making many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in business or the professions). We should all be paid more. Griping that some of us are paid more than others in the context of a strike intended to improve the situation of the worst off is morally indefensible.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Gabagool
1 month ago

it seems to me that TT faculty across the English-speaking world are dramatically undercompensated relative to the amount of resources they invest to obtain the credentials required to get a TT job and the opportunity cost of going into academia (not making many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in business or the professions). We should all be paid more.

I’ve never understood this argument. If TT faculty think they are underpaid given that they could have been making hundreds of thousands in business or the professions, they should quit and go into business or the professions.

If you can’t recruit good enough people for a type of role, you should plausibly pay more. If the market rate for another type of role doesn’t pay a living wage, you should probably pay more. And there is a coherent if unrealistic argument that we should abolish capitalism and pay everyone the same amount. But I don’t know any coherent argument that some people *deserve* to be paid much more than other people. I don’t *deserve* to be paid more than the people who clean my office – but supply and demand means that the market-rate salary for my job is much higher than for theirs. That’s capitalism, for better or worse.Report

Geoff
Geoff
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

So, I am assuming that the normative claim here is that it’s wrong to treat some people (i.e., professors, etc.) as less deserving of a certain wage simply because, say, the market rate currently dictates it.

This is obviously separate from the issue of how (or whether it’s even possible) to fairly pay everyone in a complex society.

In defense of the normative claim, how about this idea?

Some career paths require more investment on the part of the individual and, arguably, provide more benefits to society. Those careers should be appropriately paid (whatever ‘appropriate’ means in a given context).

Other career paths require less effort/investment and, arguably, contribute less. Thus, they don’t deserve a higher income than the first group. This could be argued on either consequentialist or deontological grounds.

This seems (prima facie) plausible to me; the issue, of course, is figuring out which careers to include in each category. To a certain extent, capitalism already suggests (at least to some) such an approach; it’s common to hear people say that when an investor ‘takes on all the risk’, it’s appropriate for them to be appropriately rewarded for their efforts.

I’m sure there are objections to this; just offering it as an initial suggestion.Report

Cecil Burrow
Reply to  Geoff
1 month ago

> Some career paths require more investment on the part of the individual and, arguably, provide more benefits to society.

I missed the part of the argument where you showed that people writing papers about properties of objects provide more benefits to society than the people who clean their offices.Report

Geoff
Geoff
Reply to  Cecil Burrow
1 month ago

No need to be snarky about it. I did say that we would need to figure out which careers qualify as ‘valuable’.

Is it plausible, for instance, that some philosophical work isn’t that valuable to society? Sure. But it also seems plausible to say that some philosophical work is far more valuable to society than many other types of work. It depends, of course, on how we determine value.

My point was merely that if we can plausibly determine value, then it seems reasonable to claim that some careers are more valuable than others. I never claimed to have that measure of value figured out.Report

Sam
Sam
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

“I’ve never understood this argument.”

The argument, I think, is supposed to be: given that the value of our professional qualifications is x (since we would be paid x in business), and since our qualifications remain constant (whether in bussines or in academia), we should be paid x in academia (or at least something closer to x). If this interpretation is correct, what’s at issue between you and Gabagool is whether the value of our qualifications is determined by supply and demand: you think it is, but Gabagool disagrees. That’s OK, but obviously, the possibility for reasonable disagreement remains.

A different (better?) objection to Gabagool’s argument is that it offers no explanation for why the value of our qualifications is determined by what we would be paid in business, rather than by what we get paid in academia. If the value is determined by the latter, the correct conclusion would be that we shouldn’t be paid x in business–or in academia, for that matter. Perhaps there’s still room for reasonable disagreement, but not so obviously, it seems to me.Report

Jones
Jones
Reply to  Jar Jar Binks
1 month ago

My picketing as an anonymous face in the crowd is not virtue signaling. My anonymous donation to the strike fund is not virtue signaling.Report

Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Jar Jar Binks
1 month ago

Pay no attention to the trustees behind the curtain! Look, an assistant professor has the audacity to want to own a home! Get that hypocrite!!!!!

In all honesty, I appreciate your passion Jar Jar (you were done a terrible disservice in the prequals). My own view is that it’s better to raise the salaries of NTT faculty instead of lowering the salaries of TT faculty unless we have reason to think:

  1. Faculty salaries are zero sum
  2. Adminstrative salaries could not be lowered
  3. Rutgers would lose its viability as an educational system by raising NTT salaries

If those conditions hold then I might be inclined to agree with you (and for very small colleges, these conditions might actually hold right now) but I don’t see this being true of Rutgers.Report

Jar Jar Binks
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 month ago

The problem is that you cannot just do that in any reasonable degree without doing other things at the same time. The capitalist system is so entrenched in US universities (esp. research ones and rich private lib. arts) that it has become a second nature. You all seem to think that say 200-300.000 dollars is a completely acceptable salary for a professor of philosophy who teaches four courses a year and published articles that no one will read in 10 years while paying 30-50.000 (if that) to doctoral students and adjuncts who do most of the teaching and cannot pay rent. So what – you are going to increase that by 10-15% – which in 3-4 years will be as bad as it is now (by which time the prof will have 250?) and the problem just continues? Or what exactly is the solution here? Let’s just keep the system of exploitation going…tweak here and there…Report

Fellow Hermeneut
Fellow Hermeneut
Reply to  Jar Jar Binks
1 month ago

I think $200-300,000 per year might be a bit high for the vast majority of philosophy professors. At my R2 institution, few make over $100,000.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Fellow Hermeneut
1 month ago

This is true, but $200K-$300K is probably the right ball-park figure for distinguished professors at a top-10 philosophy department like Rutgers.Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
Reply to  Fellow Hermeneut
1 month ago

Leave it to philosophers to imagine the details about facts that are a matter of public record and readily accessible online.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Fritz Warfield
1 month ago

Indeed, that was the basis for my “probably the right ball-park figure” comment. (The “probably” just hedges against the fact that I couldn’t be bothered to look it up for everyone.)Report

Leena
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

where can I find this info? I googled but couldn’t find an official, credible, or up-to-date website.Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  Jar Jar Binks
1 month ago

The capitalist system is so entrenched in US universities (esp. research ones and rich private lib. arts) that it has become a second nature.

I’m curious: have you ever talked with professors who have worked in communist countries? Is the idea here that it’s significantly better, and that we shoud emulate that?

In a capitalist system, people who aren’t happy with their current working arrangements can demand improvements. If they think their work is important enough to support their demands, they can engage in collective bargaining and put economic pressure on their employer by striking, which is exactly what is going on in this case.

If the same people were working for the state in a non-capitalist system, then what exactly would they be able to do about it if they weren’t satisfied that the part-time lecturers and grad student workers were paid adequately? Go on strike to put pressure on their employer? Good luck with that! Everyone would just be forced back to work by the state.

That is, in fact, what Rutgers’ president has threatened to do: forcibly compel all the striking Rutgers employees to return to work. And the strikers, understandably, are insisting that such a move is unjustifiable.

It’s hard to see how capitalism, of all things, is meant to be the cause of the problems. But this is what has just been said, as though no justification is necessary.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Jar Jar Binks
1 month ago

I think this is actually right about the effects of capitalism (though I doubt we agree on the moral valence). Ultimately, GTAs are always going to be paid much less than star professors because strong universities are very oversubscribed with good people who want to be grad students and there is a lot of competition for the smallish number of senior and widely-known professors who are movable. That isn’t going to change as long as the US economy is organized on capitalist principles; certainly no single university can change it unilaterally.

But that just seems to mean that it will be a constant and ongoing struggle to make sure that GTAs are paid a living wage. Precisely because the market will not deliver it automatically, it needs to be actively argued for on moral and enlightened-self-interest grounds. That this will need to be done again in a few years is no reason not to do it now (without prejudice to the rights and wrongs of this specific strike, about which I don’t really know anything).Report

Justin Kalef
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Hi, David. I took ‘Jar Jar’ to be saying that the things the strikers are unhappy about (low pay for part-time lecturers, etc.) are particularly bad in a capitalist system, and that abandoning such a system would be the key to improving things. That’s what I meant to call into question.

I agree with you that capitalism is a good explanation for the fact that many Rutgers philosophy professors (who are among the most respected in the world) tend to earn so much money relative to their peers in more typical departments. Then again, I’m not sure I see why it’s a bad thing for people who are the best in the world at things to be able to earn high salaries for their work. But it isn’t clear that you and I disagree about that.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 month ago

Just to note that my comment was a reply to Jar Jar, not to your own reply – the forum software is sometimes misleading that way.

(FWIW I agree with you about the experience of academics in non-capitalist countries.)Report

Billy
1 month ago

Is the football coach really paid 4 million dollars per year? Rutgers was 4 – 8 last year and 1 – 8 in the Big Ten!Report

Cecil Burrow
Reply to  Billy
1 month ago

> Rutgers was 4 – 8 last year and 1 – 8 in the Big Ten!

I don’t know what those words mean, but now I feel even more outraged!Report

Full-Timer
1 month ago

My own Union recently went all in for adjunct pay increases and “parity,” which admin then used to justify an anemic raise for full-timers. I think our campus pays too little per class for adjuncts, and I was happy to see a nice increase, but I just don’t get the argument that adjunct pay should constitute a living wage and that adjuncts should receive health benefits, etc. It is part-time work.

When I imagine adjuncts, I think of someone like a geologist who works for a local company and enjoys teaching a class on the side. If someone cannot find a full-time academic job after a few years on the market, that’s probably a good sign that they should find full-time employment outside of academia and pick up a class or two to scratch their academic itch as a part-timer.

Ph.D. students seem to be a different story. They are typically not permitted to have outside employment, so they should be treated like full-time employees and paid enough to live off of while pursuing their studies.

Just a, likely unpopular, opinion.Report

I signed a NDA
I signed a NDA
Reply to  Full-Timer
1 month ago

Most adjuncts I have known worked a part time job alongside the adjunct work. All the adjuncts who taught regularly did this. To teach 2 to 4 sections as an adjunct (which most of them did) did not leave time for a full time job, as this is already a full time workload or close to it. I do not know whether this is typical, but I would guess it is more common than the situation you imagine to be typical.
I will also point out that if every philosopher who didn’t get full time work dropped out as quickly, almost everyone involved would be worse off. As with anyone else adjunct instructors get better at teaching over time, and it is likely that someone just out of grad school who struck out the first time or two on the job market is a worse teacher than someone who has been teaching 2 to 4 classes a semester for the last 5-10 years. Also many medium to large schools seem to plan around having access to regular adjuncts, and would have their scheduling and planning made much more onerous if there was a sudden reduction in the total number of available adjuncts, and if they had to search for new adjuncts every semester as people they found 2-3 years ago packed it in.
I will also say, as someone who was (until I got laid off and the philosophy program was scrapped at my old school) an Associate Professor, but is teaching for the first time as an adjunct while I hit the market again, that the availability of adjunct work is probably usually good for the adjuncts. I like teaching philosophy, and I am good at it. Now I was lucky enough to find work somewhere that does pay a living wage to adjuncts (by which I mean teaching a full time set of courses as an adjunct pays a living wage). I have three courses this semester and am scheduled for four in the Fall and I can make a living this way. I think that is a good thing. I still hope to find a full time position somewhere else, but I think the situation I am in now is good for pretty much everyone involved.
I will also say that at my previous school we paid adjuncts less than 50% of what they pay where I am teaching as an adjunct now, and the quality of the adjuncts was significantly worse (as you would expect). That school taught some philosophy courses outside the College of Arts and Sciences that those of us in the Philosophy program (where I was occasionally Chair), had no authority over. They were hiring people with no philosophy degrees (even at the BA level) and whose primary jobs were things like ‘life-coach’ and ‘motivational speaker’ to teach 300 level philosophy courses. When you pay a very low wage you are going to have trouble finding people who know how much work goes into really doing the job well and are willing to do the job well.Report

Last edited 1 month ago by I signed a NDA
Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Full-Timer
1 month ago

Full-Timer,

Your position makes some sense for the scenario that you imagine, but it’s not the reality for the vast majority of adjuncts I’ve known (and been). When my (4-4) VAP ran out, my department offered me an adjunct contract teaching half as many classes for 1/4 the pay (so teaching literally the same classes for half the per-class rate), minus the benefits I’d been receiving on my full time contract. The problem was not that I wasn’t available to teach full time, nor was it that there weren’t 4 classes per term for me to teach. The issue was that the administration hoped to pay significantly less to have the same classes covered by two or three adjuncts, saving significantly on both per-class wages and benefits. When I rejected that offer as both insulting and impractical, that meant my department chair had to spend time seeking out 2-3 part-time faculty members to cover classes I would have been willing and able to cover as a full-time employee.

Other NTT faculty in my position (or those who weren’t lucky enough to secure a VAP in the first place) try to make ends meet by taking multiple part-time contracts at multiple campuses. Given the practical and psychological challenges to making a career transition after investing so much in an academic career, I can understand why others choose to go that route. But when they do – as the Rutgers unions make clear – this leads to poor working conditions for faculty and thus poor learning conditions for students.

My former employer claims the classes I taught are so important to their educational mission that all undergraduates have to take them, but they don’t regard them as important enough to ensure that they are taught under conditions conducive to faculty well-being and student success.

It is heartening to see that the full-time and tenure-stream faculty at Rutgers recognize that this treatment of their colleagues is an insult to their own work and a threat to their educational mission, in addition to being a lousy way to treat one’s colleagues.Report

Last edited 1 month ago by Derek Bowman
Grad student
1 month ago

As a graduate student at *not Rutgers* but an R1 institute, we recently received post-Covid-19 raise, and that letter was implicitly coded as

“if you worked diligently, with hardly any support, while professors could and many did stay home, and this administration certainly stayed home, we bequeath you X% for your valiant and courageous work. And if you’re new and didn’t do such courageous work, your base-pay is X”.

My department assured us professors would be on campus and help. I never saw them. Worse, It turns out risking one’s life without support from professors or administration equals starting as a GTA from 2022 onward. So. Virtue signaling.

Rutgers can afford it. I make exactly $200 too much to qualify for government assistance programs, yet work 50+ hours a week (9 hours of classes, 27 hours studying for those classes, 3 hours preparing for discussions and 2 hours attending lectures for the course I TA for, and I’m expected to attend talks, conferences, department events, etc. – while doing research for my courses beyond assigned homework).

That’s called slave-labor. Arguing otherwise is asinine. Arguing some economics you’re not remotely versed in enough to discuss is also asinine. Rutgers can afford it. And arguing the contrary *is* arguing for people to starve, not see doctors, not get glasses, not get healthier groceries or talk time to walk – all the things you likely *can* afford and do, without spending countless hours deliberating about how to afford to live.

Rutgers can afford it and stop speaking ahistorically.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Grad student
1 month ago

This seems to conflate two types of grad student activity. Of those 50+ hours, most of them aren’t paid labor: they’re study for your degree, something you’ve decided to do in order to further your education and career opportunities. A diligent undergraduate might spend 30-40 hours a week on classes and class preparation; is that slave labor?

There is a compelling case, both moral and prudential, for making sure that graduate students’ aggregate hours are tolerable and that their stipends allow them to support themselves adequately; come to that, there’s a pretty reasonable case for undergraduates too. But it can’t be based on treating graduate class work, which is a net resource drain for the university, as undercompensated labor.Report

s.c.
s.c.
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I agree with your assessment of the material reality, but not with your sentiment. My advice to fellow grad students (however often I fail to live by it notwithstanding) is to approach the PhD program as if we were full-time employees. It’s best to view our stipend as compensation for our fulfillment of all duties and obligations and expectations bestowed upon us, academic, professional, and manual.

If one views the situation from that perspective as slave labor, then they ought not be pursuing the degree or else requires a serious reevaluation of the world we live in. I get paid peanuts, but I’m paid peanuts to have my dream job — so long as I restrict my candidate dream jobs to what’s remotely realistic to achieve given my background and past academic success. I suppose if I were identified as a prodigy and adored from a young age I’d deserve better. But I went to public high school and state school, and now earn a paycheck from talking about, reading about, teaching, studying, writing about, the ideas and topics which have been correctly identified as the most interesting, provocative, edifying, etc. things to ponder.

So WHAT if I have to run a discussion section each week, or go to a seminar I abhor, or write a paper I don’t want to. Every job on the planet has its bad parts, but so few have features as good as ours. If people could be working at a law firm instead of hustling in a PhD program, begging for a bone, then good for them and I understand the exasperation. But I’d still be washing dishes and reading about philosophy in my free time, bothering my profs from undergrad etc. So the loss of a few (actually, a lot) of thousands of dollars a year, and the marginal increase in work hours, just simply can’t be soberly contrasted with what’s gained by being in an environment like the one I’m in.

All I’m saying is like, yes we deserve way more money, but that’s a matter of how the funds are inequitably distributed. But admin does have the upper hand ultimately, because what the real philosophy freaks get out of the arrangement is invaluable, priceless, I hate to say — only if you think of simply existing in the philosophy department as part of the job! So adopt that perspective!

The real concern, objectively, with low wages for grad students, as far as I can tell, is that admissions skew in favor of students from rich backgrounds with less aptitude over students of more modest means who are more promising. Since the high aptitude applicants who can afford to support themselves will accept a much worse offer than a high aptitude student who is relying on their stipend to survive. Eliminating the latter students from the pool benefits students from wealthier backgrounds of course, which greatly restricts diversity in a multitude of ways. But I disagree that low wages for philosophy students is a human rights issue considering that, from a certain perspective, the mere experience offered is pure catnip to a certain kind of person.Report