Rutgers Camden professors vote no confidence in chancellor

Rutgers Camden professors vote no confidence in chancellor

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University’s Camden campus voted no confidence in the chancellor and provost following weeks of contention, professors announced Friday.

All 198 full-time faculty members were eligible to participate in the vote. Some 94 professors voted no confidence in Chancellor Antonio D. Tillis, agreeing with a resolution saying that he’d “grievously injured the College of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-Camden” and “seriously eroded the trust of its faculty in his leadership.”

If “some measure of confidence is to be regained,” the resolution said, Tillis “must take significant steps to demonstrate his commitment to shared governance, transparency and an inclusive vision for the college and its faculty.”

Votes of no confidence at Rutgers are rare. The last one was in 2011, when arts and sciences professors at the Newark campus voted no confidence in then chancellor Steve Diner following a disagreement about restructuring certain academic programs. Diner, who’d been chancellor for nearly a decade, stepped down soon after that vote.

Tillis has only been at Rutgers since July, but he’s clashed with professors over his management style—namely his sudden dismissal last month of Howard Marchitello as dean of arts and sciences. Marchitello, who has since returned to the faculty of English, hasn’t commented publicly on his dismissal, but he wrote in an email to professors concerned that he might be suffering from some health crisis that he’d neither asked or expected to be relieved of his deanship. He also wrote that while Tillis wanted him gone, Daniel Hart, provost, had delivered the news instead.

The questions marks surrounding Marchitello’s departure led professors to wonder if he’d been punished for openly disagreeing with the university’s handling of a pay-equity program that was supposed to address faculty pay gaps across not only races and genders but also Rutgers campuses. Camden professors, many of whom have long felt underpaid, underresourced and underappreciated relative to their peers at the Newark and New Brunswick locations, were disappointed with the first round of equity payouts and said Marchitello had at times agreed with them.

According to the Rutgers faculty union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers, the average pay adjustment was 25 percent for Newark professors, 13 percent for New Brunswick professors and 7 percent for Camden professors. In dollars, the average equity increase was $22,805 in Newark, $17,483 in New Brunswick and $6,554 in Camden. Median salaries for arts and sciences faculty members, meanwhile, are lowest at Camden, starting at about $77,000 for assistant professors.

The Faculty Senate recently invited Tillis and Hart to answer their questions about Marchitello’s termination, but the event turned decidedly sour when Tillis declined to directly address what he described as a private personnel matter. Instead, Tillis described a vision for the campus’s largest college that some professors said seemed to indirectly and unfairly criticize Marchitello’s work leading the college for three years, half of which was through the pandemic.

Tillis said, for example, that the Camden College of Arts and Sciences’ tuition revenue fell 20 percent this year due to decreased enrollment, and that the college suffers from a “lack of new academic programs and concentrations” as compared to local competitor institutions.

The campus faculty union, meanwhile, has pointed out that Camden serves a disproportionately low-income student body, including through its Bridging the Gap program. This program is nationally recognized, the union says, but it doesn’t bring in as many tuition dollars. It also serves three times the share of Black students as the New Brunswick campus, the union says, during public health and social and economic crises that have affected different demographics in different ways.

Jim Brown, associate professor of English and president of the Camden faculty union chapter, wrote in an op-ed for this month that Rutgers’ current budget system, Responsibility Center Management, effectively punishes Camden “fiscally for expanding access to the state’s most vulnerable students.”

Tillis acknowledged during the faculty forum about Marchitello that this budget system was problematic for Camden. Brown said in his op-ed that was a welcome opinion, “but the question is: do we have confidence that this chancellor will do something about it?”

Some 56 professors disagreed with the vote of no confidence against Tillis. Nineteen abstained.

The Vote on the Provost

The vote of no confidence in Hart, a longtime distinguished professor of psychology at Camden who became provost in August, was more decisive. Some 111 professors voted no confidence in Hart, with 37 professors disagreeing and 21 abstaining.

At the Faculty Senate forum, some professors faulted Hart, in particular, for appointing a search committee for a new dean without consulting Senate leaders.

Hart declined comment about the vote.

Tillis did not respond to a request for comment. During the vote last week, he sent an email to faculty members saying, “Administrative change, as you are aware, is a common operational practice among academic leadership and is never made without serious consideration. As a result of the administrative change in Arts and Sciences, we are at a moment of didactical introspection as to what our campus needs and how to better navigate such shifts moving forward, together.”

Tillis said he’d appreciated professors’ recent “candor” about various issues, and he addressed some of them point by point. On pay equity, Tillis said, “I have already recommended salary increases beyond what several of you were originally awarded, and am working through the rest. I am working very closely with central administration, particularly HR, to attend to the remaining requests on the behalf of our colleagues.”

On faculty hiring, Tillis said that “the majority of hires for [fiscal year 2023] are committed to Arts and Sciences. For FY23, the plan presented by the provost incorporates requests from a swath of academic units across schools and colleges that support the strategic mission of Rutgers–Camden and Rutgers University, writ-large.”

Currently, he also said, there are no plans to increase teaching loads or restructure the college. Going forward, “I will continue to avail myself, and members of my administration, to speak with our community members on matters of interest and of importance to Rutgers–Camden.”

Regarding the budget management system that so many professors find especially punitive to Camden, Tillis also said, “The process by which Rutgers produces budgets for its chancellor-led units has promulgated the narrative that Rutgers University–Camden is an entity that can survive solely on the basis of ‘subvention’ by the central administration. As I expressed during my talk before the Senate, this language diminishes us.”

The “reality,” he continued, “is that Rutgers-Camden requires this investment because of the nature of how funding is distributed across the university. Rutgers-Camden is an investment in the future of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. We are the expression of Rutgers in South Jersey, and our budgetary requirements are indicative of the meaningful impact that we are making upon our students and our society. I have begun to make the argument that we must find a more effective budgeting approach for our campus, and I will continue to press that reality.”

William FitzGerald, associate professor of English and president of the college’s Faculty Senate, said even the vote count against Tillis showed that a “clear majority” affirm no confidence.

“These results show that commitment to shared governance, accountability and transparency matters,” he said. “In coming weeks, we will see if a relationship between faculty and administration on that basis can be restored, as there is clearly much work to be done.”

Brown, the union president, said, “We have a long path ahead of us, I think. My hope is that everyone—faculty, student, staff, administration—will work together to repair things.”

Lorrin Thomas, an associate professor of history who opposed the no confidence measures, summed up her position in this way: “I view it as essential that the faculty focus on issues well beyond the fate of the dean. The chancellor’s grievous error will certainly mark his tenure at Rutgers Camden. But the fact is that we, the faculty of arts and sciences at Rutgers Camden, now have an unprecedented opportunity to influence the thinking of our beleaguered chancellor—and we have the ear of the Rutgers University president in a way we never have before.”

Thomas said that both Tillis and system president Jonathan Holloway “have expressed genuine eagerness to respond to input by groups of faculty over the past week in order to address the range of inequities, well beyond salaries, that our campus has suffered from for a long time.”

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