By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
State college and university professors and staff are fed up. They haven’t had a raise in nearly two years. Today they marched in protest on seven college campuses around the state, in some cases delivering a New Orleans style funeral dirge as they marched.
Montclair State University Adjunct Professor Union President Bob Noonan helped lead his campus’ march.
“Ours was somewhat of a New Orleans style protest. We had a coffin and we had a couple of our music professors providing some New Orleans music. I guess the theme is the death of support of higher education in New Jersey,” he said.
The union says 10,000 professors, adjuncts, librarians and professional staff have been affected.
It’s part of a gradual withdrawal of state support for higher ed, the union says.
“The commitment that the state has made to higher education, if you look at the per pupil support, has basically been halved. They went from supporting about 50 percent of the cost of educating a student to 25 percent. And they basically, in Montclair State which is a growing institution and becoming a significant university, which is good and it’s because of our work and because of the work of the full-time professors, the specialists, the adjunct professors. They basically have funded it by increasing tuition, increasing students and increasing adjuncts. The fourth student that walks into my class pays my salary,” Noonan said.
With givebacks and step increases canceled, their incomes have declined 5 percent, they say.
“They basically have had their increments frozen. … And I was a public school teacher. That was standard operating procedure. You negotiate the raise, you get the increases that were built into the previous agreement. And this is the first time this has ever been reneged on. And they’re using that as pressure,” Noonan said. “Education is important and the key to it are teachers.”
Some say the union hasn’t tried hard enough or is waiting for the next governor.
Noonan disputes both of those.
“This issue is not we will wait for the next governor. We want a settlement now, and that’s why we’re doing these actions across the board,” he said.
Montclair State gave us a statement today saying, “statewide labor agreements….at state colleges and universities are negotiated by the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations and not the individual institutions.”
But Noonan thinks the college presidents still could be doing more to get the Christie administration to bend.
I spoke to Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman today. He sounds sympathetic to his faculty.
“They all do. They all say this. [Montclair State University President] Susan Cole came up to me and said, ‘We really want to pay adjuncts,'” Noonan said. “There’s a huge development. They’ve done some wonderful things. This is not personal, but they have the power. President Cole is particularly a leader in this institution to move the administration people and to also not to try to get too much out of us. If you’re giving moderate raises and then asking givebacks and there’s also health givebacks as well as this freeze, you’re basically paying the full-time people less and we’re already behind as the adjuncts.”
We reached out to the governor’s office on this but haven’t gotten a response. The faculties want a new contract and a raise, but higher ed in the next Christie budget is basically flat-funded.