Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Great Ideas in the Garden State
New Jersey has been all over the higher ed headlines this week. Two pieces of great news:
The prosecutor who indicted the Dean of Students at Rider College in connection with an alcohol poisoning death at a frat party has dropped the charges. (See my earlier post here.) Apparently, he figured out what the rest of us figured out a long time ago: failure to persuade a frat to mature is not a felony. Kudos to the prosecutor for finally grasping the obvious.
According to this article, the faculty union at Rutgers agreed to a deal with the university whereby the incumbent faculty agreed to set aside some of the money that would have gone to its own raises to establish a fund (with the university matching) to hire 100 new tenure-track faculty over the next several years. The intent is to reverse the losses-by-attrition that have occurred over the last several years as the university has endured substantial cuts in state support. Kudos to both the union and the administration for taking the long view.
If Rutgers is really smart, it will take a fresh look at where those 100 positions could best be used now, rather than simply going back and filling in, say, the last 100 cuts. Use the resources strategically, rather than reactively. It's harder than just resorting to take-a-number, but it's the right thing to do.
Strikingly, even the union representing part-time lecturers, which theoretically stands to lose membership, supports the deal.
What's so especially welcome in the Rutgers deal, from my perspective, is that the union has moved from 'reaction' and 'protest' and 'lines in the sand' to actually taking part in developing a solution, and that the administration has seen fit to recognize that with a matching grant of its own. Both sides are (at least now) getting past the fantasy that the legislature will have a change of heart and shower them with money to buy off any local conflict.
Of course, there's something in it for both sides. The administration is effectively getting a subsidy for its new hires, and the union is gaining membership. That's fine; deals that involve mutual self-interest are typically sturdier than deals that don't. But what makes this so refreshing is that both sides have found ways to tie their own self-interest to the good of both the university and the profession. To the extent that new spending is involved (the matching grant), it will go straight to the classroom. Honestly, I'm tremendously impressed. Well done. I hope the example spreads and takes root elsewhere.
(I admit being surprised at the level of overall spending increase to which the university has committed itself. Unless New Jersey's budget is running major surpluses, Rutgers may be in for a rude shock in another year or two. But the direction is right, even if the sails eventually need to be trimmed.)
Quibbles aside, this is genuinely impressive. I strongly encourage administrations and unions across the country to take serious notice. A little attention to the long term is long overdue.
Just as the issue of disappearing tenure positions can be dealt with differently, perhaps universities and colleges need to figure out ways beyond the obligatory workshops and films to address underage college drinking, instead of just throwing up their collective hands and essentially saying "Oh well, frat boys will be frat boys".
Costs are an issue. But until RU and the state of NJ deals with the fact that it's the ONLY major Research U with two entirely separate law schools.... Good luck on that.