Montclair State University faculty and staff union members organized an unusual protest yesterday, marching from Café Diem to the front of College Hall to mourn the death of higher education under Gov. Chris Christie.
The mock funeral procession included umbrellas and a casket with the words “RIP State-Wide Contracts” displayed proudly on the front.
Members of the union at Montclair State along with eight other New Jersey colleges participated in the hopes of gaining administration and student attention about two issues: a lack of contract for full-time faculty and staff as well as poor working conditions for adjunct professors.
Rain wasn’t in the forecast, but in the short time it took the group of about 40 people to solemnly progress down the hill toward the main entrance, heavy rain pelted attendees, solidifying the dreary tone of the event. Although the weather wasn’t planned, it seemed to cooperate with the theme the group was going for.
Richard Wolfson, President of AFT Local 1904 who represents faculty, professional staff, librarians, and specialists, and Robert Noonan, president of the Montclair Adjunct Union, organized the funeral march at Montclair State. Other colleges who participated in similar protests include Ramapo College of New Jersey, Rowan University and others.
Wolfson said members have been working without a contract since July 2015 when the last union contract expired.
“Our contract provides for two kinds of raises,” said Wolfson. “It provides for cost of living increases, which are across the board for everybody, and then there’s a salary guide so people move up depending on how long they’ve been here. None of those raises have happened over the last two years.”
Wolfson noted that the administration has given four percent raises to management but has failed to provide raises to union members after July 2015 adding, “It is cheaper for the university to hire an adjunct to teach a class than it is to hire a new faculty member to teach a class.”
The university doesn’t negotiate pay increases with faculty directly. Rather, the negotiations are between teacher unions and the State of New Jersey.
Professor Laura Field, Instructional Specialist in the Department of Writing Studies and Specialist Coordinator on the board of AFT Local 1904, was also at the march to represent full-time non-tenured faculty.
David Trubatch, president of the University Ssenate at Montclair State, participated as well and supported the protest as a member of the union. Wolfson explained in short what union members are seeking to gain from this protest and President Cole, “We want the president to say, ‘Yes, we want a fair contract for our employees at Montclair state and all nine institutions and we want to work to resolve these differences and provide for a fair contract.’”
Noonan was adamant about the role of adjunct union members on campus. “The basic [idea] is the death of funding of higher education,” he said. “At the time I’ve been here, in 13 years the pupil support has been halved. It went from supporting 50 percent to 25 percent. How do they make up for it? Hire more adjuncts, higher tuition, more tuition at Montclair [State].”
Mary Wallace, vice president of the Montclair Adjunct Union, provided a rough comparison of wages. “Four students pay [for one 3 credit course] and that pays our salary,” she said. “The rest is all money to the university.”
“We’re not looking for the sky, we’re looking for a reasonable sentence,” Noonan said. “We are looking for pay equity. Basically close a 150 dollar differential. I have a doctorate, was a school superintendantsuperintendent, was the executive director to the state senate, and I’m very old, but I have a lot of experience. I get paid 150 dollars less a credit, almost 500 dollars less for a 3 credit course.”
Noonan explained that faculty and staff union members were not looking for the same salary as a full-time professor, but for the university to recognize the inequality between adjuncts and the treatment of tenured employees.
Once the group came to the end of their path at the Red Hawk statue outside College Hall, the rain slowed to a drizzle and the sun shined over campus for the rest of the day.
Nick Brennan, a freshman justice studies major, commented on the protest, “I feel like they are marching for a good reason, and they should get the changes that they need so they [are] able to sustain their lives and do what they’re supposed to do and teach us the right way.”