It’s nice to see members of both the faculty and the student body here tonight to observe this meeting. I say “observe” because that’s all they can do. There are no procedures for anyone besides you, the trustees, to speak on an issue that may be of great importance to one or more constituencies on campus. They are being denied what is, in my opinion, a basic right to be heard at a public meeting of a public university. Rutgers allows public participation, and many of the institutions in our sector allow public input. I think the time is overdue for Montclair to allow public input as well.
No trustee ever asks a question in public, and there is never any dialog. There are only general, and positive, comments during the President’s report about this sports team or some new residence hall. There is no substantive information presented at these meetings. It would be nice to know, for instance, when we can expect Science Hall or the Business School to be started. Or hear some comments about the fiscal health of our institution other than that the state has not fulfilled its obligations. Substance and dialog would be welcomed by everyone.
You should know that I don’t take my contractual rights to speak on agenda items lightly, and while I appreciate your indulgence on my occasional diversion, I am well aware that I speak mostly for the members of Local 1904. But there are also other important voices to be heard here in your public session. And I’d like to note that while I get to speak, and ask questions, I rarely get answers, or even acknowledgment. For instance, I still haven’t received a copy of the audit as passed at last month’s meeting.
But I am encouraged by what I characterize as a new awareness by our students for the social justice issues that plague our country and economy. Many of those students were at your last meeting and are again here tonight. I encourage you to talk to them when you can, and get their perspectives on issues that concern them. You’ll find it’s not only the cost of tuition that concerns them. Or the price of beer. Their issues are significant and real.
There is another group of people here tonight worth mentioning. You are conferring tenure on 18 faculty members. Some are here to celebrate that vote. Each has undergone 5 years of intensive scrutiny. They are gifted scholars, many have significant grants, they are well published, and all are excellent teachers. They have worked hard for this richly deserved moment that will provide them with job security and protection against summary dismissal. Many of these people have opportunities outside of academia but for various reasons—and perhaps the idea of tenure is one of them—they chose the life of an academic. Tenure does not diminish the flexibility of an institution like ours. It strengthens it, allowing faculty who have demonstrated their academic abilities through rigorous review to enter into areas of inquiry that are not always popular or well-traveled, and they can do so without worrying that such a line of inquiry will cost them their jobs. Their academic agendas can be dictated by their interests rather than the flavor-of-the-month as determined by a Dean.
You probably know that our state legislature has started a discussion about changing the tenure statutes, something Governor Christie has publicly stated is one of his goals. You all have been appointed by this governor, or a previous one, but if you get Christie’s ear, here are some of the things I’d like you to say.
Universities are not like businesses, where the employer has a stake in the success of the business. Our administrators work for our students, just as the faculty do. Their jobs are to facilitate the academic mission, not to turn a measurable profit.
Faculty with tenure have all gone through rigorous vetting, and this current tenure cohort has exceptional credentials. Senior administrators at our public universities undergo no such scrutiny. They get hired, some at exorbitant pay levels, and as I have pointed out here before, with no routine yearly evaluations. Are you aware that both President Cole and Provost Gingerich have tenure in academic departments? And that tenure was granted without peer review, and on an expedited time line? The conventional wisdom is that the President serves at your pleasure and the Provost at the President’s, but if you wonder why faculty should have the protection of tenure, don’t forget that our senior academic administrators are afforded the same protection, but without the rigorous review.
Montclair State University is known for its excellent faculty. Our ability to attract the best and the brightest, hinges in part on our ability to offer the protections of tenure. Allow the State to erode tenure, and those best and brightest will consider positions at other institutions, or in private industry, where they can make more money and have increased opportunity. Tenure is not broken. There is no need to fix it.
But if you want to know what is broken here at Montclair, allow public input at these meetings. You’ll hear a perspective that is not sanitized, and not top-down. Sure, some people might be angry, but others will tell you about some great things that are going on. Yes, your meetings will be longer. But it is the right thing to do, and doing the right thing is why you agreed to serve in the first place.
I wish you all a very merry holiday season. I’ll see you all here again next year. I hope you’ll bring a new, more enlightened, sense of purpose.