By Amethyst Martinez
AFTER teaching at Westminster Choir College (WCC) for 38 years, Rider professor Joel Phillips has reluctantly decided to retire.
“The first people I told were the students in my classes,” said Phillips.
The composition and music theory professor isn’t the only one, joining 25 other full-time faculty members who plan on retiring from the university within the next two years.
These full-time professors, along with 11 long-term adjunct faculty, have taken the incentive agreed to in the labor contract between faculty and the administration to retire from Rider, according to Rider’s faculty union, leaving the potential for an exponentially growing hole in the university.
Jeffrey Halpern, professor and chief grievance officer for Rider’s chapter of American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said there is no way to truly know how many of these positions will be filled, but knows it’ll be “a very small amount.”
Halpern also said that the largest college affected at the university would be the College of Arts and Sciences.
Part of the collective bargaining agreement reached this fall between the AAUP and the administration included a university incentive for those who chose to retire.
“The reason the university agreed to this is because they want to cut the number of full-time faculty,” said Halpern.
According to Halpern, the agreement was that the faculty member would have to agree to fully retire and declare whether or not it would be at the end of this academic year or the next, and, in return, the university would pay them their last year’s salary over the next three years.
Although the reasons for retirement from the university vary, both Halpern and Phillips agreed many have chosen to accept the incentive due to low worker morale at Rider.
“I would say a vast majority of people who are taking this and who I’ve talked to have said their motivating factor was a feeling that it was not a good place to work anymore,” said Halpern.
Phillips, personally, decided to retire for two reasons: the work environment at the university and the hope to protect his younger peers from faculty cuts.
“With the widespread destruction of this university, especially Westminster, layoffs are inevitable,” said Phillips. “By leaving, I protect the job and health care of a junior colleague in my department who otherwise would get laid off and lose those things.”
This year will be Phillips’s 41st year teaching college classes. “That’s the sort of long term commitment I have to our place,” he said.
This fall, six adjunct professors were initially laid off after the university announced significant cuts of multiple programs across Rider this summer. Although those six layoffs were later rescinded, according to the AAUP, the fear for job security has become a considerable concern among faculty members.
Halpern said, “It’s the constant worrying about: ‘Will I be laid off?’ ‘Will the institution take other extreme measures?’”
Phillips, whose last semester at Rider will be spring 2024, said, “They chastise us because our enrollments are down, but they do everything they can to kill the program.”
With over 30 professors retiring in the next two academic years, many long-tenured faculty who have developed deep ties with the university and its students will be leaving an open position in their department.
“I know from conversations why people are doing this,” said Phillips. “A lot of them are doing it because [Rider] has become so toxic. There are people retiring who aren’t old enough to retire, and they just can’t take the toxic environment under this president anymore. They’d rather figure something else out then just endure this anymore.”
Kristine Brown, associate vice president for university marketing and communications, said that decisions regarding faculty replacements will be determined by deans and departments after discussing requests that are brought forth to the university.
Phillips added, “The list of people I’ve seen that are going out is a list of people who have given their best for the institution. Like any organization, when people love it, they give themselves to it in ways that just can’t be measured, and that’s a list of people who represent that idea.”