Volatile tensions: begging for student awareness

By Kaitlyn McCormick

The most recent actions from President Gregory Dell’Omo’s administration, as well as their criticisms, have brought to an overwhelming atmosphere of uncertainty to Rider University. One after another, the selling of the Westminster Choir College’s Princeton campus, the Credo partnership assessing steps for prioritization and the newly announced voluntary separation program have put faculty and staff on edge. The disapproval has been so strong that Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) voted an alarming 86% majority no-confidence in Dell’Omo, preceded only by their 75% vote against the president in 2017 and, historically, called upon Rider’s Board of Trustees for the president’s resignation on Feb. 8.

Equally as alarming? The lack of information shared with the student body as the environment of the university only continues to grow distressing.

Trustee support

While the Board of Trustees Chairman John M. Guarino ’82 released a statement to the Rider community via a mass email on Feb. 8 showing supporttoward Dell’Omo despite the AAUP’s vote, that is to be expected, considering that Dell’Omo’s administration is enacting changes supported by the board in the first place. But what do these changes mean for the greater Rider community: the faculty, the staff and the often forgotten students?

One thing is certain – the consistent back-and-forth of policy at the highest levels will inevitably permeate the educational environment. It has arguably already caused a clear lack of communication and trust between the faculty and administration.

And while it is no surprise that the board seems to blindly support the president, and so quickly at that, the issue cannot be looked at without considering the reasons for the AAUP’s vehement lack of confidence in Dell’Omo in the first place. The AAUP’s resolution for the vote cites heavilythe strategic policies made by the Dell’Omo administration and the negative impacts that they have had on Rider’s financial stature.

The university’s push for change

One point consistently made by Dell’Omo in the defense of these policies is the changing environment of higher education and the need for Rider tochange alongside it for the sake of its sustainability as a university. And, while change is natural and important, is enough of a critical eye being taken to the types of changes being made?

It is more than fair to consider the difficulty adjoined to leadership and the inevitability of making difficult and unpopular decisions. However, thatrhetoric can not be a scapegoat for decisions made to the detriment of the university. Supporters of Dell’Omo cite the handling of the pandemic and shifting university policies to reflect efforts toward diversity and inclusion, but are these changes not considered the bare minimum, especially in the current social climate?

It is fair to defend arguably positive policies enacted by Dell’Omo and his administration. However, those actions cannot simply be rested upon likelaurels.

A disappointing lack of transparency

One of the most concerning aspects of these communications is the lack of information widely available to students. It is fair to assume that the vast majority of students are unaware of the lasting implications of these Dell’Omo-era policies, and why would they be? Rhetoric from the Office of the President consistently revolves around low-stakes talking points and a clear lack of full transparency to the greater student body. A student body of adults, who pay to be educated at Rider.

Take for example the communications sent out on Jan. 24 regarding the voluntary separation program. This email in no way explicitly addressed the $20 million cash deficit that the university is facing, the fact that if the program does not garner enough success involuntary separations for non- AAUP staff may follow or provide any detail into navigating the university website to find more information about the program. Information, it is worth mentioning, that lives questionably hidden within the subsets of the Human Resources department on Rider’s website.

A needed call for student responsibility

As proven by Guarino’s message in support of Dell’Omo, it is highly unlikely that any sort of presidential resignation will be on the horizon, but that does not change the negative environment that these controversies have created.

Undoubtedly, the actions taking place administratively have and will trickle down to impact student life both small and large scale, whether that be the impacts of staff shortages from the voluntary separation program or the altering of available programs from the ongoing prioritization process. It is imperative that all students put in the work to stay informed on what is currently happening at Rider, because it will inevitably affect them.

It is the value of these students’ degrees, their tuition money and the integrity of their university that is at stake, and that should be a more than compelling reason for students to push back for heavier and more direct communication from the administration, as well as for students to seek out thisinformation for themselves.

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