Sue Henderson NJCU

Republished courtesy of New Jersey Monitor

Faculty members at New Jersey City University signaled they want to oust the state school’s president after a tense, two-hour Zoom meeting Monday.

University senators — the school’s faculty leaders — voted 30 to 23 to cast a vote of “no confidence” in NJCU President Sue Henderson, who has been at the helm of the Jersey City school since August 2012. Faculty and students cited swelling financial debt and a lack of transparency in the school’s real estate projects as major factors in their decision.

“This is an opportunity to restore faculty members’ voices and the future of our university,” said English professor Laura Wadenpfuhl.

NJCU officials still have to verify the vote, which was conducted using a Zoom poll feature as nearly 200 attendees popped in and out of the meeting. If verified, the resolution approved Monday then heads to the university’s board of trustees.

The meeting opened with Henderson’s presentation of the school’s accomplishments. She touted NJCU’s spot as No. 4 in the nation for social mobility by CollegeNET and said the university prides itself on serving minority and first-generation students.

Henderson conceded the last 18 months have been hard on the school, which saw a drop in enrollment, but she maintained NJCU is not in financial peril.

Henderson logged off the Zoom call shortly after a professor asked how long it would take to pay off $156 million of university debt. An administrator said it would take a “few weeks” to get that answer.

Faculty members said they spent the summer researching the school’s COVID protocols, spending practices, and the hiring of RPK Group, a consulting firm that plans to study the university’s academic efficiencies and administrative services.

Anne Mabry, an English professor, called Henderson’s presentation “a last ditch effort to spin her fantasy” and the $300,000 spent on the consulting group “a page out of an Orwellian nightmare.”

Mabry detailed documents she received after filing public-records requests, highlighting what she called abuse of ID and credit cards used by faculty, staff, and administrators. She called some spending “highly questionable,” saying she found $6,000 spent on 22 physical therapy visits, $825 for a phone app, and GrubHub orders charged to the credit cards.

NJCU’s financial statements show the school had a $102.8 million surplus when Henderson ended her first school year in 2013, a figure that plummeted to negative $5.5 million by 2015. By 2020, the statements show a $67 million deficit.

Joel Katz, a media arts professor who presented the amendment for a vote of no confidence in Henderson at the faculty senate’s May meeting, asked why during Henderson’s tenure “NJCU’s financial position tumbled” $168 million.

A few staffers defended Henderson, arguing she’s not the only one responsible for the uphill battle the school faces. One student noted the board of trustees has supported all her controversial decisions.

Faculty members expressed concerns over RPK Group’s consulting tactics. They worry the group will call for major cuts to departments and staffing, they said.

The construction of luxury apartments on the campus was another contentious point brought up by several professors. NJCU partnered with real estate developers on the real estate project, part of an expansive effort to attract people to live on Jersey City’s west side.

Khadija Diop, a student representative, asked what can be done to make these apartments more affordable. A one-bedroom apartment begins at $1,800, out of reach for the university’s low-income students.

“These apartments are not for our students or for our community. They’re not actually bringing in revenue to our communities,” said Max Herman. “What has been built on the west side hasn’t brought in one cent to NJCU.”

He added, “As far as business, we have done very, very bad business,” calling the school’s financial situation a “self-inflicted wound.”

NJCU is one of the smallest of New Jersey’s public universities, with an enrollment of about 6,200 undergraduates and 1,700 graduate students in 2018. Rutgers had about 70,000 students total.