NJCU

For the balance of 2022 — and likely longer — New Jersey City University has said it will not lay off any faculty despite its $20 million budget shortfall.

The university did say that it would cut some administrative staff. It is also seeking an investor to take over ground leases for those parts of its West Side campus now labeled “non-core assets.” Those locations include University Place, the University Academy Charter School, and the business development incubator building at 275 West Side Ave.

This past weekend, 83 percent of NJCU’s faculty and administrative staff (represented by Local 1839, American Federation of Teachers) voted to accept a memorandum of understanding with the university, a summary of which was obtained by the Jersey City Times.

According to AFT sources, 124 faculty members voted in favor of the MOA, 26 voted against it, and two abstained.

Union negotiators recommended that members accept what they characterized as “unpaid furlough days and other cost-saving measures … to protect as many jobs as possible by avoiding mass layoffs….”

The MOA summary notes that, “in exchange for accepting unpaid furlough days, there will be no layoff notices of furloughed employees prior to Dec. 14, 2022, for faculty and Nov. 29, 2022, for professional staff.”

A union source noted that, because AFT faculty are contractually entitled to 195 days’ notice in the event of a layoff — essentially the length of an academic year — that this would push any prospective layoffs to 2023–2024. Clarification from an NJCU spokesman is being awaited.

Beyond those dates, however, there are fears that NJCU may phase in layoffs much like William Patterson University did in 2020 when it faced a $30 million deficit.

The MOA summary does say that, after the agreement expires on June 30, 2023, there will be a moratorium on the hiring of non-tenure-track teaching professionals until the cap is at or below the negotiated 25% cap.

NJCU hasn’t said how much it expects to save by taking the measures outlined in the MOA, but it does anticipate paring its payroll by about $1 million (with vacation and severance payments factored in) by eliminating 10 administrative jobs.

Two of those positions fall under the office of the newly-departed university president Susan Henderson, who left June 30 six months before the end of her contract with a full year’s pay of $360,000 plus a generous severance, housing allowance, and the car NJCU was leasing for her.

Those jobs — program/project director and chief of staff — paid $95,000 and $188,000, respectively.

The other positions being vacated and those salaries are: director of center of the arts, $133,294; interim dean of professional studies, $185,400; manager of operations and innovation, $87,329; director of university advancement, $117,579; associate director of public safety, $89,191; director of business services, $102,000; senior director of global initiatives, $97,920; and director of student media, $78,049.

Here’s how the MOA terms prescribe how unpaid furlough days are apportioned among faculty and professional staff, keyed to annual base salary ranges:

At least 18 days or more at management’s discretion for faculty earning above $177,000; 15 days for those making $150,000 and above; 12 for those collecting $120,000 to $149,999; 10 for those paid $100,000 to $119,999; and five for those drawing salaries of $80,000 to $99,999.

Faculty must take at least 10 unpaid furlough days before Jan. 17, 2023; the rest must be taken before June 1, 2023. Unpaid furlough days “may not be scheduled during a period of assigned instruction.”

Professional staff must take at least five unpaid furlough days before Oct. 31, 2022, and another five by Feb. 17, 2023. The balance of time must be taken before June 1, 2023.

Among other “cost savings items” listed in the MOA summary are: voluntary conversions of professional staff jobs from 12 months to 10- or 11-month appointments; granting faculty requests for “overload” assignments (work above and beyond the normal 12 hours-per-week of class time); “targeted suspension” of coordinator stipends; suspending pay range adjustments, promotions, and sabbaticals from July 1, 2023, and June 30, 2024.

Gov. Phil Murphy has asked the state comptroller to undertake an investigation of NJCU’s finances, a probe that NJCU Board of Trustees Chairman Joseph Scott has said the university would “welcome … as we work collaboratively with our partners in government, labor and our student, faculty and staff community to move our institution onto solid ground and set it on a path to future sustainability.”

“NJCU provides educational and economic opportunities to a vulnerable population that would not be likely to receive them anywhere else, and for that reason we all must recognize how essential it is for the university to continue on as a beacon of hope and progress for our state.”

NJCU continues to await the results of the state analysis of its fiscal condition.  State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) said this week that, as yet, there has been no movement on his bill to provide $10 million in state aid to the university.

As a means of promoting that mission, NJCU is undertaking a campus infrastructure project called “Reimagining the Library: the NJCU Commons for Learning and Academic Engagement,” a project the board of trustees authorized Sept. 1.

It calls for the “modernization and renovation of the first and fourth floors of the Guarini Library for a student success and faculty excellence project via a one-stop/learning commons model. This includes the Career Success Lab, Student Learning Center, Center for Online Learning, Center for Teaching and Learning and the Office of Research, Grants and Sponsored Programs.”

The board hopes to finance the work through the state’s Higher Education Facilities Trust Fund Act but acknowledges that the university will be obliged to contribute to the cost of the project, estimated at $16.5 million, and specifically to pay for its operation and maintenance.

NJCU is also promoting two student-centered initiatives.

One is a “theater orchestra ensemble,” led by Broadway and international conductor/pianist Amy Duran, who is the accompanist and conductor for NJCU’s Department of Music, Dance and Theater, which will give participating students the chance to immerse themselves in the music of the Broadway stage in consultation with professional guest artists, sound engineers, instrumentalists, and composers and collaborating in performances with singers and dancers.

The other is a partnership between the university and the Grow with Google HSI (Hispanic Serving Institutions) geared to help roughly 200,000 Latino students  “prepare for the workforce through digital skills training and career workshops” by 2025. Forty-five percent of NJCU’s students are Hispanic. Melissa Faulkner, the new director of NJCU’s Career Success Lab, said, “We believe this program will enrich the lives of students and propel them to land satisfying careers.”

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Ron Leir

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...