The Rutgers University Senate voted 89 to 47 Friday to pass a resolution saying it has “lost confidence” in Jonathan Holloway, the three-university system’s president.
That tally came after senators, along with a few members of the public, spoke for and against the resolution for roughly an hour. Adrienne Simonds, the Senate chair, said the body has more than 240 voting members and includes representatives of faculty, staff, students and alumni.
Major grievances with Holloway—discussed Friday and stated in the resolution—include the president’s handling of employees’ demands and of their triple-union strike in the spring, the unexplained ouster of the Rutgers University at Newark chancellor, the merging of the Newark and New Brunswick medical schools, and a lack of dialogue with the University Senate.
Union contracts for thousands of Rutgers workers at its campuses in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden expired in the summer of 2022. By April of this year, Holloway’s administration was still refusing demands from graduate student workers, full-time faculty and others. The employees were fighting for raises, more equal pay between lecturers and other faculty members, longer-term employment guarantees for lecturers, a rent freeze for faculty members and students, and other concessions.
It took workers walking off the job for a week—the first faculty strike in Rutgers’s history, which goes back to 1766—and the New Jersey governor’s intervention to win their new contracts.
Friday’s resolution criticizes Holloway for “Threatening to file an injunction and potentially have academic workers arrested for exercising their right to withhold their labor, and subsequently encouraging the students of those employees to report them to University Human Resources.” It further denounces him for “Refusing to complete labor contracts without significant external pressures until almost one full year of adversarial negotiations had passed, and subsequently refusing to support good-faith implementation of those contracts.”
In July, Holloway supported, and the Rutgers Board of Governors approved, advancing toward merging the two medical schools, despite calls from the University Senate for delay and a dozen people testifying against the move at a board meeting, said Diomedes Tsitouras, executive director of the union representing Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences employees.
In August, Holloway announced that Nancy Cantor, the Newark chancellor, would not have her contract renewed next year after a decade in that role. Cantor said it wasn’t her decision to leave. Rutgers leaders didn’t answer faculty and community questions about why the popular administrator was being shunted aside.
After all that, Friday’s resolution says Holloway is only planning to address the University Senate this coming February, “curtailing a standard and central practice of shared governance.” By contrast, the resolution says he attended seven Senate meetings last academic year.
A few opponents said passing the lost-confidence resolution would cut off dialogue, but Paul Boxer, who introduced the resolution Friday, questioned that.
“I don’t know what some of my fellow senators here are talking about with respect to ‘Let’s try a conciliatory approach.’ We’ve been doing that; we’ve been doing that for months,” said Boxer, a psychology professor who represents the Newark School of Arts and Sciences.
“We were told just last week that the president would not come and address us here or engage in any questions and answers with us here,” Boxer said. “He has had multiple opportunities to respond to our conciliatory approaches. A vote of no confidence does not have to be the end of the conversation.”
Geza Kiss, a senator from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at the flagship New Brunswick campus, said ,“Deaf ears and talk to the hand have been going on for at least six months.”
Holloway, who has been president for three years, didn’t address the University Senate Friday. In response to Inside Higher Ed’s request for an interview with Holloway, the university sent a statement after the vote.
“President Holloway continues to have the support of the university’s Board of Governors,” the university said. Friday’s University Senate resolution was a statement of disapproval that doesn’t force out the president, the university’s statement noted. “The Board of Governors has the sole responsibility to appoint the president.”
Karen Thompson, a senator representing New Brunswick lecturers, said she has seen many presidents in her “40-some years” at Rutgers. “I am really horrified now. This is why I’m supporting this resolution—because all the things that I used to raise concerning lecturers or adjuncts are now happening to the whole university,” Thompson said. “In other words, it’s not just adjuncts or lecturers who are invisible and ignored and disrespected, but it’s all the staff, all the faculty, all the students, and it’s just incomprehensible to me.”
Before the strike began in April, Holloway had written to the campus, “It is well established that strikes by public employees are unlawful in New Jersey” and “We hope that the courts would not have to be called upon to halt to [sic] an unlawful strike.”
Employees struck anyway. Heather Pierce, a lecturer who represents adjunct faculty members at New Brunswick, criticized Holloway’s threat of a legal injunction.
“It wasn’t just that it affected me as a worker, but also the way that it affected my students, and to me it was a betrayal to them and what they would expect from the leader of their university,” Pierce said.
But Kevin Schroth, who represents institutes and academic centers at Rutgers Health, said of the resolution, “I don’t think it’s productive at all. I don’t think that it will help us to rebuild bridges.”
Before the meeting, Tsitouras, the health-care faculty union leader, told Inside Higher Ed that the “merging of academic units has to go through the University Senate first.” But he said the University Senate’s views were ignored before the Board of Governors voted on the merger of the medical schools: Newark’s New Jersey Medical School, which partners with University Hospital, and New Brunswick’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, which partners with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and RWJBarnabas Health.
“They felt like they were just run over,” Tsitouras said. He said he thinks people at the Newark medical school are worried about becoming the “stepchild” compared to New Brunswick, with department chairs in New Brunswick calling the shots and possible reallocation of resources from Newark to other areas.
In a July news release, the deans of both medical schools said, “Although we will maintain our individual identities and operate separately as two equal campuses, each with its own co-dean and separate financial and administrative structures, the integration presents numerous opportunities for growth, efficiency and improved collaboration. Our commitment to University Hospital in Newark and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick remains strong, and our relationship with these institutions will remain unchanged.”
Ahead of Friday’s vote, William E. Best, the Rutgers board chair, wrote a public letter to Holloway effusively praising him.
“Your steady leadership in merging the two Rutgers medical schools was met with significant opposition from the defenders of the status quo, but your vision of a unified medical school is both measured and ambitious, befitting the development of a world class academic medical center, which New Jersey deserves and which regional and national health care issues demand,” Best wrote. “We support your vision and cannot speak highly enough of your commitment to it.”
Safanya N. Searcy, a senator and a criminal justice student, said during Friday’s meeting, “This president has not engaged deeply in the city of Newark. He has not engaged deeply in the Newark community.”
She expressed opposition to Cantor not being renewed as the Newark chancellor. “Newark and Camden yet again are continued to be haunted by this feeling and this notion that we are the stepchildren,” Searcy said.