Letter to the Editor: Rowan fails to explain the entirety of why tuition increased

"We are the teachers, professional staff, librarians, and coaches of the university. Without us, there is no teaching or learning at Rowan" said Joseph Basso. - Photo / Rowan University Student Affairs Blog

As the president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union at Rowan University, I was surprised, and disappointed, at a statement that appeared in the April 26 issue attributed to Rowan’s administration blaming unions for the recently approved 5 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students. This statement fails to accurately reflect the true costs behind the tuition increase.

The Whit article, titled “Board Tuition Hearing glosses over tuition increases and announces President Houshmand’s contract extension,” read in part:

“While talks about tuition were short, two reasons given for the ascending prices were the global natural gas shortages that have caused utility prices to climb, and union contracts that a majority of employees have agreed on statewide and the university is obligated to pay.” 

The statement was given as one reason why the Board of Trustees approved an increase in tuition, housing, and meals for the 2023-2024 academic year.  This statement fails to tell the entire story.

The members of Rowan AFT Local 2373 are at the end of a very modest contract, in which we had miniscule raises for four years. The raises over the past four years, and in fact over the past 10 plus years of contracts, failed to come close to the increasing inflation costs. In fact, the pay increases over the past four years were less than 50% of the rate of the cost of inflation. Furthermore, many members took unpaid furloughs in 2020 in order to prevent the university from cutting jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Yes, the university is obligated to pay our salaries, based on the 2019-2023 union contract. We are the teachers, professional staff, librarians, and coaches of the university. Without us, there is no teaching or learning at Rowan. 

But why are we mainly to blame for a tuition increase? This is an especially apt question when more than 270 administrators at Rowan make six-figure salaries, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The average pay for these administrators is $128,000, with some Deans and Vice Presidents making much more. These administrators serve at will and can earn raises at any time. 

At that same hearing last month, the Board of Trustees extended the contract of President Ali Houshmand until June 2029. Steady leadership is a positive thing at an expanding and changing university like Rowan. But it must be mentioned that Houshmand’s current salary, bonus and benefits total more than $820,000, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education

We are currently in negotiations with the university and the state for our 2023-2027 contract, but nothing has been settled. Our current contract – with no raises in sight – stays in place until we get a new contract. 

Yes, we are asking for reasonable raises in our negotiations in order to try and keep up with inflation. But negotiations might take months and we take umbrage at being labeled as one of the reasons our hard-working students will have to pay more tuition next year.

It is unfair to place blame for tuition increases on union member wages while failing to tell the entire story that includes dramatic increases in the number of administrators, increasing administrative costs, and escalating inflation that plagues every sector of our society. At a time when the union grapples with contract negotiations statements, pointing blame serves little purpose and fails to tell the entire story. 

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