To the Editor:
The AAUP [American Association of University Professors] is extremely concerned about the direction that the University has been taking for several years, and recent news has only deepened our concern. Continuation of the path that we are on can only lead to disaster. We believe that we must work together to put Rider on a new path, one that unites all the stakeholders.
On November 1, 2017, Moody’s downgraded Rider’s bond rating:
“Moody’s Investors Service has revised the outlook on Rider University (NJ) to negative from stable, reflecting continuation of thin operating performance, a material increase in debt which will result in increased debt service, and the uncertainty around the timeline and potential impact of Westminster campus (WCC) sale on the university’s enrollment and operating performance.”
What is notable about the Moody’s report is that it is not citing environmental factors as the reason for its downgrade. It is clearly citing choices made by our leaders as the reason for its downgrade. These choices are 1) the decision to accumulate significantly more debt during a period in which revenue generation is compromised by various factors, including administrative judgments concerning tuition discounting, and 2) the decision to sell WCC and the (unknown) impact of such a decision.
We strongly encourage the board to consider these factors carefully. We have had significant concerns about the fiscal responsibility of this administration, and the statements in Moody’s recent report echo our concerns. Taking on significant new debt while revenue growth is relatively flat is imprudent. Likewise, the decision to sell Westminster Choir College was poorly planned, has been and continues to be an expensive effort, was based on unsupported claims of the cost of running Westminster, has entangled Rider in lawsuits, has generated much bad publicity, and is unlikely to produce the cash influx president Dell’Omo has claimed it will.
Student satisfaction and morale have been eroding over the last two years as reflected in the NSSE survey of student satisfaction. Dissatisfied students do not help in our attempts to recruit new students, and dissatisfied students certainly do not become alumni who develop into donors.
Faculty morale is at an historic low with distrust of the administration central to that low morale. The 2016 climate survey found morale across the campus much lower than in previous surveys. Our recent survey of members found 84.5 percent of all faculty dissatisfied with the direction of the institution, 66 percent considering leaving, 75 percent saying the administration does not value faculty research, 64 percent saying the administration does not value faculty teaching, and 62 percent saying that the administration does not appreciate faculty value contributions. One has only to speak to faculty to understand the level of anger, depression, and anxiety. Faculty members have been leaving in unprecedented numbers and not just senior faculty. There is hardly a junior faculty member who is not looking to leave. Faculty are the heart of any university, and it cannot bode well for the implementation of Rider’s strategic plan of starting new programs and majors that faculty expected to implement those programs no longer think Rider is a good place for a career.
We therefore call on the Board of Trustees to weigh these factors and consider whether or not we can change the path that we are on under our present leadership. We stand ready to work with you and other key stakeholders to put us on track to unite us all for future success.
President, AAUP Executive Committee