After AAUP Resolution, Rider Trustees Respond In Support of President
By Anne Levin
Reacting on February 8 to a resolution by Rider University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), asking the University’s board of trustees to remove President Gregory Dell’Omo, the board issued a statement in his support.
“Although the voices of all members of the Rider community are important, please know that the board of trustees is profoundly disappointed by this action, and reaffirms its support of President Dell’Omo and his leadership team,” reads a letter signed by John M. Guarino ’82, board chair.
“The board has the utmost confidence in the administration’s ability to successfully lead Rider through the unique set of challenges facing our University and all of higher education. Further, we support President Dell’Omo’s efforts to ensure Rider’s long-term financial sustainability while fulfilling the University’s mission and vision and its commitment to its students.”
The AAUP’s resolution, which 86 percent of the faculty voted to support, said Dell’Omo’s policies — including attempts to sell Rider-affiliated Westminster Choir College — have weakened the University’s financial condition, including a $20 million deficit and a 19 percent decline in fulltime enrollment, “reducing Rider’s enrollment to its lowest point in over 20 years.”
Guarino’s letter reads, “The board of trustees is extremely satisfied with his performance and appreciates his unwavering, steadfast leadership during these challenging times. Record fundraising success, including increasing the number of endowed scholarships, safely navigating the uncharted challenges brought on by the pandemic, substantially improving University facilities, and building a strong leadership team are just some of President Dell’Omo’s accomplishments noted by trustees. Trustees also noted his integrity, fairness, authenticity, and especially his equanimity as he confronts circumstances beyond his control.”
Barbara Franz, president of the AAUP chapter, said Guarino’s letter failed to address any of the points raised in the resolution, and instead “spoke in vague generalities about the board’s ‘satisfaction’ with Dell’Omo.”
‘Here we have a president that the faculty overwhelmingly agrees must be removed from office in order for the University to survive, but this is of no concern for Guarino; he is not concerned that 86 percent of faculty have no confidence in Dell’Omo,” she wrote in an email. “What does concern him, he writes, is that the board is ‘profoundly disappointed by this action.’ What action? The only ‘action’ was the vote having been taken. Guarino would prefer not to have had a vote that revealed that the University is in an extremely poor financial situation because of President Dell’Omo’s actions. When Dell’Omo arrived at Rider we had a positive cash flow. Now, according to Dell’Omo’s own budget numbers, we have a $20 million deficit! However, apparently Guarino, the chairperson of the board, has remained blissfully ignorant of these issues. His patronizing tone and total disregard for the clear message from our concerned faculty was shocking.”
The AAUP resolution said Dell’Omo’s strategic policies caused a reduction of net income by $6 million, an increase in non-teaching expenses by $8 million between 2015 and 2019, and increased debt. “These expenses prominently include the administration’s pay,” Frantz said. “With multiple lawsuits [related to the sale of the Westminster campus and the move of the Westminster student body to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus], Rider’s reputation suffered, and Dell’Omo’s strategic plan, called the ‘Path Forward,’ resulted in actions which have alienated students, alumni, faculty, and staff.”
“We recognize that some of the decisions President Dell’Omo must make for the future of Rider may be difficult and unpopular,” wrote Guarino. “That is the nature of change; but Rider must change, that is for certain. It is our sincere hope that members of the AAUP will reconsider their refusal to cooperate with the administration and become part of the process that will serve to strengthen the foundation on which Rider can continue to grow and thrive. The entire Rider community must work together with a spirit of collaboration, collegiality, and mutual respect.”
The AAUP’s resolution followed an announcement by Dell’Omo in January of a voluntary separation program, with a goal of cutting down payroll and benefit expenses to help supplement the $20 million deficit. The program would apply to faculty and staff not represented by the AAUP. Those who sign up would receive a lump sum payment.
Franz said Dell’Omo “is one of the best paid university presidents in New Jersey,” citing publicly available figures showing a raise of more than $52,000 from his 2018-19 salary to 2019-20. “Not all boards choose to reward their university presidents with generous raises and bonuses when their presidents are responsible for massive deficits,” she said. “The faculty would like Guarino and the board to address the very real financial issues that we are facing. We need new leadership.”