In an effort to halt what they believe will be severe cuts to parts of the arts program at New Jersey City University – possibly involving cuts to the music program and others — students, parents and some teachers held a protest rally in front of the arts building on Aug. 24.
At risk, the protestors believe, may be the Media Arts Department MFA Program-Integrated Media Arts Production (IMAP) at New Jersey City University (NJCU).
“The NJCU administration has suspended enrollment in our program citing ‘unsustainability’ after being in existence for only one and a half years,” according to a petition students initiated this week. “The administration suspended the application before the enrollment deadline.”
The administration in turn blames the failure of enrollment on the faculty of the Media Arts Department’s Inter-Media Arts Program.
Students are concerned that the school may be using this as an excuse to fire a popular department chair, Dr. Min Kim.
Although the conflict appears to have been escalating since the school hired a new dean to head the department, the issue came to a head in mid-August when several adjunct professors said the school notified adjunct professors that provide students with one-on-one lessons that they will receive a 50 percent cut in pay starting in September.
But NJCU President Sue Henderson disputed these claims.
“There has not been a change in the pay of the adjuncts,” she said.
And official statement from the school suggests that the matter has been resolved after the protest, although the official position is that no change would take place.
“The University will make no modifications to programs, curriculum, or faculty within the Music, Dance and Theatre (MDT) program.,” said Ellen Wayman-Gordon, assistant vice president for Public Information. “ All MDT students and faculty have been informed that no changes will occur.”
The conflict apparently came after the school came to a contract agreement with full-time staff, including moderate pay increases. The agreement was ratified by their union. The adjunct professors, who work essentially on a freelance basis, have an agreement with the union but no formal representation.
About 35 students gathered in front of the campus arts buildings bearing protest signs to attempt to get the administration to change its directive – this included some members of the teachers union, who came out in support of the adjunct professors. Although security people stood nearby, the demonstration was peaceful, full of applause for speakers and jeers at the administration.
The change could affect as many as 90 adjunct teachers in the arts department, and could result in a loss of staff, some protesters said.
The Arts Department is overseen by a dean, to whom other department heads report. These department heads usually request a specific number of adjunct professors, who then provide various services such as one on one teaching.
The staff apparently only found out about the cuts in mid-August, two weeks prior to the start of school.
Adjunct professors teach courses up to 15 credits, and were told that the college intends to pay half the rate they paid in the past.
This could result in many of these adjunct professors refusing to work, and would leave the arts department short of teaching staff in the new school year.
Students and others said they attempted to contact the administration on this matter and were unsuccessful.
Many programs affected
Brittney Crawford, a music education student at NJCU, called the budget cuts “shocking and sudden,” specifically targeting music, dance and theater programs.
“In particular, this has affected the adjunct faculty who teach one-on-one lessons,” she said. “The cuts also affect full time faculty who now cannot teach as many students as they have traditionally done.”
She said many students attend NJCU specifically for the purpose of studying privately with professors they consider the best in their respective instruments.
“Some students come here to study under particular professors,” said Allen Farnham, music instructor in the NJCU jazz program. “Many students treat this as a conservatory.”
Estimates of total number of adjuncts affect vary, though it could impact as many as 90, 10 of whom come from the jazz program alone.
“This affects the whole music program,” Farnham said, noting that adjuncts could seek work at other universities rather than accept the pay cut. Many of these adjuncts have been employed at the school for decades.
Roseanna Vitro, a music and voice instructor, said she has been teaching at NJCU for 19 years and has seen some music students move onto significant careers.
A Grammy-nominated performer, Vitro said she has even worked on albums with students who have gone through the program here.
She said adjuncts work without benefits such as health insurance that regular staff at the school get, and often work odd hours.
The protest also got support from other teachers on campus such as Max Herman, an associate professor of sociology at the university.
George Hauiland, district supervisor for music at North Bergen High School, has a son in the program, and said he attempted to contact the administration over the matter for several days and could not get through.
Shari Gill, an alumnus, called the school’s cuts “harsh,” and came on short notice and without consulting any of the people impacted.
Several students said they were concerned about a new dean hired to oversee the arts program, whose background is mostly in literature and not theater or music.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.