The dean of Rutgers-Camden’s School of Arts and Sciences said this week he was removed from his post by new chancellor Antonio D. Tillis, stunning faculty and staff.
“My involuntary departure is in plain fact a removal from this office, on orders from Chancellor Tillis ...” Howard Marchitello wrote in an email Thursday to faculty.
Faculty leaders are speculating that Marchitello’s removal may have been in part due to comments he made earlier this month at a faculty meeting about the Camden campus being chronically underfunded and how that played into recent pay equity decisions for faculty.
“Firing a dean in the middle of a semester with no plan in place to replace him, no interim dean in place, is pretty much unheard of,” said Jim Brown, associate professor of English and president of the Rutgers-Camden chapter of the AAUP-AFT union.
It’s not the first time in the area that a new president or chancellor has made abrupt leadership changes. New Temple University President Jason Wingard moved out the provost, chief operating officer, head of advancement, and two other senior administrators on the first day of classes in August. But Temple named interim appointments immediately.
The faculty senate for the arts and sciences school has called an emergency meeting for Monday, and faculty senate president William FitzGerald expects it will be the largest gathering in years. The arts and sciences school is the largest of the four at Rutgers-Camden.
“People are outraged and upset,” said FitzGerald, associate professor of English. “They are worried about what this means for the college of arts and sciences.”
Marchitello, who has been dean since 2019, said by email that he could not say whether his comments at the Oct. 4 faculty meeting were a factor in his dismissal, “though it doesn’t seem unreasonable that faculty think that might be the case.”
A university spokesperson declined comment, citing personnel matters. The chancellor, who started at Rutgers-Camden in July, did not respond to a request for comment.
In an email to staff Wednesday evening, the school said Marchitello, an expert in 16th- and 17th-century literature, would return to the faculty Nov. 15. The school praised his leadership and noted enrollment growth.
The university plans to launch a national search for his replacement, Provost Daniel Hart said in the memo.
Last month, Rutgers awarded more than 100 professors salary adjustments in response to claims of inequity based on gender and race, as well as differences across Rutgers’ three campuses in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden. But faculty union leaders said the adjustments shortchanged faculty and that Camden campus professors — having long asserted unfair treatment in regard to salaries and resources compared with counterparts at the other campuses — took the brunt.
Under the process, professors were allowed to pick faculty peers, called “comparators,” who earn more than them and make an argument for why they should earn the same. When faculty submitted their letters, in many cases deans signed off on them, union officials and professors said, but the comparators were later changed by the university. In some cases, the university compared tenured professors to untenured, or female professors to other female professors, or made other unfair comparisons, faculty said.
Rutgers-Camden faculty had accounted for about half of those who asked for salary adjustments.
Rutgers had said in a statement that it distributed $1.2 million in salary adjustments based on a negotiated process and that the adjustments were “reflective of a detailed analysis of relevant work-related factors for each person who requested a review to determine if they are being paid on an equitable basis.”
During the meeting with faculty, Marchitello, according to Brown, said he was asked to change the “comparators” and asserted that because the campus was underfunded, it would continue to face financial pressure until the problem is corrected.
Brown wondered if those comments may have contributed to Marchitello’s removal.
“It sure seems to me like these things could be connected,” he said.
FitzGerald also surmised that Marchitello’s commenting on lack of funding for the campus may have contributed to his dismissal.
“We do really feel he’s being singled out for an example to be made about speaking out against the inequities that are built into the Rutgers system,” FitzGerald said. “I personally feel that the chancellor thought the dean was not sufficiently leaning toward the administrative perspective on things, that he felt he was too much in support of the faculty.”