Faculty from across New Jersey's state college campuses protested Wednesday as tensions with Gov. Christie continue to grow over proposals to freeze professors' pay and cut benefits.
Christie has called for four-year salary freezes and an end to perks such as guaranteed sabbaticals, a staple of academic life, at the state's nine nonresearch universities, which do not include Rutgers or the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, according to faculty union officials who have been involved in contract talks.
"We've been negotiating for a little over a year, and we've made very little progress," said Steve Young, executive president of the Council of New Jersey State College Locals, which represents more than 8,700 faculty and staff. "The cuts they're proposing are unprecedented."
The Governor's Office did not respond to an e-mail asking for comment.
The move to rein in salaries comes as politicians grapple with uncertainty over future state revenue while simultaneously looking at ways to make New Jersey's public universities more competitive.
In January, Christie announced a plan to shrink UMDNJ and transfer some of its assets — including the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick — to Rutgers.
In return, Rutgers' Camden campus would be shifted to Rowan University in Glassboro, which has expanded greatly since it received a $100 million gift from industrialist Henry Rowan in 1992. With Rowan set to open a medical school in Camden with Cooper University Hospital this summer, the goal is to expand the school's scientific offerings and attract more research funding.
The governor's realignment proposal has incited widespread protest and is the subject of closed-door negotiations between top political leaders and the Rutgers board of governors.
At Rowan's main campus Wednesday morning, about 150 faculty gathered outside Rowan Hall to protest what they called an untenable situation in which they have been asked to help the university raise its stature while their income shrinks.
"It boggles my mind that they would do this right now," Nicholas Yovnello, a Rowan librarian and president of the faculty union, said of the attempt to freeze salaries.
About 1,000 faculty protested Wednesday on campuses across the state, according to union estimates.
With the academic year winding down, late April is traditionally a busy time at the schools. The protests were coordinated so as not to affect class schedules and other aspects of college life, Young said.