Grading the Rutgers strike: A lot of ‘A’ grades — and a lot of incompletes

The strike that essentially shut down all three Rutgers University campuses last week is over. Almost.

While tentative agreements have been reached with two of the three main unions involved — and enough progress has been made for faculty to return to the classroom — there are still some issues to be resolved. Most specifically, the core demands by the AAUP-BHSNJ, the union that represents the school’s medical faculty, have not been fully addressed.

Union leaders said this weekend that they retain the right to go back on strike should progress slow.

With this in mind, we attempt to break down the situation with numerous “A” grades and numerous dreaded “incompletes” — which means more information is needed to determine a final grade.

‘A’ grades

  • Rutgers faculty: Many said this was about wages for part-time teachers (adjuncts), graduate assistants and teaching assistants. And all three of those groups got hearty increases in pay and job security. The full-time professors also benefited greatly, getting at least a 14% raise.
  • Unions: A week after going on strike, the three unions seemingly got far more than they have been able to get in the past year, when they worked without a contract in good faith. New Jersey clearly is a pro-union state. You can be sure other unions took note of this.
  • Gov. Phil Murphy: Some said it was a political gamble to put himself in the middle of this. But the quickness with which this was resolved — and in a pro-union way — are both big wins for the governor.
  • Students: Let’s not forget about them. Especially those days away from graduation. A great anxiety has been lifted. They now know they will be able to finish classes and have a graduation, certainly a relief for a class that already saw its college career upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway: He has been universally praised since his arrival (which coincided with the start of the pandemic). Now, it must be asked, how did the labor situation reach this point and how much is Holloway to blame for it? More importantly, has Holloway lost any support both from those at his school and elected officials?
  • The structure of higher ed: Will this situation result in more faculty being hired as part-timers (at lower costs) or will the number of full-time professors increase? This isn’t a Rutgers question — but a New Jersey question. And one that will impact the business model of far more sectors than just higher ed.
  • Other higher education institutions in the state: New Jersey City University last week announced a Memorandum of Understanding with its unions that attempts to define the relationship. You can be sure that other university presidents and boards are examining their relationship with their union employees, who certainly will feel emboldened.
  • Who is paying the bill: Will the state have more money for Rutgers — and the 70 or so other higher ed institutions in the state — and, if so, will that mean more taxes for residents or cuts in other programs? Will it come in the form of a tuition rise — at a time when the state is attempting to make college more affordable?

All of this is why it would be fair to say that the strike is over — maybe — but the only certainty is that many of the issues that caused it have not completely gone away.