Amaral: A beloved community

Luis Amaral, Op-Ed Contributor


A few weeks ago, Rutgers University’s University Senate passed a resolution that referred to Rutgers’ “beloved community.” My curiosity peaked. Jonathan Holloway, former provost at Northwestern University, is the current President at Rutgers. Holloway’s goal is “to foster what he calls ‘a beloved community,’ a university culture defined by tolerance, mutual respect, diversity, and the spirited exchange of opinions and ideas”,  where everyone’s “voice is not only heard, but truly listened to.” 

Following the expiration of the contracts of faculty, staff and students in June 2022, Rutgers’ University Senate passed a resolution asking Holloway to recognize and implement “the principle that all of us, administrators, employees in collective bargaining units, and students are on the same team.” Last month, as the different bargaining units were preparing to strike, Holloway threatened to seek an injunction in court against the strikers.  The Rutgers’ senate again reminded Holloway of his earlier words and asked him to declare that there would be no retaliation for the strikers. 

The ongoing labor struggles at Rutgers and many campuses nationwide for worker rights and fair compensation are not going away. Tens of thousands of graduate workers and non-tenure eligible (NTE) faculty across the nation have joined unions. The rationale for their actions is clear: Graduate workers no longer have a clear path to a secure academic career – the continued increase in the number of contingent faculty without career and financial security is plain to see. The notion that graduate workers should be subject to abusive and exploitative rites of passage is ridiculous.

The modern university, at Rutgers, here, or anywhere, is not a beloved community. Tenured and tenure-track (TTT) faculty bury themselves under ever more work out of concern for losing their privileges, which include lifetime appointments and better salaries. NTE faculty are asked to do most if not all tasks that are asked of TTT faculty, but lack similar economic security or financial rewards. Staff members are overworked, poorly compensated and, as we saw during the pandemic, could lose their jobs whenever cuts are deemed necessary. Administrators are critical to the proper operation of modern universities with multi-billion-dollar budgets, but their inflated compensations exacerbate inequalities in pay and working conditions. 

In “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity,” anthropologist David Graeber and archeologist David Wengrow open our minds to alternative societal arrangements. They describe the Wyandot, an Indigenous nation with early interactions with European settlers, as showing “more intelligence in their business, speeches, courtesies, intercourse, tricks, and subtleties than do the shrewdest citizens and merchants in France,” and being “robust, and all much taller than the French,” indicating that none lacked for food. The Wyandot were an egalitarian society, sharing resources so that everyone could have a dignified life. They also reached decisions by debate and consensus, fostering their cognitive development. Unlike the hierarchical, patriarchal, punitive, and profit-seeking settlers, the Wyandot formed a beloved community. Maybe that is what the Rutgers Senate thought Holloway was aiming for –  “a place of inclusion and equality, where everyone, from administrator to custodian, is recognized as integral to Rutgers’ success”, a place where everyone is not only heard, but listened to when they ask for job security, a dignified salary, healthcare benefits, freedom from discrimination, and so on.  

It’s encouraging that Rutgers wants to create a beloved community. Unlike Northwestern, which has separate legislative bodies for faculty and undergraduate students, Rutgers fosters a sense of community in its Senate, which includes representatives from faculty, students, staff, administrators and alumni. It was not always like this. Rutgers’ Faculty Senate was established  in 1950 replaced in 1953 by a university senate with representatives of the faculty and administration. Student representatives were added in 1969, representatives from alumni and part-time lecturers were added in the 1990s and representatives from staff in 2006. A unity that extends beyond the legislative body has earned their community a big win. In a strike where TTT faculty stood shoulder-to-shoulder with NTE faculty, graduate students, and staff, those groups won an incredible victory: greater job security and 48% pay increase by 2025 for adjunct faculty, 33% salary increase for graduate workers, presumptively renewable contracts for NTE faculty,  and protection against caste discrimination.

The successful unionization drives by graduate workers and library workers at Northwestern – as well as the ongoing unionization efforts by our NTE faculty – demonstrate that many in our community are not satisfied with their working conditions.  I hope that we all at Northwestern learn the power of being part of a “beloved community” when that struggle comes to our campuses.  

Luis Amaral is a McCormick professor. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.