Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the labor union representing librarians and more than 8,500 other faculty, grads and postdocs at the school, demanded Wednesday the State University of New Jersey close its libraries immediately and move entirely to online access.
“We have been arguing with Rutgers management for days about closing the libraries, but can no longer wait,” AAUP-AFT Vice President Rebecca Givan said in a press release. “This is reckless endangerment of our members, staff, students and the wider public. We have the legal and contractual right to demand that Rutgers safeguard people’s health and lives above all else, and that is what we must do.”
Rutgers University spokeswoman Dory Devlin acknowledged that questions have been raised about the decision to keep Rutgers libraries open to students. The primary reason the libraries are open is that they are essential to educating students while the university remains open and operating.
“The libraries are critical to our ability to meet the directive in Executive Order 104 that mandates all in-person classes at all universities be suspended and converted to online instruction,” Devlin told NJBIZ. “The university libraries, located across all campuses and throughout the state, provide access to the internet through nearly 1,000 computer terminals. Access to the internet through these computers is essential for students who for economic or other reasons do not have access to the internet in their homes.”
Rutgers has taken steps to provide library access to students with the health and best interests of staff, students and faculty foremost, Devlin said.
The libraries are being operated in a manner that is consistent with state and federal guidance and in a manner that is safe and does not put students or the employees at the libraries at any heightened level of risk, Devlin said. To minimize traffic and congregating at the libraries, the university limited entry to the libraries to only persons with valid Rutgers identification; the libraries are closed to the general public.
Security personnel have been instructed to not allow congregating by more than 50 persons, to maintain adherence to the provisions of EO 104 prohibiting such gatherings.
The university libraries, located across all campuses and throughout the state, provide access to the internet through nearly 1,000 computer terminals. Access to the internet through these computers is essential for students who for economic or other reasons do not have access to the internet in their homes.
“While there certainly may be more than 50 people in a given library at any given time, the libraries are large enough spaces that enforcement of the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people can reasonably be expected,” Devlin said. “To assure hygiene and safety at the libraries, the Office of Institutional Planning and Operations has dedicated full-time staff for cleaning and maintaining each of the libraries.”
Devlin said the university librarian was asked to develop a plan that requires the fewest staff members in the fewest number of libraries that will still allow the university to meet its obligation to students.
“In the coming weeks we will assess the number of students and faculty who are physically present in the libraries and may choose to further restrict access or availability,” Devlin said. “The safety and health of our students, faculty and staff is paramount, and the ability of our students to complete their academic work this semester so as not to increase their time to degree is a very important priority. In addition, faculty and staff at the libraries are provided with the same guidance regarding telecommuting, use of leave time and other measures to protect their personal health, to address any family issues and to allay any personal concerns. Like all functions at the university, however, there is an expectation that operations will continue while employees avail themselves of these work flexibility options.”
Todd Wolfson, president, AAUP-AFT and Christine O’Connell, president, URA wrote “If as a result of the University’s refusal to close libraries and other non-essential facilities and operations an employee contracts COVID-19 and tragically dies from the illness, the University will be unnecessarily exposing itself to a lawsuit claiming that the University committed an ‘intentional wrong’ and/or acted with ‘gross negligence’ when it failed to implement measures that would have prevented an employee’s death or serious illness.
“Today, we are calling on our members and the public to call [Rutgers] President Barchi, a licensed neurologist, to adhere to his oath and ‘do no harm’ by immediately shutting down all libraries. His office number is 848-932-7454.”