By Carl Straumsheim

The effort to offer more graduate degree programs online at Rutgers University at New Brunswick hit a snag on Wednesday, as faculty members in the Graduate School voted to block new programs from being approved. While faculty union representatives claim a “slam-dunk victory” against corporatization, the rest of the university plans to proceed.

The clash between Rutgers’ administration and some of its faculty members resembles similar debates at other institutions. Last September, the administration signed a contract with eCollege, a Pearson division, to develop and manage online degree programs with the goal of enrolling more than 22,000 additional students by 2019. The New Brunswick campus currently enrolls about 41,500 students. Faculty members, concerned about academic freedom and intellectual property rights, on Wednesday passed a procedural roadblock that automatically withholds approval from any new program to be managed under the agreement with Pearson.

“There’s nothing about this online business model that saves students money,” said David M. Hughes, professor of anthropology. “This is not about Rutgers trying to increase the access and affordability of its offerings. In fact, it’s supposed to bring in a great deal of revenue for both Pearson and Rutgers.”

According the agreement, Pearson will receive half of the tuition revenue in the first academic year. The share drops as more students enroll; if Rutgers were to meet its 2019 enrollment goal, for example, Pearson would take 45 percent the next academic year. Hughes said a growth in enrollment and tuition revenue should be accompanied by more tenured faculty members, not corporate profits.

The resolution, which passed, 39-22, doesn’t bring the agreement to a full stop, but covers all new and existing degree programs managed by the graduate school. That includes the degrees offered by the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the Professional Science Master’s Program, but not the School of Engineering or the School of Social Work, for example. Hughes estimated there are about 120 Ph.D. and master’s degree programs in the School of Arts and Science alone.


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