Middlesex County’s Community, Innovation, and Opportunity Strategic Investment Plan, unveiled Nov. 1 at Middlesex College in Edison, has prompted stern reactions from AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera and Local 1940 AFT President Pat Payne.

Middlesex College President Mark McCormick joined Gov. Phil Murphy and other New Jersey leaders for the rollout of the CIO plan, which is “designed to transform and bolster Middlesex College and … meet the diverse needs of the entire community,” per a Nov. 1 website post by the county.

Its projects include a new Middlesex College student center and an open-air community venue on the Edison campus. And while cost estimates were not disclosed, the mere mention of these projects was enough to alarm Chiera and Payne.

That’s because Middlesex College’s full-time faculty is in its third academic year without a contract. Furthermore, recent efforts to spark negotiations with the administration — a letter campaign launched in late September targeting Middlesex County Commissioner Director Ronald Rios and his colleagues; an Oct. 20 rally near the main entrance to the campus — have been ignored.

“As a Middlesex County resident and taxpayer, I am thrilled to see educational innovation and other improvements being made to our public facilities and institutions,” Chiera says. “However, it concerns me when leadership, on all levels, begins investing in buildings before they invest in the primary mission of the college: education.

“Students have concerns about technology that is outdated or just doesn’t work. Management claims the college is experiencing financial issues because of the decrease in enrollment and other factors. In light of that claim, I question if the taxpayer funds being allocated for the CIO plan would be better spent investing in teaching and learning.”

Payne was perplexed by the secretive and restrictive actions leading up to the Nov. 1 unveiling. “Without any discussion or consultation with anyone from the campus community, the governor and commissioners announced ‘big plans’ for Middlesex College, and not one person — other than select administrators — was invited to the governor’s visit to campus,” Payne says. “Not one faculty member or student was invited, nor has the college made any official statement about the plans for building on the campus.”

Then there’s the bigger issue of Local 1940 AFT not having a contract “with no settlement in sight,” says Payne, adding that CIO investments “would be better spent on academics, teaching and learning rather than synthetic turf fields.”

“We desperately need classroom building renovations, reliable Wi-Fi access and updates in our computer labs,” she adds. “The purpose of a college campus is not to serve as an entertainment venue for the public. The purpose is to teach and prepare students for transfer to a four-year school and a career.

“The campus community is dismayed and disgruntled that academics is no longer the primary focus of Middlesex College. Educational innovation is about creating and fostering a collaborative and collegial academic environment, valuing your faculty and trusting their expertise in the classroom, hiring more full-time faculty, supporting students during the worst mental health crisis coming out of COVID, funding new curriculum development, and investing in technology. 

“The first step to student success? Settle the faculty contract.”

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