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Senate President Steve Sweeney. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe).

Sweeney backs Rutgers union in spat over Schiano contract

Deal for football coach becomes a political issue

By Nikita Biryukov, December 05 2019 1:18 pm

Senate President Steve Sweeney is backing Rutgers University’s faculty union in their opposition to a $32 million contract for the school’s new football coach.

“I think, if you can find that kind of money, you can find more money for professors and educators,” Sweeney said. “I’m not against Schiano at all, but you can’t not listen to what they have to say at all.”

The university’s board of directors unanimously approved Greg Schiano, who coached Rutgers’ football team from 2000 to 2011, eight-year $32 million contract on Tuesday, a move that has drawn fire from the Rutgers branch of the American Association of University Professors/American Federation of Teachers.

The AAUP-AFT told Politico New Jersey the new Schiano contract would suck resources away from other programs at the school.

The university said Schiano’s contract will be funded through athletics revenue.

Sweeney’s stance puts him at odds with Gov. Phil Murphy, who on Wednesday sought to brush aside the union’s concerns, saying the school could invest in both academics and athletics.

It also puts both Democratic leaders opposite where they usually stand on public-sector unions.

Unions that represent government workers, like the New Jersey Education Association and the state branch of the Communications Workers of America, make up a large portion of Murphy’s support, but the AFT doesn’t really fall into that camp.

They supported his re-election in 2017, when the NJEA spent close to $4.8 million backing Sweeney’s Republican opponent.

The conflict over Schiano’s contract comes after grueling contract negotiations that saw the university’s come close to the first faculty strike in its 253-year history.

Those negotiations ended with raises for all faculty, pay equity guarantees and $20 million in additional funding for its diversity hiring initiative.

Sweeney said the university ought to prioritize issues like those over its athletics programs.

“They had a blood bath of a negotiation for a contract,” Sweeney said. “I want Rutgers to have a great football team, but what’s more important is that we continue to rise in the ranks of research.”

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