NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A union representing librarians and some 8,500 other faculty members, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at Rutgers has sent a letter to the school demanding the university shut down campus libraries.
According to a press release provided to TAPinto New Brunswick by Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union is calling for the 13 Rutgers libraries to switch entirely to online access.
"We have been arguing with Rutgers management for days about closing the libraries, but can no longer wait," said Rebecca Givan, the union's Vice President. "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."
The press release cites sweeping measures enacted by Gov. Phil Murphy in Executive Order 104, which seeks to promote social distancing as a way to slow the spread of coronavirus COVID-19.
This week, he has called for a ban of all non-essential or non-emergency travel between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
His office shuttered gyms, racetracks, casinos, indoor malls and more.
He also called for the shutdown of all public, private and parochial schools, plus colleges and universities.
Two weeks ago, Rutgers President Robert Barchi ordered students to leave campus until at lease April 3. He also moved all instruction online.
According to the press release, "The union has a duty to enforce its members’ contractual right not to work under conditions that pose an imminent danger to their health and safety. We prefer to work cooperatively with the university to keep the entire university community safe during this crisis. However, the union will not hesitate to take all necessary measures to protect the health of our members and the greater Rutgers community."
A copy of a letter posted on the AAUP-AFT website and addressed to Vivian Fernandez, senior vice president of human resources and organizational effectiveness, accuses the school of Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) violations.
According to a statement provided to TAPinto New Brunswick by a university spokesperson, Rutgers is keeping the libraries open because they are critical to meet the directives in Executive Order 104 that mandates all in-person classes at all universities be suspended and converted to online instruction.
"The university libraries, located across all campuses and throughout the state, provide access to the internet through nearly 1,000 computer terminals," according to the statement. "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."
The university said it is taking measures to ensure to minimize health risks. For instance, only Rutgers students with a valid college ID will be allowed into the libraries and security personnel have been instructed to not allow congregating by more than 50 students.
A full-time staff has been assigned to the library to clean and maintain each of the libraries.
"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," according to the university statement. "Like all functions at the university, however, there is an expectation that operations will continue while employees avail themselves of these work flexibility options."