President Richard L. McCormick
September 16, 2005
Professor Cotter and members of the University Senate, thank you for this opportunity to address the Rutgers community and for all you do to advance our university’s goals. I take seriously my obligation as president to set forth annually the most important opportunities and challenges facing Rutgers and then to respond to questions and concerns. The Senate, which includes faculty, students, alumni, administrators, and soon staff, is the right place for this discussion of our future.
I am pleased that so many members of the Rutgers governing boards are here today, including Al Gamper, Chairman of the Board of Governors, and several members of the Board of Governors, Board of Trustees; and Board of Overseers. With us as well are a number of New Jersey’s most influential political leaders. We appreciate your presence and applaud your interest in Rutgers and its future.
Among the many members of the Rutgers community who are here this afternoon are many of the seventy faculty who participated in our first two New Faculty Traveling Seminars. This May we crossed New Jersey by bus, literally from Cape May to High Point, and saw first hand the extraordinary breadth and variety of New Jersey’s communities, economies, people, and challenges. Everyone on the bus is now more fully prepared to be a faculty member of the State University of New Jersey, and with each annual bus tour Rutgers will be readier to realize its opportunities truly to be that State University. Rutgers’ new program of grants and awards for Research in Service to New Jersey expresses this goal and recognizes those who do the most to achieve it. Fittingly, the first such award was presented by Governor Richard J. Codey in a ceremony at the State House in Trenton on the morning of the first day of the faculty bus tour. The inaugural awardee, for her path-breaking research on autism, was Professor Sandra L. Harris.
Today I have the pleasure of introducing the newest members of the university’s leadership team—all of whom emerged from national searches as the best people for their important positions: Carol P. Herring, President of the Rutgers University Foundation and Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations; Robert M. Goodman, Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Dean of Cook College; and Richard L. Edwards, Dean of the School of Social Work. We welcome them with pride to Rutgers. Yesterday I announced the appointment of Michael J. Pazzani as our new Vice President for Research and Graduate and Professional Education; he will join us later this fall.
Not just new administrators but new students, faculty, and staff have come to Rutgers this year. Among them are some sixty visiting students from colleges and universities whose home institutions were shut down by Hurricane Katrina. Even before the full effects of the storm were known, Rutgers became among the first universities in the country to launch a program for visiting students. There was no hassle, no onerous paperwork, just a welcome to Rutgers: “Come to our classrooms and dorms in Newark, New Brunswick, and Camden for as long as you need to stay.” We can take pride in a Rutgers community that came together to do what we could to respond to a great national tragedy.
Last week I had the opportunity to meet with the visiting undergraduates during an orientation we organized for them. On their behalf, let me extend appreciation to all those who helped them to continue their education at Rutgers and bring some normalcy to their disrupted lives. In addition to undergraduate students, we have several graduate students visiting with us and several faculty. One faculty member, Professor Ullie Diebold, was able to move here from Tulane, together with her family, her students, and postdoctoral fellows. We provided her with materials and temporary laboratory space in our chemistry department so she and her team could continue their world-class research. One of our faculty members, Professor Kieron Burke, took Dr. Diebold’s family into his own home until they could find housing. Please welcome Professor Ullie Diebold.
Last week at my home our academic deans introduced their new faculty colleagues—more than one hundred altogether from across the campuses, schools, and departments. Their stunning achievements in teaching and research, much of it interdisciplinary, signify, once again, that Rutgers is among the strongest universities in the nation. It will become stronger still because of the future work of these new colleagues. More than forty of them represent communities of color—ten African American, twenty two Asian and Pacific, and ten Latino. Fifty-two of our new faculty are women. This result was not obtained by accident but through the hard work of dedicated department chairs, search committees, and deans—all endeavoring to realize Rutgers’ goals of diversity because they know that diversity and academic excellence are inseparable. This successful recruitment effort has also received essential help from the new Office of Faculty Diversity Initiatives under the leadership of Executive Vice President Phil Furmanski.
Our common diversity is more than about who comes to Rutgers. It is also about how they feel once they are here and how well we support their teaching, learning, and research. Rutgers has an obligation to provide a welcoming environment for students, faculty, and staff on each of its campuses. But how well are we really doing that? Through the campus climate survey we are finding out. Already we have asked students, and this fall we will survey faculty and staff. Our purpose is to analyze the findings, to learn where we are falling short, and to take appropriate actions. I thank the Committee to Advance our Common Purposes for leading this effort, and Dean Gus Friedrich for ably chairing the committee.
Last year at this time I proposed an agenda for Rutgers and advanced a theory about our future. At the core of the agenda was a category of academic opportunities that share some common characteristics. These initiatives are grounded in Rutgers’ basic strengths in the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences; they are inherently collaborative, interdisciplinary, and entrepreneurial; they exploit our comparative advantages due to history, geography, and other factors; and they are responsive to the needs of the world around us, starting here in New Jersey. These academic opportunities involve the application of research to human problems beyond our campuses; they offer Rutgers a chance to have among the most distinguished programs in their respective fields; and they engage our students, undergraduates as well as graduate and professional students, in active, experiential, or research-based learning. This is the kind of education an outstanding research university like Rutgers should provide, and I’ll have more to say about our students’ education in a few moments.
Last year I gave some examples of these initiatives, of programs that have the characteristics noted above: Transportation, nutrition, advanced materials and devices, stem cell research, global and ethnic studies, urban studies at Newark, childhood studies at Camden, and more. During the past year, these fields have advanced at Rutgers, and today each of them, and many others, would provide the basis for elaborating my theory about Rutgers’ future. Given the challenging political and budgetary climate in which they operate, I want to thank particularly our stem cell researchers at Rutgers led by Dr. Wise Young, their colleagues in that same field at UMDNJ, Governor Codey, and the many, many supportive members of the Legislature for working with us to make the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey a reality.
Many new Rutgers initiatives are now joining the list of academic programs that share these common attributes, but I will mention just one: The Rutgers Institute for Improving Student Achievement that we announced on Monday. A state university, and especially its Graduate School of Education, has an obligation to focus research on the needs of K-12 students and specifically on their achievements in learning. Historically Rutgers has provided many forms of help to New Jersey’s schools, but that assistance has often lacked coordination and even relevance in the classroom. Through the leadership of GSE Dean Richard DeLisi, his faculty colleagues, and our partners in the school districts, we are determined that the Institute for Improving Student Achievement will establish Rutgers as the source for talent, expertise, and training to help our schools and their students achieve their very best. The Institute, which will reach out to urban and suburban school districts from our campuses in Newark, New Brunswick, and Camden, will be headed by Dr. William Librera, a nationally distinguished education leader and most recently New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education. Please join me in welcoming to Rutgers Bill Librera!
I mention the Institute, together with the class of academic opportunities of which the Institute is the latest exemplar, because these activities express where Rutgers is headed early in the 21 st century. These initiatives rest on our strengths in research and discovery, from the most basic disciplines to the most applied; they propel our new knowledge across the boundaries of the campus to the larger world; and they get our students ready for lifetimes of both discovery and service. These are the fundamental obligations of a public research university, and you cannot fault me for observing that Rutgers is fulfilling these obligations very well in most areas. But I am not always so sure that our undergraduate students receive the full benefit of the excellence of our faculty and our programs. So I will concentrate today on undergraduate education and will urge you to join me in making it the major focus of our collective and collegial efforts. All our missions matter, but this is a season for giving special attention to undergraduate education.
For undergraduates a research university offers boundless possibilities. Because of its large size, it may not be for everyone, but for the tens of thousands of students who choose to come to Rutgers there is opportunity to study hundreds of subjects with faculty who are creating knowledge, not just transmitting it; faculty who share with their students the excitement of creation and discovery; and who open up for them worlds of understanding about where knowledge comes from and how it may be used. Rutgers engages undergraduates themselves in research and encourages them, through internships and service learning, to convey that new knowledge beyond the campus to the people and communities who can use it. Our students will spend the rest of their lives creating and applying knowledge; we get them started here at Rutgers.
But the riches of research universities are not always readily accessible to undergraduates, and these institutions can be organized in ways that make them inhospitable to undergraduate learning. Just because a faculty member’s research has placed her on the verge of election to the National Academy of Sciences doesn’t mean that an undergraduate will know about the opportunity to do research in her laboratory. Just because we have a top-ranked department of philosophy (which we do) doesn’t mean that our students can always get the courses they want or that the classrooms in which they study are conducive to learning. In an institution where so many of the kudos are bestowed for research and for graduate and professional education, undergraduates sometimes get the short end of the straw. Research universities like ours have to work constantly to make sure that their promises to undergraduates are kept. Many of the best universities in America are examining these issues today, or have recently done so (I am thinking particularly of reports from Michigan and Harvard), and Rutgers is no exception.
On our Newark campus, under the leadership of Provost Steve Diner and Dean Edward Kirby of the College of Arts and Sciences, the initiatives are numerous. A task force report on undergraduate education is expected soon in Newark, but many projects are already in the works. A comprehensive review of undergraduate admissions has been done, a reassessment of basic instruction in writing and math is underway, a new office of academic technology is supporting instructional computing, the Honors College is expanding, opportunities for research and internships are increasing, and a new undergraduate major in public service is being established. Newark, which is already the most diverse university campus in America, is consciously exploring how to employ its diversity as an instrument of learning. Next fall, a new residence hall for 650 students will be finished, and it will include, for the first time at Newark, living and learning communities for students with special interests.
At Camden, under the leadership of Provost Roger Dennis and Dean Margaret Marsh of the College of Arts and Sciences, some equally significant undergraduate initiatives are underway: Freshman seminars taught by senior faculty, an internship program that combines academic and service learning, new grants for undergraduates to conduct research and travel to professional conferences, and a guarantee to students that if they maintain a certain grade-point average they will be able to participate as juniors in an expanded international studies program that includes study abroad. The Camden campus has enlarged its dual degree programs, allowing students to get a head start on graduate degrees in their senior year, and established joint degree programs in law and osteopathic medicine. Camden, too, is making plans for a new dorm that will expand significantly its qualities as a residential campus.
These initiatives are moving forward at Newark and Camden, in part, because these campuses are smaller than New Brunswick-Piscataway; they are geographically contiguous; and they already have colleges of arts and sciences that include most of the undergraduate students and the faculty who teach them. Here, on our largest campus, the commitment to undergraduate education is just as deep as in Newark and Camden and the opportunities are very great, but there are special challenges as well. There is first the geographic dispersion of College Avenue, Busch, Livingston, Douglass, and Cook—which causes Rutgers- New Brunswick to operate the second largest bus system in New Jersey. There is no remedy for the geographic separation; the only thing we can do is make it into an advantage, a subject to which I will return. Then there is the patchwork quilt of undergraduate colleges—Rutgers, Livingston, Douglass, and University College, each without a faculty, but each of which nonetheless has its own admissions, core educational requirements, honors programs, academic discipline, graduation standards, and much more. And then there is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, whose members take responsibility for undergraduates once they have declared their majors but who have no obligation or authority in regard to their admission, their general education, or their graduation. So we have degree-granting colleges without faculties and an arts and sciences faculty without students. This has got to be the weirdest academic set-up in America. It simply does not provide our undergraduates with educational opportunities that are commensurate with the excellence of our faculty and our departments.
The arrangement is also very difficult to understand or explain. Conversations with prospective students, parents, and guidance counselors reveal that they really don’t comprehend our colleges, and many young men and women are discouraged from coming here for that reason. Even those who are here have trouble understanding the different course requirements, the different penalties for academic violations, the different honors programs, and the unequal access to programs and facilities. We tell our students, “If you live here, you can’t study that; and if you live there, you can’t do this.” I’ve heard that many students think that some of our colleges are inferior to another college, even though they are all taught by exactly the same faculty in the same courses in the same overheated classrooms. Just as troubling, the confusion creates a huge disincentive for faculty to engage with undergraduates beyond their own disciplines or departments. Some of our most accomplished faculty, whose intellect and scholarly achievements bring them global recognition, are “stumped” by the complexity of the undergraduate system in New Brunswick.
We simply must fix the mess that keeps our New Brunswick-Piscataway undergraduates from enjoying the full benefits of being at Rutgers. Our students deserve better than they are getting.
With these issues in mind—the challenges confronting undergraduate education at all research universities and the special challenges here in New Brunswick—in April 2004, Executive Vice President Phil Furmanski and I appointed a task force of thirty-seven faculty, students, and staff, and we charged them with exploring every aspect of undergraduate education on this campus. Led by Professor and Dean Barry Qualls, who is one of Rutgers’ most respected faculty members and among the university’s most vocal champions of undergraduate education, the task force established working groups on curriculum, student experience, admissions and recruitment, campus planning and facilities, and structure. Altogether those working groups included some seventy-seven men and women, and in the course of their work they interviewed several hundred faculty and students. Following fifteen months of work, the task force issued its report in July, and it has been widely disseminated online and in print. As anticipated, the report covers practically every aspect of the undergraduate experience in New Brunswick-Piscataway and offers dozens of recommendations. It is doubtful there has ever been a more comprehensive or insightful review of undergraduate education at Rutgers, and I want to commend and thank Barry Qualls and all the members of the task force and working groups. Barry, will you please stand? Will all the members of the task force please stand? The university is deeply in your debt for a report that warrants the fullest discussion and the most careful consideration that we can give it. And we will.
The goals of the report and its recommendations are as worthy as they could be (and I am quoting from page 9):
That’s a tall order, and to achieve these ambitious goals, the task force has proposed some critical steps:
Everyone at Rutgers, no matter what you may think of the structural recommendations offered in the report, can celebrate the significance of these proposals—common, clear admissions standards; a core curriculum; equal access to programs and services; and clarity about how our university is organized. Why did it take us so long to come up with these ideas? Well, that’s another story . . . .
The task force has offered its proposals as recommendations, and that’s all they will be until they have been widely discussed, for many months and by every element of our community. I am highly sympathetic to the report and the directions it proposes. It would be disingenuous of me to tell you otherwise. But I will not formulate my recommendations to the Board of Governors until every group and person who wants to speak has had an opportunity to be heard. Already open forums have been scheduled on each campus in New Brunswick and Piscataway. Every school and college, and ideally every department, should sponsor a discussion of the report. The student government associations, the New Brunswick Faculty Council, and the University Senate are all studying it, and I anticipate that each of these bodies will issue statements and recommendations. The several alumni associations are also reviewing the report and will have things to say about it.
It is highly likely that, with the benefit of so much campus discussion, my recommendations will depart in some respects from the report. My recommendations, when they come, will be public, and they, too, will be fair game for discussion and comment. Rutgers is an open, deliberative community, and this is the way we do things. When the process is done and the decisions have been made, everyone will be able to say, “I had an opportunity to express my views, and I was heard.” So let’s have an exemplary discussion, in the best Rutgers tradition. Our undergraduates deserve it.
Everyone knows, and everyone in the room this afternoon is waiting for me to acknowledge, that many Douglass students and alumnae have expressed opposition to the report. I recognize their presence in this hall and thank them for their courtesy. Douglass has a long tradition of providing educational opportunities for women and of nurturing academic programs related to the study of women and women’s leadership. There was a time when the New Jersey College for Women, as Douglass was once known, offered opportunities that women could find nowhere else in this state and when it embraced programs that would not have existed anywhere else. Rutgers and New Jersey are better today because NJC and Douglass played those historic roles.
But is it not appropriate to ask what educational experiences will best meet the needs of women today? It’s not that the playing field for women and men has become level, for clearly it has not; or that women are now as numerous as men in positions of leadership or in such disciplines as science and engineering, for clearly they are not. What’s changed is that educational opportunities for women are available everywhere at Rutgers, as they should be; that many departments and schools across the university have developed incredible strengths in research and scholarship related to women, and, indeed, this has become a signature strength at Rutgers; that women now occupy, for example, 60% of the executive officer positions in Rutgers College Student Organizations; and that whereas 9% of Douglass graduates in 2004 earned a diploma in math or science fields, 17% of Rutgers College women did that.
What’s changed, too, is that Douglass no longer has a faculty (the colleges gave up their faculties in 1981); that Douglass students take their courses with women and men from across the New Brunswick-Piscataway campus; that far fewer young women want to live on a campus that’s only for women; and that today only about sixteen percent of those women who are admitted to Rutgers, Livingston, and Douglass choose to enroll at Douglass. Many women don’t come to Rutgers University at all if they are denied admission to Rutgers College. It has become harder and harder to fill the residence halls at Douglass, and the university has had to resort to some unusual stratagems to do that. With these tough facts in mind, I challenge every member of this community, as I challenged the task force, to confront these difficult issues concerning our collegiate structure.
Let me be clear that Rutgers’ commitment to educational opportunities for women is stronger than ever and will never be in doubt. The majority of Rutgers University undergraduates are women; half of the new cohort of our faculty are women; and our women’s programs—most of them located at Douglass—are among the best in the nation. Regardless of which recommendations in the task force report are adopted, I pledge that Rutgers will continue to support educational opportunities for women and advance scholarship concerning women through the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies; the Institute for Research on Women; the Institute for Women’s Leadership; the Mary I. Bunting Program; the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science, and Engineering; the Center for American Women and Politics; the Center for Women and Work; and more. Rutgers undergraduates would benefit tremendously if we could bring the Douglass Difference to women across our campuses. Every woman at Rutgers, and ideally every man, would be advantaged if these programs, like all Rutgers programs, were available to everyone on every campus.
I know that many from Douglass have serious concerns. But our discussion of the task force report has just begun, and I will listen to you just as you have listened to me. Together we will consider the ideas and proposals that everyone in this community puts forward as we work toward creating a better university for our undergraduates.
This is a momentous time for Rutgers. Not in a quarter century have we had such a far-reaching discussion of the future of our university. The hard issues are all on the table. How can we advance our academic distinction and, at the same time, truly become the State University of New Jersey? How can we best support our first mission of undergraduate education, in an age when other missions seem to bring more academic prestige? How can we communicate most effectively about Rutgers and allay the sometimes confused perceptions of our university? How can we obtain the resources we require to achieve our goals?
These last two issues of communications and resources have scarcely been touched upon today, but they are critical and entwined. A year and a half ago we completed a report based on a professionally done survey of 8000 New Jerseyans, including Rutgers alumni, business and political leaders, prospective and current students, high school guidance counselors, faculty and staff. We asked them all kinds of questions about what they thought of Rutgers, and they told us. Some of it was good, and some of it was not. College advisers and business executives rate Rutgers highly. Students are pleased with the diversity of our campuses but unhappy with the quality of the residence halls. And there is much, much more. The Constituency Research Report is available on the Rutgers website, and many of you have already seen it.
Most pertinent today is that the report shows in stark terms what many of us already know: Rutgers presents a confusing picture to almost everyone, and the organization of our university is a mystery to many. Better public relations won’t fix the dormitories, or lots of other things, but we do need to tell the Rutgers story better. We have not succeeded in differentiating ourselves from other colleges and universities in the state, and people do not know what makes Rutgers a uniquely valuable resource for New Jersey.
So last year I asked Professor Paul Leath to chair a committee to help move us to the next level of action on these challenges. His committee’s main assignment was to carry out a competitive process for identifying a firm that will work with us to develop a major communications and outreach program. From dozens of possibilities, Paul’s committee recommended the selection of the firm Lipman Hearne which has a strong record of assisting colleges and universities to communicate more effectively. Rutgers will engage Lipman Hearne, and together—in continuing consultation with faculty, staff, students, and alumni—we will develop a program that includes advertising Rutgers in multiple media, more aggressive communication about faculty and student accomplishments, and possibly a new visual identity to reflect the missions of Rutgers and of our three campuses in Newark, New Brunswick, and Camden.
Telling the Rutgers story better will have multiple benefits. It will help us attract outstanding students and faculty, it will improve the public’s understanding of who we are and what we do, and it will contribute to our obtaining the resources we need. And for many of us at Rutgers, those resources are constantly on our minds. Thanks to our Governor and Legislature, Rutgers fared fairly well in a tough state budgetary environment this year. Our base budget was kept level, and we received from the State half the funds required to cover the negotiated compensation increases for our faculty and staff. The rest of that money is coming from a tuition increase borne by our students and their families. With continuing state support for need-based financial aid, and a decision by the Rutgers Board of Governors to continue allocating some of the new tuition revenue for student financial aid, we are working hard to keep Rutgers affordable. We recognize that these serious worries will continue for the future—state funding for Rutgers and affordability for our students.
Sometime soon we are hoping for, and energetically working toward, a higher education bond issue that will provide desperately needed dollars for new and renovated academic buildings. New Jersey has not had a higher education bond issue since 1988. Together with the other colleges and universities, Rutgers will be making the case for a major state investment in our facilities. We can’t fulfill our obligations to New Jersey or to our students without it. Less than two months from now, our State will choose its new Governor, and whoever is elected, Rutgers pledges to offer the expertise of the State University of New Jersey to advance the administration’s policy goals and seek fresh investments in our students, our programs, and our buildings that will pay off for all the citizens of our state.
As well as we hope to do in securing state and, just as important, federal support for Rutgers, achieving our goals will depend increasingly on our ability to raise private funds. The books have barely been closed on the successful Campaign for Rutgers, which raised over $600 million, but we are already looking ahead. Foundation President Carol Herring, whom I introduced at the beginning of my speech, came to Rutgers to take us to the next level in private fund raising. Some of our peer institutions are engaged in $2 billion campaigns; a few are raising even more. But what will it take for Rutgers to move to the next level? To answer that question we asked the firm Marts & Lundy to assess our fund raising capabilities and our readiness for a bigger campaign. Their recently completed report, which will soon be available online, says that Rutgers could be raising a lot more money than it is.
The last campaign, they said, was a top-down affair with too little involvement by faculty or even deans. A bigger campaign will have to be much more collaborative, with its goals established consultatively, its results shared more openly, and the work borne by the community at large. Newark and Camden need more ability to raise funds for their programs. This is all good advice. The Marts & Lundy report also observed that Rutgers has what they called “a confusing model” for fund raising. For example, most arts and sciences alumni are encouraged to direct their support to the colleges, but the academic programs are elsewhere. Rutgers has nineteen separate alumni associations. Marts & Lundy conclude: “There is no real overarching clarity about why Rutgers merits private support” and “no strong message coming from the University.” “The absence of an inspiring and well expressed vision that crosses all elements of this large and complex university inhibits the engagement of major philanthropists.”
My colleagues, the messages here speak urgently to all of us. We have three very separate studies of Rutgers that have been completed within the last year and half that make some astonishingly similar observations and recommendations: A task force report on undergraduate education done by Rutgers faculty, staff and students; an analysis of a survey of 8000 citizens undertaken to help us understand how the public views Rutgers; and a professional study of our fund raising capacity. The subjects of these reports could not be more different, the authors had no communication with each other, and there was no prior thought that they would bring forth congruent observations. But they all say the same thing:
These reports all say the same thing. And anyone who knows and loves Rutgers also knows that these things are true. Attending to the observations made in these three reports, different as they are in origins, purpose, and authorship, will lead us in some utterly essential directions for Rutgers—to stop leaving opportunities on the table, to alleviate the confusion about who we are, and to get our university organized. For the first time, all the hard issues are at hand, and we have within our grasp the knowledge, the means, and, I believe, the will to address comprehensively these challenges. This is the body of Rutgers men and women to do it, and this is the time. Please join with me and with each other in readying Rutgers for greatness in the 21 st century. Thank you.