A Bold Idea

Transforming Undergraduate Education on Our Largest Campus

By Richard L. McCormick
As published in the Fall 2005 issue of Rutgers Magazine

Rutgers’ New Brunswick/Piscataway campus is a remarkable place to live, learn, and work. It can also be a confusing place. Two friends applying to Rutgers can be accepted to different liberal arts colleges with separate admissions standards. Once here, they can sign up for the same course and yet have it count differently toward their degrees—even within the same major. They can face different disciplinary procedures for the same academic violation. They can also experience disparities in academic advising, which can be both perplexing and unfair.

Why does this happen? It is an unintended consequence of the university’s 1980 reorganization, which unified faculty members from our New Brunswick/Piscataway liberal arts colleges but left many academic decisions under the control of the individual colleges. While the reorganization improved Rutgers and led to our membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities, it also separated faculty from decisions about admissions standards, core educational requirements, honors programs, and graduation requirements. It also reduced their involvement in academic advising. Adding to the inequality, some outstanding programs are available at one college but not another. As a result, many students cannot take full advantage of all Rutgers has to offer.

A university task force has been giving great thought to how Rutgers might remove academic roadblocks and maximize the undergraduate experience in New Brunswick/Piscataway. Over the past year, the group, led by Professor Barry Qualls, met with hundreds of individuals and this summer issued an excellent report for consideration by the university. The report encourages a deeper engagement by faculty in campus academic life and makes many recommendations, including creation of:

• a core curriculum that results in a common, though not uniform, academic experience;
• a unified honors program;
• a single admissions standard; and
• small learning communities of students with similar interests, available to all.

The report’s bold recommendation to give all New Brunswick/Piscataway students full access to the same rich academic programs by creating a single, campuswide Rutgers College of Arts and Sciences has already generated much discussion.

I commend the report to you and encourage you to take part in the communitywide discussion about it this fall. In addition to holding campus forums, I will be meeting with alumni leaders and members of various alumni associations. We hope to hear from everyone before presenting a final plan of action to the board of governors for approval.

While I cannot predict the final outcome of our discussions, please know that Rutgers remains firmly committed to the values of excellence, access, and opportunity. We will continue working to ensure a diverse student body and to provide outstanding programs and opportunities for women. We will retain the rich traditions and programs that give each campus distinct character as we meet the needs of current and future students. Our goal is to make certain that every Rutgers undergraduate receives an education worthy of a great public research university.