Heart of the Matter

Reconnecting Students and Faculty

By Richard L. McCormick
As published in the Spring 2006 issue of Rutgers Magazine

Think back to your most rewarding academic experiences. Chances are they involved a connection you made with a member of the faculty—perhaps a conversation about political theory or art history, a project on which you collaborated, or a thoughtful suggestion that pointed you on a career path.

Rutgers is an excellent public research university because we have immensely talented faculty members with expertise in the widest range of human endeavors. With the transformative changes to undergraduate education we are making in New Brunswick/Piscataway, we will help our students gain full advantage of the opportunity to learn from these remarkable women and men.

The most far-reaching component of the plan is the creation of the School of Arts and Sciences out of the separate undergraduate units of Douglass, Livingston, Rutgers, and University colleges. With this change we end an increasingly confusing and complex structure that even the most seasoned faculty found hard to explain. We are enabling students to live anywhere they choose and to take advantage of outstanding programs and well-administered services on any campus. Equally critical, with this change we are re-engaging faculty in vital decisions about admitting students, designing a core curriculum, and setting graduation requirements.

Most important, we are creating new opportunities for student-faculty interaction. For example, undergraduates will take first-year seminars, exploring topics of mutual interest with members of the faculty who will also mentor them as they move toward a major. They will also engage with faculty in their own pursuit of new discoveries as we expand upon a very successful undergraduate research program. And those who choose to do so will also work closely with faculty in exploring service-learning opportunities, which we will also increase.

As we strive to reach the top tier of research universities, bringing undergraduates more fully into the life of research, teaching, and service at Rutgers is essential to this ambition. In doing so, I have pledged to maintain the diversity that has become a hallmark of Rutgers. Just as important, we will deepen our commitment to educational opportunities for women through the creation of Douglass Residential College, the establishment of the Institute for Women and Art, and the appointment of highly distinguished microbiologist Dr. Joan Bennett as an associate vice president for promoting women in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math.

How can I be so sure this plan and its promise of deeper faculty engagement will give tomorrow’s students a Rutgers education as good as or better than our loyal graduates have enjoyed? As someone I love and deeply respect once said, Rutgers “has remained eternally the same in its commitment to quality higher education only because it has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to adapt to changing circumstances; to reorganize itself to meet new challenges; to extend its services to ever-widening constituencies.”

That was the belief of my late father, Professor Richard P. McCormick, who gave the address at the 1981 Rutgers College commencement just after the last major reorganization. His conviction echoes loudly today.

Richard L. McCormick is the president of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.