Leaving Opportunities Behind

The Message Couldn’t Be Clearer: Rutgers Still Has Work to Do

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

We at Rutgers have a remarkable university with outstanding teaching, a diverse and talented student body, and prominent alumni. Our faculty members win national awards for innovative research that spans from the oceans’ depths to outer space. Our centers and institutes apply Rutgers research to solve real-world challenges throughout the state and beyond. So why does our university not always shine like the jewel we know it is?

Three recent studies have addressed this question: a task force report on undergraduate education; a commissioned survey of 8,000 New Jerseyans on how the public views Rutgers; and a professional study of our fund-raising capacity. Examining Rutgers from vastly different angles, they drew astonishingly similar conclusions.

Our undergraduate task force decried the university’s “massive, complex, baroque” structure and the obstacles that make it difficult for students “to take advantage of all that Rutgers–New Brunswick/Piscataway has to offer.”

An analysis of the New Jersey survey remarked that while more than two-thirds of citizens and business leaders surveyed gave the university high marks for teaching and academic programs, many cannot distinguish Rutgers from other institutions in the state. “Rutgers needs to differentiate itself,” the analysts told us; “no one message really breaks through.”

Our fund-raising consultant called Rutgers “a complicated and multilayered institution” and added that the fund-raising structure “is confusing to donors and hinders the university’s ability to maximize support.” These messages speak urgently to those of us working to move Rutgers to the highest ranks of excellence. They tell us that:

• Rutgers is leaving opportunities on the table. Despite a wealth of exceptional programs, we have not yet become all we can be in academics, in reputation, or in resources.
• Rutgers is hard to understand. It presents a confusing picture to those beyond our campuses and even to those who are here.
• We are not as well organized as we should be. Our structure hinders achievement of our highest ambitions.

Though daunting and long-standing, these problems are interrelated, and addressing one aspect will help us address the others. To that end, Rutgers recently enlisted a communications firm that has worked with some of the finest universities in the nation to help sharpen our message and distinguish us in the public eye. Being clear about what we do well will help us in recruiting students and faculty, competing for grants, and seeking private support. Similarly, simplifying our structure, especially with regard to undergraduate education, will make Rutgers better organized, easier to understand, and better prepared to seize opportunities as they arise.

No doubt the annual ratings guides will notice our efforts, too.

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