New Jersey State Conference of NAACP Executive Committee Meeting

Richard L. McCormick, President
Saturday, June 11, 2004, 11:30 a.m.

Recruiting and Retaining Minority Students
Hiring of Faculty and Administrators
Research and Teaching on African American Issues
Serving Communities of Color

Thank you, Bill (Howard). It is a pleasure to be here today and to have you here today. I welcome this opportunity to extend the lines of communication with African American leaders in New Jersey, whose students and communities Rutgers serves.

This effort began in earnest last year when I hosted a reception at my home for a number of African American leaders with the generous assistance of Roland Anglin, director of our New Jersey Public Policy Research Institute, as well as David Harris of the Rutgers Board of Governors. That was the first of a number of meetings at my home and in my office, along with a conference last summer, organized by Roland’s Institute, on the global economy and communities of color. In addition to those activities, I meet with community leaders during Rutgers’ annual faculty tour of New Jersey – more on that later. Today is yet another opportunity for dialogue.

I will focus my formal remarks on four vital areas of Rutgers’ relationship with the African American community, and then we’ll have a conversation about these or any issues you want to discuss. The four areas I will cover are:

1. The recruitment and retention of minority students.

2. Efforts to increase the diversity of our faculty and administration.

3. Teaching and research on African-American subjects.

4. Rutgers’ efforts to serve communities of color.

These are all critically important because Rutgers has an obligation to be your state university. We have a tradition of serving the state with our research and teaching. More than that, we have a vital interest both in promoting the diversity of our university and in strengthening New Jersey, one of the most diverse states in the country.

Recruiting and Retaining Minority Students

Let’s begin with the most important beneficiaries of higher education, our students. Rutgers today prides itself on the diversity of our student body. Our Newark campus, in fact, is consistently ranked as the most diverse in the country, and New Brunswick and Camden are not far behind. But as many of you know, it took the courage of students in the Conklin Hall takeover of 1969 to make the university recognize its responsibility to students of color. A year ago, we celebrated the 35 th anniversary of that event and welcomed back to a standing ovation approximately a dozen of those who had participated in the takeover.

African Americans at Rutgers today account for slightly more than 10 percent of the student body. This percentage has remained steady over the past decade, and ranks us third among the 34 public members of the Association of American Universities, or AAU, the elite group of the nation’s top research universities.

By some comparisons Rutgers is doing relatively OK – but OK isn’t good enough. For instance, African American males account for just 3.7 percent of all Rutgers undergraduates, better than most AAU institutions but far too low. The declining number of African American males attending college is a national crisis.

Some of you may have heard about the work of a Rutgers task force looking at the undergraduate experience in New Brunswick/Piscataway. I know there is a concern that the task force may recommend changes (such as admissions standards) that could jeopardize the diversity of our students. Let me be clear in saying that the opposite is our intention. We are following the progress of the task force closely, and no matter what recommendations emerge, we are strongly committed to maintaining the vibrant diversity of our student body.

You may have seen an op-ed piece I wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year defending Rutgers’ commitment to affirmative action. In the article I made the point that our students are better prepared for the workplace because of the opportunity to learn in a diverse environment.

Indeed, to quote research on this topic, “students derive the greatest developmental benefits from engagement in peer networks that expose them to individuals different from themselves.”

We are firmly committed to our diversity because both social justice and academic excellence depend upon it. Here let me praise our Rutgers NAACP student chapter, which has worked with the admissions staff on a program that brings minority high school students to the campus for a weekend to hear from Rutgers students about what college is really like.

That weekend is one of many ways in which the university aggressively seeks minority enrollment, starting with mailings to nearly 45,000 minority students, encouraging them to consider Rutgers and visit our campuses. We also hold receptions and luncheons for potential recipients of our James Dickson Carr Scholarship, which is awarded to high-achieving African American and Puerto Rican students. And by conducting one-on-one interviews at the state’s most disadvantaged high schools – and bringing students from those schools by bus to open houses at Rutgers – we encourage potential EOF students to attend Rutgers.

At Rutgers-Newark, we have a Campus Ambassador program in which undergraduates, selected by Provost Steve Diner, serve as role models by visiting high schools in that city and talking about the importance of college and the value of a Rutgers education.

Exposing young students to the benefits of a college education, letting them know that higher education is a possibility for them, and aggressively recruiting these candidates are just the beginnings of giving African American students a successful experience. We have to make Rutgers a welcoming environment for all the students who come here. We have not always done this well. And we have to remain vigilant in pursuit of this goal.

To measure this, we have been conducting a Campus Climate Survey, which was recommended by a group of Rutgers African American student leaders with whom I met. The survey of Rutgers New Brunswick/Piscataway students was completed recently and found that overall satisfaction with the experience at Rutgers is about 82 percent – including 26 percent “very satisfied” and 56 percent “somewhat satisfied.”

Breaking down the results, we found overall satisfaction rates of 83 percent for African Americans, 86 percent for Hispanics, 84 percent for whites, and 77 percent for Asian Americans. The percentages in Camden and Newark are also very close between African Americans and other groups. That’s encouraging on the whole. But we still have more work to do.

One avenue is through Rutgers’ three cultural centers – Asian, African American, and Latino – that conduct dozens of programs each year. Few universities match our commitment in this area. In that light, I am pleased to report that Rutgers had one of the largest contingents of students in attendance at the recent National Conference on Race and Ethnicity and helped to organize the conference. Rutgers is seen nationally as a leader in diversity programs.

Finally, a word about improving our graduation rates. In terms of earning a degree, African Americans at Rutgers have a 57 percent graduation rate, which is lower than the overall rate at Rutgers (69%) but much better than the 49 percent graduation rate of African Americans at comparable research institutions.

Here again, we need to do more. We are trying to make the most of our Learning Resource Centers, where students can turn for supplemental instruction, online tutorials, and one-on-one tutoring. Our EOF students receive advising and tutoring to keep on track. We also take pride in the students of diverse backgrounds who benefit from our Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences as they pursue degrees and careers in science and engineering.

National research shows that students are more likely to leave college for family or financial reasons than for academic reasons. Here Rutgers takes very seriously its commitment to access through financial aid. In fact, in addition to our efforts at gaining state and federal aid for our students, we are also determined to increase privately raised financial aid. As Rutgers looks to a major new fundraising campaign, one of its primary aims will be the creation of more scholarships and other forms of financial assistance.

Hiring of Faculty and Administrators

Turning to our faculty and staff now, there is an expression: “What you are says so much about you that I can’t hear what you are saying.” No matter how much we talk about the importance of increasing diversity on our faculty and staff, until there are more people from diverse backgrounds in these positions, it’s just talk.

In terms of our faculty, African Americans currently account for too few of our totals, but there are signs of important progress.

In Camden, one-third of the tenure-track positions hired for the upcoming academic year are of diverse background, including 3 African Americans: one in political science, one at the business school, and one at the law school, along with an assistant dean in the law school.

In Newark, which has, relatively speaking, the highest percentage of African American representation on any of our campuses, we are welcoming two important new faculty members this fall: an urban education expert and a public administration professor specializing in minority issues in hiring and advancement.

Among the Faculty of Arts & Sciences on our New Brunswick/Piscataway campus, there are nine new African American and Hispanic faculty, including an American Studies professor in black popular culture, media, technology, and race; plus two professors of English specializing in African American literature. Three more have offers outstanding or in discussion, including one expert in urban sociology and race relations.

Let me relate a story that illustrates our commitment. Last year, when the New Brunswick history department was seeking to fill a position in 20 th century African American history, they had the good fortune to meet two truly outstanding candidates. Rather than stick to the game plan, the department chair went to the dean, who found the necessary funding, and so we appointed two of the very best newly minted Ph.D.s in this field in the country.

To enhance our recruitment efforts universitywide, this past year we established the Office of Faculty Diversity Initiatives within the office of the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. Among other things, this office provides money for searches to make sure we cast a wide net for diversity candidates. It also assists units with salary and start-up costs, if additional resources are needed to attract these candidates, who in many cases are in high demand. In addition, the office monitors the composition of faculty search committees, to ensure that they include members who will maximize the likelihood of attracting the broadest possible pool of applicants.

Besides these direct means of expanding the pool, the creation of the new office has visibly raised the consciousness of provosts, deans, chairs, and faculty to the importance of diversity and our serious commitment to achieve it. Faculty diversity has thus become an important part of the conversation on all three of our campuses for the first time in many years.

On the administration side, where African Americans represent 18.4 percent of our total staff and 13 percent of those in the professional categories, we have a good record. However, while I am deeply proud of the people I have brought into leadership positions, not enough of the senior-most positions have been filled by African Americans and Latinos. Still, we have made several key hires, such as:
Brian Crockett , Vice President for External Programs at the Rutgers Foundation;
Isabel Nazario, Associate Vice President for Academic and Public Partnerships in the Arts and Humanities;
Marcia Brown, Vice Provost of Rutgers-Newark;
Deborah Bowles, Associate Provost for Enrollment Management at Rutgers-Camden;
and Kim Manning-Lewis, Vice President for University Relations and a member of my Cabinet.

These are in addition to more than a half-dozen other high-level promotions and appointments of African Americans during my tenure here. And, of course, these are also in addition to college deans Arnold Hyndman of Livingston, Emmet Dennis of University College, and Carmen Ambar of Douglass, who were already in place when I became president.

Let me just add that we are increasingly using professional search firms that have strong track records in identifying minority applicants for leadership positions.

Research and Teaching on African American Issues

A third area of interest is Rutgers’ teaching and research on African American issues. The range of our offerings is considerable: in art history, anthropology, philosophy, history, women’s and gender studies, and more. There are courses in race relations, African religions, the politics of black America, the history of civil rights, the economics of discrimination, and philosophy and the black experience, to name but a handful.

Let me highlight three areas of particular excellence, starting with African American literature, which is ranked among the nation’s top ten graduate programs in this field. Rutgers has an outstanding cohort of black graduate students in the program right now, and we are aggressively recruiting new faculty to extend our strong tradition in the years to come.

Similarly, our faculty group in African and African American history is perhaps the largest and most distinguished in the country, with experts like Mia Bay on African American Intellectual and Cultural History and Allen Howard on African and Atlantic history. The faculty’s expertise contributes to our well-regarded annual seminar series on the Black Atlantic/African Diaspora.

We also take pride in the Rutgers Center for African Studies, the largest area studies program at Rutgers. Among other things, the center has a vigorous outreach program for community leaders and K-12 teachers, and supports faculty research in Africa. The center is also working with our Department of Africana Studies to build a program in African languages, for which there is increasing interest among our students.

These examples come from our New Brunswick campus. But meaningful work relevant to the African American community is happening on all our campuses, as for example in Newark where Edem Avakame in the School of Criminal Justice is studying the relationship between race, social class, and crime … where Mara Sidney studies political struggles to advance racial equality … and where urban sociologist Max Herman is examining how neighborhoods mobilize in response to proposed plans for urban renewal.

Serving Communities of Color

Moving beyond the boundaries of our campuses, Rutgers is also working to support communities of color in New Jersey through our outreach and service.

Many of you are familiar with our most well-known avenues of outreach. Professor Clem Price and the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience in Newark are one example, promoting interracial and multicultural understanding through a host of public programs.

Newark is also home to the Cornwall Center on Metropolitan Studies. The center is led by Stephanie Bush-Baskette, whose projects include addressing health disparities among residents in Newark and nearby cities.

These programs are matched in Camden by the wonderful leadership of Gloria Bonilla-Santiago and the LEAP Academy, which is helping city children build an academic commitment that leads to college and a career. Also in Camden, a program called STARR, co-directed by Rutgers professor Daniel Hart, is helping 100 African American, Latino, and other minority adolescents develop responsibility through sports, community service, fundraising, and education.

In New Brunswick, of course, is Roland Anglin’s New Jersey Public Policy Research Institute, which provides critical analyses of public policy issues important to the African American community. The Institute is now working with the Congressional Black Caucus to highlight and promote efforts to improve conditions for African American males, and is working with the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission to reduce disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system.

We are also proud of the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science, and Engineering, which sends our students to urban schools to teach science and help children achieve the core standards.

Returning to Newark, the Police Institute’s “Operation Ceasefire” has the mission of stopping further shootings, starting in Newark and Irvington. It seeks to do so through the collaboration of some 40 different public and non-profit organizations. The outreach includes “on the spot” alternatives to gun violence that help young people back away from violent responses, gain job training and placement, and get drug treatment if they need it.

These efforts, and many more, are in addition to the basic research that goes on at Rutgers in fields of concern to all communities, such as in diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, AIDS, and other debilitating health conditions.

Our university’s service also extends to business assistance and the field of workplace diversity. Our Division of Continuous Education and Outreach provides an online course in Supplier Diversity, as well as one called The Advanced Academy for Minority Business Enterprise/Small Business Training.

And, of course, many minority entrepreneurs seek our help through the network of New Jersey Small Business Development Centers that Rutgers coordinates across the state.

These are some of the ways in which Rutgers is putting its resources to use for the benefit of African Americans in New Jersey and the nation. But we should be doing more. There are other areas in which our faculty’s expertise might be applied in meeting the challenges of communities of color. I welcome your ideas.

These concerns are on the minds of many of our faculty. I know this from recent experience on our second annual New Faculty Traveling Seminar. This week-long bus tour of the state gives about three dozen new faculty a firsthand look at the communities in which their students live and the challenges New Jerseyans face. On the tour last month, we spent much of the week facing and discussing inequality in New Jersey, a subject that came up again and again. The richest state in the nation has so much poverty.

Most vividly, inequality was the subtext of a panel discussion at Faith Baptist Tabernacle in Asbury Park, where we were hosted by Reverend Porter Brown. The panel spoke about the challenges faced in that small city, especially the issue of how communities of color could shape and benefit from Asbury Park’s ambitions plans for redevelopment. After leaving the church, the bus headed to Red Bank, via the towns of Deal and Rumson, whose extraordinary affluence contrasts so markedly with Asbury Park’s poverty.

As I said at the outset of my remarks, New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation. We aim to use Rutgers people and programs to address the inequalities that so often fall along racial lines.

Through initiatives like the traveling seminar, we want to deepen Rutgers’ connections to the challenges facing New Jersey and its African American communities. And so I conclude where I began: with a request for your help in keeping Rutgers close to the issues that matter to our state and its people.

Thank you very much.