Renewing Rutgers’ Commitment to Students

by Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick
As submitted; an edited version was published in The Star-Ledger on March 9, 2006.

In New Jersey, students seeking higher education have many fine choices—public and private, large and small, two-year and four-year. Rutgers is unique among these institutions. As a major public research university, we have vast academic resources and boast faculty who are involved in exploration and discovery across every field of human endeavor. Our goal should be to lead the nation in integrating those resources into the experience of all our students so they can take full advantage of a truly unique Rutgers education.

For the past two years, Rutgers has engaged in an extraordinary dialogue about undergraduate education on our New Brunswick/Piscataway campus—highlighting what works well for students and identifying structural obstacles to achievement. Led by dedicated faculty, the discussion has been marked by the passion with which students, alumni, faculty, and staff have expressed their hopes for Rutgers.

The plan for undergraduate education that I have submitted for approval by the Rutgers Board of Governors tomorrow speaks to those aspirations for Rutgers. Much more than a list of structural changes in New Brunswick/Piscataway, it is a recommitment to our students and a model for a new public research university. We are reaffirming that undergraduate education at Rutgers is our premier and highest obligation.

What does this vision mean for the new Rutgers student? It means encountering firsthand Rutgers’ missions of teaching, research, and service to New Jersey and the nation. It promises close contact with our best faculty throughout their academic careers—in new first-year seminars, in expanded undergraduate research opportunities, and in service-learning programs. It offers full access to the programs and services of a major university without getting lost in bureaucracy. It means benefiting from an academically rich core curriculum that defines a true Rutgers education. Ultimately, it means leaving Rutgers fully prepared to lead and succeed in the 21st century.

Achieving Rutgers’ highest aspirations for undergraduates requires that we change the way we organize ourselves today. My recommendations propose sweeping changes to simplify our academic structure, including one set of admissions standards and graduation requirements, a unified and distinctive honors program for high-achieving students, and most significantly the creation of a single School of Arts and Sciences for all liberal-arts students in New Brunswick/Piscataway. These recommendations reaffirm our commitment to maintain an excellent and diverse student body. And in enriching campus life, they also make it possible for any student to live anywhere, take advantage of any program or service in New Brunswick/Piscataway, and feel both welcome and well served.

The plan also maintains the university’s strong commitment to educational opportunities for women, forged many decades ago at the New Jersey College for Women and exemplified today by the excellent scholarship in women’s studies being conducted at Rutgers, much of it on the Douglass campus. I have called for upholding Douglass’s historic mission, tradition, and identity by establishing the Mabel Smith Douglass Residential College, where interested women can enjoy single-sex living opportunities and innovative curricular and co-curricular programs. We have also brought to Rutgers highly distinguished microbiologist Dr. Joan Bennett, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, who will serve as associate vice president and be responsible for advancing women in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math.

Contingent on Board of Governors approval, this ambitious plan will be in place to greet new students entering Rutgers in fall 2007. Although implementation must be done with care, we are more than eager to make this commitment to our students.

In announcing my recommendations Tuesday, I was asked if Rutgers were trying to make a statement about undergraduate education at a major research university. You bet we are. It is a clear statement to students about what they can expect, how we will teach them, and what a Rutgers education will add to their lives and careers. We are telling parents across New Jersey: if you send your daughters and sons to Rutgers, they can expect a world-class education when they get here.

With these recommendations, we are giving Rutgers undergraduates what they deserve: the full benefit of their choice to attend New Jersey’s state university and one of the top public research universities in America.