Rutgers: Making changes and moving forward

By M. William Howard, Chair of the Board of Governors, and Richard L. McCormick, President
As submitted; published in the Star-Ledger on December 18, 2008
Rutgers University athletics has received enormous media attention over the past several months, some of it deserved and much of it sensationalized. The scrutiny has nonetheless challenged Rutgers' Board of Governors and administration to do more to ensure that the strongest possible controls are in place and to integrate an increasingly successful athletic program fully within the university management structure.
In late July, a presidentially appointed, independent committee was asked to examine the issues that newspaper articles had raised about the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. The committee issued a blunt report critical of the university structures that govern athletics.
In the weeks following release of the report, the administration and Board of Governors have worked together to adopt the committee's recommendations by making significant changes in policies and procedures affecting athletics and, in some cases, the entire university. In fact, the report itself noted that Rutgers had already begun taking steps to strengthen accountability and transparency. The university also stands ready to assist the state comptroller's audit of its procurement and contracting practices as raised in the context of athletics. As we implement important reforms, Rutgers must continue to move forward on its educational mission, which is so vital to New Jersey and its residents.
Many recent headlines and newspaper reports have lacked balance and objectivity and have blown issues far out of proportion. One example of the distortions from the Star-Ledger's coverage is its assertion that Rutgers has been unresponsive and deliberately withheld information in response to requests under the Open Public Records Act. To the contrary, Rutgers staff members have spent thousands of hours responding in good faith to an avalanche of requests, providing more than 10,000 pages of information. Only those records not subject to release under the law and those that Rutgers is forbidden to release based on a court order have been withheld from the newspaper.
All too often, the tendency of our state's media and political culture is to seek to tear down institutions rather than to build them up through objective and constructive criticism. In the process of doing so, we lose sight of treasures we have in our own backyard, including Rutgers, one of the nation's leading research universities.

There are so many good stories to tell, such as Rutgers' designation by the federal government to lead a nationwide effort to develop interventions for America's crumbling transportation infrastructure. Or the major new initiative on nutrition and childhood obesity, one of society's most vexing problems, inaugurated with a $10 million grant that this newspaper has yet to report anywhere on its pages.
The Rutgers leadership has made a series of difficult decisions in order to pursue excellence in every part of the university's multifaceted mission. Few people will agree with every decision, and we encourage vigorous debate as part of our decision-making process. But there comes a time when communities have to join together to pursue aims that are larger than any one of us.
Great public universities are among our nation's most important strategic assets. They provide access to educational opportunity for citizens from all walks of life. They are sources of good jobs and serve as tremendous economic engines for their communities. They produce research that helps solve some of our society's most pressing problems. In times of economic hardship, their role is more important than ever as a key to recovery and growth. And, without doubt, their athletic programs can engender state pride and open a window on academic strengths, as we have seen at Rutgers.
We pledge that we will pursue Rutgers' missions of teaching, research, and service with vigor and with the support of all of the state's residents. We hope New Jersey residents will stand up and take pride in institutions that enrich our lives immeasurably, and find ways to support these institutions for the betterment of us all.