Rutgers' Mission: Dedication to Excellence

By Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick
As submitted; published in the Trenton Times and Home News Tribune in November 2006

When William Franklin, the royal governor of New Jersey, signed a charter 240 years ago this week creating the eighth college in the American colonies, he could not have foreseen the tumultuous events of his later life-that he would be swept from power during the American Revolution, jailed, and eventually exiled.

Nor could Governor Franklin have foreseen that this small private college he created on November 10, 1766, would one day become one of the nation's premier public research universities-and would be named, ironically, after a Revolutionary War hero, Colonel Henry Rutgers.

The governor's father, Benjamin Franklin, had infinitely more foresight-about the promising future of the newly formed United States, and about the public institutions that would be vital to this nation's strength and success.

One important institution, the elder Franklin argued during his lifetime, would be public education. He also said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

That is why, as we commemorate the 240th anniversary of Rutgers' founding, we celebrate another milestone this year that is just as important-the 50th anniversary of the legislative actions that established Rutgers as The State University of New Jersey.

These two important events in the evolution of Rutgers are the pillars that form the foundation of this outstanding university, which now educates more than 50,000 students each year on campuses in Newark, Camden and New Brunswick/Piscataway, and serves people across the state with programs in every New Jersey county.

Rutgers' rich history and traditions underscore this institution's long-standing commitment to academic excellence-a commitment that has produced such outstanding alumni as actor and activist Paul Robeson, best-selling author Janet Evanovich, and Nobel Prize winners Milton Friedman and Selman Waksman.

Our status as New Jersey's state university provides our unique mission to serve the nearly nine million people who live in every corner of this state. It also has transformed Rutgers into one of the nation's most powerful engines of knowledge, scholarship, and opportunity.

Over the past 50 years, Rutgers has evolved into an institution recognized for excellence in a wide range of academic disciplines-including genetics, criminal justice, history, and women's and gender studies.

The university's philosophy department, for example, recently was ranked second best in the English-speaking world.

Rutgers also has become an institution renowned worldwide for groundbreaking research that is helping to prevent AIDS, combat global warming, and bring food to areas ravaged by famine.

In recent months, Rutgers has secured a series of prestigious federal grants to conduct vital research that will benefit the state and nation in health, science, and homeland security. These grants include:

  • $19.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to work with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to jointly develop measures to protect people against chemical warfare agents.
  • $15 million from the National Science Foundation to work with three other universities to establish an Engineering Research Center devoted to improving the manufacture of pharmaceuticals.
  • $3 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to lead a research consortium using advanced technology to identify potential threats.

Rutgers also has become a university with 30 degree-granting schools and colleges-educating students in everything from law, business, and public planning to nursing, social work, and labor relations.

Since our founding in 1766, Rutgers has awarded more than 400,000 academic degrees-425,268, to be exact. To put this in perspective, that is nearly five times the number of degrees awarded by the College of William & Mary, the only other college founded before the American Revolution that is now a public institution.

Each of these Rutgers degrees represents an opportunity to empower a student to follow his or her own destiny, to be an informed citizen and critical thinker, as well as a productive participant in the world economy.

About 200,000 Rutgers alumni call New Jersey their home. And the university will continue to contribute more than 10,000 well-educated graduates to the world each year.

But our evolution is far from complete. We are transforming undergraduate education on our largest campus in New Brunswick/Piscataway to provide all students with a robust core curriculum, greater opportunities for undergraduate research and experiential learning, and full access to the resources of a major research university.

We also will continue to work with this state's leaders, from the public and private sectors, to turn Rutgers into an even greater university, with the resources, vision, and flexibility to meet our state's needs-both foreseen and unforeseen-for the next 50 years and beyond.

No other educational institution in New Jersey has Rutgers' mission-to meet the increasingly complex and diverse needs of virtually every state resident. And no other educational institution in this state is better prepared to provide the scholarship and service that will propel New Jersey to a bright and better future.