Chancellor Diner's 2007 Address to the Campus

October 15, 2007

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Good afternoon everyone. This is the sixth year in which I am giving this address to the campus. I have to tell you that as this day came nearer, I started wondering, “What I am going to say that they haven’t heard already?” Then I began ruminating about anniversaries. After all, it is the 40th anniversary of the 1967 civil disturbances in Newark that so profoundly shape the collective memory of both the city and our campus. It’s also the 10th anniversary of the NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center), which was an extraordinary milestone in the revitalization of the city and changed the way the city thought about itself and the way those outside saw Newark. And most importantly, it is the 100th anniversary of Rutgers-Newark, dating from the opening of the law school that later became part of the University of Newark and then became Rutgers-Newark.

Anniversaries become occasions to think about larger issues. What we at Rutgers-Newark stand for as a university speaks to crucial local, national and international issues. So I am going to set my remarks about what’s happening on campus in that larger context. Debate rages in this country about affirmative action and the educational value of diversity. On this campus, the most diverse in the country, our experience has a lot to say about diversity and about globalization, since our students and their families come from nearly every corner of the globe. There is also a great deal of national discussion about educational opportunity, or lack thereof, in higher education. There is more and more discussion of the stratification in American higher education. Many higher education leaders argue that the best and most prestigious colleges and universities admit overwhelmingly the children of the most affluent Americans. Do the ever more popular rankings of colleges and universities by U.S. News encourage schools to narrow the pool of students that they accept? Do the SATs really measure academic and professional potential, and are they biased in favor of the most privileged high school students? Our experience here at Rutgers-Newark certainly can speak to these issues.

It can also speak to the fate of American cities. In the 1970s, there was widespread belief that American cities were destined for continuous decline. Since then, many American cities have undergone revitalization, some dramatically so. But American cities still boldly highlight the issues that our society faces with regard to racial equity, poverty, immigration and opportunity.

We should look at Rutgers-Newark’s 100th anniversary, our history, and what we are about today in the context of these national issues. And I would argue that we have done and are continuing to do powerfully important things to create greater equity in our society and to revitalize our home city. In some respects, we are also going against the tide in American higher education, placing our commitment to opportunity above conventional measures of prestige.

When I talk about the history of Rutgers-Newark and about our mission today, I point to four things: opportunity, diversity, research and urban engagement. This campus, from the days of the founding of our predecessor institutions, has been all about opportunity. In the literature on the history of American higher education, institutions like ours have been dubbed “streetcar universities,” places where first-generation college students from modest backgrounds could get a college education. We share this legacy with institutions like City College of New York or Temple University in Philadelphia.

Since the Conklin Hall sit-in in 1969 and in some ways before, this campus has also represented diversity and commitment to diversity. Today, we may look back at the students who attended Rutgers-Newark in the 1940s, 50s and 60s as “white.” But at the time, the campus was looked at as an institution of immigrants and children of immigrants – Irish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Jews and others -- who could not attend more prestigious institutions. Since 1969, the campus has addressed the much more powerful divide of race, and for the last 11 years we have enjoyed the designation of the most diverse national university in the country. As such, we have a lot to say about the national debate over the value of diversity.

After the old University of Newark joined Rutgers University and then Rutgers upgraded its academic stature to join the AAU, we have also been committed to research at the highest levels. This is particularly important in relationship to our other missions, because, given the stratification of American higher education, the students we serve from modest backgrounds do not normally study with the top professors who are on the cutting edge of knowledge. Research is vital in its own right, and we take great pride in the way our faculty advanced knowledge in so many fields. But we should also take pride in the fact that our top research faculty is also advancing equity in American our higher education.

Finally, our campus has a long a deep involvement with our host city and commitment to an urban mission. We’re not just in the City of Newark; we are of the City of Newark. There are enormous resources in this city that help us do what we do more effectively and enormous opportunities for us to benefit those who live and work here. So those four themes -- opportunity, diversity, research and urban engagement – are at once central to our history and identity and they reflect some of the most important social issues facing American society.

So let me report on key developments in each if these four areas, beginning with research. Last year, The National Faculty Productivity Index, a new measure of the academic quality of universities, particularly of Ph.D. programs, rated the nation’s research universities. This index, an alternative to reputational assessments, used objective measures of faculty publications, grants, citations, quality of journals and the like to assess quality. Because we have fewer than 15 Ph.D. programs, we were evaluated in the category of small research universities. The index ranked Rutgers-Newark ranked 12th in the country. It is nice to get that kind of affirmation, from an objective outside source, of what we knew already: That this really is a very, very fine faculty and terrific research is going on here.

I want to take a moment to mention a few of our faculty members who have won major awards; I don’t want to keep you here all afternoon, so I will list just a fraction of our faculty’s notable accomplishments. Rachel Jones in our College of Nursing has been designated by the New York Times as the 2007 Nurse Educator of the year. Karima Bennoune in our Law School received the Derek Bell award from the Association of American Law Schools' Section on Minority Groups. Gyorgy Buzsaki from Neuroscience -- this is just the latest in a long string of recognitions and awards -- won the McDonald Foundation Scholars Award. John Cantwell in the Management Department has been elected Vice President of the Academy of International Business. Frieder Jaekle in Chemistry won an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship. Bart Krekelberg in Neuroscience has been selected a Pew Scholar. Kim Holton in Portuguese and Lusophone world studies last year won two university-wide awards. Rutgers President Richard McCormick, in presenting them said that he had never heard of anybody winning two awards in the same year -- the Board Trustees Award in Research, which is given to the four of five very best candidates up for tenure that year, and also the Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award, for someone whose scholarship is applied in the classroom. Norma Riccucci in our School of Public Affairs and Administration won the Charles H. Levine Award from the American Society of Public Administration for Outstanding Research, while Byron Price, from the same school, was named “A Shining Star” by the Conference on Minority Public Administrators. And I would be remiss if I did not put in a commercial message for Bruce Franklin who this Thursday will receive the Distinguished Faculty Award and deliver the Distinguished Faculty Lecture in this room at 4 p.m.

While we’re talking about research and graduate education, I should note that we continue to expand the kinds of graduate programs we offer. This fall we launched our new Ph.D. in American Studies. Our new MFA in Writing under Jayne Ann Phillips’ leadership has 37 students enrolled in the first class. The College of Nursing has launched the Doctorate in Nursing Practice, a degree for practicing professionals in the field, and also an online Ph.D. in Nursing. These are just a couple of highlights to suggest that on all fronts we are doing very, very well as a research university.

Let me say a word about undergraduate education. It is very important that we distinguish undergraduate education on this campus from the other campuses of Rutgers and from other schools. We have certain unique strengths which should inform the experience we offer undergraduates. I’m very pleased that a committee chaired by Richard Langhorne and John Graham is about to complete its work. The committee is outlining opportunities to advance undergraduate education on this campus in ways that take advantage of our unique strengths in professional education, in research, and the opportunities offered by our urban location. I look forward to engaging in a campus-wide discussion, particularly with the faculty, as to what we want undergraduate education to be, and how we can advance it further on the campus.

I should also mention that there are discussions underway about at least two new majors that don’t exist elsewhere in New Jersey and that are consistent with this thrust. One would be a major in Public Service that does not currently exist anywhere else in New Jersey. Dean Marc Holzer and the School of Public Affairs and Administration are working on a new major in public service, and they are almost done with the proposal. And faculty in the Division of Global Affairs have been discussing an undergraduate global studies major.

The extraordinary diversity of this campus already contributes greatly to undergraduate education, and we can take even fuller advantage of it. The leaders of American higher education went to the US Supreme Court and argued that diversity is essential to the quality of education. I certainly agree with that. So do our graduates, who tell us –both on exit questionnaires, and when they come back and talk to us – that they learned from the different cultures represented on the campus and from their fellow students. This is an enormous asset for us. Our faculty needs to be much more self-conscious about it. We have a learning tool, if you will, a learning opportunity in our classrooms that most universities in the country don’t have. We started a program last year, which we will continue, of grants to faculty to develop ways to take fullest advantage of the diversity we have in the classroom. We need to enable our students, in structured ways, to learn from each others’ cultural backgrounds. It’s not going to affect the way that we teach calculus or organic chemistry, but in lots of subjects there are great learning opportunities.

When students are asked, “Why Rutgers- Newark?”, they tell us, “I want to go to a place with that kind of diversity, I know I’ll fit in.” No student group is a majority on this campus, which means no student group is a minority. That’s a rare experience anywhere in the world, and students learn an enormous amount from it. It uniquely prepares students to function in an ever more global world. We also need to incorporate it into student life and into the kinds of activities we try to organize for our students beyond the classroom, in the residence halls and in this building and across campus.

Therefore, in conjunction with the initiatives that President McCormick recently announced to promote diversity across Rutgers, I’m establishing on this campus a new Office of Diversity and Cultural Enrichment. This office will be co-directed by Lynn Schneemeyer, the Vice Provost for Research, and by Gerald Massenburg, Assistant Provost for Student Life. Working very closely with them will be Professor Asela Laguna-Diaz, who has accepted the new position of Special Faculty Advisor to the Provost on Diversity

Let me turn then to campus enrollment. Our final enrollment this fall is the highest ever in the history of Rutgers-Newark: 10,553 students. Over the last two years our first-year enrollment has increased 40%. Jason Hand, our Director of Admissions, deserves a big thanks and a round of applause. Jason has brought extraordinary vigor, energy and commitment to Rutgers-Newark. He keeps telling me, however, that he has so much to work with. He says Rutgers-Newark is easy to sell because the quality of education here is so high. Our enrollment success reflects also the change in perceptions of the City of Newark. The fact that we have such rapidly increasing enrollment is a statement about us, but it’s also a statement about Newark.

We opened our new residence hall last year, University Square. I like to joke that I don’t know how Norman Samuels ever persuaded the Board of Governors 25 years ago to build the first residence hall because the board must have thought that he was crazy. Back then, most people thought, who in the world would want to live in downtown Newark? When I became Provost we had 650 beds on campus, and more students who wanted to live in those beds than we could allow. Since it wouldn’t look good in the Star Ledger to have two students in a bed, we rented space in the Robert Treat Hotel for a while and made other accommodations.

That space shortage allowed us to build University Square, a 13-story residence hall, and at the time people asked, “So you’re going to double your capacity, are you sure you can absorb it?” I wasn’t completely sure but I said, “Yes, I’m sure we could absorb it.” Lo and behold, last year overall housing was than at 93% capacity, and this year we are at 103% capacity! We are already tripling first-year students. This is enormously exciting. We have turned the corner. Students are not afraid of Newark; they are excited by Newark. This says a lot about us, but it also says a lot about changing attitudes towards the City of Newark. That’s a big development and I hope you share my enthusiasm for it.

In previous years I have talked about my concern that as this campus becomes more attractive to affluent and high-achieving students, we must be very careful not to exclude those who have traditionally looked to this campus as an opportunity for upward mobility. I also have expressed concern that we were not in recent years attracting enough students out of Newark and Irvington and East Orange and the inner city jurisdictions of our immediate community. We’ve done a number of things to address that. Jason Hand has worked very hard on that. Marcia Brown started the Ambassadors Program in which our own students go into every Newark high school and talk to young people about coming to Rutgers-Newark. We have had a huge increase in students from Newark, Irvington and East Orange. Indeed, twice as many students from those jurisdictions enrolled this year than did so two years ago.

I also want to say a word about students who transfer here from community colleges. We often forget about transfer students. Two years ago Zack Yamba, the President of Essex County College, received an honorary degree from us at commencement and so he and I sat on the stage together. As the graduates marched in front of us, Zack turned to me and said, “I know a lot of these students. You must have a lot of ECC graduates; could you look up the number?” So we did a little research and we found out that 9% of all students who get a bachelor degree from Rutgers-Newark attended Essex County College. We looked up some other numbers, and it turns out that 27% of all of our Bachelor graduates last year had attended a community college before they came here, 27%. A historic mission of county colleges has been to allow students without strong high school academic records to enter college and ultimately transition to a senior institution. In admitting and graduating so many county college transfer students, we are contributing still further to equity and opportunity in our society.

One of the reasons we’ve been able to grow our enrollments of students from low-income backgrounds is that we have shifted much more heavily to qualitative review of applicants. The SAT and traditional quantitative measures are not the best predictors of success, especially for low-income students. We knew that from the experience of our EOF Program, where for years and years we’ve been taking in students who didn’t have high SATs or even high grades but who succeeded here, generation after generation. We have now expanded qualitative review in admissions. We use the SAT only to the extent that it’s useful. Nationally, many schools are paying more and more attention to the SAT because it is a major criterion for US News rankings. But we have maintained our historic commitment to opportunity. We’re not using the status markers that are becoming unfortunately more and more prevalent in higher education; we’re using measures that really mean something and predict success among the students we want to serve.

Let me say a bit about our engagement with the City of Newark. I began by noting the 40th anniversary of the civil disturbances. This campus and its faculty have been engaged in the City of Newark for many years, in all kinds of creative ways. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite as powerful as the reflections that took place this year on the meaning of what happened in Newark 40 years ago. There have been extensive public discussions on the anger that still exists about the way that the police and the National Guard handled the disturbances, the way the civil disturbances got labeled, and more importantly, the way that the disturbances began to shape a self-image of the City of Newark. These events gave a negative self-image, and it created nationally an extremely negative image of the city that has greatly hindered its revitalization. Newark became the national symbol of urban decay, thought of as a poor city, an abandoned city, a dangerous city, a city inhabited only by those who could not move out to the suburbs.

Professor Clem Price, I think, is almost entirely responsible for organizing and leading the extraordinary dialogues and reflections held across the city this year. Over and over again, people have come together to talk about that anniversary, what it means for the City of Newark, and why that history matters to us. Of course, it matters a great deal, and I think Clem and those working with him have done an extraordinary job. There are other cities which have had riots and civil disturbances in ‘67 and none of them have gone through what Newark has gone through. It has been and continues to be an enormously positive opportunity to take stock of who we are, what we’re about, and to come to terms with anger and frustration many have felt all these 40 years about the events of July 1967. I think this is an example of an urban university at its best. It is easy to understand what an urban business school might do for somebody starting a small business, or how a school of criminal justice might help reduce crime, and those are very important. But even in fields like the humanities and my own discipline of history, there are powerful ways in which a university can positively impact on a community. Clement Price has demonstrated so dramatically the ways in which historical memory can be put to constructive use.

There are many other ways in which our institution is engaged with the surrounding community, but I’m just going to give just a few examples. Our School of Public Affairs and Administration began working closely with the new administration of Mayor Cory Booker, offering its expertise to help build its managerial capacity. It launched, among other things, what we believe is the first in the nation Executive MBA Program in a City Hall. The school is also offering budgeting and finance workshops for city employees. Other faculty members from across the campus have undertaken applied research projects in response to requests from the new administration. For example, dt olgilvie in the Rutgers Business School and her students have done research on the Newark water system, on revenue generating strategies for the Newark Reservoir, and on the Newark parking system. The School of Criminal Justice, which for a long time has been applying crime reduction in Newark and Irvington, is continuing to work now with the Booker administration. These are just a few highlights; I expect these kinds of activities are just going to expand more and more. Indeed Marcia Brown, who tries to referee all of this, gets phone calls every day from someone in the city government. Trying to balance all of the requests for help is no small job. It’s exciting to have an administration in City Hall that looks to the professional and research expertise of the University faculty as an ally in accomplishing its ambitious goals.

I should also mention two very important developments in the city in the last year that will have a significant positive impact on our campus. One is the opening of 1180 Raymond Boulevard, which is a new upper-middle income apartment building, with all kinds of amenities and great views of New York. It’s helping to create a residential downtown. And then there’s the opening of the Prudential Arena in another week or so with the concerts by Bon Jovi, New Jersey Devils hockey games, and much more. So it’s an exciting time for the City of Newark.

Of course, many of our own development projects on campus are really directly involved with creating a vibrant 24/7 downtown. I cite four projects in particular. One is our acquisition of One Washington Park as the new home of Rutgers Business School. It is already spurring subsequent positive developments in the North end of downtown. The design of the facility is now complete; we’re going to bid shortly and we should begin construction by January, and move in within 18 months of the start of construction. Two buildings down from that is our old law school, at 15 Washington Street, and we are in serious discussions with a developer to convert that building into a public/private partnership of graduate student apartments and possibly a small hotel as well. That will add more people living downtown and more life to Washington Street and University Avenue. We are also actively involved in discussions, spearheaded by the city, to create a mega bookstore, serving all of the universities of Newark, on Broad Street. A Barnes and Noble-type mega store, which would be a bookstore for the various universities, with a general bookstore and coffee bar, could in turn spur other kinds of development nearby. Finally, if you’ve walked by Parking Deck II anytime lately, you’ve noticed that work is underway to renovate the stores that have been largely boarded up. We find ourselves now not only in the real estate and development business but in the retail business. University Square has four stores, and now we will have stores in Deck II on Halsey Street as well.

So you’re probably wondering, “What is going to happen to all the space that will be vacated by the Business School when it moves to One Washington Park?” We could fill all of this space, and then some, with the requests that I already have from the deans. But we need to plan the future use of this space carefully. We’ve engaged a national consultant who is one of the leaders in university space planning. This firm will help us think through the space we need for various purposes, including our aspirations to significantly increase enrollments in the coming years. We have another nine months to a year before we have to make final decisions, and we want to do this very carefully. An increase of space of this kind is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a university and we don’t want to squander it.

Let me then turn now to diversity. I’ve already spoken about its educational value and what an educational asset it offers us. But I would like to speak a bit about other aspects of diversity on campus. There is no question that while we have the most diverse student body in the country, we still need to do better with regard to faculty and with regard to the senior administration.

I am happy to report that we have made significant progress in the last two years in diversifying our faculty. Twenty-five faculty were hired in tenure-track or tenured positions in the last two years, and 11 of those are African American or Hispanic. Half of the 25 faculty hired in the last two years are women. So we’re doing better, but with a faculty of nearly 500, things don’t change overnight. I have told every dean that this is a top priority. We must be looking to add to the diversity of our faculty with every search. I am also appointing a new Provost Advisory Committee on Diversity, comprised of faculty, staff and students and chaired by Professor Asela Laguna-Diaz. I am looking forward to hearing from the members of that committee, which is broadly based, about what we should be doing to really advance diversity.

Finally, I could not give this talk without saying something about parking and transportation, because if I don’t say something about it, it will be the first question. We do need additional parking, and we are working on that. But parking is never sufficient, and there is no university in the country that has “adequate” parking. Our situation is worse than most other universities. We have objective data to prove that. There are approximately 6.7 students for every parking space on this campus, 1.5 for every parking space in New Brunswick, 3 for every parking space at NJIT. So we have some objective data demonstrating that there really is severe parking shortage, and I won’t deny that. But the fact is, building parking is like building new roads; as soon as you build new roads, people who weren’t driving decide to drive because now they can get there without being in traffic jams, and suddenly there are traffic jams.

We have commissioned, under Gene Vincenti’s leadership, a very sophisticated study suggesting a transportation strategy for Rutgers-Newark. The study authors looked at national best practices. They also interviewed students, faculty, and staff; we are going to share this report and engage in dialogue with all parts of the campus community about a transportation strategy. But let me give you a couple of examples of the kinds of things that they’re talking about. For one thing, they recommend some kind of congestion pricing. We might also consider using some of the funds collected for parking to subsidize mass transit. The study also noted that in interviews with students, many students say they use their cars because they have no place to leave their belongings. Most of our students do not have lockers. So one of the things that we’re looking at with the new space coming online, and even in space we have already, is installing lockers and seeing if that helps.

These are some of the kinds of things that the report recommends. We don’t have a plan, but we have a report that recommends a variety of actions. We need serious discussion with student groups in particular, but also with faculty and staff before developing a final plan. But it is clear that we need a much more systematic approach to transportation on the campus. Some people won’t like it, I know, but we’ve really got to be more rational, and with Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize and with growing concerns about global warming, I think the time is right to prick everybody’s social conscious and start thinking about what do we do about transportation on campus.

So to conclude, let me say that I think we’ve come a long way in 100 years, and our city has come a long way since 1967. I really do believe that the best is yet to come and that the long-term outlook is very encouraging. All around the country, urban universities are gaining in popularity. Students who grew up in relatively homogenous, low-density suburbs find cities exciting and interesting. More and more, urban schools around the country are becoming the schools that students want to apply to.

Newark isn’t New York or Philadelphia or Boston or Chicago. But Newark is revitalizing and has the advantage of its proximity to New York City. And as downtown Newark becomes more residential, as there are more and more things to do at night, as more retail comes in, this university is going to be increasingly attractive to this generation of college students, who are embracing cities instead of running away from them. So the outlook for this university is very, very exciting. Increasingly, Rutgers-Newark will be a school of choice for college students as more and more look and say, “Gee, Rutgers-Newark has a first-rate faculty, top research is going on, Newark is become an increasingly exciting place to live, and New York City is 15 minutes away.”

When we become a school of choice, it’s crucial that we not forget our origins and our history. We must remain a school that makes opportunity available to first-generation college students and to those who don’t come from advantaged backgrounds. One way to do that, as I said before, is to expand the size of the campus. Another is to resist national trends in which universities seek prestige by seeing how many students they can reject and by placing ever greater reliance on the SATs in admissions. Instead we must think about who are we educating, insure that we continue to welcome large numbers of students from modest or low-income families, and protect the diversity that’s been such an asset to the campus, even as we become more and more the school of choice for top students.

That’s my report, and thank you for listening.