Monday, June 24, 2013

New Chancellor at Rutgers in Newark

Nancy Cantor, new chancellor
of Rutgers University in Newark
 (© John O'Boyle / The Star-Ledger)
Last week we learned that Rutgers University in Newark will have a new chancellor, Nancy Cantor, who until this month was the President of Syracuse University. This was an incredible and exciting bit of news; we had had a fine interim chancellor, Phil Yeagle, and expected another good and capable leader to step into the breach, but I don't think anyone outside of the search committee, of which I was not a member, thought that our branch of Rutgers would be welcoming such a dynamic, highly regarded figure, with a fairly progressive track record, to guide our campus, especially in the midst of the turmoil that Rutgers has witnessed over the last year. 

A recap, which I will try to condense: in June 2012, with the push and pressure of New Jersey's governor Chris Christie, the state legislature passed a law integrating the independent University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMNDJ), based in Newark, into Rutgers University, creating a new Rutgers University School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, effective July 1, 2013. That is, next Monday. (Only UMNDJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine will not become part of Rutgers.) There were a number of ironies surrounding this legislative move, among them that Rutgers, founded in 1766, had once had a medical school, one of the oldest in the country, dating to the late 1700s, which was often in competition with Columbia University's medical school, before it was disbanded, only to be reconstituted in the 1960s, and yet again cleaved off as UMNDJ (with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in Piscataway and New Brunswick remaining a component of Rutgers).

Another irony was that when UMNDJ was being created, state officials selected a predominantly working-class, African American neighborhood in Newark in which to locate the facilities, identifying the site and acquiring it by eminent domain, thus ousting the residents, which in part helped to fuel the infamous 1967 Newark Uprising, a series of events that negatively and publicly transformed the city for decades. 

A third irony persists: despite the legislature's and governor's strong support for the merger, a number of questions surrounding inadequate funding for the fusion of the institutions, and debts carried both by UMNDJ and Rutgers, remained; we still await the financial verdict of the integration process, which also includes the incorporation of UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine into Rowan University, in South Jersey, to be overseen by a joint Rowan/Rutgers University in Camden governing board. Given historic inequities in funding between Rutgers' three branches, which have long been viewed as three prongs of a "One Rutgers"system as opposed to the typical hierarchical public university system, students, faculty and staff at all three campuses have repeatedly and vocally expressed concern about how the funding gap would be addressed, and what effects the attempts to fill the gap would have on each of the campuses, especially Newark and Camden, which traditionally (and according to the figures Rutgers has supplied to the federal government) have received less money.

Yet another irony is that although UMDNJ has seen a good amount of scandal over the years, including  prosecution for Medicaid over-billings from 2001 to 2004, which led to accreditation problems, subsequently rectified by 2008; unethical behavior by a Senior Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs at the School of Osteopathic Medicine; and the conviction, after prosecution by then-US Attorney, Chris Christie, of a state senator for having been employed in a no-show job and a former UMDNJ dean for having bribed him, UMDNJ nevertheless has led the state among all universities (including Princeton University and Rutgers) in terms of federal research grant dollars, and has a distinguished faculty and more than 7,000 students.

As the merger process unfolded, Rutgers selected Robert Barchi, the former President of Thomas Jefferson University, a medical school in Philadelphia, to replace its retiring president, Richard L. McCormick. Having run a medical school, and having served as the provost of University of Pennsylvania, Barchi would appear to be well-poised to oversee the integration of the medical school, and took office in April 2012. 

Around the time the legislature and governor were passing the bill integrating UMDNJ into Rutgers, a situation that would receive national attention was unfolding. Former Director of Player Development Eric Murdock, also a former National Basketball League New Jersey Nets player, was told his contract would not be renewed, and went into Rutgers' athletic facilities to complain that his boss, men's basketball head coach Mike Rice, had been abusing players and treating them "like slaves," an outburst which was secretly recorded by another Assistant Coach, Jimmy Martelli. (Murdock has subsequently launched a wrongful termination suit against Rutgers, while he is also being investigated for possible extortion.) Murdock has said he initially told former Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti about Rice's behavior during the summer of 2012. Murdock later requested videotape of Rice coaching the team, compiled a clip, and then last fall brought the video clip to Pernetti. 

The video, which ESPN first broadcast in April of this year, showed Rice repeatedly and over a two-year period verbally and physically abusing players, including throwing basketballs at their bodies and manhandling them, and using obscenities and homophobic slurs against them. (This was a particularly disturbing situation given the facts and fallout around cyberbullying and LGBTIQ student issues after gay Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide once he learned he was being videocammed without permission by his roommate, Dharun Ravi. Ravi subsequently was convicted on 15 counts, while another student, Molly Wei, entered a plea agreement to avoid prosecution.) Although Pernetti has said his initial impulse was to fire Rice, he did not. Instead, with Barchi's approval he suspended Rice but 3 games and fined him $75,000, even giving him a public endorsement at the end of a third losing season. He also gave the tape to Barchi, who admitted after it and the scandal erupted in the mass media that he had not watched it. 

The subsequent public outrage at Rice's behavior first led to Pernetti stating that Rice would attend anger management courses and have a monitor checking his behavior, and public contrition from Rice, but the brouhaha turned into such a fireball, from students, faculty, state legislators and residents, and Rutgers alumni and fans, that Barchi had to fire Rice, setting off a chain of departures. Martelli resigned, as did Pernetti and university counsel John Wolf, who initially was reassigned rather than let go. The fall 2012 timing for Pernetti's disciplinary actions against Rice is significant in part because it was at this moment that the AD sealed the deal to have Rutgers admitted to the Big Ten Conference (B1G), after its exit from the Big East, a major financial coup by any measure. Rutgers, which received an $18 million subsidy for its money-losing sports teams, and the University of Maryland will join B1G in July 2014, bringing the total number of member schools to 14 (with Johns Hopkins University participating in lacrosse, and the University of Chicago a member school of B1G's Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which facilitates scholarly exchanges between all the member institutions).

Both the Rice debacle and ongoing unaddressed concerns about the merger, the status of the three campuses, funding equity, and more led to unprecedented public university town halls this past spring involving students, faculty, staff, alumni, New Jersey residents, and President Barchi. The one at Newark was packed and contentious. A group of Rutgers faculty across the campuses, I among them, called for Barchi to resign or be dismissed after the tape aired and subsequent information emerged about his failure to immediately and decisively discipline Rice, Martelli and Pernetti. Given the support Governor Christie has expressed for Barchi more than once, that was not and apparently is not going to happen. Two boards, the Board of Governors and Board of Visitors, oversee Rutgers, and both also have expressed support for Barchi. In response to the public furor, the university announced an independent review of the Rice debacle, as well as a new top lawyer.

But this wasn't the end of the university's problems. To replace Rice, Rutgers hired former NBA coach and former Rutgers star baller Eddie Jordan, touted as an alumnus, to resurrect the men's basketball program, yet it turned out that Jordan had never completed his undergraduate degree (he apparently never claimed he had, but currently is finishing it). To replace Pernetti, Rutgers hired Julie Hermann, the University of Louisville's associate Athletic Director, despite assurances that the university would take time to find the best person. As is now well known, every single student member of her University of Tennessee women's volleyball team wrote a letter in 1996 accusing Hermann, their head coach, of mental cruelty, saying that she humiliated and demeaned them; Hermann claimed she knew nothing about the letter, their appraisal of her behavior, or the behavior itself, though she did subsequently quit that job. She also lost a jury verdict awarding $150,000 to a former Tennessee assistant coach, Ginger Hineline, who claimed Hermann discriminated against her for having become pregnant, and is still in the midst of a suit by Mary Banker, a former assistant track coach at Louisville who went to Hermann about sexist and discriminatory behavior by her male superior, only to have Hermann fire her within three weeks after doing so. 

Nevertheless Hermann has assumed her post, and has the full support of Barchi, Christie and the governing boards. Moreover, Rutgers men's lacrosse coach Brian Brecht was suspended pending an investigation into allegations he verbally abused players; he was later reinstated. Like Rice, he has not posted a winning season since being hired.  A final scandal involves Gregory Jackson, a tenured English professor at New Brunswick, whom Barchi named as his chief of staff despite knowing that Jackson still faces a lawsuit by four employees at Rutgers' New Brunswick's career services office, which he oversee, for age-related discrimination, which forced their retirements. You can't make this stuff up, none of it looks good individually, and collectively it points to serious issues that need to be addressed, especially in New Brunswick.

Now, however, we return to the positive news at the start of this post. Amidst the maelstrom detailed above, Barchi appointed Cantor, an eminent social psychologist, who has garnered attention for her "Scholarship in Action" public-university partnerships at Syracuse, which she led for a decade, her fundraising prowess, and her strong support of women and minority faculty members and underrepresented students. (She also has faced questions about how she handled allegations against one of Syracuse's assistant coaches, who was accused of sexual abuse by several men, one of whom recanted, which led to charges against him being dropped. According to The Star-Ledger link above, she has said that were she to address the situation again, she would call in law enforcement right away.)

On one level given how much university presidents earn and the perks many expect and receive, Cantor's acceptance of the Newark chancellorship is startling, but also refreshing. She will earn 40% less than she did at Syracuse, overseeing an urban, public institution that has significantly fewer financial or infrastructure resources than the private one she has left, though Rutgers-Newark has achieved a high national ranking for its ability to do a lot with very little. She also will report to Barchi as opposed to holding the top post. On the other hand, she arrives at a campus that has been named the most diverse in the US for several years running, and that has one of the best and highest ranked national records of social mobility among its students; an institution that not only already has a significant research component but which will, with the UMDNJ integration, have more graduate students than both of the other campuses combined; a school with an enthusiastic faculty, staff and student body, which had its highest increase in applications of any of the three branches this past year; and a campus that has standing and growing relationships with New Jersey's largest city and most populous and prosperous region, as well as the New York City metropolitan area. With the addition of the UMDNJ components, these will only grow. Cantor's appointment is for five years. I cannot predict how things will unfold, but given the year the university and our campus have experienced, Cantor's appointment and arrival bid a change of fortunes at the least, and bode well for the future.

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