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2015 Summer Reading

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Summer Reading 2015: The Remarkable Growth of New Jersey’s State University

A small liberal arts school became a university combining outstanding undergraduate colleges with a major public research institution

summer 2015 clemens

Released this month, “Rutgers Since 1945: A History of the State University of New Jersey” follows the transition of Rutgers University from a small men’s liberal arts college in the 1940s to the major public research university it is today. Author Paul G.E. Clemens explores important events in Rutgers history since 1945 while also exploring themes like athletics, popular culture, student protest, and more. In the following excerpt, Clemens — who is a professor of history at Rutgers — provides an overview of the enormous changes that began after World War II.

In 70 years, there had been a remarkable transformation. Two liberal arts colleges, one for men and one for women, an agricultural school, and an engineering school had been built, unit by unit, into a true state university with a massive undergraduate program, and also into a research university that ranks among the best public institutions in the nation. Stepping back from this top-down history to reflect on both the school and its leadership, one can make two general conclusions.

For the school itself, the Bloustein administration, and in particular, the late 1970s and early 1980s, were crucial. The reorganization of the college system, the physical consolidation of individual departments, and the new attention to graduate education and research all occurred simultaneously.

The role of Kenneth Wheeler, Daniel Gorenstein, and T. Alexander Pond in shaping Rutgers into a research university with consolidated New Brunswick departments is the critical element of Bloustein’s administration and the post–World War II history of Rutgers.

Looking back, however, the creation of Livingston College, and with it a recognition that Rutgers would try to meet its responsibility to provide a college education for the rapidly growing New Jersey high school population, was also important. Livingston, which was coeducational, made the admission of women to Rutgers College virtually inevitable and forced the university to a planning crossroads.

The federated plan -- Rutgers’ unique equivalent to the cluster-college concept in California -- might have built on the Livingston model. The university might have grown by adding smaller colleges, some liberal arts and some professional, with more student-faculty contact and specialized missions. In the 1970s and 1980s, cluster colleges became research universities, especially if they had medical schools that pulled in federal research dollars, and if Rutgers had held on to its medical school, such a future might have been possible.

Of course, it did not happen that way. There simply was not the funding to build more colleges, and those who favored stronger graduate programs won the battle over reorganization. The changes occurred without anyone’s fully thinking through the implications for student life and undergraduate education; the changes also favored the academically strongest programs in New Brunswick/Piscataway relative not only to other departments at the flagship campus, but relative also to the development of the Newark and Camden campuses. In each of these areas, subsequent administrations worked to rectify the situation.

Second, the role of the central administration, and of the president, had also undergone profound change. Presidents are faculty leaders, administrators, fund-raisers, politicians, and the public face of the university. In 2012, a president is far less a faculty leader, and far more a fund-raiser, than had been the case in 1945.

Marketing and branding have made the university itself more visible than its highest administrator, and much of the back-and-forth between Trenton and New Brunswick is now conducted by professional staff rather than between president and governor. What remains constant and crucial is the president’s administrative role, especially his (and perhaps someday, her) appointment power.

Starting with Lewis Webster Jones, each presidency has actually been a partnership with a vice president (initially a provost, eventually an executive vice president), usually with a different disciplinary background than the president, and with primary responsibility for academic affairs. Jones (economics) chose Gross (philosophy); Gross worked with Richard Schlatter (history); Bloustein (philosophy) with Henry Winkler (history) and T. Alexander Pond (physics); Lawrence (French) with Joseph J. Seneca (economics); and McCormick (history) with Philip Furmanski (life sciences) and Richard Edwards (social work).

Among the faculty, many remember eras in Rutgers history in terms of the academic leadership of Alex Pond, Joe Seneca, or Phil Furmanski, names generally known outside the university only to the best-informed public constituencies. Presidents, with the advice of vice presidents, hire, and occasionally fire, deans, provosts (now chancellors), and an expanding list of vice presidents. This, too, is crucial, especially in a university that has built its academic reputation primarily through state- funded hiring, one good appointment decision at a time (and one difficult denial of tenure at a time).

The appointment of academic vice presidents and of mid-level faculty-administrators -- for example, Catharine R. Stimpson as dean of the Graduate School in the 1980s, Richard Foley as dean of the New Brunswick Faculty of Arts and Sciences in the 1990s, Roger Daniels at Camden, and Norman Samuels at Newark as provosts (chancellors) -- represent a crucial but largely invisible contribution a president makes to a university.

Buy the book.

Excerpted from “Rutgers Since 1945: A History of the State University of New Jersey” with permission from Rutgers University Press. Copyright 2015.

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