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Outspoken Rutgers Faculty Objects to School's New Strategic Plan

Some professors argue that they were not included in drafting process, while others say plan puts New Brunswick above other campuses

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The newly released Rutgers University strategic plan is coming under fire from some faculty members, who argue that it is undemocratic and was created without real input from them. Speaking three weeks after the Board of Governors approved President Robert Barchi’s much ballyhooed plan -- the first for the school in more than 15 years -- outspoken professors are accusing him of devising a strategy that continues to put New Brunswick above the Newark and Camden campuses and that favors the health sciences at the expense of the liberal arts.

Despite an 18-month research process that included stakeholder surveys, focus groups, retreats, town hall meetings, and 13 review committees, New Brunswick Faculty Council Vice Chair Mark Killingsworth says the majority of his peers are “very, very skeptical” of the plan and don’t believe the administration’s claims that it wants to engage them on academic and procedural matters.

“It’s not like anyone was holding their breath about what the strategic plan was going to say. I think that’s an example of how a lot of really important decisions get made without any faculty input at all,” he said.

The plan has been a key priority for Barchi and highlights the university’s strengths and weaknesses, sets goals to demonstrably raise the school’s performance and reputation within five years, and calls on the three campuses and the new Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) program to use it as a springboard to draft their own strategic plans by the end of the spring semester.

'For Rutgers, by Rutgers'

In the preface to the report, Barchi wrote, “I believe that the bold vision it outlines will enable us to achieve our aspiration to be counted among the finest research universities in the country.” He noted that the committees and a private consulting firm evaluated input from tens of thousands of students, faculty members, staff, alumni, and community residents and said, “This is truly a plan written for Rutgers, by Rutgers.”

Thomas Papathomas, dean of the Busch campus in Piscataway and a professor in the bioengineering department, helped organize the research.

“Preparation of the plan was very inclusive. Whoever says otherwise lives in another world,” he said, before explaining that he views the process as extremely inclusive both horizontally and vertically.

“Horizontally because it cut across students, alumni, staff, faculty, and administrators, and vertically because it started at presidential level but (Barchi) involved everybody from deans down to teaching assistants,” he explained.

But faculty can often be heard grumbling about Barchi’s perceived top-down style, and Killingsworth, who writes frequent attacks on the administration and governing boards in the press, said, “On page seven it says, ‘The university must maintain its ongoing commitment to . . . a responsive, transparent, and communicative leadership.’ I think most of my colleagues read that and thought, ‘There is no ongoing commitment.’ The orders come down from on high and the Board of Governors and administration will go on doing whatever they feel like doing, regardless of what the strategic plan may say.”

Campus Rivalry

“We were very upset when Barchi came. It seemed clear New Brunswick is where all the attention was going to be,” said Newark history professor Beryl Satter, who helped head up protests at a Barchi-led town hall meeting last spring. The meeting attracted media attention and broadcast Newark’s unhappines over Barchi’s proposal to relocate its graduate programs to New Brunswick, plus alleged inequities in funding and academic and capital support.

Satter believes she and her Newark colleagues have been proven right. She says that when a banner was hung near the New Brunswick train station to welcome the incoming Barchi to Rutgers’ “flagship” campus, they complained enough to have the banner removed. According to the “One Rutgers” mantra and the Rutgers Act of 1956 that defined The State University of New Jersey as a single entity, each of the three geographic campuses is to be treated equally. However, page 33 of the plan brings the language back by saying that the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) and the 15-school Committee on Institutional Cooperation have designated new Brunswick as exactly that -- a flagship.

Barchi frequently mentions the prestigious AAU, touting that his aim for the five-year plan is to move Rutgers up to the ranks of its top research universities. But only part of the university belongs to the coalition; the AAU has admitted only the New Brunswick campus and excluded the other two. Benefits of AAU membership include shared lab services, the possibility for group purchases and discounts, and an ability for students to study at other AAU schools while paying Rutgers tuition. (Admissions requirements in New Brunswick exceed those at the other two campuses.)

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