Rutgers Proposal for Colleges Meets Alumnae Resistance

Rutgers Proposal for Colleges Meets Alumnae Resistance

A Rutgers University task force is recommending creation of a college of arts and sciences that would standardize admissions criteria, graduation requirements and other procedures. Under the proposal, some Rutgers colleges would function as campuses, but no longer by name as colleges.

The suggestion, which is part of a 175-page report that is scheduled for release on Monday, was criticized yesterday by the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College, which introduced a Web site earlier in the day,, calling for the measure’s defeat. The group said the proposal would mean the end of Douglass College.

The university president, Richard L. McCormick, said in a telephone interview last night that the report would undergo months of discussion. He noted that the plan was not calling for a merger; the colleges would retain their distinct qualities.

“It recommends creating something that every other research university has, a college of arts and sciences,” Dr. McCormick said. “And it recommends calling our residential campuses what they are: residential campuses.”

He created the 75-member Task Force on Undergraduate Education in April 2004 to guarantee that in emphasizing research, Rutgers does not shortchange undergraduates on courses and access to faculty members. In addition, Dr. McCormick said, he wanted to bring unity to what he called “a patchwork quilt” of schools and programs situated in New Brunswick and Piscataway.

Besides Douglass, which is an all-women’s college, Rutgers College, Livingston College and University College would all be affected.

“What it does, it effectively ends Douglass College,” said Sheila Kelly Hampton, class of ’70, who is president of the Douglass alumnae group. “By calling it a campus, they just are talking about where someone happens to live. They don’t address many of the student life issues and program issues.”

Dr. McCormick disagreed. “Douglass will be as it is now, a women’s-only campus, and will continue to have its signature courses on women, retain its distinctive mission and continue to reflect its unique history,” he said.

Each individual college now sets its own criteria in certain areas, including admissions, honors programs and graduation requirements, and none have faculties of their own; they are served by a general faculty of arts and sciences, he said. A new college of arts and sciences, under a unified structure, would simplify standards for students, faculty and administrators, and get faculty members more involved with students, he added.

But the executive director of the alumnae, Rachel Ingber, class of ’83, said: “Eliminating colleges does not bring faculty closer to students. It creates one huge university where undergraduates don’t have small colleges where they can get academic advice on curriculum programs and the unique mission that Douglass College provides for women.”

This may be removed from our usual topics, but since I am a Rutgers graduate, and I know a number of other Rutgers alumni read this blog, I just wanted to point out this important development concerning the school.

The current president of Rutgers University previously managed to scuttle a recent plan proposed by our former governor James McGreevey to merge Rutgers university with the states other medical and research oriented universities. This plan would have done little to improve the quality of medical education or research, while confusing the organization of the university as a whole. The previous plan was entirely based around the medical and research divisions of the universities involved, which included Rutgers, UMDNJ, NJIT and possibly others, while providing no reasonable plan for the administration of liberal arts and undergraduate departments. This current report seems to be a response to that, confirming that undergraduate education must be a priority at public universities.

I haven’t yet read the actual report (although I intend to), but after spending four years at Rutgers, New Brunswick I’m rather familiar with the organizational structure of the university. As it currently stands, Rutgers New Brunswick is actually a network of several nearby campuses in the neighboring towns of New Brunswick and Piscataway, linked through a system of free buses. As a large university, Rutgers consists of several different colleges, and each college is associated with a different campus. Each college has a unique history and origin, and today there are five liberal arts colleges, which share a common faculty of arts and sciences, and a number of specialty schools, each of which has their own faculty for their specialized programs. Students in specialty schools (such as Engineering, Pharmacy, Mason Gross School of the Arts etc.) also take at least a basic number of liberal arts classes as well, which are the same classes that members of the five liberal arts colleges take.

Here is a brief summary of the history, characteristics, and my thoughts on the future of the four liberal arts colleges, in chronological order of their founding:

Rutgers College: The original undergraduate college of Rutgers University. Based on the downtown New Brunswick ‘Queens Campus,’ named so after Rutgers’ original colonial-era name, Queens College. All male until 1972. The Queens campus is more commonly known as the College Avenue Campus, after the street which bisects it. Incidentally, this street may be removed as part of an unrelated facilities improvement plan. Rutgers College is in every way the core of the university, and has no real way to lose in this reorganization.

Douglass College: Founded in 1918 as the New Jersey College for Women. Although Douglass remains an all women’s college, the distinction is somewhat faded, as Douglass students take courses with both men and women from all of the other colleges at Rutgers. Douglass campus offers only female-only housing. As an interesting sidenote, the rules of conduct in Douglass dorms technically do not permit men to sleep there, but have no rules on the time of visits or curfews. This means that while men may stay in a Douglass dorm all night, they are apparently expected to stay awake the entire time.

Douglass has the strongest sense of community of the four liberal arts colleges, and the highest demand for its existence as an institution. Douglass was originally founded during a time when women were rarely offered opportunities for higher education, and many people say that during an age when the percentage of female college students is actually higher than that of males, the idea of a women’s college is obsolete. However, virtually every Douglass student I know feels that the environment is beneficial in some way, and I’m of the opinion that if there is sufficient demand for it, then it should be allowed to continue to exist.

University College: Opened in 1934 with the goal of making higher education possible for older and working students. This is still their goal. University College actually has no campus or dormitories, and in reality is nothing but an alternative entry path to Rutgers for part time students. While enrolling in University College is easier than Rutgers College and the courses required for graduation are slightly different, the total amount of work, avaliable areas of study, and major requirements are identical.

Since University College has no facilities of its own, no traditions or strong community in its student body, and no unique academic characteristics, I see absolutely no reason for it to exist. University College currently serves to provide a way for students whose personal circumstances have kept their previous academic record less than stellar and/or do not have the time to enroll in the full time status required by the other colleges, but Rutgers can simply provide support services and special enrollment status to part time students, and consider the facts of an individuals background more carefully in admissions. An entire college is overkill.

Livingston College: The youngest of the liberal arts colleges, Livingston was founded in 1969 with the goal of attracting a student body diverse in gender, ethnicity and background. It was chartered in the wake of At the time of founding it was the only coeducational college at Rutgers, but the following year the Board of Governors voted to allow women into Rutgers college, challenging the uniqueness of Livingston’s mission almost as soon as it began.

This December 2004 article from The Daily Targum, the student-run daily newspaper of Rutgers University, asks the question “Should Rutgers, Livingston unite?” As the article points out, and anyone who studies at Rutgers already know, there is a prevailing attitude that Livingston is second class. With an under-funded concrete-heavy campus, lower admission standards, and an obsolete purpose (Livingston college is now no more racially diverse than the university as a whole), Livingston is rightly seen as neglected.

The question is, will a merger improve the education of students that today enroll at Livingston, or will increased centralization contribute to the marginilization of Livingston Campus? I find this one a bit tougher than the question of University College, as Livingston does have its own history and facilities, but since progress at a university-wide (and in some ways society-wide) level have pretty much obsoleted its core mission, and it currently serves only to justify a feeling of academic inferiority among its students (who like those of University College, while having been admitted through lower admission standards are help up to university wide standards for graduation) a well executed elimination of Livingston as a separate college would probably be effective in the long run. Students at the more selective colleges may worry that academic ranking will be affected, but the truth is that most people only notice the Rutgers University part, and don’t know anything about the different liberal arts colleges anyway.

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning Busch campus. According to this article from the Newark Star Ledger, which has more detailed information on the plan.

Busch, a Rutgers campus in Piscataway, will remain intact under the proposal. Though Busch is not currently a college, the task force recommends giving the campus its own dean and staff so it is on par with the other campuses after the reorganization, school officials said.

Busch Campus is currently the only of the five campuses not home to a liberal arts college. While it is the home of most of the university’s scientific research facilities as well as the schools of engineering and pharmacy, as an undergraduate insitution it is today only a secondary part of Rutgers college. To many, if not most, student at Rutgers, Busch is known as simply the quiet campus where a lot of Asians live. If under this reorganization plan Busch is promoted to be on equal footing with the other residential campuses, with its own dean, then it perhaps stands to gain the most from this plan.

For historical information on Rutgers University, the Rutgers Timeline web page is an invaluable resource. Wikipedia of course, as always, also provides some useful information.

I would appreciate feedback from other current, former, and potential Rutgers students and faculty or staff that may be reading this. As I was myself a student of Rutgers College I may be lacking the necessary perspective to fully appreciate the situations of the other colleges, and factual corrections or differing opinions will be fully noted.

Addendum. As I said before, Douglass college has enough of a constituency so that almost immediately after this report was released, websited such as Save Douglass and Fight for Douglass. As far as I can see, there is no “Save University College” or “Fight for Livingston College” website. I think that speaks for itself.

4 thoughts on “Rutgers Proposal for Colleges Meets Alumnae Resistance”

  1. Roy — Thanks for the comments. The report actually has not been released, but will become public on Monday at 10 AM. There clearly is a need to improve undergraduate education, but that should not be done at the risk of diminishing the importance of Douglass College, which would be converted from a four-year college to a mere “campus.” We’re hoping to build awareness of this recommendation throughout the Douglass-Rutgers community. Our alums reached so far are firmly opposed to losing the status of Douglass College.

  2. This is simply another step in Mr. McCormic”s plan to destroy the identity of Douglass College and all of the sister Colleges. This is why I will never give another dime to Rutgers.

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