The following guest post was authored by Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors.
Will the day come when a successful student tells a prospective employer “I’m a graduate of Rutgers-Camden” and the employer answers “Never heard of the place?” That is the future New Jersey’s governor and some other state politicians apparently have in mind. Rutgers-Camden, a university with a distinguished faculty and a long history as part of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is tottering on the brink of losing its name and its international identity. A plan has been proposed by an appointed commission suggesting that Rutgers-Camden be broken away from Rutgers University and merged with Rowan University.
Faculty members in Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick have united in opposition to this plan. But they have not simply opposed it. Instead they have proposed an elegant alternative—a consortium of existing institutions who would all retain their names, histories, and identities, while maximizing savings, increasing cooperation, and positioning themselves to give the best possible service to the citizens of Southern New Jersey.
This alternative faculty plan is a testament not only to faculty intelligence, practicality, and good faith, but also to one of the fundamental principles of AAUP policy and university life—shared governance. Will the faculty voice get any hearing? Will this alternative plan gain the enthusiastic endorsement it deserves? Only if increased sunlight leads Rutgers students, parents, alumni, and community members to raise their voices in support of a better idea.
If you renamed Harvard as Charles River University, no doubt it would eventually recover, though there just might be some confusion in far corners of the globe. But the prospect for Rutgers-Camden is worse. It would lose its status as an R-1 AAU university, something that would likely take decades to regain. Meanwhile, future degrees it granted would be worth less to its students. Applications would almost certainly decline. And both Rutgers-New Brunswick and Rutgers-Newark would lose their integral relationship with programs unique to the Camden campus.
But all this need not come to pass. Indeed the citizens of New Jersey do not need to settle either for the status quo or for a destructive proposal. The faculty have revealed a plan for a better future.