Rutgers alumni urged to mobilize once again

At the alumni meeting in Cherry Hill, Robert F. Williams, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law-Camden, speaks about strategy to fight the proposal.
At the alumni meeting in Cherry Hill, Robert F. Williams, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law-Camden, speaks about strategy to fight the proposal. (JONATHAN LAI / Staff)
Posted: July 04, 2013

The "Save Rutgers" lawn signs that blanketed the state last year could be popping up again. Because Rutgers University - specifically, its Camden campus - is under attack once more, alumni say.

About 60 members of the Rutgers-Camden Alumni Association filled the main room at an Italian restaurant in Cherry Hill on Tuesday night, joined by their outspoken guests: university trustee George A. Rears, Rutgers-Camden history professor Andrew Shankman, and Rutgers School of Law-Camden professor Robert F. Williams and associate dean Adam Scales.

Charles Ivory, association president, urged alumni to mobilize, putting up protest signs.

"Rutgers-Camden serves the entire state, not just Camden . . . and it's part of the Rutgers community," said Rears, who answered questions about the school's two governing bodies - the board of trustees and board of governors. "The issue I'm here tonight to be a representative for is about the board of trustees and the governance of the university."

Rutgers' two-body governance structure came under attack last week when State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) introduced legislation to eliminate the 59-member board of trustees and absorb its powers into the board of governors, which is expanding to 15 from 11 members.

The trustees serve in a largely advisory capacity, but last year helped block a proposed merger that would have moved Rutgers-Camden into Rowan University and left Rutgers no presence in South Jersey.

One alumna argued that the attempt to abolish the trustee board, which was not voted on by the Legislature, was "a conspiracy, a hijacking" of the school's governance. Others questioned a perceived silence from the board of governors, the administration, and other alumni networks.

But while the issues of funding, governance, and Rutgers-Camden's status are entangled, Scales and Shankman said in an interview after the meeting, the move to remove the trustees should be considered on its own as well.

Don't put down Rowan, the board of governors, or other campuses in the campaign to raise awareness about Rutgers-Camden, Ivory told the group. He told the crowd to leverage the school's alumni network: Put signs up throughout the state, he said, and send as many e-mails to as many people as possible.

"Just call. And over the weekend, you don't even get to talk to anybody. Leave a voice mail," Ivory said of legislators considering the proposal to abolish the board of trustees. "And flood the damn e-mail box with messages from Rutgers alums saying, 'We do not appreciate what you are trying to do. You owe us the respect of an opportunity to respond.' "

Contact Jonathan Lai

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