Rutgers president describes university's health

Rutgers president Robert Barchi sits on advisory boards of two companies that do business with New Jersey's flagship school.
Rutgers president Robert Barchi sits on advisory boards of two companies that do business with New Jersey's flagship school.
Posted: December 05, 2013

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. Rutgers University continues to lag its peer institutions in areas such as selectivity of admissions, financial stability, and perceived prestige of academic programs, president Robert L. Barchi said Tuesday.

Speaking at a meeting of the board of governors, the more powerful of the school's two governing boards, Barchi painted a complicated picture of the university's health in his "final update" on a strategic planning initiative launched a year ago.

"This was a tough thing to do. It's always easier to talk about your strengths," Barchi said. "It is considerably harder to come to grips with some of the areas where we're not doing as well."

Barchi also announced the creation of a comprehensive warning system to recognize risks and head off potential problems - a recommendation made following last spring's basketball scandal. Rutgers will adopt an "enterprise risk management system" used by nine of 14 schools in the Big Ten Conference, which Rutgers is joining.

Describing Rutgers' challenges, Barchi said the university falls financially below its peers, other public research universities in the Association of American Universities. Rutgers aspires to be level with the top 10 schools from that group, he said.

All schools face financial pressures as public funding continues to drop "quite dramatically," he said. Yet compared with its peers, Barchi said, Rutgers is less financially stable.

"We are in a somewhat worse position than many of our colleagues," Barchi said. "We rank in the bottom quartile in our total endowment; we rank near the bottom in terms of alumni annual giving."

Rutgers is also less selective in its admissions, attracts fewer out-of-state students, and has more students with financial needs, Barchi said.

The result: "We're more dependent on revenue from tuition," Barchi said.

He said other areas of concern include faculty-student ratios, faculty productivity, and the sentiment some students have expressed that they did not enjoy their time at the university.

Barchi also described what he has found to be Rutgers' strengths, noting an improvement in national rankings for the Newark and Camden campuses, the university's diverse student body and faculty, and academic success in such areas as the humanities, natural sciences, and visual arts.

The board will vote on the strategic plan in February. The university declined to make the final draft public.

The strategic planning process involved focus groups and interviews with faculty, staff, students, and alumni. More than 14,000 survey responses were received during the process, and 13 volunteer committees with more than 400 members total were involved.

Each of the university's campuses - in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden - is now creating more "granular" versions of the proposed strategic plan, Barchi said, adopting the initiative for themselves.

For Rutgers-Camden, he said, the goal is to create "a personalized campus environment with high-impact civic engagement."

Rutgers-Camden will be focused on "distinctive" but not "comprehensive" areas of research excellence, Barchi said.

After the meeting, Barchi said the university had hired R. William Funk & Associates to lead the search for a new chancellor for the Camden campus. Wendell Pritchett, the current chancellor, has announced he will step down at the end of the academic year.

That search is expected to be completed by mid-spring, he said.

The new enterprise risk management program will be headed by Ted Brown, who served as deputy attorney general in the state Division of Criminal Justice and was general counsel of the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

That program, along with oversight of ethics and compliance issues such as the New Jersey Open Public Records Act, will fall to a new Office of Enterprise Risk Management, Ethics, and Compliance. The office will be "separate from any operating departments and with full independence," Rutgers said in a news release.

The university-wide program will identify risk areas and assign "risk owners" for them, according to the release. Brown also will be tasked with developing plans for handling those risks, including creating crisis response plans "for risks with a high likelihood of occurrence and high impact to the university."


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220 @elaijuh

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