Departing Rutgers-Camden chancellor looks back

APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 28, 2014

CAMDEN Wendell Pritchett had big plans when he arrived at Rutgers-Camden in 2009 to become chancellor.

In five years, he said then, he would boost enrollment to 7,500, usher in the campus' first Ph.D. programs, open a nursing school, and quadruple the number of students living on campus.

That five-year mark is approaching quickly. Pritchett, who came to Rutgers-Camden from the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught law, announced in the fall he would step down at the end of June.

In an interview at the start of his final semester, Pritchett reflected on his tenure, noting accomplishments as well as goals that remain incomplete.

The nursing school and three Ph.D. programs have opened, a new dorm rose on Cooper Street, and an office of civic engagement and a center for urban research were established.

But his enrollment goal was thwarted by economic trends, a national decrease in law school enrollment, and questions about the campus' future after a proposed merger with Rowan University, Pritchett said.

The number of undergraduates has grown 18 percent, but decreases in some graduate programs - particularly in the law school - have constrained total student growth. Total enrollment rose to 6,451 in fall 2013 from 5,927 in fall 2009.

"One of our goals for the semester is to continue that enrollment growth. And there's several parts to that: We expect a significant growth in our nursing program over the summer, for next year . . . but we're also working hard to continue the growth of the arts and sciences program, the business school. The law school is working very hard to get back up to where it was," Pritchett said.

He now predicts enrollment will surpass 7,500 in 2015 - a year later than hoped.

Pritchett also would have liked more improvement in graduation rates.

In 2009, Rutgers-Camden's six-year student graduation rate was 62 percent. By 2012, the latest number for which figures were available, it had increased to 64 percent.

"The problem is, of course, that it takes a long time to improve, right? So that isn't something that I can say in June we've moved the dial on," he said. "Every year I've been here we've done something, but I think in the last year we've made a more concentrated effort which, hopefully, over the next three years, will result in a significant increase in that number."

Those efforts over the last year include overhauling academic advising to require students to meet with an adviser each year. The school also is creating "eight-semester templates" for each major so students understand which courses they need to take and what sequences are available to them.

Pritchett will spend much of his final months overseeing a spate of construction. A new nursing and science building is being designed, the second floor of the library is being redone, and two renovation projects will create an alumni house and a writer's house.

"We've got a whole lot of building stuff to do," Pritchett said. The projects "won't all be done by June, but I want them to be as far along as possible."

The campus also has expanded in less visible ways under Pritchett's watch.

Rutgers-Camden had 311 full-time faculty members as of fall 2013; 103 of them had been hired since 2009. Most of those hires were replacements, but the total number of faculty has expanded by about three dozen professors.

"He's had the opportunity to hire new people," said Andrew Seligsohn, who arrived in 2010 and is now associate chancellor for civic engagement and strategic planning. "There's been forward motion in a lot of areas because of the choices he's made in personnel."

By the end of this academic year, about a quarter of the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences will have been hired in the last three years, said Kriste Lindenmeyer, who in 2011 joined the campus as dean of the faculty of arts and sciences.

Pritchett played an important - and high-profile - role when he publicly opposed Gov. Christie's proposal to sever the Camden campus from the Rutgers system and merge it into Rowan University.

"Both before and after the crisis, our profile has improved. That was improving before, but I think one of the few benefits of all that was we got lots of attention," Pritchett said.

"The crisis" helped prompt Pritchett to embark on a planning initiative for the campus, expected to become part of a university-wide plan as early as February.

"He articulated the need for us to come together as a community to really discuss these issues and arrive at a consensus about the things that are more important to our identity," Seligsohn said. "Just that role of rallying people and bringing people together has been very important."

After he steps down, Pritchett, 49, who lives in University City in Philadelphia, plans to take a one-year sabbatical and then teach full time. As chancellor, he has taught courses in urban history, nonprofit leadership, and land-use law.

Rutgers expects to announce a new chancellor in the spring.

Wary of boxing in his successor, Pritchett diplomatically deferred some questions to the next chancellor: What will a health sciences collaboration with Rowan look like? What additional Ph.D. programs should the campus create? What should Rutgers-Camden's relationship to the rest of the university be?

"They're not going to be successful if they follow what I say they should do . . . I do think that what they decide is [affected] by a bunch of decisions we've already made," he said, laughing: "I don't think they can go and just start a Division I football team."


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220    @elaijuh

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