Engaging Our Cities: The vital roles of Rutgers University–Newark and Rutgers University–Camden.
Remarkable changes are under way across the Rutgers system. Much has been written about the historic establishment of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s entry into the Big Ten. Equally essential changes are taking shape in Newark and Camden, where our university communities are advancing partnerships to strengthen these cities.
Rutgers University–Newark—which, in 2008, marked the 100th anniversary of its founding as the New Jersey Law School—has always been a place of opportunity for first-generation college students, including many first-generation Americans, and it is committed to the vitality of the city and region. Rutgers University–Camden also began as a private law school in 1926—adding a liberal arts college soon after its founding—when local business leaders sought to redress a lack of higher education opportunities for men and women in their region of the state. When these growing institutions were merged into Rutgers University—the Newark community in 1946 and the Camden community in 1950—they not only gave Rutgers a vital foothold in northern and southern New Jersey, but also paved the way for the institutions to build their academic breadth and depth and become thriving research universities in their own right. As recent validation of their success, both were recently ranked among the top Best Bang for the Buck universities in the United States by Washington Monthly magazine.
During our recent universitywide strategic planning process, the Rutgers University–Newark community highlighted the importance of the university as an “anchor institution” for our state’s largest city. And Rutgers University–Camden has made intensive civic engagement, starting in Camden and spreading throughout southern New Jersey, part of its DNA. Newark and Camden, once heavily industrialized cities that lost more than 35 percent of their population from 1950 to 2000, have faced many economic hardships and social challenges in recent decades. It is essential that both cities have thriving universities that do not simply operate within them but truly engage with these urban centers to advance their social and economic potential.
Rutgers is proud to call Newark home. And we are still in Camden, having fought collectively to ensure our future in the city.
In both cities, our faculty members and academic centers are involved and engaged—in the schools, in the business community, in government, in neighborhoods. Our students are taking advantage of the opportunities to learn in an urban environment, to understand the strengths and struggles of these cities, to partner with community members and organizations, and to pursue meaningful internships both as invaluable experiential learning and as preparation for lifelong citizenship.
The transformative impact of these universities extends far beyond their host cities. Faculty in Camden and Newark contribute greatly to Rutgers’ global reputation as a research powerhouse. Students enjoy extraordinary learning opportunities in nearby New York and Philadelphia, and around the world. And the community engagement efforts helping to revitalize Newark and Camden are also making a difference across New Jersey.
Newark’s outstanding new chancellor, Nancy Cantor, has brought abundant expertise in forging university-city partnerships from her tenure as chancellor and president of Syracuse University. She has called for a kind of 21st-century “barn raising” to bring the Rutgers University–Newark community together with the people of the city and region in order to expand access to higher education and economic opportunity. Phoebe Haddon has brought her own passion for civically engaged urban universities to the chancellorship of Rutgers University–Camden (read an interview with her, “Access to an Ideal”). She also is strengthening Rutgers–Camden’s commitment to personalized experiential-learning opportunities for students.
As you will see in their strategic plans, they have outlined bold visions for the future that rely on the unique character and strengths of each institution. These plans only reaffirm my tremendous excitement about where we are headed in Newark and in Camden.