In April 2012, when Rutgers introduced Robert Barchi as its 20th president, I got a phone call from a colleague who works in the communications department at Thomas Jefferson University, where Barchi had been president for eight years and turned it into an academic health care juggernaut. 

“I see that Barchi is your next president,” he said. “Have you heard of him?”

“I know nothing about him,” I replied.

“Well, I can tell you this. Barchi completely changed this place. He is going to get a lot done for you guys at Rutgers.”

And he was right. President Barchi announced in July that he was stepping down as president of Rutgers at the end of the current academic year. For the better part of eight years, he has been instrumental in preparing Rutgers for the demands of the 21st century. His legacy will be his successful leadership in transforming Rutgers into a comprehensive public research university, achieved through the integration of most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to form Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS). It required a mind-numbing reorganization, with a million and one details following the 2012 enactment of the historic New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act. On July 1, 2013, RBHS, brimming with health sciences schools and clinical practices and loads of potential, was unveiled. 

But that was just the beginning. Working with the Rutgers community, Barchi spent a year canvassing opinions for what the university needed and how to pursue those goals. The president synthesized what he learned while holding town hall-style meetings and produced A Strategic Plan for the New Rutgers, a comprehensive guide to lead Rutgers. Over the intervening years, Barchi oversaw significant improvements on several fronts: record-breaking fundraising, thanks to alumni support; new state-of-the-art academic and residence buildings at all three university locations; additions to an already excellent faculty and more endowed chairs to support them; an improved student experience, both in the classroom and out; and a heightened national profile for Rutgers, which now is associated with the great public research universities through its membership in the Big Ten.

The bookend to the formation of RBHS early in his administration was Barchi’s announcement in 2018 that Rutgers would be partnering with RWJBarnabas Health to create the largest and most comprehensive academic health system in the state of New Jersey and one of the biggest in the nation. RBHS will lead all aspects of medical research and education while RWJBarnabas Health heads up the clinical enterprise.

There is work still to do, Barchi says, such as addressing an aging infrastructure at Rutgers and making sure that the university can provide an affordable education for its diverse student population. But these matters can be successfully navigated, Barchi believes, as Rutgers enters the heart of the 21st century. My colleague was right: President Barchi got a lot done.