A photo collage of historic Rutgers images


1) President Edward J. Bloustein escorts Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands during a ceremony in 1982 at Kirkpatrick Chapel. 2) Students at Rutgers–Newark took over Conklin Hall in 1969, leading to the promotion of campus diversity that is the hallmark of Rutgers University–Newark today. 3) Selman Waksman RC’15 (right), who discovered streptomycin with Albert Schatz AG’42, ’45, personified the burgeoning research enterprise after WWII. 4) Veterans, benefiting from the G.I. Bill, enrolled at Rutgers in droves following World War II, with many housed in Piscataway in the former barracks at Camp Kilmer. 5) Rutgers president Mason Gross looks on as president John F. Kennedy addresses guests during the 1961 Football Hall of Fame ceremony.

courtesy of Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives

The 250th anniversary of Rutgers, which officially begins on November 10 with a Charter Day ceremony and will continue throughout the year until November 2016, will celebrate the pageantry of university history, from its founding as Queen’s College in 1766 to its growing reputation today as a top-flight public research university. But for those who like their history rich, interactive, and perhaps revisionist, two professors with long tenures at Rutgers University–New Brunswick—Rudolph Bell and Paul G.E. Clemens, in the Department of History at the School  of Arts and Sciences—have devised an imaginative online course for students and alumni.

Called “History of Rutgers University,” the class, offered universitywide over  14 weeks during the spring semester, will be conducted entirely in cyberspace, although it promises to be as rigorous and provocative as the best of in-person classes. Instead of the standard 80-minute lecture, for instance, each segment will have three 20- minute videos based on interviews with members of the Rutgers community discussing a topic. Viewed at their convenience throughout the week, students, who will receive 3 credits for the course, then take part in online discussions, broken down into groups of 10. However, as students discuss issues among themselves, the conversation will be animated by the alumni who have registered for the class, chiming in with their own memories of Rutgers: what is contemporary American history for today’s students is old school for alumni.

“These discussion groups with participating alumni will be fabulous, and alumni will be a valuable resource when the students undertake a research project,” says Bell. (All alumni who register for the course, which costs $250 and helps pay for future student programs, will receive a certificate for their participation and are excused from test-taking.) “Whatever alumni want to say, we welcome that reality. Paul and I are very interested in the idea of memory versus history—the notion of ‘How do you document anything historically?’ I want an alumnus to challenge the assertion, say, that Livingston College, in its early years, had no race problems. I want someone to say, if it’s the case, ‘That’s B.S. It wasn’t like that.’”

Clemens has spent several years immersed in Rutgers history and recently produced the much-anticipated book Rutgers Since 1945: A History of the State University of New Jersey (Rutgers University Press, 2015), a complement to Rutgers: A Bicentennial History (Rutgers University Press, 1966), written by the late Richard P. McCormick RC’38, GSNB’40, father of former Rutgers president Richard L. McCormick and 1990 inductee into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni. Students will read not only these two histories, but also Rutgers: A 250th Anniversary Portrait (Third Millen­nium Publishing, 2015), a new, handsome coffee-table book that lavishly illustrates the university’s long history.

Much of the content from Clemens’s new book shapes the curriculum for the course, which will devote the first two classes to the first 200 years of university history and then turn its attention to Rutgers following World War II, when the university grew dramatically. Arranged thematically, the balance of the course addresses the recent history of Rutgers, something alumni experienced—and can relive. Topics include residence life, entering big-time athletics, veterans at Rutgers, histories of Rutgers University–Newark and Rutgers University–Camden, exercising aca­demic freedom, the research of Selman Waksman as a precursor to today’s biomedical research enterprise at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, the fine arts as exemplified by the Mason Gross School of the Arts, campus life for African Americans during the 1960s, and the growth of the marine and  coastal sciences as well as agricultural research and outreach, all befitting Rutgers’ designation as the state’s land-grant university. Halfway through the course, students will complete a research project, for which they will rely on  alumni as sources.

“The course will look at the positives, the issues, and everything else that happened at Rutgers—and is happening,” says Clemens. “And we want to have the participation of the people who were involved with these issues at the time. The alumni voice will enrich the course—and help set the record straight.”

For further information, visit Ralumni.com/HistoryofRutgers.