As my first official day at Rutgers begins, I wanted to reach out and share my thoughts on the university and its mission. I also want to tell you how sorry I am that I’m not talking to you in person and shaking your hand—that will come in time.
When I applied to Rutgers, I believed that, if tapped, I’d be joining a community of first-rate researchers on topics spanning the breadth of the known universe; that I’d be joining an institution with a mandate to serve the public whether it be expressed locally, nationally, or globally; and that I’d be joining an institution with an impressive history of opening its doors to diverse communities of all types.
In the months since my appointment, all of those initial reasons for my interest have been confirmed. I am proud that I now have the privilege and the responsibility to lead an institution that is committed to making the world better while also opening its doors to that world. As your president, I promise to do all that I can to amplify Rutgers’ excellence, to emphasize its contributions to society, and to ensure that it remains accessible.
Soon after my January introduction as Rutgers’ 21st president, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic made clear that the terms of my future presidency had changed. I don’t need to tell anyone in New Jersey or at Rutgers how much damage COVID has caused personally, emotionally, psychologically, and financially. Because of these enormous setbacks, I will be focusing much of my initial energy as president on repair and rebuilding.
Now, as much attention as this pandemic requires, we are also living in a moment of global racial reckoning—a development born of tragedy, willful ignorance, and grotesque violence. These developments present us with an opportunity to work toward a world where phrases like “social justice” and “Black Lives Matter” are understood not as assaults on the common good, but as declarations that we should be a country that lives up to the aspirations in its founding documents. Getting to that point will also require repair and rebuilding.
The good news is that Rutgers has the ingredients to succeed in the face of these challenges. I am certain of this. Scholars throughout the university have been making major contributions to our understanding of every aspect of the pandemic; similarly, Rutgers voices have been heard on matters related to the social, economic, and racial inequities that have destabilized this country.
Recently, people have made clear that expressions of empathy from leaders and their institutions, while appreciated, are insufficient. Now, they are calling for concrete commitments to address this nation’s systemic inequities. I agree with those calls. And I want you to know that I will not shy away from the uncomfortable conversations that must emerge if we deal with these issues honestly. While I can’t promise you that we will always agree—we certainly won’t—I can assure you that I will always listen to your thoughts with the seriousness and respect that they deserve.
In doing this work, I ask that you grant me the opportunity to continue my own Rutgers education as we labor together to find the best way forward on these matters. In the coming weeks and months, we will identify and take concrete and measurable actions so that Rutgers can do its part in repairing the world. Some of these actions will grow out of community conversations and engagement; some will come out of presidential initiatives that reflect institutional best practices in the broader world of higher education.
Finally, in the spirit of shared sacrifice that this moment requires, today I am announcing that I am taking a 10 percent pay cut for the fiscal year. I am also personally donating $75,000 to the Scarlet Promise Grant Program—the best vehicle we have to address the financial needs of our most economically at-risk students. Furthermore, I am directing $125,000 in presidential discretionary funds to Scarlet Promise. It is my intention that these funds will be used to kick-start a $10 million focused campaign for the program.
With regard to that campaign, I asked Mark Angelson, chair of the university’s Board of Governors, to make a leadership gift in support of this effort. Mark has a history of making anonymous gifts to Rutgers. He has, with my encouragement, changed his practice for the sake of this initiative. I am delighted to report then that this morning, and in honor of our new beginning, he gave $1 million toward meeting the campaign’s goal.
It is my hope that the global network of Rutgers friends and families will come together in this campaign in the spirit of being Scarlet Forever. Please know that there is nothing modest about any gift that might come in as each dollar is a declaration of faith in the transformative power of a Rutgers education.
Thank you for your time and your attention. I can’t wait to meet you in person, and then work with you to help Rutgers become the very best version of itself.
Take care, and I’ll see you soon.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey