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Reflections on Rutgers–Newark’s 75th Anniversary

Nancy Cantor, Rutgers–Newark Chancellor

When I think about Rutgers University–Newark’s 75th anniversary as a part of Rutgers, I think about where we started: as a small collection of institutions whose very existence was dedicated to opening up educational opportunity for Newarkers who were being left on the sidelines of prosperity. Over the past century, we have been known by different names—the University of Newark, “Newark Rutgers,” Rutgers–Newark—but that mission has endured. Indeed, it is more important now than ever before.

Higher education’s impact on individual and collective prosperity has never been greater. It has become increasingly important as a mechanism of social mobility and a driver of economic growth. As these stakes have risen dramatically, so have the stakes for colleges and universities to respond to the challenges our communities face with increasing speed and agility, to educate people and find answers for a world defined by our constant transcendence of boundaries—across countries and cultures, social hierarchies, natural and physical frontiers, philosophies and psychological constructs, time, and space. In such a rapidly shifting landscape, it is paramount for us to join resolutely with partners across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to dismantle racial inequities that have accrued over centuries, whether by working on school desegregation, addressing the sequelae of redlining, confronting environmental injustice, or embracing immigration.

At Rutgers–Newark, we bring that sense of urgency to our collective action locally, knowing that it resonates globally—from assuring housing affordability and stimulating equitable growth to finding sustainable ways of living on our planet, joining hands with residents of our neighborhoods to make them safer and healthier, and leveraging the arts and culture to amplify voices across the full breadth of our diverse community. And, of course, it entails multiplying and broadening pathways to and through higher education: by increasing access and affordability, strengthening our college-going culture from pre-K through grade 12, vocational programs, re-entry programs, community colleges, four-year institutions, and graduate school.

That is what it means for us to carry forward the legacy of our university today: to be an anchor institution that is in and of Newark, an engine of innovation and social mobility striving to educate the change makers we need to become a more equitable, peaceful, and just world.

 

Norman Samuels, University Professor and Provost Emeritus

The rumor that I was personally present at the founding 75 years ago is simply not true, but my own first week teaching at RU–N was at an equally momentous time for our campus. In July 1967, Newark was racked by disorder, houses and businesses were burning, troops were shooting people. Years of economic decline and racial tension followed for the city, and many people moved away to the suburbs. At Rutgers–Newark, the faculty debated whether there was any future or purpose in staying in the city.

It took years of concerted effort, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s by devoted leaders in the corporate and higher education communities to turn that outlook around. Our vibrant urban campus today owes a great debt to Prudential, which decided to remain and expand in Newark, and to NJIT, Rutgers–Newark, Essex County College, and UMDNJ for working together to build in and literally anchor downtown. Commercial expansion, new housing, and retail all followed the creation of stability and an optimistic viewpoint.

We were motivated by the same values that had inspired these institutions from the start: a commitment to bring high-quality education and opportunity to the poor, to immigrants, to the racially excluded—and to do all that in the middle of a city. The Rutgers–Newark students of 75 years ago, working by day and taking classes at night, trying to make ends meet financially, dealing with ethnic and racial and religious discrimination, were very much like our students today; only the labels of the groups have changed.

Those values and the caliber of the leadership shaped Rutgers–Newark at the start, sustained it in 1967, and, if we can stubbornly stay the course, hold great promise for the future.

 

Patrick Shafto, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science 

The distinguishing feature of a university is the mandate to create, discover, and innovate, and not just to educate about what is known, but to engage with the unknown. We approach a time in which changes in computing have opened to the door to a vast unknown, positive and negative, that demand the attention of all of society. The goal, our goal, should be seek out the unknown and understand it toward the goal of creating, discovering, and innovating to make the world a better, gentler place.

Rutgers as the public university of New Jersey and Rutgers–Newark specifically, with its history of creating opportunities for all, are poised to meet these societal challenges. From its long-running status as most diverse research university to the historical focus on socioeconomically disadvantaged students by the law school, Rutgers has been a quintessentially public university.

Missing from this list are innovations in computation, technology, and science. Historically, Rutgers–Newark’s identity has not emphasized technical expertise in computer science, mathematics, or behavioral science, the nexus of which is central to understanding data science, AI, and their implications for society.

The big idea algorithms, justice and opportunity is about meeting these both social and technical aspects of these challenges. Data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are reshaping society, politics, the law, medicine, and industry. These advances provide many opportunities, but our lack of understanding of how best to deploy and improve them presents great risks and challenges. Careers in data and algorithms offer great opportunities for students and can amplify education in any field of study. However, responsible use requires understanding of traditionally challenging topics, including computation, math, and human behavior, which, while not obvious, are critically important to ensuring positive social impact. Rutgers–Newark must understand and advance limitations of current approaches to discover and create the future that we wish to inhabit.

The future will not go to those who are the loudest, or to those to seek requirements or constraints on others; the future will go to those who open themselves to the diversity of experiences, strive for understanding, and, in doing so, reveal truths about ourselves and our world. Revealing those truths will require hard work dedicated to understanding difficult, sometimes abstruse topics. Let us here at Rutgers–Newark always strive to do this hard work because it will organize and measure the best of our energies and skills toward the benefit of society and prepare us for challenges yet unseen.

 

Lyneir Richardson, Executive Director, Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development 

With community service baked into our DNA, Rutgers–Newark is a special place. The clarion call for public-engaged scholarship emanates directly from the chancellor’s office. Making “positive social impact” is one of the three strategic priorities of Rutgers Business School.

It is in this context that I have the privilege to teach Rutgers students the theory and practice of how to create more business opportunity to strengthen urban areas in our world. Each semester, students do consulting projects, conduct research, and work shoulder to shoulder with small business owners in Newark and across the state. And for 12 years, the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED), housed in Rutgers Business School, has run community capacity-building programs and recently provided funding to drive inclusive innovation and economic growth. More than 70 percent of CUEED program participants are racially diverse and 62 percent are gender diverse.

As an anchor institution, we recognize that we have a unique perch.  We can see value in people and places that have long been overlooked and undervalued because of systemic inequality and discriminatory practices. Without a doubt, we can leverage the assets of our institution to catalyze inclusive economic growth and accelerate social mobility.

I hope that Rutgers–Newark will always find ways to open our doors and make educational services, space, equipment, and financial resources available to the community—and intentionally to residents and entrepreneurs of color.

 

Joel Caplan, School of Criminal Justice Professor and Director of Rutgers’ Center of Public Security 

Rutgers–Newark is an attractor and generator of scholarship, community engagement, learning, and celebration within the city of Newark. Our campus is a safe space that promotes and empowers public safety throughout the city. Among many examples, I’m referring to the applied research and programming that RU–N supports to prevent crime, such as the Newark Public Safety Collaborative. I’m also recalling the historical impact of our campus’s decades-long history with the School of Criminal Justice and the significant contributions its faculty and graduates made to criminological theory and criminal justice policies and practices in New Jersey, throughout the country, and around the world.

I was a student at RU–N. I lived in its graduate housing. I studied in the libraries on campus and played chess with the worn-out sets provided by the barkeep on Halsey Street. Now I’m a faculty member. I’m proud of my own history with Rutgers, this campus, and our city. Today the vibe is different. There’s more optimism, mixed with anxious anticipation. In 2021, the libraries and bars are newly refurbished, and Halsey Street feels more alive and energized. New Street is newer and Washington Street is longer. There’s excitement, even in the face of uncertainty.

When people visit Newark, I tell them to look up. Look up at the buildings because the architecture is beautiful. The ornate facades have so much character and history. I tell visitors to walk the city streets and look at the skylines because they’re peaceful and mesmerizing. When people visit RU–N, I remind them to take in the sights, sounds, and experiences that reverberate on and around the campus from all directions. Our diverse student body adds energy to a city whose landscape bears both scars from its past and reforms that embrace lessons from history. Perhaps I tell people to look up because, subconsciously, I know that’s the direction our city is headed with our campus.

RU–N has always been part of the city’s transformation. Now, as an anchor institution, we are data-informed and community engaged, and together, along with Newark, we’re driving innovation that propels us forward with stronger, safer, healthier, livelier, more equitable, and more prosperous communities.

Caplan’s most recent book, Risk-Based Policing: Evidence-Based Crime Prevention with Big Data and Spatial Analytics (University of California Press) was published in 2018. It’s been put into practice through the data-informed community engagement work of the Newark Public Safety Collaborative.

 

Charles E. Menifield, Dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration 

While considering applying for my current position, I vividly recall researching Rutgers–Newark and examining its strategic plan. Two things stood out to me as significant. First, the university views itself as an anchor institution and a major player in the city that it calls home. This includes working directly with nonprofits and the city government on policies, grants, and other activities. Second, the university is committed to educating the residents of Newark and New Jersey. As we all know, the city of Newark has a substantial minority population and many of the students who reside here come from humble beginnings. I, too, came from a very humble background and understand the nuances that come with that status. When the proverbial deck is stacked against you, an intervention is often needed to overcome the obstacles. Rutgers–Newark is that intervention, and we embrace our role in changing the lives of Newark and New Jersey residents. While others may view these students as a risk, we see an opportunity to make a difference in their lives and for the state of New Jersey.

One of the best decisions made by the powers that be was to bring the University of Newark into Rutgers University. This gave the university additional cachet to recruit more students from the northern part of the state and to graduate them with a Rutgers degree. Moreover, it created a portal for the largely minority Newark community to join the Rutgers family and the flagship university in the state. Seventy-five years later, Rutgers–Newark serves as a leader among institutions in large urban areas. We relish the fact that our progeny are spread across the state of New Jersey, the United States, and other parts of the world. We are proud to serve as an anchor institution and to serve as the first choice for many Newark and Essex County students. By so doing, our impact is felt directly in the community where we reside because many of these students remain here, where they serve as a catalyst and a beacon for the next generation.