June 17, 2008

The ‘Anti-Ivory Tower’ Reaches 100


TO SOME, the phrases "higher education" and "ivory tower" invoke images of institutions separated by structural barriers and cultural boundaries.

Isolation, however, has its disadvantages for those sheltered and for the larger community. I am proud to say that my alma mater, Rutgers-Newark, has never been an ivory tower. In fact, it may be an example of an "anti-ivory tower," an institution that eschews barriers and boundaries, preferring instead to connect with its surrounding community through education and outreach.

Comfortable in an urban location, its students and faculty share not only Newark's sidewalks and parks with the city's residents but also its challenges and opportunities.

This has been the case since 1908, when the New Jersey Law School a predecessor school of Rutgers-Newark first opened its doors to serve the educational needs of a growing industrial center and its primarily working-class residents.

Today, Rutgers-Newark continues to offer a first-class education for a price that middle- and working-class families can afford. Each graduating class brings new stories of students like me who were the first in their families to obtain a higher education.

Over the past century, these students have contributed significantly to the city, the state and the nation. Rutgers-Newark can point to an impressive roll of graduates in all sectors of society, including congressmen and senators, state Supreme Court and federal justices, CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations, distinguished writers, doctors, artists, lawyers and educators.

But developing leaders is only one way in which Rutgers-Newark has been integral to the growth and prosperity of its home city and our state. Most notably, it has always encouraged its students to be not only in, but of, the community.

A mutually beneficial relationship

This civic engagement plays out in many ways: free legal clinics for the working poor, tutoring and mentoring programs within city schools, training for small-business owners, health care services and summer programs for children. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, as Rutgers students and community members profit from collaborative learning experiences.

What's more, Rutgers-Newark has always been an educational institution willing to face complex social issues directly and thoughtfully. During the civil unrest of the late Sixties, Rutgers- Newark students assessed their university and saw a predominantly white campus in a predominantly minority city. In terms of enrollment, faculty and staff, and academic programming, the university was out of step with the community surrounding it.

In the spring of 1969, students demanded change, taking over Conklin Hall to emphasize their commitment to social and racial justice and equity. The response to their protest by the university administration resulted in an integrated and diverse campus, and expanded educational opportunity to underserved minorities throughout the university.

Today, Rutgers-Newark is a national leader in diversity, having been named the most diverse national university campus for 11 consecutive years by U.S News & World Report.

I graduated from Rutgers-Newark during that eventful year of 1969. Looking back over four decades, I am struck by the number of my colleagues and successive graduates of the school who have invested their intellectual, human and financial capital in furtherance of those enduring goals of equity and justice. That so many of them are still involved in, and connected to, Newark is sharp evidence of the lessons taught when the university made the then-difficult choice to embrace a sharply divided community, and to rededicate itself to developing men and women committed to a higher standard of care.

Premiere research university

Newark's "streetcar university" has evolved into a premier research university. Its enrollment has expanded significantly, and new graduate and undergraduate programs are being introduced, including, notably, a new undergraduate major in public service, the first of its kind in the country.

No longer a "commuter" school, it is home to an increasing number of students who live in campus residence halls and enjoy the best of what urban life has to offer.

As it celebrates its centennial, Rutgers-Newark merits our respect and gratitude as a catalyst of change for the city, an ever- evolving community dedicated to scholarship and learning, and a leader in the pursuit of social and community justice.


Alfred Koeppe is CEO of The Newark Alliance. He was president and chief operating officer of PSE&G and CEO of Bell Atlantic-New Jersey. He is a member of the board of the Institute for Social Justice and of St. Benedict's Preparatory School.

(c) 2008 Record, The; Bergen County, N.J.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.