President Robert L. Barchi of Rutgers U. speaks at a news conference last Friday to announce the resignation as athletic director of Tim Pernetti. (Andy Marlin, Getty Images)
Public universities are not corporations. They are not sports franchises. They are not dysfunctional families in which the powerful can abuse the less powerful by enforcing silence.
As faculty members, we were deeply dismayed to learn that some Rutgers University administrators had known for months about Mike Rice Jr. and his assistant coach’s physical and verbal abuse of student athletes, yet remained silent. Homophobic slurs and physical abuse teach students a deformed version of athletic masculinity.
We were equally dismayed by the institutional implications of this culture of abuse. The corporate vision of Rutgers’s president, Robert L. Barchi, and his associates centralizes sports branding as an income-generating strategy, clearly at the expense of our student athletes and potentially at the expense of academic excellence.
Just as important, the Barchi administration ignored our campus’s history and behaved as if the Rutgers community shared its casual acceptance of bigotry. Apparently it forgot our collective mourning of Tyler Clementi’s 2010 suicide. It forgot our outrage at Don Imus’s portrayal of the Rutgers women’s basketball team in racist, sexist slurs. It forgot that students and faculty members erupted in protest in 1995 when it was revealed that then-President Francis L. Lawrence had stated that disadvantaged students do not have the “genetic, hereditary background” to do well on standardized tests.
Administrators forgot that “Rutgers” is not a sports logo, but an avenue of upward mobility for students from a wide range of backgrounds.
Unfortunately, this is not an aberration. We were dismayed by the Rutgers administration’s contempt for diversity in an arena where, arguably, it matters the most—the distribution of financial resources within the university system. Concerned faculty members have recently raised issues about a long history of financial inequities among Rutgers’s three campuses, with the campuses that serve minority students getting the short end of the stick.
For example, our Newark campus contains the most-diverse student population, not only at Rutgers, but in the entire nation. Students at Newark pay the same tuition as those at New Brunswick, but their campus receives about half the funds, per student, that the New Brunswick campus does. They make up more than 20 percent of the undergraduate- and graduate-student population of Rutgers University, but they attend a campus that receives only 11.6 percent of the university’s capital development dollars.
In short, in a pattern at public-university systems around the nation, students at Rutgers’s most-diverse campus are financially subsidizing the institution’s majority-white New Brunswick campus. Students’ money has been redistributed upward. Shockingly, even in the Age of Obama, Rutgers’s financial numbers demonstrate that brown bodies are valued at roughly half that of white ones.
The Barchi administration has made this bad situation much worse. Gov. Chris Christie wants to reorganize New Jersey higher education, and Barchi and his associates are working quickly to do so. Months before the current basketball scandal blew open the lid on Barchi’s scorn for diversity, his administration set out to downgrade the Newark and Camden campuses to second-class status by describing the three campuses as representing separate specializations: “research” (New Brunswick, the wealthiest campus), “service” (Camden, the smallest campus), and “diversity” (Newark, the brownest campus). So. The rational head will be white; the laboring body will be brown. Isn’t this what the caste system is all about?
Next, Barchi pushed through a budget for Rutgers University that allocated a state subsidy for Newark that was less than half of what, at a conservative estimate, its fair share should have been. In violation of state law, he proposed this draconian budget without consultation with the Newark campus’s administration. The Legislature is scheduled to take up the budget proposal on Tuesday, April 9. The budget devised by Barchi and Richard L. Edwards, the university’s executive vice president, would brutally diminish the scholarly resources that Rutgers’s Newark campus can offer to its minority, immigrant, and first-generation student body.
Finally, Barchi and Edwards launched a plan to close the Graduate School in Newark and transfer the most lucrative programs to the New Brunswick campus. Under that plan, access to a truly rigorous, research-oriented education would be made unavailable to New Jersey’s most diverse campus. That would be institutional racism at its baldest.
His administration’s embrace of a corporate vision has led President Barchi to behave like a corporate raider against his own university: He has treated Newark’s campus like a thriving company subjected to a hostile corporate takeover. His administration attempted to underfinance Newark and milk its profits (tuition). Next it plans to strip it of its assets (most-profitable graduate programs). We know how these hostile takeovers usually end—the raided “company” ends up on the junk heap.
The Barchi administration’s indifference to homophobic attacks on student athletes is of a piece with its broader disdain for minority, immigrant, and first-generation students. Its anti-intellectual, antihumanist, money-driven corporate vision led it to prioritize sports branding over concern for students’ well-being. It is leading to a division of Rutgers University into “separate and unequal” campuses, and warping everything that universities ought to stand for.
We must speak out. Exposure of Coach Rice’s abuse should lead to a broader conversation about institutional class and racial inequalities in education—and the will to fight them. When students’ welfare is on the line, silence is immoral.
Belinda Edmondson is a professor of English and African-American & African studies, and Beryl Satter is a professor of history, both at Rutgers University at Newark. Carlos Ulises Decena, an associate professor of women and gender studies at Rutgers-New Brunswick, and Laura A. Lomas, an associate professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, contributed to this article.