Activism, image at Rutgers under Barchi


The Daily Targum editorial board had the opportunity to sit down with University President Robert L. Barchi and Chancellor of Rutgers – New Brunswick Richard L. Edwards yesterday to talk about some of the many issues we cover in the newspaper. Throughout the conversation, we asked the president about everything from his plans to address crime rates around campus to his relationship with the Athletic Department. But of course, the first topic of discussion was Barchi’s image (or lack thereof) and the accusations from students that he is inaccessible.

Barchi officially joined Rutgers as its president in the fall 2012 semester, and just a few weeks into his term, he announced the entire structure of the University’s management would be changing. The role of the president now involves much more administrative work, but to ensure that the students, faculty and larger Rutgers community is being taken care of, there is instead another system of administrators. Each of Rutgers’ three universities (New Brunswick, Newark and Camden) now has a chancellor to oversee academic affairs, and each of these chancellors reports directly back to the president. This is all in place because the president is often swamped with other administrative responsibilities that make it practically impossible to fully and appropriately address every issue on campus — but most students aren’t even fully aware of this system of chancellors and their roles on campus.

If we really want the administration to listen to student concerns and respond to them, taking the issue directly to the president seems to be simply ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. It might sound appealing to take issues straight to the president to demand direct action from him instead of speaking with administrative officials with less-impressive titles (although “Chancellor of Rutgers – New Brunswick” sounds pretty good to us), but the fact is that, given the structure of the administration at Rutgers, that’s our best bet. Barchi has made it clear on multiple occasions that Rutgers is on a very tight budget at the moment, and if he doesn’t work to secure the extra funding it needs, there is nothing the administration can do to address the many problems our University is currently dealing with. Possibly the most important source of this funding comes from the state of New Jersey, which still isn’t giving us the financial support we really need as the state university. 

At the same time, of course, we’re still a little concerned with Barchi’s absence of an image — and his apparent lack of any desire to have an image at all. Yes, there are important meetings to be held and donors to be met with, and all the other behind-the-scenes responsibilities that come with running an institution as large as Rutgers. But at the end of the day, Barchi is the president and consequently the face of the University and the administration, and we still think he should have a more visible presence.

Student chapters of national organizations often get detailed instructions or guides on how to best convey their message to the rest of the student body and to the administration. But a formulated method of inciting direct action by going straight to the perceived head of the institution is one that just doesn’t work at a school as large and spread out as Rutgers. We have a long and rich history of student activism at this University, and we certainly hope to continue the legacy. But as the times (and administrations) change, our tactics should be changing, too. There’s nothing wrong with speaking up, but we should know the most appropriate channels to avoid the inevitable frustration when there’s no response, and the administration should make those channels clearer to us as well. With more transparency from the administration about the system that is in place to seriously address student concerns, students can engage in a more productive mode of communication. 

Chancellor Edwards will be holding an open town hall meeting this Thursday, Nov. 20, from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Atrium Conference Room, located on the main floor of the Rutgers Student Center. Everyone is welcome to attend, and these town halls will be a regular occurrence. So, let’s have a strong student turnout to prove that we’re willing to work with the administration if they’re willing to listen. 

For more content from our interview with University President Robert L. Barchi, click here.


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