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Board of Governors approve Bill Nye as commencement speaker

Photo by Tian Li |

The Board of Governors announced the decision to invite William Sanford Nye, popularly known as Bill Nye, as the speaker for University Commencement on May 17, 2015. 

NEWARK — The Rutgers-New Brunswick Class of 2015 will be graduating in May with a commencement speaker whose teachings they grew up learning from.

William Sanford Nye, popularly known as “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” was announced as the 249th Anniversary Commencement Speaker at yesterday afternoon’s Board of Governors meeting in the Paul Robeson Campus Center on the Newark campus.

“I have the pleasure to introduce and recommend for the board's consideration distinguished individuals,” said Lora Fong, a member of the Board of Trustees.

Nye will speak Sunday, May 17 at 12:30 p.m. at High Point Solutions Stadium on Busch campus.

Best known for his 30 minute and 18 Emmy Award-winning show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” in which he donned a white lab coat and bowtie, Nye used lighthearted comedy to teach science to children, Fong said.

Nye is now chief executive officer of the Planetary Society, the nation’s largest non-governmental space association, and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Fong said. He has written several children’s books in the past and a book on evolution more recently.

“Bill Nye is a mechanical engineer who wants the world to know the passion, beauty and joy — the (peanut butter and jelly) — of science,” Fong said. “Nye hopes to raise awareness on climate change and the value of critical thinking, science and reason.”

Alongside Nye, the Board of Governors announced that Frances Fox Piven would be the 2015 Honorary Degree Recipient, Fong said. Piven is an internationally renowned social scientist, scholar and activist for the poor and working poor. 

Piven is currently a distinguished professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), Fong said.

“Piven conducts groundbreaking work on the functions of social welfare and poor relief with her research partner and husband Richard A. Cloward,” Fong said. “Their 1971 collaboration ‘Regulating the Poor’ ignited a scholarly debate that reshaped the field of social welfare policy.”

For the Camden Class of 2015, the Board approved Brian A. Stevenson as Commencement Speaker and Jon Bon Jovi as the Honorary Degree Recipient. At Newark, Earl Lewis will be the commencement speaker.

While the announcement of commencement speakers was the highlight of the meeting, additional University details were also reviewed.

President Robert L. Barchi addressed the topic of University applications and rankings.

The University had a 12 percent increase in total applications and is 9 percent ahead of last year, he said. At New Brunswick, SAT scores are an average of 21 points higher compared to last year.

“The honors college is doing its welcoming events to accepted students,” he said. “… Our nursing program, which was ranked 79th in the nation among graduate programs, this year was ranked 25th.”

The Board of Governors also presented the Rutgers-Newark campus Physical Master Plan. With 34 buildings, 38 square acres and 12,000 students, the campus is being redesigned in a similar fashion as the New Brunswick campus.

“Rutgers University is of Newark, it blends into the city,” said Antonio Calcado, vice president of University Facilities and Capital Planning. “We live Newark … we breathe Newark.”

The plan includes working with the city of Newark and NJ Transit to improve transportation on campus, which is also a goal on the New Brunswick campus.

A proposed resolution to merge the Camden Law School and Newark Law School into simply the Rutgers Law School, was approved by the Board of Governors.

The American Bar Association still needs to approve the decision, which will be made as early as June, said Phoebe Haddon, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden.

Two co-deans will report to chancellors at each university in Camden and Newark, Haddon said. The Rutgers Law School would begin using a single application for the fall of 2016.

“This conversation began when thinking about ways to be more innovative,” Haddon said. “The faculty and programs for both law schools are excellent. This (merger) will allow us to combine them in a way that is complementary and will make us an outstanding law school.”

Back in New Brunswick, Fong said a member of the Media Relations Committee voiced concerns of a confederate flag on display in a fraternity house on campus.

“On behalf of the committee, I communicated this issue to the University administration,” Fong said. “Chancellor Edwards quickly responded and addressed the issue.”

Two professors were approved to Board of Governors at yesterday’s meeting. Steven Bronner was approved as the Board of Governor Professor of Political Science, and Norma Riccucci was named Board of Governor’s Professor of Public Administration.

“This fulfills the career,” said Bronner, a professor in the Department of Political Science. “I’ve been here for 40 years and I’ve seen Rutgers get better every year.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated Monica Barrett, Interim Senior Vice President and General Counsel, said The American Bar Association had yet to approve the decision to merge the Camden and Newark Law Schools into the Rutgers Law School.

Avalon Zoppo

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