April 23, 2019 | 67° F

Missalloation of U. funds leaves classes lacking, sports proser

Letter to the Editor

Why must Rutgers always snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? We are used to scandals involving football (remember Pernetti and Rice? Floodgate? The five players arrested for assault?). Similarly, we have grown accustomed to investigative reports confirming what we all know: The engine for runaway tuition is an outlandishly inflated and unaccountable upper administration (remember the 2007 N.J. state report of "Vulnerable to Abuse" that included Rutgers? Millions in fraudulent billing of Medicare by the medical school? An affair and drunk driving by Rutgers' previous president?) But neither the athletic program nor the administration has been successful by any objective standard, so in a sense we aren't surprised to see corruption accompany mediocrity.

The University does have its jewels though, and now we see the brightest of these being tossed aside, for no apparent reason but defense of the same corruption and mediocrity. Professor Dena Seidel founded the most successful film program that Rutgers — or any comparable university — has ever seen. She received an Emmy and other awards for films including “Antarctic Edge,” about extreme science, “The War After,” about student veterans, and “Thailand Untapped,” about student engineers building clean water supplies. Her work has been covered by National Geographic, National Public Radio, the Discovery Channel, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and on and on. A Henry Rutgers professorship was created to honor her work. If the University has a jewel, it is Professor Seidel.

But last fall, faculty including Dena Seidel had the temerity to raise questions of a Dean regarding his hidden finances. These include the highest student fees in the University — up to $2,500 to fund equipment and activities. Faculty complained that the funds never reach their intended uses, so for example, Professor Seidel had to buy her own cameras for students to use. Likewise, the Dean demands $100,000 annually from each of his division directors and diverts these, as well as contracted research funds, into his own discretionary accounts — accounts that he terms "fully fungible." Although facts remain sketchy due to the Dean's fungible bookkeeping, what we know is that by summer, 2 out of 4 division directors had been let go, and a third is reported to have begun legal proceedings.

It's one thing to defend improprieties in the football program. We have grown to expect that. But why can't the University at least leave alone its best and its brightest? Why must every program be brought to the same lowest common denominator of dubious financial practices and bloated management? Why can't the University faculty and students enjoy the films of its single most acclaimed professor without an administrator dumping on her for no better purpose than to hide his own corruption and mediocrity?

Troy Shinbrot is a professor in the department of Biomedical Engineering.

Troy Shinbrot

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