Billionaire philanthropist's nomination to Rutgers Board of Governors incites faculty opposition
The nomination of billionaire philanthropist and former Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Glenview Capital Management, Amy Towers, for a seat on the Board of Governors has sparked opposition from the Rutgers faculty union and professors.
According to NJ Advance Media, she was nominated last week by Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.). The position has influence over decisions such as setting tuition and hiring or firing the University president. A former hedge fund executive, Towers and her husband have donated more than $5 million for a new practice facility at Rutgers, as well as hosted a private performance by the hip-hop group Migos for the football team.
Murphy’s spokesman Matthew Saidel said the governor believes Towers would bring “incredible value” based on her experience with running a multi-billion dollar financial institution, as well as her management of philanthropic and humanitarian programs around the world.
In response to her nomination, Towers said in a statement she was grateful for Murphy's support and would be honored to serve on the board if her position was confirmed by the state Senate. She has also previously served for the Rutgers Board of Overseers, which overlooks the University’s fundraising foundation.
Richard Ebright, a Board of Governors professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, referred to Towers as “a parasite and an idiot” in response to her multi-million dollar donation to the Rutgers athletic program.
In an interview with Steve Politi, Ebright’s response to whether his words were appropriate was: “That’s Twitter.”
Many of the people who replied to Ebright’s tweets were Rutgers alumni or students. One Twitter user tweeted in response, “Athletics is and will continue to be a VERY big part of Rutgers University as Big Ten members. If that upsets you I suggest seeking a position at the University of Maine.”
Ebright later said in the interview with Politi that he had an issue with Towers giving her personal fortune to the athletic department.
“It probably would have been more prudent, just as I said to you, to indicate that the donations directed to the athletic program do not support the core missions of the University and indicate a lack of familiarity or emphasis and interest on the core missions of the University,” he said. “That’s one thing for a private citizen, it’s quite a different thing for a candidate for a member of the Board of Governors for a university.”
Members from the Rutgers faculty union are also opposed to Tower’s nomination, claiming that it was a favor for the amount of money she has given to the football team at Rutgers.
“Somebody who has been so useful in the sideshow is now promoted into running the place," said David Hughes, the vice president of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers. "That doesn’t make any sense to us.”
Although Towers has experience, Hughes said she lacked expertise in higher education — a qualification he believed should be a prerequisite for anyone serving on the Board of Governors. The faculty labor union has opposed nominees in the past, calling for leaders with more experience in being able to achieve initiatives important to Rutgers’ academic mission than those with business experience.
According to NJ Advance Media, the 15-member board is currently filled mainly by business executives, such as Greg Brown, the CEO of Motorola. There are no faculty members or student representatives able to vote on the Board.
“Giving money to the athletic program does not constitute expertise in higher education, and giving money to the athletic program does not actually help the primary mission of Rutgers at all," Hughes said.