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New class explains history of Rutgers

As Rutgers celebrates its 250th anniversary, a new course has been created to give students the opportunity to learn more about their centuries-old university.

The online course, called “History of Rutgers University,” is open for the Spring 2016 term and available for registration to all students on the Camden, Newark and New Brunswick campuses.

“The course focuses on the history of Rutgers and the whole 250 years. There are many parts of the course that raise issues about Rutgers history that have some bite to them,” said Paul Clemens, a professor in the Department of History and one of the course instructors.

The class is open to a broad range of undergraduates, Clemens said. Alumni have been invited to take the course as well because of their past roles in Rutgers history.

Rudy Bell, an instructor of the course and a professor in the Department of History, said he does not want the class to be celebratory, but rather, to look at Rutgers history and its turning points over the years.

“How did we become so different than Princeton? Is that a good idea or bad? How did that happen?” Bell said. “There isn’t a public New Jersey support for the University and that has some historical reasons, and we’re very interested in exploring that.”

The students will get a chance to look at different aspects of the history including academic freedom, the relationship between Newark and Camden campuses and some of the controversies concerning athletics, Clemens said.

“I think it’s always important to ground your understanding in the present in what has come before in the past, and I think this course will give (the students) a sense of Rutgers' past,” he said.

Jordan Cohen, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, assisted Clemens and Bell on two aspects of the course, including the second hundred years from 1866 to 1966 and the athletics portion of the course, which focused primarily on athletics post-World War II.

“It really is a great example of how there’s always more than one side to the story. It’s never one thing or another — there’s so many different viewpoints, so many different factors,” he said.

Cohen conducted several interviews with notable Rutgers individuals for the course, including Lee Schneider and Robert E. Mulcahy, and said it was interesting to hear their perspectives on their relationship with Rutgers.

“It’s really interesting because you’re talking to people that are integral to these multimillion dollar performances that happen throughout the year and it’s almost kind of humanizing for some people,” Cohen said.

More than 100 students are currently registered for the class, and they have teaching assistants that will be there to help too, Bell said.

“Professor Clemens and I will be (available) all day — it’s not online as if you took it off some shelf,” Bell said. “This is live, we are here. And we are going to be very involved and I think it’s going to be a wonderful interactive class between the alums and the students.”

Bell said he thinks the course has a very interesting historical issue where students will find out what Rutgers is about, where it comes from, where it’s going and why.

Clemens believes it is important for students who plan to graduate from Rutgers to know more about where the school comes from.

“A typical student comes out of here and they want to think their degree from Rutgers University matters in some way, if it will help them both as a fully developed human being and as somebody who is an applicant for jobs and towards grad school or professional school,” he said.

Getting some background of how Rutgers has developed will give students self-confidence in being able to explain to other people how important it is that they went to Rutgers, he said. 

The course will be a tool for students who don’t know about the history of their institution, Cohen said.

“It’s so rich and almost uneven, there’s so much to it that it’s kind of intimidating," he said. "And I think that especially in terms of being Rutgers students and being Rutgers alums, it’s important to learn about the history of the institution that you’re at."

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