Francis L. Lawrence, 75, died April 16, 2013 at his home in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Lawrence served nearly 12 years as the 18th president of Rutgers. He came to Rutgers in October 1990 from Tulane University, New Orleans, where he was chief academic officer.
Lawrence served the university during a period of remarkable change. When he began his tenure, the internet was used primarily by scientists, rather than students, and the nation was poised for economic growth. When he left office in 2002, the internet was part of daily life and the nation was struggling following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Lawrence is credited with initiating development of Rutgers’ first universitywide, long-term strategic plan, “A New Vision for Excellence,” designed to elevate Rutgers into the ranks of the nation’s top research universities by defining strategic growth areas for the university. As part of the plan, he instituted a multiphased Reinvest in Rutgers program that strengthened academic priority on all campuses and a renewed a commitment to libraries, computer labs and multiculturalism, among other areas. He also introduced a program that allocated administrative cost savings as seed money for projects with potential to generate significant external funding.
“In many ways, President Lawrence was ahead of his time,” said University Professor and economist Joseph J. Seneca, who served as university vice president for academic affairs during much of Lawrence’s tenure. “Under his leadership, the academic quality of Rutgers grew significantly, the digitization of the university occurred, and the electronic library became a reality, and it remains a powerful research and learning resource for faculty and students who can access data and scholarly journals remotely.
“He understood the importance of building the institution’s identification, which has become key throughout American higher education,” Seneca continued. “Also, President Lawrence instituted merit pay, which was very controversial at the time, but the systematic evaluation of faculty and staff and basing pay on performance was necessary to improve effectiveness in times of scarce resources.”
From the strategic plan’s approval in 1995 until Lawrence stepped down as president, Rutgers added 25 undergraduate and 28 graduate degree programs. The university also established more than 45 new research centers and institutes, including the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies, the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs and the Center for State Health Policy.
“President Lawrence placed a strong focus on children and childhood and was very influential in establishing the Center for Children and Childhood Studies on the Camden Campus,” recalled University Professor of History Margaret Marsh. “It eventually led to Rutgers-Camden starting the nation’s first doctoral degree program in childhood studies, which also initiated Ph.D. programs on the Camden Campus.”
Under Lawrence’s guidance, the university embarked on a vigorous fundraising campaign. He spearheaded a reorganization of the Rutgers University Foundation, Rutgers’ fundraising arm, that resulted in an increase of nearly 500 percent in yearly giving to the university and launched a $500 million, six-year campaign that at the time was the most ambitious in Rutgers’ history.
In the realm of information technology, Lawrence guided resources to such areas as web-based learning and computerized “smart” classrooms. He was the catalyst behind RUNet 2000, a universitywide communications infrastructure project to support instruction, research and outreach programming. Approved in 1998, RUNet 2000 was the largest infrastructure project in the university’s history, bringing voice, video and data connections to hundreds of university buildings and helping transform Rutgers into a wired 21st-century teaching and learning community. It paved the way for RU-tv, the award-winning, student-run New Brunswick Campus television network.
Despite a decade-long trend in declining state aid for higher education, Rutgers also experienced a significant construction boom during Lawrence’s tenure as president. The Sonny Werblin Recreation Center gave the Busch Campus a first-class athletic facility in 1991.
The campus center at Rutgers-Camden was expanded to include a new bookstore and health center in 1993, and the campus libraries were expanded the following year. Rutgers-New Brunswick built a new football stadium in 1994, and a renovation and expansion of the Dana Library at Rutgers-Newark enabled the Institute of Jazz Studies to make its collection available to students and scholars.
In downtown New Brunswick, the Civic Square building, home to the Mason Gross School of the Arts and the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, opened in 1996. Three years later, Rutgers-Newark’s new Center for Law and Justice, housing the Rutgers School of Law-Newark and the School of Criminal Justice, was dedicated.
Lawrence also championed undergraduate education at the state’s flagship public research university and instituted an enrollment-management system that brought in record numbers of applications. Student body diversity became a hallmark of his tenure that continues: U.S. News & World Report has ranked Rutgers-Newark first in the country in the category “Ethnic Diversity” among national universities for 16 consecutive years.
“There always had been tension between the history and more modern culture of Rutgers, between its elitist white male tradition and its more contemporary tradition as a large public research university,” noted Clement A. Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History at Rutgers-Newark. “President Lawrence had to address this concern. I co-chaired a campaign to increase diversity here, and President Lawrence was personally committed to the campaign.
“He prepared Rutgers for a paradigm shift, when most of the freshman class was not white and the student body became very diverse, pluralistic, and the campus heterogeneous. He also opened opportunities for minorities to join the faculty and was the first president to prepare Rutgers to be of New Jersey, to connect Rutgers to the state’s citizens.”
Marsh, who became the university’s first female dean of arts and sciences in 1998 while serving at the Rutgers-Camden College of Arts and Sciences, added: “President Lawrence was committed to placing women in positions of leadership. I remember women deans in the Graduate School of Education, the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology and the School of Social Work.”
Lawrence established a network of Learning Resource Centers on all campuses to offer academic support services to students including tutoring, academic coaching, course-specific study groups, workshops and services for students with disabilities. Concurrently, he created Teaching Excellence Centers, where outstanding faculty shared their knowledge and experience with colleagues seeking to improve their instruction methods. He sought to correct a perceived imbalance between teaching and research and increased emphasis on instruction skills in faculty hiring, tenure and promotion.
A native of Woonsocket, R.I., Francis Leo Lawrence was born August 25, 1937. He received his bachelor’s degree in French and Spanish from Saint Louis University in 1959 and his doctorate in French Classical Literature from Tulane in 1962. He rose through Tulane’s academic and administrative ranks to full professor and chief academic officer – Provost and Dean of the Graduate School.
After stepping down as Rutgers’ president, Lawrence became a member of the faculty and also wrote a book, Leadership in Higher Education, based on interviews with a dozen university presidents. He retired from Rutgers in 2012.
Nationally, Lawrence served on the executive committees of both the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the American Council on Education. For the AAU, he chaired a report on Institutional Policies in Graduate Education, and for the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, he authored a report on Lifelong Learning.
Lawrence was a strong proponent of Rutgers athletics and during his tenure the university became a founding football member and later an all-sports participant in the Big East Conference. He served as conference chair and also as its representative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
In New Jersey, Lawrence served on numerous higher education advisory panels, including the New Jersey Presidents’ Council, which he helped found and was first to chair, and the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education. He was a member of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology and also the New Jersey-Israel Commission. A founding member of the Governor’s Statewide Systemic Initiative Policy Board, Lawrence also served on the Governor’s Executive Committee of the Business-Higher Education Forum.
Lawrence is survived by his wife of 54 years, Mary Kay; son Dr. Christopher Lawrence and daughters Dr. Naomi Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence and their spouses (daughter Elizabeth Lawrence is deceased); 13 grandchildren; and three sisters.
A memorial service will be held on Sunday, April 28, at 9:00 a.m. at Kirkpatrick Chapel on the College Avenue Campus in New Brunswick.
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