Since my arrival on campus, members of the Rutgers community have been eager to share with me their ideas for how to improve this great institution. In describing work in their respective fields, faculty have detailed proposals for expanding interdisciplinary programs to advance research across related—and, more interestingly, hitherto unrelated—fields. Students have spoken passionately about the plight of undocumented immigrants seeking higher education. Staff have offered suggestions for improving the services that support our faculty and our students. And, of course, everyone has complained to me about the university’s infrastructure. After touring our outdated classrooms and laboratories, reviewing architectural drawings that have been collecting dust because vital projects lack funding for construction, and learning that the State of New Jersey has not provided capital allocations for higher education in nearly a quarter-century, I can understand why.
Fortunately, through the leadership of our governor and our legislature, a $750 million bond act for higher-education construction was placed on the ballot last November, and it passed with a remarkable 62 percent of the vote—a clear indication that, despite the state of our overall economy, New Jersey residents understand the need to improve the condition of our campuses. Together with available funding from other state resources, a total package of more than $1.3 billion can be allocated to capital improvements.
Altogether, Rutgers qualified for nearly $400 million in state funding assistance for sorely needed, “shovel-ready” capital projects on all of our campuses, including those from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which will become part of Rutgers on July 1, 2013. At Rutgers–Newark, this means we can begin the second phase of the Life Sciences Center and replace facilities that are over 40 years old. We will also be able to construct a molecular imaging facility for areas that are conducting cutting-edge brain research, establish a nanomaterials characterization facility, and create a mix of academic spaces and graduate-student residences.
In Camden, the university will construct for the recently established School of Nursing a 120,000-square-foot facility, featuring patient simulation labs and other advanced technology to best serve our nursing students. The funding will also support vitally needed information technology upgrades and the renovation of a historic building on Cooper Street for the Rutgers–Camden Writers House.
At Rutgers–New Brunswick, we will give the Department of Chemistry—which attracts more federal funding than any other university chemistry department in the nation—the facility it has needed for decades. We will also build a 80,000-square-foot building for the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health, which will house research on obesity, one of New Jersey’s and the nation’s most pressing health crises. And, with the construction of a 2,700-seat academic facility, we will give the College Avenue Campus its first new classroom building since the 1960s.
To say these projects are long overdue would grossly understate the need—here at Rutgers and across New Jersey’s college campuses—for state investment in capital building projects. Yet, they are only the beginning. The bond act is vitally important, but it is only a one-time capital infusion. For our state’s colleges and universities to meet the academic needs of our growing student population and to stem the state’s “brain drain”—the outmigration of tens of thousands of talented high school graduates each year—we must provide stronger support for our system of higher education. New Jersey families deserve it, and, working alongside the many dedicated members of the Rutgers community, I am going to do everything I can to ensure they get it.
— Robert L. Barchi