Shut up, Steve Politi

In early December, ARR received a transcript of a conversation between two Rutgers alumni concerning a column by Steven Politi, a reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger. To preserve privacy, we've replaced the names of the two alumni with initials only.

RS: Did you see that Star Ledger column about how Rutgers needs to improve?

KE: No, but it's great to hear somebody's finally speaking out. The whole world knows Rutgers is in desperate shape, but nobody dares to talk about it. What did he concentrate on, the slum campus?

RS: What do you mean by the slum campus?

KE: The litter-strewn sidewalks, the dilapidated classrooms, the cheapjack construction of the dorms and buildings like Scott Hall, the smelly toilets with doors that won't shut properly, the graffiti-covered desks and tables, the huge ugly Walmart-type parking lots where college buildings ought to be, the noisy automobile traffic right through the middle of campus, all of it

RS: Actually, Politi doesn't talk about that.

KE: But how could anybody writing about Rutgers not talk about it? The slum campus is a huge problem. I've heard parents of top high school students tell me that their sons and daughters visit Rutgers, take one look at the campus, and say they'd never think of going to school there.

RS: Well, Politi might have been talking to people in the administration. President McGormless and Dean Greenbean claim that Rutgers doesn't have money for campus renovation. They say the school is dead broke. They say they can't do anything if the campus is depressing and horrible and makes students feel like they're going to school in a slum.

KE: Well, you can understand that. If there's no money, there's no money.

RE: That's what I thought, too. But a lot of people are pointing out that there is money. Tens of millions of dollars. The problem is that it's going for athletics, not to do anything about the slum campus problem, or to build new classrooms, or to cut down on class sizes.

KE: You're kidding.

RE: I'm not. Take a look at this:

 Total Rutgers Athletics Budget, 2008-2009:

$58,513,863.00

Direct University Support:

$17,917,867.00

Student Fees:

$7,794,629.00

Direct State/Govt Support:

$20,054.00

TOTAL SUBSIDY:

$25,732,55.00

KE: My goodness. Maybe that explains why so many Rutgers alumni are disgusted with their school these days.

RS: I've noticed that. You too?

KE: It's all I hear from my classmates. Haven't you heard alumni saying they don't want to be associated with Rutgers anymore? Here's an e-mail a member of my class just forwarded to me:

 

 Dear Classmates,

I recently came across a book published by the Princeton Review, "The Best 373 Colleges" (2011 edition). It rates all 373 in the obvious categories and a few you might not think of, and is based on feedback from 122,000 current students and interviews college admissions people.

Because our classmates continue to comment on the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the current RU administration, I thought they might ber interested in some observations by people currently experiencing college life as compared to the way we did 55 years ago.

* In a section entitled "Great Schools for 15 of the Most Popular Undergraduate Majors" (Accounting, Biology, Business/Finance, Communications, Computer Science, Criminology, Education, Engineering, English, Literature and Languages, History, Journalism, Marketing, Political Science, Psychology) the top 20-50 schools were listed in each category. Rutgers was not mentioned anywhere. (Whatever happened to Selman Waksman?)

* Another section presents 62 "Top 20" rankings in eight different categories: Academics/Adminiostration, Quality of Life, Politics and Demographics, Town Life, Extracurriculars, and Social Scene. In each section schools were ranked in the "Best" and "Worst" divisions. Rutgers got no mentions in any of the "Best" divisions, but did score at #9 in "Professors get low marks," #2 in "Least Accessible Professors," #11 in "Class Discussions Rare," and #3 ini "Financial Aid Not so Great." That's 4 out of 62 possible dimensions - all negative!

Overall, on a 100 point scale, Rutgers scored 63 for Quality of Life, 66 for Academics, 87 for Admissions policies -- we let 'em in, then they're on their own -- and 73 for financial aid.

Rutgers faces many challenges if it ever means to regain the stature it had in American higher education when we were undergraduates.

RS: That does sound desperate. Nobody who went to Rutgers in our day would have rated their professors as inaccessible. Do you remember when Mason Gross was president? He taught an undergraduate philosophy course every semester.

KE: Remember? I took one of those courses. President Gross used to keep "important" visitors waiting when he was holding office hours, discussing Spinoza or Plato or Hegel with his students. The rest of the faculty taught in the same spirit. I wonder why students today think the faculty is inaccessible.

RS: I found out why. My neighbor works at the university. She says the faculty are as good as anywhere in the United States. Everybody knows, for instance, that the Rutgers philosophy department is ranked way ahead of Harvard and Yale and Columbia.

KE: Why isn't that getting across to the students? Those Princeton Review ratings must have some basis.

RS: They do. I showed my neighbor Rutgers' terrible ratings for "inaccessibility." She says that it's because Rutgers is so demoralized that faculty can't wait to get away from the place at the end of the day. There's no sense of intellectual community on campus. There's no real Dean of Admissions. There's no admissions staff to look at invididual applicants the way good universities do. She tells me students say that getting into Rutgers is like applying for a driver's license. It's worse than that. The athletics emphasis has attracted a lot of students who say they "hate school" and just "want to party." There's rampant cheating on campus. Students brag about getting away with it. You can see why professors want to get away at the end of the day. It sounds like faculty hell.

KE: Does Politi write about any of this?

RS: No. He has a different angle on Rutgers.

KE: How can you have a different angle? The Star Ledger is a New Jersey paper. If you're worried about New Jersey kids who'd benefit if Rutgers were a first-rate university, you'd have to be worried about the slum campus, the low admissons standards, the alienated faculty, the whole notion that a once-great university has become a glorified high school. If Politi doesn't write about that, what the hell does he write about?

RS: The football team.

KE: You mean Schiano's football franchise over in Piscataway?

RS: Yes.

KE: But that has nothing to do with Rutgers. Why would someone writing about higher education in New Jersey write about a semi-pro football franchise?

RS: Politi doesn't exactly write about higher education.

KE: Then what could he possibly mean by "improving" Rutgers?

RS: That the football team should fire its offensive coordinators.

KE: You mean that when Rutgers is in a desperate state of institutional decline, this person is talking about assistant football coaches?

RS: Well, not only that. He says that Schiano should change his slogan.

KE: What slogan?

RS: Politi gives it as Keep choppin'.

KE: What's that supposed to mean?

RS: I'm don't really know. But Politi argues it should be changed to Start Changin'.

KE: I'm not following. Does this Politi person know anything about higher education? About admissions standards? About academic stature in areas like philosophy and history and Greek and molecular biology? About the importance of giving undergraduates a sense of intellectual community? About the way a slum campus tells undergraduates that the institution thinks they're trash?

RS: I don't think so. He's a sportswriter.

KE: So what? Sportswriters don't care about the reasons students go to university?

RS: Actually, they may not even know there is a university involved. In Professor Dowling's Confessions of a Spoilsport he shows that that they live in a bubble totally closed off from anything but "more pass defense" and "offensive coordinators" and "start changin'." Look at the chapter called "Sportswriters in Wonderland."

KE: So why even mention this guy Politi to me?

RS: Because I was hoping we might get alumni to persuade him to stop talking about "improving Rutgers" when he means changing Schiano's football franchise.

KE: So what should Politi write about? The Piscataway Knights?

RS: I don't think anybody cares. The point is to get him to leave Rutgers alone. The university has enough problems without people who make their living writing about about "offensive coordinators" trying to tell it how to "improve" by changing one moronic slogan to a different one.