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Rutgers administrators, professors weigh in on Academic Master Plan in virtual town hall event

The Rutgers—New Brunswick Academic Master Plan is currently in its second stage of data collection, Rutgers administrators say. – Photo by Samantha Cheng

On Thursday, Rutgers—New Brunswick held a virtual town hall event to further discuss its previously announced Academic Master Plan (NB-AMP) for the next five years. 

Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway introduced the town hall and explained how the NB-AMP seeks to expand on University President Jonathan Holloway’s touchstones of academic excellence, institutional clarity and the establishment of a “beloved community” at Rutgers.

Saundra Tomlinson-Clark, vice provost of academic affairs, said the plan was the culmination of the efforts of three working groups tasked with collaborating on a variety of issues such as determining academic priorities, designing signature academic programs and carrying out innovative pedagogy and research. 

“Through the planning process, we will create a strategy that prioritizes academic excellence, fulfills our three-part, land-grant mission and prepares citizens who are civic-minded, intellectually curious and creative and successful,” she said. 

Tomlinson-Clark said that creating and carrying out the NB-AMP will be a year-long process with four stages which include pre-planning, data collection and stakeholder engagement, establishing plans for fulfilling academic priorities and operationalizing the plan. 

Wade Trappe, the associate dean of academic programs at the School of Engineering, said the pre-planning stage began early this summer and consisted of forming executive and steering committees composed of University leaders and faculty from across several departments who met throughout the summer and fall.

He said the NB-AMP is currently in its second stage of data collection, using information gathered from student surveys, focus groups, task forces and town halls to decide what issues to address. The plan will take into account input from faculty about their individual departments, outside data from sources and data gathered from other University initiatives.

Laura Lawson, interim executive dean of agriculture and natural resources, said one direct way the University will collect more data is through an online questionnaire that will be sent out to faculty, students and staff in early November seeking opinions on topics like interdisciplinary engagement, educational experience and supporting research. 

“The goal of the questionnaire is to really start from where we are,” she said. “Some of the questions and some of the things that have come up from our steering committees — posing them to you to find out what your priorities are.”

Lawson said that other opportunities for engagement in the NB-AMP will include three more town halls to answer questions and concerns as well as access to an online suggestion box soon to be open to Rutgers community members. 

The rest of the town hall consisted of a question-and-answer segment, in which a faculty panel fielded questions about the discussions they have been experiencing as members of the NB-AMP’s working groups and committees.

Terri Kurtzberg, a professor in the Department of Management and Global Business, said that students prioritize public engagement and seek work that not only benefits their career but also makes a positive social impact. She said that in order to properly serve this need for public engagement, the University needs to break down barriers between students, faculty and local communities, and let collaboration happen. 

Rebecca Cypess, associate dean for academic affairs at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, said that this emphasis on public engagement runs parallel with the growing importance of interdisciplinary work. She said that beyond Rutgers, organizational divisions between disciplines do not exist and interdisciplinary work is essential to community engagement. 

“Dealing with issues like health equity should come hand in hand with dealing with access to the arts or with access to a solid humanities foundation,” she said. “So integrating these disciplines is really a component of creating that beloved community.”

Alberto Cuitiño, a professor and department chair in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, discussed the need for institutional clarity, one of the touchstones set by Holloway. Better institutional clarity will help students have a clearer view of the opportunities that the University offers and take advantage of them, especially interdisciplinary work, he said. 

Sylvia Chan-Malik, an associate professor in the Department of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, said that institutional clarity also includes making part-time and visiting faculty and staff feel valued in the community. She said that by being more inclusive and welcoming to contingent faculty, Rutgers will foster a better sense of connection between community members and thus improve communication. 

Javier Robles, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health, said that only by valuing each and every person at Rutgers can difficult conversations about improving the University take place. 

“I think President Holloway has been quite clear about (that) beloved community is not puppies and rainbows, right?” he said. “It's being part of a community where you understand that you’re valued, but if that's really deep and true, then you're able to have really difficult conversations.”

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