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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Rutgers Board of Governors disregards ethics

Candidate selection on the Rutgers Board of Governors presents potential conflict of interest

The Rutgers Board of Governors, which sometimes meets at Winants Hall on the College Avenue campus, recently chose one of its own to receive an honorary doctorate degree. – Photo by Zeete/ Wikimedia

For the past 20 years, I have taught ethics to Ph.D. and M.D. students, and I am always on the lookout for instructive cases to discuss in class. Our Board of Governors has helpfully provided a recent impressive example that I think is worth bringing to attention.

It has previously been reported that the Board selected one of their members to serve on the Rutgers—Camden Board of Governors, despite the fact that he represents a trifecta of clients having conflicts with Rutgers: Cooper Hospital in Camden, Camden developer George Norcross and the city of Camden. Thus the board has shown in the past that it is either unaware of or insensitive to the most elementary principles of ethics.

At the most recent Board meeting, our board doubled down on its readiness to engage in such conflicts by choosing one of its own to receive an honorary doctorate from Rutgers. Let us put aside the insult to our actual doctoral students who work intensively for five or more years to earn the title that the board provided for little more than ego. Let us also put aside the devaluation in the Rutgers doctorate for giving the degree away.

Beyond these very basic points, giving a Rutgers doctorate to a member of the Rutgers Board is a textbook example of a type of conflict of interest termed self-dealing.

The principal thing of value that Rutgers provides is its degrees. This is our work product, and this is what we charge tuition for. If a member of a bank were given a loan by the same bank or if a car dealership passed out cars to its own board members, we would, without hesitation, call this self-dealing.

So either the Board does not care about elementary ethics, or it is announcing that the thing it has given away — a Rutgers degree — is of no value. Either option is reprehensible as a member of a Board entrusted to oversee an educational institution.

The fact that the Board gave out this degree at precisely the time when striking employees were protesting unfair treatment outside of their meeting suggests, to me, at any rate, that they simply do not care — not about fairness, not about ethics and not about Rutgers.

Troy Shinbrot is a professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers University.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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