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Exclusive interview: Holloway speaks to Targum about state of affairs at U.

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Last month, University President Jonathan Holloway spoke with The Daily Targum about his experiences as University President and the current condition of Rutgers. – Photo by

Members of The Daily Targum's news desk recently sat down with University President Jonathan Holloway to discuss various topics related to his role and the welfare of Rutgers as a whole.

Holloway explained that during any given week, his job entails a multitude of tasks both within and outside the school.

The day-to-day administrative labor that goes into overseeing the University is delegated to the chancellors of the respective regional Newark, New Brunswick and Camden campuses.

"This is what I was hired to do: to be externally facing, hit the road and try to raise Rutgers' flag ever higher," he said.

While Holloway is a frontal facet of the University, he said he enjoys interacting with the student body inside the campus any way that he can. He said his office is somewhat isolated from students, but he tries to converse with undergraduates as much as possible.

Additionally, he said that approximately six times a year, he visits different dining halls during the school year and hosts student organization leaders at his home with his wife called "salons." Last year, he also taught a Byrne Seminar and will lead a larger seminar titled Citizenship, Institutions and the Public this semester.

For students looking to interact with him beyond these interactions, he said he can be contacted through either the Rutgers University Student Assembly or by his office's email. While he does not access the inbox, three other individuals manage and direct students' inquiries to the top of his inbox, Holloway said.

Another primary task Holloway took on in assuming the University president's office included navigating unprecedented events such as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) and the faculty labor strike last semester.

During last semester's historic strike, he said there were moments when he faced heavy criticism and even needed a 24/7 security detail for two weeks.

Holloway said he created the Office of University Labor Relations to acknowledge the large number of faculty and staff representing Rutgers' 20 total unions and to centralize labor-related communications. He said Rutgers is one of the most unionized Universities in the country.

Holloway said his role during last semester's negotiations was to "keep at an arm's length" and allow the hired lawyers to regularly communicate with the various labor unions. He said he routinely asked for updates from the office to stay informed about ongoing negotiations.

Holloway also mentioned the state mediators that were present at negotiations when the striking unions and University representatives met at the state's capitol building.

Holloway was announced as University president in January 2020 and later took office in July of that year. He said the first COVID-19 case in the U.S. was discovered in Seattle during the same week he was announced.

Holloway said that while helping the University through this time was rewarding, it was also difficult navigating protocols and mandates and making unfavorable decisions — those of which occurred frequently during his first months in office.

He said the pandemic is still affecting Rutgers' finances, similar to universities nationwide. Holloway said the University does have a plan of action to reduce its current budget deficit, and they are working toward becoming profitable.

"I was named (University president) a week before COVID became a phenomenon in the U.S., and I watched (Rutgers go from) being (approximately) $60 million in the black by the end of the fiscal year to being (more than) a quarter billion in the red," Holloway said. "Not because we did anything wrong, but because COVID just devastated the University financially speaking, and did this across the country."

He said recovering from the pandemic and revitalizing confidence in higher education are two main issues he has viewed during his presidency.

"We're at a moment where faith in higher education as an institution has been plummeting over the last handful of years, and the numbers are stark," Holloway said. "We are in a challenging moment, as far as the way people approach the belief that higher education is worth it, frankly. I obviously think it is. Every university president does, but we're also right."

He said that taking a seemingly high-paying trade job may look appealing for a teenager exiting high school, but he thinks that in the long term, attending college is actually the better option.

"The investment you're making in college now, which is expensive, starts to pay off. And the facts are indisputable, frankly, that higher (education) is a long-term investment with a long-term payoff," he said. "The financial reality of being college educated means much more stable job prospects, better job prospects (and) better income opportunity."

Alongside representing the University, Holloway said a third central responsibility associated with his role falls under financing, such as raising capital and lobbying for increased funding to support financial aid initiatives on campus.

One of the recent adjustments to the University's capital includes the tuition hike that was announced in July, as previously reported by the Targum.

When asked whether the recent tuition hike had any relation to the faculty labor strike, Holloway said the decision was tied to the University's financial expenditures, not ideology.

He said the University, which is dependent on tuition funds, has historically kept the cost of attending Rutgers under the inflation rate. This practice has resulted in a loss of revenue that now needs to be rectified, he said.

"(The tuition hike) is not meant to be punitive, I promise you," Holloway said. "For most students, the percentage can sound outrageous when you get down to the actual dollar amount. (But) It's manageable. (I'm) not saying it's easy, but it's manageable."

Money from tuition can be allocated to various areas of the University's budget, such as salaries for University staff and to help cover any increases in food prices for meals covered by University meal plans.

A portion of these incoming funds will help the University ensure that students from lower-income backgrounds can still attend the University through the Scarlet Guarantee program, he said.

The Scarlet Guarantee was one of many forms of financial aid Holloway referred to. As part of his responsibilities pertaining to financial assistance, he said he and members of the Rutgers Advocacy Corps championed an increase in Pell Grant funding. His administration also works to reevaluate how funding is obtained every year to meet financial needs on campus.

Holloway commented on a change to financial aid programs on the New Brunswick campus, which now allows students who have a scholarship through one school to take their aid package with them if they transfer to another.

For example, if a student in the New Brunswick School of Arts and Sciences on a scholarship opted to transfer to Rutgers Business School, they could also transfer their scholarship. This process, though, is not allowed for transfers between New Brunswick, Newark and Camden.

"Toward the end of my first year, I found out about the fact that money did not move with students if they change schools, and I was like, 'Why?'" he said. "Within New Brunswick, we are a community, and frankly, (we) just needed somebody to ask (that) question."

On the topic of the three campuses, Holloway said this portion of his role can be challenging because Newark, Camden and New Brunswick differ by the culture of the area they are located in and their general environment.

Cultural differences between the three campuses shape campus politics, Holloway said. New Brunswick, for example, is a large, research-oriented campus, while Camden is smaller and more intimate.

Holloway said Newark falls in between the two regarding interactions. The Newark community especially focuses on being an anchor institute, which is otherwise defined as a generational community hallmark by the University.

"While each of our campuses are very anchor-oriented institutions, Newark has made it their brand in a whole different kind of way," Holloway said. "It's really trying to dig down deeply into the corporate community, the political community, the student and the potential student population that's in the city of Newark, and that's really critical to who they are. And so it's really a matter of understanding those differences and being respectful of them."

Holloway said keeping track of University alumni is challenging due to the extensive alumni network. His and the University's goal is to maintain a network of contact information for alumni so the school can keep in touch with them after graduation.

A year ago, the University had the contact information of a little less than a quarter of the approximately 600,000 alumni, Holloway said. Using various methods such as purchasing online data, today, the University can now contact approximately 450,000 alumni, he said.

"We didn't know how to reach them. So now we have greater capacity. Now we're going to push information out more and more," Holloway said.

He also said that this initiative is not only about seeking donations from alumni but also about finding alumni willing to hire interns or future graduates from Rutgers.

Holloway also addressed criticism of the Rutgers Athletics Department's spending by claiming that the department takes up only 2.7 percent of the school's budget. He also suggested that when high-profile sports teams succeed, interest and applications to the University increase.

Holloway mentioned that the Rutgers scientist who created the COVID-19 saliva test got less news coverage for the University than the men's basketball team during an 11-game winning streak.

"No other thing that's going well brings people together at scale than athletics does … (that's) an investment that we make, and hopefully that pays off," he said.

Alongside describing the criticism surrounding athletics and the faculty labor strike last semester, Holloway also spoke about the challenges he faces in leadership as an introvert.

The first challenge arising from his introversion he discussed was managing the public nature of his role. He said he does so by approaching his public tasks as performance.

The other challenge Holloway discussed was being able to move from topic to topic in a short period of time. He said that he had to learn how to recalibrate between tasks due to his numerous responsibilities, a skill that he has developed with practice.

"It's just that through practice, you just know what you have to do. And then you find your quiet," he said.

Holloway said his University presidential term has been tasked differently than his predecessor, former University President Robert L. Barchi. He said Barchi was a doctor of medicine, and a focal point from his term was creating Rutgers Health, formerly Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

"I was given a different task. To be the chief lobbyist for the University in a new kind of way — engaging the governor and the legislature, reaching out to our alumni network, which we (have) under-tapped, frankly, for a very long time and being very present on campus to the extent that I can," he said. "And really, being the University's cheerleader, and I mean that with great seriousness."

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