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U. faces backlash over decision to not renew Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor's contract

Rutgers—Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor will not have her term as chancellor extended by the University after it ends in June of next year despite public pressure and opposition to the decision.  – Photo by

On August 16, University President Jonathan Holloway informed the Rutgers community that Rutgers University—Newark's Chancellor Nancy Cantor's contract will not be renewed when it expires in June 2024.

Through a published letter, Holloway stated that Cantor, who has served as Rutgers—Newark's chancellor since January 2014, has made numerous contributions to the community since the start of her tenure.

In a statement to The Daily Targum, University spokesperson Dory Devlin said that once Cantor completes her term, she will take a paid one-year sabbatical and then will have the option to rejoin the University's faculty as a distinguished professor, a title that comes with a lifelong tenure.

Devlin said that Cantor's nonrenewal is a personnel matter and that discussing it further would not be appropriate. One day after the announcement by Holloway, Cantor released a statement to the Rutgers—Newark community.

In her statement, Cantor applauded those she worked with, touted the great strides made during her time as chancellor and discussed the future.

"I had hoped to remain here to continue advancing the expansive work we've done together over the past decade to build and strengthen civil and social infrastructure, but I am confident that the durable partnerships we've built are well positioned to grow and that our University and our community can continue to thrive," she said.

News of the announcement received prompt backlash from the Rutgers—Newark community and local politicians.

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka (D-N.J.) sent Holloway a letter protesting the decision. The letter was co-signed by New Jersey Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz (D-N.J.), Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León and other prominent leaders in Newark and New Jersey politics.

In the letter, signatories disagreed with Cantor's removal as chancellor, referencing her role in the hiring of 440 Newark residents and an increase of more than 60 percent in Newark residents' enrollment at Rutgers.

Holloway issued a brief response to the letter, saying that Cantor significantly contributed to the Newark community and that her successor will aim to live up to her accomplishments. Baraka's initial letter and Holloway's response both provided no reason for Cantor's nonrenewal.

"I recognize that she will be a very difficult act to follow, but the initiatives she has launched and championed, and her example of public engagement and partnership, will give the incoming chancellor a terrific model to guide their own leadership of Rutgers—Newark," he said.

Richard Florida, a Newark-born Rutgers alum who is currently a professor at the University of Toronto, said that in his 40 years of teaching, he has never seen a mayor vouch for the chancellor of a university, in reference to Baraka's letter.

Cantor has played a great role in the revival of Newark and showed the power a university can wield as an anchor institution, he said.

Florida said that by removing Cantor, the University has shown that it cares more about being a large research institution and sports school and less about the communities in which it is based.

"I think it tarnishes Rutgers' reputation as a place that's committed to its communities … It makes Rutgers look like it's once again turning its back on the communities in which it is situated," he said.

Furthermore, Florida added that Cantor should play an even larger role at Rutgers and that the University needs her perspective.

"Cantor will be seen as someone who has fundamentally shaped my hometown (and) fundamentally repositioned the University that I still love," he said.

Faculty at Rutgers Law School in Newark also wrote an open letter to Holloway. They attributed Cantor to many of the Law School's successes, including a 2015 merger of Newark and Camden's law schools that "retained its excellent faculty and recruited strong junior and senior faculty across both campuses," according to the four-page letter.

An official statement by the Newark chapter of Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) called on Holloway to "substantively explain his decision to end Nancy Cantor's tenure as Chancellor of Rutgers—Newark by Monday, August 21," and in the absence of "a satisfactory explanation, reinstate her as Chancellor."

Frank Edwards, an assistant professor in Rutgers—Newark's School of Criminal Justice, said Cantor has exceptionally transformed Rutgers–Newark's status in the city.

He said this contrasts with other universities, which are usually viewed by their surrounding communities as a malevolent force, bringing with them gentrification, excessive policing and isolating practices.

Edwards, who is also the vice president of the Newark chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, said Holloway's decision expresses disrespect for the Newark campus and prioritizes the interests of the New Brunswick campus, Holloway himself and the Rutgers Board of Governors.

Cantor's nonrenewal carries racial and economic implications as well, Edwards said, citing Newark and Camden's strong Black and immigrant communities.

"This isn't happening in a vacuum. This is happening in a context where President Holloway has already shown a lot of contempt for the faculty and for campus equity, especially. So, we are deeply suspicious of what this indicates," Edwards said.

Similarly, Audrey Truschke, a professor of South Asian history at Rutgers—Newark, said Cantor should continue as chancellor and Holloway should step down.

"Holloway should resign and move on to a university that shares his values more because it's not Rutgers," she said.

Truschke was also 1 of 24 senior faculty members at Rutgers—Newark who issued a letter to Holloway.

"It seems that we faculty and students of the Rutgers—Newark campus have been relegated to second-class status by this sudden removal of our chancellor without warning or explanation," the letter read.

More faculty members across both the University's New Brunswick and Newark campuses co-signed an op-ed penned by Truschke and her colleagues, professors Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd and Paul Boxer, published on titled, "Rutgers faculty: Removing the Newark chancellor is the final straw. President Holloway has to go."

Truschke said Holloway's letter is a deflective and inadequate response, adding that she doubts the University's claim that the reason for Cantor's nonrenewal cannot be disclosed.

"I have to imagine Holloway thought he would get away with this. And we'll see. Not if I have anything to say about it, that's for sure," Truschke said.

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