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The New Rutgers?

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On July 1 Rutgers absorbed the majority of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) making Rutgers a 65,000 student University with a $3+ Billion budget. As an alum, I should be proud and happy. Rutgers will rank among the top 25 research Universities in the U.S. and in 2014 Rutgers will join the Big Ten conference in athletics, supposedly a financial bonanza for the University and an upgrade in athletic status. Can dear old Rutgers pull off the complex details of the UMDNJ acquisition flawlessly, or will Rutgers be crushed by the weight of its complexity. I am not a hater, but Rutgers has provided me little reason to think that good old mater won’t screw up what’s supposed to be its shining moment.

Is this just because they show themselves to be bereft of sound leadership at every turn? Defenders of the University will say that the well reported awful decision making of their athletic department and University leadership is but a small detail. Athletics are only 3% of the total budget, so a stubbed toe there makes little difference in the macro scheme of things. Perhaps this is so. But it shows me that decision making from the top is poor, and that ass covering, poor communication, finger pointing and lousy process are the skills Rutgers has perfected. If Rutgers can screw up the visible 3% of the budget, why should I believe that they will manage the other 97% flawlessly?

Rutgers is proud of their new Business School opening this fall on the Livingston campus, and it should be. I was a Business major at Rutgers many years ago. This is a major step ahead for the University. Perhaps those in the Business School can teach the University what ROI means as Rutgers deficit of their athletic department of $28Million topped all major conference schools. So what did we get for this $28Million deficit?–shame, poor performance and national ridicule. This makes me ashamed to be an alum. Furthermore, now that Rutgers is joining the Big Ten in 2014, its already bloated athletic budget of roughly $65Million will pale in comparison with many of the Big Ten big boys, so despite claims of holding spending stable there will no doubt there will be even more pressure to spend to compete. However, given its past decisions, Rutgers appears to spend money like drunken sailors. My 2 cents is that Rutgers should dramatically reduce its athletic budget, get its athletic asses kicked (as will happen in any case), but do so with dignity and plow the money into improved University infrastructure, lower student fees, anything other than athletic spending. Big 10 school Northwestern University doesn’t win any Rose Bowls and makes few NCAA tourney appearances, but it does so with a pristine academic reputation—one which Rutgers should emulate.

Here’s another, less visible, example of the University’s arrogance and lousy communication–RFP #2271–Marketing Campaign to Promote Understanding of the New Rutgers. This embarrassment won’t make SportsCenter, since the only crime was wasting the time and money of many marketing firms.

Here’s the background: Rutgers issued RFP #2271 to many marketing firms in April asking for detailed bids on how Rutgers should be marketed for the coming 3 years. This was to have been a multi-year, multi-Million dollar contract. Of course, the proposal was due in less than month with an immediate decision in May. So what happened? Marketing firms busted their hump with ideas. Hundreds  of uncompensated hours and thousands of dollars spent. Smart proposals were submitted. Then what?

Weeks of silence, and then a terse email to the bidders in early June stating:

Dear Bidder:

This letter is to inform you that there will be no award against this RFP # 2271- Marketing Campaign to Promote Understanding of the New Rutgers.

Lame. Pathetic. Arrogant. Procurement process at its worst. No communication of the decision making. No apologies. Waste the time of vendors? Sure, why not? They are just marketing firms. Who cares about those vendors anyhow? Rutgers should, but they couldn’t care less.

It’s another example of how the University operates. I was proud to be an alum. My years at Rutgers were wonderful years, but I am now ashamed of my alma mater. Rutgers operates with arrogance, poor decision making, and self-serving proclamations of its research status. I suggest some humility, better communication, and more transparent decision making would serve the University better.

Rutgers’ latest issue is a political one where NJ politicians are pressing to eliminate the 59 person Board of Trustees and operate solely with their 15-person Board of Governors. All I know is that a process that goes through NJ politicians will no doubt be laden with hidden agendas and inefficiency, much as our government has delivered to our state.

So at the most critical juncture in the University’s history, are we supposed to believe that the University will smoothly integrate one of the most complex mergers in academic history? Sorry if I don’t have confidence. What do you think?




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2 Comments

  1. RUTBAY says:

    How about this as an answer to your ramblings with respect to the non-response to the marketing firms. The proposals were terrible and determined not to be worth the investment as submitted. Based on your banner I am guessing this article is sour grapes. Possibly Rutgers is exercising the kind of judgment of which you claim they are bereft. In other words they are not going to waste money on the proposals they received. In my business this is a common occurence. The solicitor owes you no rationale other than “no thanks”.

    So far as the athletic budget, a resonable response to your simplistic solution would take too much time and based on what you’ve sritten here, it would be wasted. How about this? We cut all or most of the non-revenue sports since most of them are the reason for the deficit. I’m guessing you aren’t willing to go there since it is probably counter to your anti football/basketball bias.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks for your feedback. Obviously you don’t agree with me. That’s cool. I am happy for Strumings readers to see a different point of view. But consider this…

      1.I am not an athletics hater. I love Rutgers athletics and have gone to hundreds of basketball and football games over the years. Still do. I am thrilled when they win, disappointed when they lose.Obviously I’ve seen plenty of losses, but have always been proud of effort. I have gone to away as well as home games. I am never embarrassed when they lose (OK 80-7 loss to WVU was a little much to take). But now I am embarrassed and ashamed of RU. I do not like my alma mater being the butt of jokes, and assuming you care about Rutgers as well, neither should you. But we brought the shame on ourselves. And how is it that our athletic department deficit leads major colleges? How does that work?

      2. Regarding the marketing RFP, here’s some deeper background. Rutgers sent that RFP to 50 firms, and obviously given the tremendous work in replying not everyone replied. I do know many terrific firms that did respond. All top firms with national clients far more impressive than Rutgers, So please, “responses were terrible” was not the case. Here’s what Rutgers didn’t tell the respondents in the procurement correspondence. The University strategic plan was delayed and they chose not to tell the responding firms.Not cool, They could have suspended the process before having firms jump through hoops and spend countless hours and thousands of dollars. A simple “no thanks, no award” does not work when you ask professional firms for original thoughts not merely credentials. That has nothing to do with which firm won or lost. In this case the biggest loser is Rutgers. What interest do the best professionals have in being misled and disrespected? Not much.

      3. Rutgers is appropriately being hammered today by announcing its tuition increase of 3.3%. How is it that Rutgers tuition always increases at a rate faster than Cost of Living? Did you notice that Rowan University, a NJ university which is improving annually, froze their tuition this year–no increase. Not RU. Guess RU has former employees to pay–part of that strong athletic ROI.

      Things are not right at Rutgers and if I am overly critical it’s because their arrogance and self serving bs has been too much to bear. And at this moment the absorption of one of the biggest mergers in academic history is happening. Sorry if I don’t think they have the “right stuff” to pull it off.

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