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Rutgers can’t afford to lose momentum from huge 2012

When New Jersey looks back on 2012 in a few years, it’s not unthinkable that it could be remembered as the Year of Rutgers.The latest victory comes on the football field, with the announcement that it will go from a big fish in the increasingly smaller and dried-up pond that is the Big East to swimming with sharks like Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan in the Big Ten. Its on-field record may take a pounding, especially early on, but it will get more national exposure and boatloads more money to boot.
But that’s really just the icing on the cake that started in the summer, when the Legislature passed a bill — the result of a process that, like the football team, had been years in the making — to realign the higher education landscape, finally giving the university a medical school.
And shortly afterward, Dr. Robert Barchi was named president, and his embrace of the restructuring effort has been a welcome change from the school’s earlier position, where it resisted broader efforts to give up assets in South Jersey. Barchi has also made it clear that he wants business and academia to hold hands going forward, with an emphasis on public-private partnerships. Finally, of course, there was the successful higher education bond issue that will steer an outsized portion of the borrowed $750 million into Rutgers for academic building projects.
Any two of those things together is a very good year. All of them on one calendar page is herculean. What’s critical now is that the momentum not be lost. New Jersey has a very real chance to tie its identity to its university in a way that it’s never been able to do, whether it be due to bungled leadership, poor vision or apathy from residents, who don’t take the kind of pride in Rutgers that seems to come second nature in places like Michigan or Ohio. Of course, none of that is second nature; it’s the result of carefully cultivating relationships between the school and local communities and businesses. For the first time, Rutgers is in position to capitalize on this. Hopefully, it’s the start of something big on the banks of the old Raritan.

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