By Brian Harris
For the new Rutgers-Newark chancellor Nancy Cantor one role amongst many is how to get the story and brand of Rutgers-Newark out to not only the city of Newark but the metro region and the country at-large.
“I know it may seem silly [the rebranding as Rutgers University-Newark], but that was one of the first things I said when I came, was that I went to [Rutgers University] President [Robert] Barchi and said, ‘You know, I really think that we should be called Rutgers University-Newark,’” Chancellor Cantor said in an interview with The Observer on March 13.
“We are a full university. We’re within a system but we’re a full university and we should think of ourselves that way,” Cantor added, continuing, “The part that I always cringe at is when people just refer to us as a ‘campus.’ I get that ‘campus’ is a location but we’re more than that.”
The way that Cantor and her office are tackling this major issue is through a strategic planning process, which will enable the administration to find out where to strengthen its efforts in regards to how to better the university’s relationship with not only the outside community but also within its own walls. One of these ways to help the overall strategic planning processes was the establishing of mini-strategic vision sessions known as charette groups, which are akin to mini focus groups in which groups of a dozen or so staff, faculty as well as student leaders met every week for a month in order to discuss topics of importance to the growth and future of RU-N.
In addition to using the charette groups are a way to further the strategic planning process, Cantor sees them as a way to strengthen the bond between the different “silos” or schools and departments on campus.
“One of the pervasive pieces I think of our strategic vision in going forward is how to create bonds, exactly as you said, across ‘silos’ so first one can think about doing that within the university so one of the things I think is tremendously important is to think about students and faculty and staff having interactions in just the way those groups were constituted and the charette groups, that we aren’t these separable sort of constituencies,” Cantor said.
The other main thing that helps Cantor gather information for the strategic planning process about the perception of the university was by conducting a listening tour, in which Cantor and other RU-N administration would hold public forums in which the campus community would speak about topics and concerns that they felt were important in the future of Rutgers University-Newark.
“I wanted to really come and listen and make sure that I had a sense of what students and faculty and staff thought of as the essence of their experience here, you know both good and bad. The charettes were meant to be a little more structured version of dialogue and discussion where the listening tours were much more free form,” Cantor said.
Through both the listening tours as well as the charettes, Cantor has learned that what makes Rutgers University-Newark stand out is Rutgers University-Newark itself.
“[What] came out in the listening tours very clearly is that we need to tell our story because we have extraordinary scholarship going on here. We have faculty who are very devoted to their students and their stories. We have amazing creative energy in our student body and I think we need to really get that story out,” Cantor said.
“You know, storytelling is a funny thing,” Cantor continued, “it creates opportunities, so we will create not only reputation but we’ll create investments in the institution when more people realize what’s happening here, who are we educating, what kind of work are we doing, how we’re committed to the city of Newark.”
“Those are things that people are very interested in and so I think one of the first things we need to do and this will take a while is really to leverage our story. I think we have individual programs that are extraordinary and that get high rankings and that kind of stuff but I’m less obsessed with that than with really our impact and the story we have to tell,” Cantor said.
It’s not just the story of Rutgers-Newark itself that Cantor feels is important in telling but also the story of Newark itself and how it has played and continues to play a role in the university’s history.
“I’ve always said if cities like Newark don’t thrive, this country isn’t going to thrive and this is an urban, diverse, anchor institution in a metropolitan area that really matters,” Cantor said.
“Clem Price (Dr. Clement A. Price, Rutgers Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History,) talks about how all roads lead to Newark and that’s sort of how metaphorically I view it,” Cantor continued, “I’ve known Clem for many years and we’ve had many conversations about the opportunity here to really show the world how an university can be both an engine of opportunity for individual students and a place of great scholarship that cares about the challenges of the world and care about K-12, really care about community health and strength and safety and arts and culture.”
It’s through the telling of the intertwining stories of influence and success that make up Rutgers University-Newark that Cantor uses to help boost not only the university’s standing and growth in not only just campus, but in the rest of the state and the country. Its through that sort of growth that pride in being a part of the Rutgers University-Newark family will continue to flourish along with the university itself.
“We [Rutgers University-Newark] are a great place and we shouldn’t care so much about the other one and you know one of the other interesting things is that I’m hearing a lot in the listening tour, is students, a lot of times, students will say, ‘You know, I wasn’t sure I would’ve wanted to go to New Brunswick. I’m really glad I’m here’,” Cantor said, “We need people to know that.”