Deferred Maintenance Crisis

March 31, 2008

The disrepair of the Rutgers campus is starkly visible to anybody who bothers to take a 10 minute stroll down College Avenue — but the Record newspaper has wrapped enormously disquieting numbers around the breadth and extent of the deferred maintenance that has turned Rutgers into a slum. About a half-billion dollars would be needed to set Rutgers’ infrastructure right, says the Record: “It is estimated that nearly a billion dollars in maintenance needs to be done at public colleges and universities statewide. About half of that is at Rutgers University, where there are 650 buildings, some dating to the 1700s, at the flagship campus in New Brunswick-Piscataway.”

Buildings literally are rotting before our eyes, as Rutgers confronts the perilous conjunction of dwindling state support and an aging physical plant. Decay and deterioration are the inevitable by-products and there is no easy fix for the state’s broken economics.

Under these circumstances, pursuing a $100+ million football stadium expansion — with unproven fan support and no clear way to re-pay the construction bonds — seems rather like taking out a loan to add a backyard swimming pool when the house is heading into foreclosure. That might make sense in the Three Stooges economics of McCormick, Mulcahy and Schiano, but in the real world of a crumbling New Jersey economy, the stadium expansion can only be viewed as wrongheaded prioritizing on a Caliguan scale.

What part of stop wasting money on a reckless and futile pursuit of big-time sports don’t the university’s leaders in Old Queens understand?


Rueing LaRue

March 29, 2008

Friday’s post about onetime Corzine top aide Jeannine LaRue turned Rutgers vice president — with a delicious six-figure salary increase — caused at least one reader to spit on his keyboard. Wrote CreateNJ — from a Rutgers computer, incidentally: “How tacky…you put up the cartoon but talk about the tons of folks who wrote in refuting the cartoon and the fact that LaRue herself wrote a response which almost everybody…including folks who started the conversation…applauded her. I’m not a minority…but this is the most racist thing you guys have done…tacky….Btw…she is at Rutgers…has made her rounds with faculty, administrators, and deans…and is really rising to the challenge.”

Whoa, let’s have some applause. LaRue went on the payroll months ago and “she has made her rounds.” Some progress.

Frankly, we are clueless about what CreateNJ is trying to say in run-on thought after run-on thought. Probably all this inchoate mumbling was written in a moment of anger (tip: count to 10 before hitting “send,” it reduces embarrassment).

But we decided to review our thinking on LaRue — despite the Press of Atlantic City editorial denouncing her appointment.

And despite the op-ed written by onetime Rutgers board of trustees chairman Arthur Kamin who said, “one thing the state’s flagship teaching and research institution of higher education does not need is another lobbyist who was just hired at an unnecessary $250,000 annual salary.”

LaRue is lucky we are not the ones who grade her job performance. That’s because, in her first real test — the governor’s recent budget — she clearly came up short, at least in terms of persuading her presumed pal, Gov. Corzine. The Rutgers budget was cut 11.6%, whereas the across the board average cut for public higher education institutions was 10%

Rutgers fared worse than its public peers, despite LaRue’s past connections to Corzine.

As the Home News & Tribune wrote in an editorial, “the spending plan would be particularly hard on Rutgers University….All told, direct aid to Rutgers would plummet from $328.6 million in fiscal year 2008 to $290.6 million in fiscal year 2009, and that is a world of hurt.”

Of course it is unfair to put all this burden on LaRue — but right there is where her particular pedal should be hitting the metal. A highly paid Rutgers lobbyist ought to be getting the Rutgers case across in Trenton and, apparently, there is some static in her communications.

It’s not just us with questions about Ms. LaRue. As a Gannett newspaper reporter wrote, “Some have questioned some Rutgers appointments and lucrative salaries like that of Jeannine LaRue, who was hired as vice president of public affairs at a base salary of $250,000.”

We guess anytime a question is raised about how Rutgers spends its money, that must per se be “tacky” and “racist,” at least in the view of CreateNJ, writing on a Rutgers computer.

Incidentally, in a self-justifying wee note circulated by LaRue after her appointment triggered a flap, she noted, ” a friend of mine, CreateNJ”….

At least they have each other.

Indeed they do because who at is LaRue’s chief defender? You guessed it, CreateNJ.

She needs her defenders there, too. Noted Nbrefugee: “McCormick needs another useless employee as much as the average person needs herpes.”

But, curiously enough, we think we agree with CreateNJ about one thing. In a post that radiated frustration about all the anti-LaRue posts, CreateNJ wrote this: “Looking at the $1M investment for six years in a row to turn around the football team’s image as opposed to comments being made here about the University’s image at large, maybe they should have offered LaRue $1.2M instead of the measley $250K.” We think that is an attack on the continued waste of money on RU’s stumbling football presence (we admit to still not quite deciphering CreateNJ’s prose) — and, if so, bravo, CreateNJ. We are glad to agree with you about one thing.

Jeannine LaRue may be a waste of money…but we’ll take her in a heart-beat if we can shut down the ludicrous gusher of cash that props up Mulcahy’s follies. Write again, from that Rutgers computer, if you can offer us that deal.

The Case of the Vanishing Stadium Financing

March 28, 2008

Let’s face it: raising upwards of $100+ million to build a Rutgers Stadium expansion was far-fetched and fanciful in the first instance. The team is mediocre, the coach has a lifetime losing record, and the Athletic Director might charitably be described as a Trenton careerist (which is polite phrasing for a lot of profanities). The one member of the board of governors with experience with large capital projects for sports venues openly mocked the cockamamie stadium plan — and pointed out that the contractor chosen to do the work had no experience building stadiums and, furthermore, there is no cap on construction costs which surely will spiral.

That is prologue, today’s news is that — in the midst of a worsening national recession that is beginning to hit very hard in the tri-state market — even the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are running into big difficulties raising financing to finish a stadium construction project. As noted in the New York Post: “the credit freeze is stalling and threatening new stadiums and arenas that fans are eagerly awaiting.”

Hello Piscataway, show us the green.

If even the country’s best football programs — with armies of dedicated season-ticket holders — are finding financing difficult to score, whoever would think that a bottomfeeder Big East program with gossamer fan support will find credit markets more hospitable.

Note: there is no word on progress raising the $30 million donation needed to move the Rutgers Stadium expansion project forward (probably because there is no progress) and there is no sign the $70+ million in bonds are heading to market, probably because they aren’t.

It’s time to write RIP on this flatulent idea. Then again, watching Mulcahy, McCormick, Schiano passing the cup in an environment turned stingy — and with fans increasingly fed up with the mediocrity that is Rutgers football — just might be comedy on the order of the Three Stooges.

Friday Funnies

March 28, 2008

Thank cartoonist Rob Tornoe for this Friday Funny

A little explanation might help elucidate the image. The woman in the sketch is Jeannine LaRue, onetime deputy chief of staff to Governor Corzine and now vice-president for public affairs for Rutgers. The appointment — wherein LaRue almost doubled her salary to $250,000 annually — was announced in December and was widely viewed as a quid pro quo for Corzine’s continued support for the reckless and cockamamie Rutgers Stadium expansion plan. Thus the text in the cartoon by Tornoe, the award-winning editorial cartoonist for The Press of Atlantic City; “Corzine’s check” refers to the $1 million contribution promised by the Governor.

Of course Rutgers president Dick McCormick has frequently — vociferously — denied that the state university is just another public trough where Trenton insiders swill. But, then again, he has never explained how he can reconcile that lofty statement of principle with the presence on the Rutgers-Camden payroll of NJ state senator Wayne Bryant, since indicted by the federal government for corruption and fraud.

Or with the presence on the payroll of Ms. LaRue, who assumed a post that had been vacant since 1997. As the Press of Atlantic City said in an editorial, “it’s hard to convince parents and students that state funding cuts may translate into higher tuitions when Rutgers University still has the money to hire people like Jeannine F. LaRue…to a $250,000-a-year lobbying job….Fact is, until Rutgers gets rid of this expensive political job – and pares down the rest of its stable of high-priced lobbyists and schmoozers – it shouldn’t raise tuition a dime.”

We guess this Friday’s laugh is on us.


That tidbit only leaves you wanting a real guffaw?

Writing on the Rivals message board, a poster named Rufanpops — who apparently read and thus quoted our advice to high school students to go out of state for their higher education unless they wanted to spend time at a football factory — tacked this up the other day (italics quote us, bold is Rufanpops):

“Unless your dream is to paint your body red, drink beer until you are comatose, and yell obscenities at opposing teams on football game days”

that was exactly what i wanted out of college….i wish that’s what was happening 10 years ago

As a stand-alone remark, that is pretty funny. But last week a poster with that same name (and who claims to work in the Rutgers ticket office) left a comment on this blog. His comment to end all comments: “i find it odd that you would claim that anything that you read on a rivals message board is fact.”


Rutgers at A Crossroads

March 27, 2008

Tuition had been jumping ever higher. Investment in scholarship was dropping fast. Spending on bigtime sports was accelerating. That was Rutgers, here is the New York Times story, dated September 30, 1990. The parallels with today are powerful, right down to the ineffectualness of the university president (Lawrence then, McCormick now).

Here’s the fascinating bit. Richard McCormick (the son, not the esteemed university historian) then served as dean of the faculty of arts and science. Per the Times, McCormick was troubled by the halt in the improvement of the university’s academics:

“The financial difficulties at Rutgers came at a time when the institution seemed to be making significant strides in gaining the respect it so covets. Dr. McCormick said that the departments of political science, chemistry, psychology and computer science were on the brink of achieving the national prominence already enjoyed by its departments of English, history, philosophy, physics and astronomy, and mathematics, and that many others had well-developed plans in place to make the leap.

“‘This is the shame of it all,’ he said. ‘There are a number of departments that are in that position. They have every legitimate academic reason to make that jump in the early 90’s, but the dollars aren’t there.'”

That same McCormick now is president of the university and, well, Dick, the dollars to improve academics are there. All you have to do is shut down the spigot that is showering good money after bad on the sports programs. That is not happening. The exact opposite is.

Just as interesting is this question: why don’t we hear from this McCormick about how the lack of money is stifling Rutgers’ intellectual standing, at a time when peer universities (from the University of Connecticut to Maryland) are investing in their schools?

Maryland already is better than Rutgers. UConn will be in a couple years. So might Texas A & M! That is how dire this situation is, but, no, there are no moans from Old Queens, where for all we can tell perpetual sherry parties fill the days of these time-serving academic bureaucrats.

But Dick, Dick, Dick — might we have just one wee toast to better scholarship on the Banks?

Impossible, you say, no money for that?

Indeed Rutgers is at a crossroads, but it seems to be the road that goes nowhere.

Rivals Quotation of the Week

March 26, 2008

“How does a group whose mission statement refers to the administration as ‘jock-sniffers’ expect to be taken seriously?” Posted by LawMatt78 at the Scarlet Nation website.

We have a question in a similar vein: how does an administration of jock-sniffers expect to be taken seriously?

It’s a serious question for Rutgers president Dick McCormick and, we are afraid, nobody takes his administration very seriously anyway, not since the unfortunate revelations that he took the Rutgers job because the Washington Regents had shown him the door.

Read the Rivals thread. It is filled with caterwauling about this site…but not a word about scholarship, or the increasing lack thereof, at Rutgers. But why should there be, in a sports-crazed online world that is satisfied with a Potemkin Village of intellectually hollow classrooms to dress up the sweaty Saturdays.

Jockstrap Thinking at the BoG

March 26, 2008

The stark and nasty facts about the New Jersey economy are mounting fast.  The projected budget shortfall will be a lot more — a lot deeper — than Trenton initially projected, says the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services.  Per the Newark Star Ledger, “OLS’s forecast for next year is gloomier. It is predicting $288.7 million less than the governor projected in tax collections during the 12 months that begin July 1, mostly because of declines in sales and income taxes.

“When the two budget years are taken together, OLS expects the state to net about $134 million less in taxes than Gov. Jon Corzine forecast for the next 15 months.”

The AP adds this gloomy quotation from David Rosen, the legislative budget and finance officer: “It should be clear that most of the risk in this forecast is on the downside, and it is easy to imagine plausible economic scenarios in which the outcome is considerably more dire than the numbers we have provided.”

And yet no one in Trenton is calling for a halt on the stadium expansion boondoggle that will raise Rutgers’ indebtedness by 9 figures (count em!) — at a time when state support for the university will continue to fall.

As Rutgers transforms itself into the “Louisville of the North” — the apparent goal of the McCormick administration — we can only hope that clearer heads, who can do simple mathematics, will realize that these parlous economic times demand a halt to reckless expenditures such as the $100+ million stadium expansion.

The Ledger quotes Rutgers economist Joe Seneca:  “This recession has the potential to be broader and deeper than the two previous recessions that were shallow and brief.”

Is that the environment in which Rutgers ought to be undertaking a masssive capital project — one with uncertain funding and a sketchy repayment plan?

The answer is so obvious that one wonders what breed of Spitzer thinking has overtaken the BoG.  Certainly it looks as though they are letting their jockstraps do the hard thought!

Meantime, New Jersey high school seniors, we reiterate our counsel.  Get thee out of state for your higher education because here in the Garden State the outlook for scholarship has turned dismal — and it will only worsen.  The Rutgers BoG may live in a fantasy land where jockstraps don’t stink, but at least you don’t have to go to school there!