A current student’s cry of anger

July 23, 2008

Today’s email brought this angry post, written by a current student who had just learned about the hidden $250,000 payment to football coach Greg Schiano. This is a very angry document. You have been warned.

It says a lot about the McCormick administration that, less than a week after it raised tuition at Rutgers 8.5% and promised further cost-saving measures, including “budget cuts in administrative, instructional and support units; continued efficiency gains on all three campuses; and deferrals of expenditures” (to quote from the university press release), we learn of a secret payment of $250,000 to football coach Greg Schiano.

Indeed, perhaps we should consider what exactly this latest outrage says about the current administration at Rutgers: It says that for Richard McCormick, the most basic concept of the ethical duties of a university president is utterly foreign. McCormick now has an established track record of repeated deception and dishonesty stretching back at least as far as his disastrous tenure as President of the University of Washington. The litany of falsehoods practiced by this man, from his affair cover-ups to his changing and contradictory explanations for dumping six of Rutgers’ oldest sports in 2006 (to name just two), restate, time and again, one basic point. This man is morally unfit for the position he holds. That yet more sleaze and deception bubble to the surface with each passing season should surprise nobody.

It says that to President McCormick and the inept Board of Governors, the squalid condition of the campus, the broken buildings and third-rate learning facilities that characterize one of the most expensive state universities in the nation is of secondary concern. This point is so blatant that it seems almost silly to bother raising it. Yet, let us reminds ourselves that this is an administration that freezes faculty hires, fires long-serving staff, cuts courses, closes libraries early, crowds classrooms, ignores air-conditioning problems, endlessly defers maintenance, and ramps up tuition at the very same time that it makes back door payments to Greg Schiano and grants him unlimited use of a helicopter. And spends $250,000 on Hyatt accommodation for the football team for home games. And sends athletic staff on junkets to Texas. And makes Richard McCormick the highest-paid university president in America this last financial year. And splurges tens of thousands on rings and trinkets for NJ lawmakers “celebrating” some minor bowl win. And these are but a few examples.

It says that the reasons Richard McCormick and Robert Mulcahy gave for cutting six of Rutgers oldest sports in 2006, including crew and fencing, were utterly untrue. “Any time you’re put in a position of denying opportunities for students, it’s a heartbreaking situation” was how Mulcahy cried his crocodile tears to the New York Times. Yet, after refusing funds from some of Rutgers’ most distinguished alumni to save these sports, Mulcahy has continued to spend money like a drunk sailor at a whorehouse. As the free helicopter and the endless salary increases and the $250,000 shell payment to Schiano demonstrates, money was never the problem when it came to slashing sports. These six sports were cut to fund the unceasing demands of the selfish and self-serving head coach of football. This petty little man now builds his gaudy palace of riches in the ruins of what once was a great university, and student life at Rutgers suffers so that his demands be met.

And it says that to Richard McCormick, Robert Mulcahy III, the utterly incompetent William Howard Jr. and the remaining mediocrities that comprise the Board of Governors, and to the State of New Jersey itself, students at Rutgers exist as little more than cash cows to be squeezed so that the disgusting feeding frenzy at the teat of nepotism and graft may continue. There is no money to replace missing library books or install working air-conditioners. There is no money to keep water out of classrooms when it rains. But there is money for secret payments of $250,000 to an overpaid football coach. There is another $250,000 to give Corzine’s former deputy chief of staff a cushy job. There is $6 million to spend on secret plans and construction crews for the stadium expansion before the Board of Governors had even voted to approve the project. There is $500,000 to pay Richard McCormick a bonus for bringing this university to its knees. There is money all right. But not a penny more for academics!

If, then, we learn any lessons from this latest outrage, it is that there is little, if any limit to the rot and corruption among those charged with running this university. McCormick, Mulcahy, Schiano, LaRue and the rest won’t go freely and leave behind the gusher of easy money, flowing like milk from the coffers they themselves control. Rutgers desperately needs help, from alumni and students, from faculty and staff. It needs to be returned to its historic mission and purpose: to provide the best education it possibly can. Right now, under the current leadership, it is failing both its students and the citizens of New Jersey.

Trenton to Rutgers: Drop Dead

July 1, 2008

The NJ budget was signed into law today by Jon “Seatbelt” Corzine and the news for Rutgers was all bad. Per Slick McCormick’s memo to members of the Rutgers community: “Direct state operating aid to Rutgers will be $293 million, a 10.8 percent decrease from the current year. Operating aid for all senior public colleges and universities will decrease by 10.4 percent. The percentage reduction for Rutgers is slightly higher due to the impact of a state budget penalty for enrolling non-New Jersey residents.”

This is all bad news for excellence in academics at Rutgers.

We won’t even mention how vice president Jeannine LaRue did in her job of persuading Trenton to adequately fund Rutgers. We haven’t changed our mind about what we’d posted on that topic in the past.

Per Slick McCormick, the budget also had bad news for the state’s best high school students: “appropriations for the Outstanding Scholars program will continue to be phased out.” That program offered financial rewards to top high schoolers who chose to pursue higher education at NJ schools, but Trenton in its wisdom has chosen to go Hannibal Lecter on outstanding scholars. One upshot is that New Jersey annually exports 20,000 first-year students to other states — the nation’s highest out-migration — and, sadly, the best high schoolers often are in those numbers. Trenton for its part is doing nothing to persuade those students to stay home.

On that note, re-read Jeff Kessler’s poignant 2006 Targum piece, written after the first Trenton assault on outstanding scholars — and know that now things are worse.  Trenton has in effect given the finger to NJ’s top high schoolers, their parents, and, really, to all the rest of us who might harbor hopes of bringing the best students to the Banks.

The message to New Jersey’s best high school students is starkly vivid: pack your bags and plan to head out of state. Trenton leaves you with no other choice. As far as Trenton is concerned, Rutgers gets a blank check to fund football — but as for books, forget about it! And if that doesn’t persuade you to go out of state….

Focus on LaRue

May 9, 2008

A reader pointed us to this pr write-up about Rutgers vp Jeannine LaRue in an internal organ, Rutgers Focus.

We’ve expressed skepticism about how LaRue, a onetime deputy chief of staff for Gov. Corzine with no prior ties to Rutgers or to higher education for that matter, might earn her $250,000 pay in a job post that had been vacant since 1997. We explored this topic here, here, and here. Basic thrust of the argument is that we were puzzled by Rutgers’ commitment of some $589,000 to fund an office that apparently had not been needed in a decade.

Of course there is no direct tie but it interested us when last week another Corzine deputy chief of staff, Javier Inclan, resigned. Mr. Inclan testified in a corruption trial about passing envelopes stuffed with cash to Hudson County pols and, well, you have to read this stuff to grasp the quality of Corzine’s hires.

Back to Ms. LaRue and the FOCUS article. Indeed, we are touched that she is raising two grandchildren. We are stupefied that she has 17,000 contacts in her BlackBerry. But most of all we finished the article still uncertain exactly what Ms. LaRue does to earn her keep.

By all means, anybody in the know, please do tell us.

She’s Not Heavy…But She Is

April 10, 2008

Turns out Jeannine LaRue — the onetime Corzine staffer recently appointed by Dick McCormick to fill a long vacant vice presidency at Rutgers — is even more expensive than we thought. Digging by onetime board of trustees chair Arthur Kamin, reported in the Home News & Tribune, turned up that the LaRue price-tag is more than double what we had feared: “a university spokeswoman disclosed that the current year’s budget to operate the new vice president for public affairs office is $588,577.” And that is to do a job that hadn’t been thought necessary for the decade the position lay vacant.

Even more curious, LaRue allegedly manages the university’s lobbyists, but she isn’t one, according to Kamin. And she will earn her paycheck doing exactly what?

Matters do get funny (in a ghoulish way) when a university spokesperson told Kamin about LaRue: “She also will be responsible for directing strategies for outreach and advocacy.”

Indeed, indeed…and we will be seeing evidence of these efforts when?

As Kamin writes, “[McCormick] must learn that he has to operate on a higher level than trying to ingratiate himself with the many politicians who see the state university as just one more patronage pit.”

Take a deep breath, and flip back to the “Funny” we originally posted about LaRue’s appointment.

At least this isn’t quite as wasteful as McCormick’s Kavanaugh Affair.

At least not yet.

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 PolitickerNJ.com 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.