A Flood of Money for Football but Not a Penny for a Drain

July 15, 2008

Reporting from a Rutgers student:

Things in Voorhees Mall, one of the historic hearts of Rutgers University, aren’t in great shape. For one, the basement of Voorhees Hall flooded again recently. This recurring problem, caused by a small drain which there isn’t money to fix, meant that when staff arrived to work on Monday, they found the basement classrooms and lounges under about 6 inches of storm-water. Even after cleaning, the smell of mold and damp still lingers. The carpets were soaked, but there’s not money to replace them either. And why bother? Without work done on the drainage system, come next downpour, the basements are likely to flood again.

In this sense Voorhees Hall is a lot like the rest of the buildings on campus. Run down and increasingly decrepit, it needs urgent maintenance, but there is no money and a long, long list of other problems to drain the meager facilities budget that Rutgers scrapes by on. Most buildings lack adequate heating and air conditioning. Lecture halls have broken chairs, libraries have desks covered with pornographic graffiti, and good study spaces are few and far between. In fact the budget is so tight that the university mail service has recently cut back campus delivery from twice to once a day to save money. This means that even basic administration tasks take twice as long to complete, making more work for those administration staff who weren’t laid off in the 2006 budget cuts. This is the material, the stuff with which Rutgers tries to provide a top-quality education for its fee-paying students. And let’s not forget how rapidly the cost of tuition at Rutgers is rising.

Flooded classrooms and crumbling infrastructure make up the reality of student life at Rutgers, no matter how much this administration tries to distract attention by talking about its dreams for football. This utter contempt for the student body at Rutgers is also the signature of Richard McCormick’s dire tenure as President, a tenure that saw him “earn” a salary this past financial year of a million dollars. Under our million-dollar-President, we now have a university which pays $250,000 dollars a year to house the football team at a top hotel for home games while real students learn in classrooms in mildewed basements. We have a $100-150 million dollar gamble on a luxury stadium complete with a lounge for recruits while real students are forced to study at home because of the lack of space on campus.

Remember the College Ave greening? President McCormick announced it in 2005. Even in its el-cheapo, trimmed down form, there are no signs of it beginning, while at the same time construction crews were camped at the stadium site (and costing the university millions) BEFORE the woeful boosters on the Board of Governors even voted for the ruinous project.

What happened to the promise to start work on the new Livingston student center last year? Best not to ask, it’s probably been delayed for another few years. What happened to the 2007 promise to spend $15 million renovating some of the worst lecture halls on campus? We haven’t heard anything since then. For McCormick, if it’s money to be spent on student facilities, then there is no hurry. If it’s for football, then it needs to have been done yesterday.

Quite simply, is there another university president in the country so utterly contemptuous of the students he is paid to represent? Fix a drain? For the McCormick administration, this is too costly. Send the athletic department on a junket to Texas? Well, hey – we’ve got money for that! These are the priorities of this administration. It’s just a pity we can’t move his office from Old Queens to the basement of Voorhees Hall. Then he might be forced to attend to the needs of something other than football.

Rutgers needs, according to estimates, $500 million dollars of maintenance work just to bring the campus back to an acceptable condition. But that’s not the worst of it. Far more even than this, the university needs to follow the lead of the University of Washington and sack Richard McCormick, whose Presidency has been an unmitigated disaster for Rutgers.

Email brought us the above blog post, written by a current student. We welcome contributions from all members of the Rutgers community.


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.