Top members of the Senate Higher Education Committee and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said they would like to see outgoing Rutgers University President Robert Barchi replaced with a woman or person of color.
“I think having a person of color would help our students see themselves, because so many of our children are minority students. They need to see themselves reflected in whoever is going to be there,” said State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), who chairs the chamber’s higher education committee. “I think it would be a wonderful thing, and I think it would be a very progressive thing.”
On Sunday, Politico New Jersey reported Barchi was stepping down after eight year’s as the head of New Jersey’s largest state school.
More than half of the roughly 50,000 students at Rutgers’ flagship campus in New Brunswick are non-white, but at no point in its 253-year history has the university been led by anyone other than a white man.
“I do believe that when you look at how the increase in the population and all the various groups,” Oliver said. “I think the board of governors should make certain that they do an outreach, but at the end of the day, we need the absolute best person, so if that person is purple, yellow, green — but I do believe that there are talented Latinos, African Americans, Arab Americans.”
The lawmakers’ comments came following a Legislative Black Caucus press conference on an unrelated matter.
A search committee will likely be impaneled to find a successor for Barchi, and it’s unclear how much influence lawmakers will be able to exert on the process.
“When we see the presidents of universities, there’s no denying that has to be a greater process. It’s predominantly men. It’s predominantly white men, and there’s a few women in different pockets,” State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), who sits on the Senate Higher Education Committee. “It would be a wonderful, welcoming opportunity to get a woman or a person of color and someone who can take the university to other extraordinary heights.”
Gov. Phil Murphy has yet to comment on Barchi’s retirement, which likely won’t come until the university president’s contract expires in July 2020.
Comment from the governor, who is due to depart for a family vacation in Italy Wednesday evening, likely won’t come for a little while yet. Oliver said she will become acting governor later Tuesday.
Both Cunningham and Oliver said the race and gender of Rutgers’ next president wouldn’t be a deal-breaker even if it were another white man.
“I don’t think it would be a problem,” Cunningham said. “I think if [Murphy] nominates someone who was qualified, who understands that part of their role is to bring in and show the diversity of Rutgers, that’s fine.”
Murphy does not directly nominate university presidents, and though New Jersey’s governors appoint eight of the board’s 15 members, Murphy does not have the power to veto the board’s minutes.
“I think we need to get the most qualified person to be the president of Rutgers … I would love to see [a woman], and I know many women who are college presidents, university presidents,” Oliver said. “Look at Nancy Cantor at the Rutgers campus in Newark, and I look at Sue Cole in Montclair. We’ve got the talent, we do. I would love to see a woman as a president.”