02/02/02--Trenton Times

By MARK PERKISS
Staff Writer

TRENTON -- Amid reports of mounting political pressure for
him to step down, Rutgers University President Francis
Lawrence yesterday announced he will resign after 12
years as the head of New Jersey's largest public university.

Lawrence, 64, told the Rutgers Board of Governors about
his decision at a meeting at the university's Newark
campus yesterday. He said he will return to teaching as
soon as a successor is found.

Lawrence's resignation came as pressure for his ouster
was growing on and off Rutgers' campuses.

Sources have said that Gov. James E. McGreevey as well
as a number of powerful Democratic state senators have
been pushing for Lawrence to leave Rutgers.

The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) was in the
midst of a survey of Rutgers professors, who have
criticized his focus on buildings and athletics, for their
views of Lawrence's leadership.

The board and Lawrence met behind closed doors before
meeting in public yesterday. No mention of Lawrence's
decision was made during the public portion of the
meeting.

Lawrence left immediately after the meeting adjourned and
did not talk to reporters. Board members declined to
comment.

"I have asked the chairman of the Board of Governors,
Gene O'Hara, to institute a search for my successor,"
Lawrence wrote in a letter addressed "To the Rutgers
Community."

"The board chair and vice chair have asked me to serve
until the completion of a successful search and I have
agreed to do so," he wrote.

In a written statement, O'Hara praised Lawrence. "His
record of accomplishment at Rutgers is extraordinary,"
O'Hara said. "We, as representatives of the people of New
Jersey, feel proud of his stewardship over more than a
decade."

He said Lawrence's positions on the executive committee
of the Association of American Universities and as
chairman of the Big East Conference helped raise Rutgers'
reputation by increasing awareness of the university around
the country.

Neither Lawrence nor O'Hara said when a formal search for
a new president would begin or how it would be conducted.

In a written statement, McGreevey congratulated Lawrence
for his leadership at Rutgers.

"I look forward to working with a new generation of
leadership at Rutgers University to forge a working
partnership between business, the university community
and the state," McGreevey said.

That kind of relationship is key both for Rutgers and state
government, said former Gov. Thomas Kean, president of
Drew University.

"The governor wants a man or woman he can work with,"
Kean said. "A partnership between the governor and the
university president is very important. I'm confident that
partnership can and will occur and it must, because the
president of Rutgers is the leader of higher education in the
state.

"What Rutgers needs is a young man or woman with
tremendous energy and vitality who can take Rutgers from
the plateau where Fran Lawrence got it and make it
stronger," he said.

The political pressure on Lawrence was heightened
recently by the NJEA survey of faculty views on his
leadership.

Rutgers classics professor Thomas Figueira, who is
coordinating the survey, said he is pleased with Lawrence's
decision to step down.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction," Figueira
said. "Now we have to hope that the Board of Governors
will recruit and select someone who will not be
antagonistic to faculty and students and restore the focus
to the university's true missions of teaching and research
instead of athletics and building."

Figueira noted that Lawrence's announcement came days
after the survey to professors was sent out. "It would
appear that we have already had an effect without having
the results of our survey," he said.

Republican senators said they hope politics is not involved
in the hunt for a replacement for Lawrence.

"It is essential that the Board of Governors have complete
independence to conduct a search for a new president," he
said.

Rutgers presidents are selected by the university's Board
of Governors, but the board usually submits the name of its
choice to the sitting governor as a courtesy.

In 12 years as president, Lawrence was in charge of a
$100 million project to upgrade campus technology and led
a $500 million private fund-raising campaign to benefit
academic programs, scholarships and financial aid.

Under his tenure, enrollment at Rutgers' three campuses,
Camden, New Brunswick and Newark, increased
dramatically.

Lawrence survived the major controversy of his 12-year
tenure, prompted by a 1995 speech in which he said
disadvantaged students do not have "the genetic hereditary
background" to score well on standardized tests.

That prompted about 100 top faculty members and
hundreds of students to demand that he resign or be fired.

Lawrence never denied making the remark, but said it was
not what he meant and was "precisely opposed to my
beliefs."

The Board of Governors gave Lawrence a vote of
confidence.

Defenders as well as critics agree that Lawrence never
succeeded in making himself the voice of higher education
for the state.

His predecessors, Edward J. Bloustein and Mason Gross,
were high-profile personalities on state and national
education issues. But both had periodic battles with the
Legislature.

Ironically, Lawrence has been able to avoid confrontations
with lawmakers during most of his tenure.

Lawrence became Rutgers' 18th president in October
1990. He was recruited from Tulane University in New
Orleans, where he was academic vice president and
provost.

He began his academic career at Tulane as an instructor of
French.

 



 
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