When Rutgers University President Robert Barchi visits the school's Newark campus Monday, he will encounter some students and faculty who say they lost confidence in him even before the school's bourgeoning basketball scandal.
Barchi is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting that had been planned for last week but was postponed after a video surfaced showing basketball Coach Mike Rice pushing players, throwing basketballs at them and berating them with invectives, including gay slurs.
Rice was fired Wednesday and Athletic Director Tim Pernetti resigned Friday.
Some faculty members have demanded Barchi's resignation, citing his approval last year of a suspension for Rice rather than his immediate firing. Barchi, however, received a nod of support from the school's board of governors following Rice's dismissal.
The scandal has prompted the FBI to investigate whether a former Rutgers basketball employee tried to extort the university before recording practices at which Rice was seen pushing and otherwise belittling players, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press.
Monday's meeting was meant to address the sweeping plan to re-organize the state's higher education system, a priority of Gov. Chris Christie that the state legislature signed off on last year. The New Jersey Assembly will hold a budget hearing that will address the plan at the school Tuesday.
The goal, Barchi and state officials say, is to make Rutgers competitive with elite public institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, The University of Michigan and The University of Virginia. Strengthening the school would also bring in more tuition from out-of-state students who are charged more.
Barchi, a neurologist, was hired to help implement the transition and oversee a meshing of Rutgers and the state's University of Medicine and Dentistry. Some members of Rutgers' board of governors have expressed concern over the merger, because Rutgers would absorb $500 in the medical school's debt. The merger could cost up to $75 million, Barchi said in December.
Some say Barchi's plans for the university shortchange the school's campuses in Camden in Newark.
Rutgers has three campuses: Camden, Newark and New Brunswick. Faculty and students here fear that Barchi wants to turn New Brunswick — where its sports teams are based, along with neighboring Piscataway — into a flagship campus, diverting resources from the other two. There is already a proposal to merge the Newark and Camden law schools and move strong research institutions to New Brunswick.
The three campuses have been designated with different missions: New Brunswick is research, Camden is service and Newark is diversity.
Diversity has been an important issue at Rutgers since the 2010 suicide of a student who learned his roommate had used a webcam to watch him kiss another man in his dorm. Faculty members calling for Barchi's ouster cited Rice's use of anti-gay slurs in the video — and the school president's decision not the fire Rice immediately — as indicative of Barchi's lack of commitment to diversity.
Some critics claim Rutgers wants to minimize one of the nation's most diverse campuses.
"There is institutional antagonism toward minority students," said Beryl Satter, a professor of history at Rutgers-Newark.
Some here complained that under the restructuring law each campus will have a separate line item in the state budget, something that could potentially funnel funding away from Camden and Newark and to New Brunswick.
"It's like Robin Hood in reverse," Satter said.
Satter and other professors held their own town hall meeting Thursday after Barchi pulled out, urging students to attend a budget hearing Tuesday on the merger and speak up about cuts.
Satter is among the professors who have signed a petition calling for Barchi's job.
H. Bruce Franklin, the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers-Newark, signed the petition and worries that the merger may set off competition between the campuses, which have previously worked well together.
"They're siphoning off funds for big time athletics and other things in New Brunswick," Franklin said.
Associated Press reporter Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report.