Rutgers University unveiled a plan Monday to revamp its undergraduate education offerings, in part by creating a single liberal arts college in place of the several that exist now. That recommendation has generated significant criticism from alumnae of Douglass College, who say the proposal would essentially gut what they call the "nation's largest public women's college."
The restructuring, which requires the approval of the university's Board of Governors, would affect Rutgers's main campus in New Brunswick/Piscataway. (Its other campuses are in Newark and Camden.) Currently, undergraduate liberal arts students are admitted to and must meet the general education and graduation requirements of one of five separate colleges: Douglass, which is reserved for women; Rutgers College; Livingston, which emphasizes "critical thinking and social responsibility;" Cook, which has a focus on land-grant and agriculture programs; and University College, which tends to attract nontraditional students.
The special committee set up to examine undergraduate education found that the existing structure results in "many layers of fragmentation": in admissions processes, graduation requirements, student experiences outside the classroom, students’ access to facilities and services, planning for classroom buildings and residence hall spaces, "and, perhaps most critically, in the connections between students and faculty."
Under the new setup, all undergraduates seeking to major in liberal arts fields would be admitted to the Rutgers College of Arts and Sciences under the same admission standards, would fulfill the same core requirements, and benefit from the same residential and student services. The curriculum would be set commonly by a unified Faculty of Arts and Sciences. (Under the plan, Cook College would become a School of Agricultural and Environmental Science that would offer majors in those fields but not in the arts and sciences. Rutgers will convene another panel at a later date to consider changes to University College, a spokeswoman said.)
The colleges that would be merged into the new and expanded Rutgers College, Livingston and Douglass, would become two of six "residential campuses" with which students would be affiliated, designed to be "vital centers for the integration of the academic and cocurricular aspects of undergraduate education." Douglass would remain women-only.
The committee's report acknowledges that the college's current dean, Carmen Twillie Ambar, had recommended that Douglass retain its separate admission process and curriculum, and that the panel had rejected that idea. "At the same time, all of us believe that the university must maintain its vigorous commitment to women's education and women's leadership by strongly supporting, and indeed strengthening, for the benefit of all women in New Brunswick/Piscataway, the programs that have proved so successful at Douglass."
But that does not satisfy many supporters of the college, who have established a petition drive and letter writing campaign aimed at ensuring that the "supportive learning environment of Douglass College remains an opportunity for the young women of today and tomorrow."
Adds the group's online petition: "Rather than destroy the unique four-year college experience at Douglass, which includes visionary living-learning communities and a global view of women’s issues, a support network for women entering the fields of math, science, engineering and technology, and distinct opportunities for leadership, all of which are supplemented by college-based student affairs and academic affairs programming, we ask that you reaffirm Douglass College and tap into the ultimate power and potential of the unique position she brings toward the goals of situating Rutgers as a highly visible, top-tier teaching and research university."