How much of a 'beloved community' is Rutgers for Jonathan Holloway?

I'm sitting here on a pretty April day, Rutgers cops are gearing up to raid Voorhees Plaza, the site of pro-Palestinian protests, and I'm wondering how a once-respected and trusted administrator can, in three years, squander all of the enormous goodwill that met him on his arrival. I speak of Rutgers University’s president and my former boss, Dr. Jonathan Holloway.

His introduction to the faculty senate in September 2020 was well received. The University Senate is a university-wide representative body including faculty, staff and students from the entire Rutgers community.  President Holloway’s presentation — you can read it online at — took about 30 minutes and was succinct, friendly, comprehensive.

He spoke of his pride coming here, mentioned the recently deceased Ruth Bader Ginsberg as "one of our own," and ended with what remains, come what may, his curious tagline: “the beloved community.” “A university should aspire to be a beloved community . . . I believe in a beloved community and I am only interested in securing the best results.”

Done, he apologized for having to run but he had a plane to catch back to California — he hadn’t moved here yet — and left.

Forty-five minutes later, a whole contingent of teaching adjuncts, some 200 souls, learned from Executive Dean Peter March, and by email, that they had been fired. The reasons had something to do with the continuing impact of COVID on this or that. There were few specifics.

Worse than the news itself was the way in which this, the first official decision of the incoming administration, not only hit your inbox without warning but came not even from the person who was now, one assumed, responsible for making it. Instead, it had been farmed out to someone called an executive dean to make it.

Rutgers University President, Jonathan Holloway, addresses those at commencement, Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Piscataway.
Rutgers University President, Jonathan Holloway, addresses those at commencement, Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Piscataway.

Later in the semester the fired were unfired and welcomed back to the Beloved Community. Once again calm prevailed at Old Queen. But as an employee, you had the itchy sense that the new president had better make himself more present or that he might be viewed as a puppet.

The next two years belonged to COVID. Our flagship campus seemed prepared again to embrace the Beloved Community, and the community responded positively. Faculty switched to online teaching — most of us hated it — and were so accommodating that we gave up part of our salaries in order to make sure nobody was permanently furloughed. But when a dean was fired without cause in Camden by the incoming chancellor, Holloway, asked to intervene or at least comment, disappeared. When asked directly about the firing at a university senate Zoom meeting, the gist of his reply was that Camden ought to get over it.

We got through COVID only to realize that contract negotiations had begun to stall, or rather, the administration seemed to be stalling. Then came the strike, the first in the university’s 256-year history, making Holloway Rutgers’ first and only president to preside over a work stoppage. His initial response was to threaten a legal action; this went nowhere when somebody advised him that the law he invoked didn’t exist. The strike ended with a contract that satisfied us, but only after Gov. Phil Murphy intervened. Once again, we felt if not beloved, at least better compensated.

Temporarily, that is. In August, the popular two-term, 10-year chancellor of Newark, Nancy Cantor, was told her contract would not be renewed. The response from Holloway was a letter filled with the usual boilerplate praising her service — the equivalent of the gold watch — but no real explanation. In response to Cantor’s exit on top of his administration’s botched handling of the strike, the university senate passed a vote of no-confidence in Holloway a month later. The vote was nearly two-to-one.

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Since then, things have worsened. For the second time in three years the Holloway administration has decided to stir things up by going after its favorite target: the humanities, and specifically the Writing Program at New Brunswick, this time firing 37 untenured professionals with significant seniority and announcing in the same breath that it was raising the enrollment caps on individual class sections. From now on, writing instruction will be migrated to individual disciplines — math, computer science, psych — and removed from its traditional home in the English Department. Nobody’s happy with this except the administrators responsible for it.

And once again Holloway was nowhere to be found. You would have thought that a change of this dimension would have the brains of the operation behind it. Instructors in the STEM fields teaching paragraph construction, the topic sentence and research skills? Yet the herald was Executive Dean Juli Wade, appointed last summer, with a further assist from another July 2023 appointee, Chancellor Francine Conway.

The only category in which Rutgers leads the Big Ten, it seems, is in midlevel administrative appointments. Those fired were told they were let go because their sections “hadn’t filled up.” Yet when asked if that were the case, why were the enrollment caps were being raised, there was no answer from Wade, Conway, or, as usual, Holloway.

By now the “beloved community” is probably used to it.

JT Barbarese is an emeritus professor of English at Rutgers University's Camden campus and served as a representative to the university senate for more than a decade.

This article originally appeared on Jonathan Holloway at Rutgers: Is it really a 'beloved community'