Holloway, in impressive opening act as Rutgers president, addresses pandemic, global reckoning on race

File photo Rutgers' new president, Jonathan Holloway.

Jonathan Holloway jumped right into the issues of the day during his first hours as president of Rutgers University.

In a five-minute video message, Holloway showed both his character and leadership. It was impressive.

Holloway talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic — along with a global reckoning on race — have changed the university, the state, the country and even the world in ways he couldn’t have imagined when he was first announced as the incoming president in January.

Holloway said he was up for the challenge — but also acknowledged that actions mean much more than words.

With that in mind, Holloway announced the school is launching a $10 million fundraising campaign for the Scarlet Promise Grants program, which aims to provide financial support for the university’s most economically at-risk students.

Holloway launched the campaign with a personal $75,000 contribution — then added an additional $125,000 from the discretionary funds provided to the president. Even more, he encouraged board of governors Chair Mark Angelson — who Holloway said has made many anonymous gifts in the past — to pledge $1 million toward the effort.

Holloway said such gestures are needed more than ever.

“Recently, people have made clear that expressions of empathy from leaders and their institutions, while appreciated, are insufficient,” he said. “Now, they’re calling for concrete commitments to address this nation’s systemic inequities. I agree with those calls. And I want you to know that I will not shy away from the uncomfortable conversations that must emerge if we deal with these issues honestly.

“While I can’t promise you that we will always agree — we certainly won’t — I can assure you that I will always listen to your thoughts with the seriousness and respect that they deserve.”

There are a lot of issues, Holloway said. Issues that require repair and rebuilding.

“I don’t need to tell anyone in New Jersey or at Rutgers how much damage COVID has caused personally, emotionally, psychologically and financially,” he said. “Because of these enormous setbacks, I’ll be focusing much of my initial energy as president on repair and rebuilding.”

That goes for race relations, too, Holloway said.

“As much attention as this pandemic requires, we’re also living in a moment of global racial reckoning,” he said. “A development born of tragedy, willful ignorance and grotesque violence. These developments present us with an opportunity to work toward a world where phrases like ‘social justice’ and ‘Black lives matter’ are understood not as assault on the common good, but as declarations that we should be a country that lives up to the aspirations in its founding documents. Getting to that point will also require repair and rebuilding.”

Holloway said he is confident Rutgers has a community that is up to the task.

“The good news is that Rutgers has the ingredients to succeed in the face of these challenges,” he said. “I’m certain of this. Scholars throughout the university have been making major contributions to our understanding of every aspect of the pandemic. Similarly, Rutgers voices have been heard on matters related to the social, economic and racial inequities that destabilized this country.”

Holloway said he is eager for the challenge that confronts him on Day One.

“In the coming weeks and months, we will identify and take concrete and measurable actions so that Rutgers can do its part in repairing the world,” he said. “Some of these actions will grow out of community conversations and engagement. Some will come out of presidential initiatives that reflect institutional best practices in the broader world of higher education.”

Holloway, saying he is following the spirit of shared sacrifice this moment requires, also announced he is taking a 10% pay cut for the fiscal year. He hopes others will follow his lead by contributing to the Scarlet Promise Grants program.

“It is my hope that the global network of Rutgers friends and families will come together in this campaign in the spirit of being Scarlet forever,” he said. “Please know that there is nothing modest about any gift that might come in, as each dollar is a declaration of faith in the transformative power of a Rutgers education.”

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