Vote of no confidence in Holloway by Rutgers Senate means little — but also a lot

University leader has full support of board of governors (who determine president), but vote shows acrimony remains months after strike

File photo Rutgers' new president, Jonathan Holloway.

So much for wallowing in success.

Five days after Rutgers University – New Brunswick received its highest-ever spot (No. 40) in the prestigious U.S. News & World Report college rankings — one that saw all three Rutgers campuses in the Top 100 for the first time — the Rutgers University Senate passed a no-confidence vote late Friday afternoon against President Jonathan Holloway.

The Rutgers University Senate is made up of faculty, students, staff, administrators and alumni and serves in an advisory capacity.

In one regard, the vote means little: The school’s board of governors selects the president, and it is firmly behind Holloway.

Then again, it shows the acrimony between factions at the school — one that led to a teachers strike this spring — still is strong. The vote, at 89-47, certainly wasn’t close.

Clearly, there are issues.

The plan to merge the New Jersey Medical School in Newark and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick to become the Rutgers School of Medicine — a plan approved by the board of governors — faced opposition.

And the decision to not renew the contract of extremely popular (and extremely effective) Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor drew enormous backlash from the Newark community.

The fact that Holloway has limited his interactions with the Rutgers University Senate likely didn’t help their relationship, either.

Shortly after the vote, Rutgers spokesperson Dory Devlin said Holloway will continue to work collaboratively with the university community and the University Senate, as he has for the past three years, she said.

“Shared governance remains a priority undergirding academic policies and academic improvement and the Holloway administration will continue to engage the Senate to promote a shared vision, understanding and support for the institution’s academic progress,” she said in a statement.

Devlin noted some of Holloway’s accomplishments:

  • Sponsored research at Rutgers now approaches $1 billion;
  • The number of students competing for admission to the university this year exceeded 56,000 and is at an all-time high;
  • Rutgers is among the top producers of internationally recognized scholars receiving Fulbright Fellowships and other prestigious fellowships, scholarships and awards.

Holloway also continues to have the support of the university’s board of governors, the governing body comprised of eight members appointed by the governor and seven members appointed by the Rutgers board of trustees.

The board of governors has the sole responsibility to appoint the president of the university — a role that is becoming increasingly difficult to fill in higher education.

The tenure of a university president seemingly is growing shorter, with many not staying on the job for more than 4-5 years before moving on.

Holloway, who started during the pandemic on July 1, 2020, certainly would be viewed as an attractive candidate at many schools, having previously served in top roles at Yale University and Northwestern University.

If William Best, the chair of the Rutgers board of governors, has his way, Holloway won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. He sent a letter to Holloway and the University Senate, expressing the board’s full support.

After noting many accomplishments, Best wrote:

“You have had the courage to make changes that reflect our shared vision of what excellence looks like,” he wrote. “Even in the best of times, effectuating change can be challenging.

“In today’s polarized atmosphere, with personal outrage having been normalized and social media having been elevated as the preferred outlet for expressing it, you nevertheless made the hard choices, and, by our estimation, made the right choices at every opportunity. We applaud every decision you made and remain steadfast in our support of you for making them.”