Two new books present insider perspectives and previously unpublished photography in celebration of Rutgers’ 250 anniversary

Rutgers Books
Two contributors to Rutgers: A 250 Anniversary Portrait, Barry Qualls, left, professor of English and former vice president of undergraduate education, and Linda Stamato, co-director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolutions and former chair of the Rutgers Board of Governors, join Rutgers Since 1945 author Paul G.E. Clemens during a book signing.
Photo: Carl Blesch

‘When you write about your own institution, you’re inherently setting out to write a non-critical book that tells a positive story, but I wanted to analyze the low points as much as applaud the high points.’
– Paul G.E. Clemens, Rutgers Since 1945

Queen Charlotte likely would approve of the wide spectrum of accomplishments, advancements and contributions made by the university that evolved from the institution that became her namesake in the late 1700s – Queen’s College.

After all, the wife of King George III was a Renaissance woman of sorts: a skilled amateur botanist, a patron of the arts and music who once sang an aria accompanied by an 8-year-old Mozart, a founder of orphanages and an advocate of women’s education.

Discovering how Queen Charlotte’s diverse interests mirror the variety of educational opportunities and research at today’s Rutgers University was one of many revelations uncovered by the researchers behind Rutgers: A 250 Anniversary Portrait.

The 304-page limited-edition coffee table book joins Rutgers Since 1945: A History of the State University of New Jersey, by university historian Paul G.E. Clemens, as commemorative books published on the occasion of the celebration of Rutgers’ 250th anniversary.

While milestone anniversaries provide the natural incentives to mine for archival gems and historical nuggets, Clemens and the 250th book editorial committee, authors and researchers decided to emphasize the personal stories woven through the university’s history, especially those that put forth the student perspective.

Rutgers A 250th Anniversary Portrait
Rutgers: A 250th Anniversary Portrait
Photo: Nick Romanenko

“In the early stages of this project, the editorial committee realized that there was no comprehensive illustrated history of the university that encompassed academics, student life and archival and contemporary photography, so that became the approach for Rutgers: A 250 Anniversary Portrait,” says Matthew J. Weismantel, who directs Rutgers’ 250th initiatives and activities for the Department of University Communications and Marketing.

Over four years, the coffee table book researchers – a team of academics, historians, archivists and writers – analyzed Rutgers’ history and reflected on where the university has been and where it is heading next in its research, teaching, public scholarship and service efforts. They invited alumni, faculty, staff and students to lend their voices. The response garnered a treasure trove of anecdotes from an insider perspective, such as student athlete and student council member William J. Whitacre’s account of how he drew inspiration for creating the Scarlet Knight mascot from watching the athletic teams representing the U.S. military academy at West Point. 

Lush with photography – including some images never previously published – Rutgers: A 250 Anniversary Portrait illuminates the people, issues and events that have shaped Rutgers from its founding as the all-male Queen’s College through its evolution into the public research university it is today. “We tend to think of Rutgers as an old institution, but we are really one of the youngest flagship universities in the nation since our growth came so much later,” says Weismantel.

Both books strove to present a realistic rather than idealistic snapshot of periods in the university’s history – including conflicts and controversies.

“When you write about your own institution, you’re inherently setting out to write a non-critical book that tells a positive story, but I wanted to analyze the low points as much as applaud the high points,” says Clemens, a history professor. “You can’t discuss accomplishments without the full context, and often crises are a springboard for enlightenment.”

Rutgers since 1945
Rutgers since 1945: A History of the State University of New Jersey

Clemens’ book begins the story of modern Rutgers in 1945, overlapping a little with his former colleague Richard P. McCormick’s Rutgers: A Bicentennial History, published in 1966. He retells the story of Rutgers in the Cold War era and then moves on to student protests in the 1960s and ’70s, to new bursts of student activism in the 1980s, to Rutgers’ rise as a research university, and to the increasing commitment to big-time athletics, with a heavy emphasis throughout on how students experienced these changes.

“In addressing campus life, you can’t ignore dissent,” says Clemens. “There was a reason Rutgers was called the ‘Berkeley of the East’ in the late 1960s.” The black student protest movement and the takeover of Conklin Hall on the Newark campus are discussed in the first chapter because of their central importance in changing admissions policy at Rutgers. A subsequent chapter on student protest chronicles a similar but lesser-known movement by Puerto Rican students as well as early civil rights activism on campus, battles over the censorship of student publications, tuition protests and the gay/lesbian student movement.

Rutgers Since 1945 gives a nod to campus living with an illustrated chapter of the university’s residence halls by art history professor Carla Yanni, who studies architecture from the 19th century to the present. Yanni explores themes in Rutgers’ post-World War II architectural history and how the buildings reflect college officials’ changing expectations for student life.

Clemens and Yanni enlisted undergraduates for research, evoking compelling perspectives. “A student who was a member of Emergency Services researched the historical context during Edward J. Bloustein’s administration when the Rutgers’ police force were first armed with guns,” Clemens says. “It provided a marvelous insider account on how things changed in the administration, what prompted it and what was happening in the communities.”

Rutgers’ growth in Newark and Camden and its development into a public research university play prominent roles in both books. “No matter how much the university has grown since 1960, one of its greatest accomplishments is the creation of institutes of higher learning in Newark and Camden,” says Weismantel.

Rutgers 250

Clemens cites the Bloustein administration and, in particular, the late 1970s and early 1980s as crucial to where Rutgers is today. “That era turned the university in a different direction in terms of research, setting the course toward big-time athletics and focusing on programs that had the greatest potential to become nationally recognized programs,” he says. “There were many transformative moments.”

For more information, contact Patti Verbanas at 848-932-0551 or