Remembering Marie Cornelia

Marie CorneliaMarie Cornelia’s sudden passing last Saturday has left her family, friends and colleagues reeling, not only here at Rutgers-Camden but around the world. Marie was one of the most “alive” people anyone would ever meet. It is still almost impossible to believe that I won’t be seeing her at one of the weekly concerts at Rutgers, running into her at a performance of the Pennsylvania Ballet, meeting her for lunch or dinner, or hearing about her and her devoted husband Jim taking another trip to a far-flung destination.

          I came to know Marie in 1998 when I accepted the position of Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School at Rutgers—Camden. Everyone said to me, “Marie Cornelia would be your best choice to lead the Graduate School, but I doubt if she could ever be enticed back into administration.” Luckily for me and for Rutgers, she decided she was indeed entice-able.  She soon became Associate Dean not just for the Graduate School but for University College as well. She held both jobs until Christopher Dougherty arrived at Rutgers to lead University College. She then was able to devote her full attention to the Graduate School as the campus began the transition from a Master’s to a Ph.D. granting institution.

Marie was such a successful administrator because as a trusted long-time faculty leader, she had the respect of her colleagues, and as a brilliant teacher, she understood students. She also knew how to create effective programs and to develop curricula. During her time as associate dean, Marie initiated our first off-campus degree granting programs in University College at Brookdale Community College, inaugurating a process of off-campus education that continues to this day. In the Graduate School,  she was instrumental to its dramatic growth as we added an astonishing dozen new degree programs and areas of concentration. A major part of the expansion of graduate education in these years was the development of the first three Ph.D. programs to be offered at Rutgers—Camden. Her leadership was pivotal to the success of these efforts.

Marie was legendary both for her ability to work with faculty across all disciplines and for her programmatic and curricular expertise. She was able to forge agreements, leap over obstacles, and cut through red tape in ways that we all found remarkable. Not only could she do all this, but she was an extraordinary teacher, too, winning pretty much every teaching award on the campus. In 2005, her former student JoAnn Mower endowed a teaching award in her honor and in honor of two other faculty members. Marie also had a gift for friendship and a deep and abiding love for her husband Jim Shew and her children and grandchildren – not to mention that she had an absolutely enviable zest for life. After she retired, she continued to teach, volunteer, and travel. She is shown in the photo below at second from the right, with Chancellor Pritchett, Mayor Redd, and me on the occasion of her campus commencement address in 2010. She never slowed down, not until last Saturday.Marie Cornelia, 2nd from Right, Commencement Speaker 2010marie cornelia commencement


 Marie, we will miss you, and you will always live on in our hearts and memories.

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In Republican Gender Politics, It’s Back to the Eighteenth Century

Wanda Ronner and Margaret Marsh

Who would have thought that Wanda Ronner’s and my somewhat arcane expertise in theories of conception in the 18th century would strike a chord in national politics now, in 2012? Well, it just goes to show that as long as Republicans keep trying to turn the clock back on women’s rights, our research will never go out of style.

We have Representative Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri, to thank for our current relevance. Earlier this week, he espoused a theory of conception last viewed as credible back around the time of the American Revolution. As the whole world knows by now, he claimed in an interview that what he calls “legitimate rape” was very unlikely to result in pregnancy: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Akin, a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, seems not to have noticed that much has changed in science since 1776, which is about the last time that any serious medical thinker believed that in order for a woman to conceive, as we quote from the advice of the era in our book The Empty Cradle, “the womb must be in a state of delight.”

Of course, many women in the 18th century surely conceived even without such “delight,” but as Gail Collins quotes me in today’s New York Times, women weren’t asked whether the pronouncements made by male medical writers were true. Still, to give the men their due, they did advise husbands eager for offspring to make their wives happy in the marital bed. Men, they counseled, should neither force themselves on their wives nor neglect to satisfy them. As the most famous sex manual of the time put it, “Women rather choose to have a thing done well, than have it often. And in this case, to do it well and often too is inconsistent.”

Sperm Seen under Leeuwenhoek’s Microscope, 1678

But where did they get such an idea in the first place, and how in the world could anyone still hold it today? The second part of that question remains a mystery, but we can answer the first part: They got it from an idea prevalent in scientific circles before the discovery of sperm, which were first seen under a microscope towards the end of the 1600s. (Yes, we have to go back that far to find the “science” behind Representative Akin’s views.) In the 17th century, until Anton van Leeuwenhoek announced in the late 1670s that he had looked at semen under a microscope and seen tiny “animalcules,” the prevailing scientific thought about reproduction held that during orgasm men and women both emitted “seed,” and that the mixing of the male and female “seed” was necessary for pregnancy to occur. This idea, called the “semence” theory, was discredited by the discovery of sperm, but for another century or so medical advice givers continued to tell couples desiring children to seek mutual sexual satisfaction, mostly on the grounds that it couldn’t hurt and might help. After all, there was little else that could be done for infertility in that era, and such advice surely did no harm.

Since then pretty much all of us, although perhaps not Representative Akin and those from whom he seems to have gotten his information, have learned a lot more about reproductive biology. Today, with the new reproductive technologies, we don’t even need sexual intercourse, let alone a womb “in a state of delight,” for conception to occur. And we have also learned that more than 30,000 pregnancies a year occur as a result of the act of rape.

Representative Akin’s remarks caused a firestorm within the national Republican Party, many of whose leaders are calling for him to withdraw from his Senate race even as the party faithful are about to vote for an anti-abortion plank — one with no exception for women whose pregnancies result from rape or incest — in the Republican Party Platform. Akin argued that a woman who became pregnant as a result of a rape could not have really been raped and would force her to maintain the pregnancy. The Republicans voting in Tampa – and Paul Ryan, their Vice-Presidential candidate – would not deny she had been raped but they’d still not allow her to terminate the pregnancy. (The presidential candidate demurs, however. Mitt Romney would allow abortion in case of rape or incest or if the life of the mother were endangered.)

Last year, during the ultimately unsuccessful attempts by Republicans to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, it seemed as if the nation was about to retrogress to the early twentieth century, to just before the time when Margaret Sanger and her allies began their fight to legalize birth control. Now, it looks like we’re traveling backwards at least another century. If they weren’t so frightening – what’s next, repealing women’s right to vote? – these attempts to turn back the clock would almost seem funny.

Sixteen years ago, a book by former Republican insider Tanya Melich urged Republicans to change their antifeminist stance. The Republican War Against Women argued that Republican policies since the era of Ronald Reagan increasingly undermined the rights of American women. Melich called on the party to change its divisive tactics. Clearly, the party did not listen, but that does not change the soundness of Melich’s analysis.   




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Testifying at Legislative Hearings on the Bill to Restructure Higher Education

Yesterday, I testified in Trenton at the legislative hearings on the bill to restructure higher education in New Jersey. Below is an edited, amalgamated version combining my written and oral testimony. I was testifying on just one of the many potential consequences of the bill – its impact on research and teaching at Rutgers-Camden.

Earlier today [Thursday, June 14], you heard at least one person claim during testimony that southern New Jersey lacked a research university. But Rutgers-Camden is indeed a research university, one of three campuses of what is currently the state’s only comprehensive research university.  In addition, for the past decade Rutgers-Camden has also been on a rapid pathway to achieving Carnegie Doctoral/Research University status in its own right, defined by Ph.D.-level education and significant research activity.  We’ve seen graduate enrollment grow by more than 70%. New doctoral programs have flourished, gaining national and international recognition. More and more outstanding scholars have joined the faculty, and the campus saw an 84% increase in federal funding. Endowments grew substantially. 

Then, last January, Governor Christie endorsed a proposal to merge Rutgers-Camden into Rowan University.  Immediately, Rutgers-Camden alumni, students, faculty and staff rose up against the proposal, and most New Jerseyans agreed with us. Why deny students in southern New Jersey a chance to earn a Rutgers degree –  a degree from one of only 61 members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the most prestigious university association in  all of North America? Why put in jeopardy the successes of the past decade? Why limit college choice for New Jersey students and force them out of state? [One of the main reasons that students leave the state for higher education, studies show, is not enough choices within the state.]

Now, five months later you have legislation before you that would achieve a de facto merger. [My colleague Andy Lees called it, it in his testimony, "merger on the installment plan."] The bill now under consideration calls for retaining the Rutgers name in Camden but creates a new governing board that would, in the language of the bill, “have full authority over all matters concerning the supervision and operations of Rowan University and Rutgers-University-Camden.” This does not improve matters. A joint board won’t help with federal grant funding. It won’t open any new seats for students in southern New Jersey. Its only impacts are negative ones, taking authority away from both Rutgers-Camden and Rowan, adding more costs, and forcing the two schools to compete for resources from a new governance structure with no history of ties to either institution.

I ask you to amend this legislation to remove the provision for a joint governance board that would have fiscal and operational authority over both Rutgers-Camden and Rowan, and to affirm the overarching authority of Rutgers University to set academic and faculty standards, including tenure and promotion. Rutgers-Camden must remain Rutgers in fact as well as in name.

We can bring about dramatic improvements in higher education in South Jersey by building upon, not distorting, the missions of both Rutgers and Rowan. Both institutions have the incentives as well as the means to form partnerships in the region. If a joint board must exist, narrow its focus to joint partnerships. Don’t sacrifice the strengths of each institution to external control. New Jersey deserves no less.

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Smack Down between Competing Visions for Higher Education or a Way Forward?

Today, I have a column in the Courier Post.  In it I urge Senator Don Norcross to remove the provision for a joint governing board, which would have fiscal and operational authority over both Rutgers-Camden and Rowan, from the bill that he and Senator Steve Sweeney introduced last Monday.

A joint board that can veto the decisions of two independent institutions doesn’t advance the interests of higher education in the region or the state. All it does is take authority away from both Rutgers-Camden and Rowan, forcing them to compete for resources from yet another level of governance without a history of ties to either institution.

It also injects the opportunity for politics to play too great a role in internal university governance. Surely we have not forgotten so soon the lessons of UMDNJ. Several years ago, political interference helped put that institution in a difficult, indeed precarious, position.

Why go through a disruptive and costly dismantling process when the Rutgers Boards of Governors and Trustees have now, in a joint statement of principles, committed to making the internal changes that South Jersey political leaders have said they wanted, changes that will make it possible to bring about dramatic improvements in higher education in southern New Jersey?

At a packed meeting in New Brunswick last Wednesday, the two governing boards issued what they called a statement of principles, which reminded everyone that according to the law, they and they alone call the shots at Rutgers.   But even as they made it clear that the only entities with the power to decide what Rutgers will do are the  Rutgers boards, they also offered to make changes to the internal governance of the university that would allow Rutgers-Camden the autonomy – both fiscal and operational – that the campus needs in order to reach its potential.  With equitable resources and more decision-making authority over those resources, the campus should be able to grow to perhaps 12,000 students over the next several years, have significantly more students living on campus, and develop the additional Ph.D. programs that will complete the campus’s transition to a full-fledged Carnegie Research Institution. The boards also agreed to beef up the authority of the Chancellor, which, as a former occupant of that office, I agree is essential. (Although I’m not going to discuss it here, what they are willing to do for Camden, they pledged to do for Newark, too.)

The boards also agreed to consider ways for the Camden campus to develop partnerships with Rowan, as long as each institution retains its independence and autonomy, and the partnerships are approved by Rutgers.

The adoption of these principles is welcome news to all of us who have opposed severing Rutgers-Camden from the university and uniting it with Rowan. The Board of Trustees had already acted, independently. In early May, they rejected  overwhelmingly any plan that would sever the Camden campus from the university. But the Board of Governors, as it had been since January, was silent. Until last week. Now they have spoken out, loud and clear.

Does this mean that proposals for the break-up of Rutgers and Rutgers-Camden’s merger into Rowan will be abandoned? My hope is that the boards’ action will spur our lawmakers to adopt the statement of principles as a basis for amending the bill as it applies to Rutgers. The principles speak to most of the critical issues:

1. Providing increased higher education opportunities in the region and more resources to South Jersey to provide them. Now, Rutgers has committed to providing Rutgers-Camden with an equitable share of resources and the operational authority to use them. 

2. Reducing the outmigration of college students from New Jersey.  Research has shown that one of the top reasons given by students for leaving New Jersey to attend college is that the state does not offer enough choice in higher education. If we don’t want even more students to leave, we have to preserve and enhance the choices they have, including their ability to choose Rutgers-Camden, Rowan, or Stockton for higher education in the southern part of the state.

3. Leveraging the intellectual resources in the region for research. There are tremendous opportunities to maximize existing and emerging strengths. I’ve already noted the need for additional Ph.D. programs. Some of them should be joint programs with the Cooper Medical School of Rowan, including MD/Ph.D. programs that could be part of a new Center for Integrative Biology and Genomic Medicine. Health Law, Health Policy, and Bio-ethics offer other opportunities for partnership. Collaborative research centers and new areas of study should be a priority. Without sacrificing the independence of either university, we can create a research and educational powerhouse.

4. Revitalizing the city of Camden. Rutgers-Camden has made its home in this city since becoming part of Rutgers six decades ago. It anchors the northern part of the city’s downtown, just as Cooper Hospital anchors the Broadway corridor. As both institutions grow, independently and together, they have to opportunity not just to remake the downtown but to have a major impact on the city’s revitalization, which could help transform the region. And let me remind everyone that without a genuine Rutgers in Camden, this will not happen. With less choice, there will be fewer students, and the campus’s world-class faculty will go elsewhere. That’s been said before, but it bears repeating.

The devil, as always, will be in the details. The Boards have now committed to the outlines of a structure in which there would be a chancellor for each campus, reporting to the president; board committees or subcommittees for each campus; and advisory councils for each campus that could include public members. The next task will be to work with all the campuses and their stakeholders to develop a structure that provides for the autonomy and equity, within the framework of the Rutgers University governance system, laid out in the principles.

All of us, lawmakers and citizens alike, want outstanding higher education in southern New Jersey. We want to make the region a hub for innovative research. We want to revitalize Camden. And we want to dramatically increase opportunities for New Jersey’s students to stay in the state. (Not to mention that it is also important for us to be attracting high quality students to the state.) The Rutgers boards have listened. So, as long as the Rutgers boards agree to implement the principles, will that reassure political leaders in South Jersey?

That remains to be seen. I hope so. It would be a shame to destroy what we already have, and waste time and money on an expensive and unnecessary merger, when we’d be better off getting to work developing the degree programs, centers, and research institutes that are at the heart of academic excellence. Other states have done it without costly mergers, through partnerships and structured alliances. We can too. 




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Why It’s Important to Keep Rutgers in Southern New Jersey

On Wednesday, the University of Medicine and Dentistry Advisory Committee, also known as the Barer Committee, recommended that Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden “unite under the Rowan name.” The goal of such a merger would be “to support Cooper Medical School of Rowan University” and “develop a comprehensive public research university.”  On Friday morning, a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial endorsed that recommendation. I disagree.

            From 1998 until 2011 I served in leadership positions at Rutgers. My views on this issue are shaped by my unique privilege of having served as Dean of Arts and Sciences for more than a decade and as interim Chancellor of the Camden campus for more than two years, as well as my experience in other institutions of higher education. I should emphasize that as a current faculty member I am not speaking for Rutgers but for myself.

Rutgers-Camden and Rowan are both fine institutions. They are also very different, with distinct identities, providing undergraduate students with diverse choices for achieving a bachelor’s degree. These different options represent a strength of the region, not a weakness.

In my judgment, the best and most cost-effective way to ensure that southern New Jersey has a strong research university would be to provide greater autonomy to the one that already exists – Rutgers-Camden – and enable it to grow. Rutgers is an international brand name. It would be foolish to abandon it. Retaining the name and adding the resources that autonomy would bring, Rutgers-Camden could easily grow to 12,000 to 15,000 students over the next decade. Rutgers-Camden has made its home in the city since becoming part of Rutgers six decades ago. It anchors the northern part of the city’s downtown, just as Cooper Hospital anchors the Broadway corridor. Imagine what Rutgers-Camden could do for the city, region, and state with 12,000 students.

Over the past decade or so, and most dramatically over the past five years, Rutgers-Camden has transformed itself from a campus that primarily offered high quality undergraduate education to a more fully-fledged research university; even two decades ago, its research faculty and law school distinguished it from a typical liberal arts college. These qualities set the stage for its accelerated development in the first decade of the 21st century.

 Since 1999, enrollment campus-wide has increased by almost 35%, and the graduate school has grown by more than 70%. The number of graduate programs has doubled. Starting in 2007 the campus has added Ph.D. programs, the essential hallmark of a research university. And because Rutgers is a member of the elite American Association of Universities – a distinction held by only sixty two of North America’s universities – its name conveys instant national and international cachet within higher education and among funding agencies.

Rutgers-Camden’s growth has been fueled by new programs and schools, the quality of its Ph.D. programs, and its focus on undergraduate research and civic engagement. In professional education, Rutgers-Camden has long been known for its nationally-recognized law school. Now, the campus also has a thriving four-year business school with vibrant graduate programs. This year, Rutgers-Camden added a School of Nursing.

Rutgers-Camden does not have an affiliation with the Cooper Medical School. Still, an extensive, expensive, and complicated merger is not the only way to support Cooper’s new medical school. Rutgers-Camden and the Cooper Medical School could develop a formal consortial arrangement, with Rutgers faculty offering science courses, and our outstanding scientists in the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology partnering with faculty in the medical school on research projects. And Rutgers-Camden and Rowan could partner in other areas as well. There are models for formal partnerships, such as North Carolina’s Research Triangle, that we should emulate.

Rather than attempting to merge two institutions located nearly 20 miles apart, with different missions and cultures, it makes more sense for Rutgers to allow it more autonomy and provide it with its own budget. Central services could be paid for by contractual arrangements and could be managed by the existing office of Finance and Administration. This structure would not create a new bureaucracy; it would, however, allow Rutgers to fully serve South Jersey in a much more comprehensive way.

Southern New Jersey already has in Rutgers-Camden the research university that is needed in this part of the state and we should build upon it. Let’s follow the lead of other states that have created very successful formal alliances between universities. That way, each one retains its individual identity and strengths, while leveraging the resources of both to create new opportunities for students and faculty.           

Let’s look to the future, not the past. Shame on us if we allow the takeover of Rutgers-Camden to happen, weakening what strengths are already in place in the region and leaving to the fates to speculate what might happen to make up for those losses many years down the road.

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“Beyond Infertility”: New book project in the works

I’ve begun working on a new project with my long-time collaborator, my sister Wanda Ronner. If you’ve read our previous books, you may know that I’m the historian and she’s the physician, and that we’ve now spent more than two decades reading, writing, and talking about reproductive matters in their myriad medical, cultural, ethical, and historical contexts.

For our new book, which one family member teasingly calls “volume three in the infertility trilogy,” we’re turning our attention to the recent history of infertility, reproductive medicine, and assisted reproductive technologies. Its working title is “Beyond Infertility” and our goal is to provide a long-range perspective on the unprecedented ways – deeply unsettling to some and profoundly liberating to others – whereby families can be created by means of the new reproductive technologies. Although we’re concentrating on the United States, we’ll situate this country’s experiences within what has become a global transformation in reproductive practices. We start the book at around 1970, because that was when it became clear that babies conceived through in vitro fertilization could be reasonably anticipated to be born within the next decade, and we will end in the present.

Robert Edwards (l), Jean Purdy, and Patrick Steptoe with Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby, just after her birth in 1978


Gestational surrogates in India with their physician, 2011

“Beyond Infertility” will weave together the medical, cultural, social, and political histories of infertility and assisted reproduction. It will also pay particular attention to egg and embryo donation, gestational surrogacy, and fertility preservation.


Given our areas of expertise in the history of women, gender and the family (Margaret) and in obstetrics/gynecology and women’s health (Wanda), we believe we can approach the subject in a distinctive way, crossing the boundaries between the humanities and medicine and providing a much-needed historical perspective on a subject of enormous contemporary significance.

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