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Rutgers University Inaugurates First Black President In Its Nearly 250-Year-History

Rutgers University Inaugurates First Black President In Its Nearly 250-Year-History

The inauguration was postponed a year due to COVID, but now it’s official!

Rutgers University just inaugurated its first Black president in the school’s nearly 250-year-history, reports. 

In January 2020, Rutgers University named Jonathan Holloway its 21st president; Holloway made history as the first Black person to hold the title since its founding in 1766. No stranger to firsts, Holloway served as a faculty member at Yale University from 1999 to 2017, making history as the first Black dean at the prestigious College in 2014. He went on to serve as provost of Northwestern University from 2017 to 2019.

In July 2020, Holloway took office as president of Rutgers; his inaugural ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic. As he led the university through an unprecedented time, one of the first things he did was take a 10% pay cut for himself and approve a tuition and fee freeze for the 2020-2021 academic year. During the two-hour ceremony celebrating his appointment, Holloway acknowledged the challenges he faced since stepping into his new role.

“It’s a great honor to stand before you today. As I have learned over the course of my 18 months in office, this honor does not come freely, nor does it come without its difficulties…”[Taking office during an] age of profound social reckoning [was challenging but]... I stand before you gladly,” said Holloway. 

Holloway has already raised more than $10 million for the Scarlet Promise Grant program, aiding students experiencing financial hardship, many brought on by the pandemic. At the ceremony, Holloway said his most important statistic is the more than 9,000 students who have already benefited from the program. He also announced his commitment to raising more than $50 million for the program in the next few years. 

The Montgomery, Alabama native is also committed to building “a beloved community” in New Jersey. He announced the building of an innovation and technology hub in New Brunswick and the creation of the “Rutgers Summer Service” initiative, whose goal is to hire 150 students in paid public service internships. Last September, Holloway also announced that the University had received a five-year, $15 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice. 

“The nation is at a tipping point with respect to racial and social justice. This grant will enable Rutgers, an institution older than the country itself, to be an international leader in understanding the causes, effects, and solutions to problems that have plagued the world,” Holloway said via a statement on the Rutgers website. 

The seriousness of Holloway’s historic appointment was not lost on the audience. Historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar spoke at the ceremony, calling Holloway’s presence “a promise of possibility” for the University. The crowd sang the national anthem, the ceremony replete with full regalia and faculty, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy even attending. 

Murphy, who appointed Holloway to his Restart & Recovery Commission after the pandemic, praised his appointment, saying, “We need leadership committed to push us in the right direction, to not just teaching history but also learning from history.”

In his speech, Holloway said he’s committed to changing the face of higher education, using a comparison inspired by a speech he heard as a graduate student from the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Third Circuit Court, A. Leon Higginbotham. 

“I wish I could say the skeptics are always wrong, but Rutgers remains a work in progress. We may not complete the cathedral, but we will be...Rutgers will be...a sight to behold,” said Holloway. 

Congratulations, President Holloway! Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of Chris Pedota/ Today Network