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Conflict Dogged Rutgers President Before Attack Over Race Comment

February 11, 1995

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ When the president of Rutgers University came under attack for comments about race and genetics, he faced his enemies without a large resevoir of support to draw upon.

Many faculty members already believed Francis Lawrence was aloof and arrogant, and they were upset by simmering conflicts over such issues as tenure. Some said he had alienated himself from the university community.

``He hasn’t aroused great affection and warmth from the faculty,″ said Robert Comstock, a journalism lecturer at the New Brunswick campus. ``I don’t hear anyone forming any fan clubs.″

A storm of protest erupted at the campus last week over Lawrence’s remark that minority students lacked the ``genetic hereditary background″ to perform well on standardized tests. Lawrence has apologized for the remark, claimed he made it inadvertently and said it doesn’t reflect his true beliefs.

The Rutgers Board of Governors condemned Lawrence’s words Friday but reaffirmed its support of the president.

The board issued its statement after a private session and a sometimes raucous 3 1/2-hour public meeting with strong words from both sides.

Angry students demanding Lawrence’s resignation heckled speakers as others tried to force their way into the room.

The protest capped off a week of demonstrations that included a sit-in that stopped a basketball game. Students said Friday they planned to continue calling for Lawrence’s resignation. Rahim Winston, 22, a junior on the Newark campus, said, ``We’re going to do anything that we feel is necessary, by any means necessary, to get our point across.″

About 32 percent of the state university’s 47,700 students are minorities; just under 10 percent are black.

Some faculty and staff members, both black and white, spoke in Lawrence’s defense during Friday’s meeting. They said he should be credited for his efforts to increase diversity at Rutgers.

``I’m not going to allow the lynching of Fran Lawrence,″ said Mary Davidson, dean of the School of Social Work, who is black.

``President Lawrence’s statement is inconsistent and incongruent with his character,″ said Emmet Dennis, a black professor of biological sciences.

But other faculty members say Lawrence’s style created resentment and tension before the current controversy erupted.

``A lot of faculty consider him to be high-handed and arrogant in the way he deals with us,″ said Barbara Foley, an associate professor of English at the Newark campus.

The most bitter conflict between Lawrence and the faculty has been over his proposal that tenured faculty undergo performance reviews. Ironically, that proposal was the subject of the November meeting where Lawrence made his remarks about test scores, and was the reason the session was tape-recorded.

Lawrence’s comments drew no notice at the time. But a tape of the meeting was distributed by the American Association of University Professors to faculty members interested in post-tenure review. The union said it learned of the remark Jan. 30 from someone who had listened to the tape.

William Lutz, an English professor at the Camden campus, said a certain amount of conflict, even distrust, between a president and the faculty is far from unusual.

``There’s always friction between the faculty and the president,″ Lutz said. ``But even people who prefer that he wasn’t president think he’s a good man who’s being treated unfairly.″

And some people who knew Lawrence at Tulane University, where he was a professor and administrator for 25 years before coming to Rutgers, recall a different image.

One professor recounts, for example, the time Lawrence brought his childhood collection of baseball cards to a faculty meeting. As soon as the business at hand was completed, he reached under the table and pulled out a scrapbook filled with the cards he had collected as a boy.

``We all sat around and admired them,″ Tulane professor Frederick Koenig recalled Friday. Lawrence laughed about how he had ruined their value by pasting them in the book. ``He joked about how we all do things like that,″ Koenig said.

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