Back in 2012, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie presented a statewide reorganization plan for its colleges. Much of that plan has since been implemented, but one particular aspect has not: merging the Camden campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, with Rowan University, formerly Glassboro State College, into a single University of South Jersey system. That aspect of the plan was met with an uproar from my alma mater, Rutgers-Camden.
Tempers ran high. Neither side did themselves any favors in the weeks to come. Chris Christie pretty much presented the plan as a done deal, and then took on naysayers in his signature blustery tone, even calling one an “idiot.” For their part, the anti-merger folks ignored Rutgers-Camden’s systemic and very real identity problem of being an outpost campus dependent on a governing body in New Brunswick. They also adopted rallying calls like Rutgers Leaves Camden Bleeds, which at best reflected a noblesse oblige toward the city that would surprise anyone who has actually lived in Camden, myself included.
It was in the middle of this that I wrote an op-ed in favor of the merger–or, to be more specific, the idea of a merger–and sent it along to my hometown’s local daily newspaper, The Courier-Post. It was all set to run that summer. Then I chickened out: in the weeks that followed, on Facebook and Twitter and even email, I was flamed to no end when I expressed even a pro-merger peep. “You’re just a Norcross hack,” someone wrote, referring to South Jersey powerbroker Donald Norcross, a proponent of the plan (who would also benefit from it). Other messages had, you know, bad words in them. If anything, the whole debacle proved to me I don’t have thick enough skin to be Maureen Dowd.
Two years later, the plan pretty much scrapped, I still think I had a point. Rutgers-Camden remains Rutgers, with some changes on the governance level. It remains very much as a satellite of the larger main campus just one hour up the New Jersey Turnpike. And many grads still leave “Camden” off their resumes entirely, which saddens me to no end.
At any rate, here’s the op-ed, bio intact.
ALBANY, NY—In 1949, Arthur Armitage, president of the College of South Jersey, offered to rename his college.
His price? A million dollars.
“We are not so enamored with the name,” Armitage told the New York Times, “that we wouldn’t be very glad to change it if some wealthy person wants to make a generous endowment.”
Armitage got his wish, in a manner of speaking, when the next year the college absorbed into Rutgers.
Like many South Jersey natives, I’m a Rutgers graduate. A Rutgers-Camden graduate. That distinction doesn’t mean much up here in Albany, where I now live. But it does for me, just as saying I’m from South Jersey, not North, and I’m a Phillies fan, not part of Yankees Nation.
South Jersey pride is partly why I’m excited at the prospect of a Rutgers-Rowan merger, proposed last month by Gov. Chris Christie.
The prospect of a single institution with its own law, business, engineering and medical schools has been met with universal scorn from current Rutgers-Camden students and alumni. The Internet overflows with petitions, Facebook pages, and handwringing over the prestige of their degrees.
My reaction is different. I see the prospect of a university, preferably with a new name, as a chance for South Jersey to make its mark.
Business-wise, this is a no-brainer. A large, integrated research university south of Exit 9 can get more grants, create biomedical and technology jobs, and train much needed medical specialists in what is already one of the centers for healthcare in the U.S. If what happened at Penn is any indication, those dollars eventually spill over into other areas and programs.
We’re also talking about logical partnerships as opposed to ones in name only. Alongside Newark, Camden depends on New Brunswick for its existence. The needs of the main campus “always takes precedence,” Stephen J. Diner, Rutgers-Newark’s former Chancellor, writes in the Star-Ledger. Construction, academics, tenure decisions, all come to Piscataway for sign-offs. Rutgers is the only doctoral-granting institution that doesn’t have one president per college. This mothership model is no way to run a university, let alone a mid-sized college.
The formation of a South Jersey college consortium, the alternative put forth by Rutgers faculty, is a fine idea, but promises nowhere near the same transformative power. Cross-listed classes and shared technology does not add up to a great university.
It’s no secret Camdenites feel disconnected from Raritan’s banks. “[W]e’re not really affiliated with New Brunswick to begin with,” one student said in a Rutgers-Camden’s Gleaner story on Charter Day celebrations. “[P]eople say that if you’re from New Brunswick, you’re part of Rutgers,” said another, and “if not, then you’re not from Rutgers.” To celebrate New Brunswick’s birthday in Camden is like holding a royal wedding party on the Falkland Islands.
And then there’s Camden. As one of the first to live in the dorms that debuted in 1986, I was part of an experiment to see if students would actually live in the city. We did, and prospered there. We shopped at the Campbell’s store, visited Walt Whitman’s house, and skateboarded under the Ben Franklin Bridge. We got a world-class education, but Camden’s appeal goes well beyond classrooms.
Some see Camden ‘crumbling into non-existence,’ post-Rutgers, as one anti-merger quips on Facebook. (“Rutgers Leaves, Camden Bleeds” reads another sign.) Evidence on the ground tells a different story. Cooper University Hospital’s enhanced status and Rowan’s expansion already has tangible effects, all blocks away from Rutgers. A University of South Jersey could play a greater role revitalizing Camden.
What’s in a name? Go outside the Garden State and mention you’re a Rutgers alum, and chances are you will experience campus confusion. “So, how did you like living in New Brunswick?” someone inevitably asks. Or talk about one of the many colleges clustered around the Raritan River. Perhaps we should follow in Armitage’s footsteps and see where it leads us, whichever the name. One thing is for sure: this Norcross guy should pay for a food court and a really big student center.
Daniel Nester (Rutgers-Camden 1991), is an associate professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.
The October 1984 issue of Record magazine featured an article by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck called “The True Spirit of American Rock.”
Back in those days, R.E.M. didn’t want for press—there were reviews and profiles in just about every issue of every rock magazine around this time. This article was different. It was someone from R.E.M. talking about what mattered about music, about “the alternative scene,” as he called it.
“Music simply doesn’t mean that much to most of the people who buy records. I’m 27 and I own one piece of furniture, a ratty old couch given to me out of pity by R.E.M.’s manager, Jefferson Holt. I’m sure there are people who’d be shocked by the way I live, just as I’m shocked when I got to someone’s house and see nothing but John Denver, Barry Manilow, and Chicago records. How could they listen to that? Well they don’t. That’s their version of my crummy couch.”
This article affected me deeply, in one of those ways it’s hard to explain because I was 16 and you’re not 16 forever and you can’t care about things like records and rock music as much as you were 16 forever. Along with providing a list of bands to check out next trip to the record store—dB’s, Minutemen, Mission of Burma—Buck’s article helped me adopt a live-and-let-live credo about non-record nerds, and also to content with being “moved by music made by real people for real reasons.”
I’m writing about Negative Capability and R.E.M. for my book and how loving this article helped me to not worry about having everything by a band or an encyclopedic knowledge about a band, that I could just love music. I lost the magazine in the move upstate, but bought the issue off of eBay. Here it is, scanned in its two pages, and made into a PDF.
A few days ago, poet and old friend Amy Lemmon invited me to be part of her week-long blog tour, and, once I understood what it meant, I accepted. I’m in a bit of a fog these days, what with it being summer, the wife and girls on a trip, and a recent binge of Queen + Adam Lambert concerts I’ve taken in over the past weeks. The blog tour means I answer questions about the most fascinating subject in my life, which is me. So here goes. I include Amy’s bio at the end of this post, but I just want to make a special plug for her book ABBA: The Poems, which she co-write with another fabulous poet, Denise Duhamel. Those poems rock in a way only collaboratively written poems about a Swedish pop band can.
On with the interview.
1. What am I currently working on?
I’ve been tidying up some essays and memoir pieces, some of which will appear in some form in Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Grief, Making Out in Church, and Other Unlearnable Subjects, due next year from 99: The Press. It’s my longest book to date–perhaps too long, which means I’ve been going through the manuscript with a laser-like focus that’s maddening and exciting at the same time.
There’s another, much freakier book I’ve been working on, a collection of 1,000 aphorisms, still untitled. I’ll probably end up publishing that myself.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That’s a very counter-intuitive question, if you ask me. If anything, I feel as if I am trying to find my traditions, people who are related to me writing-wise. In that sense I am very much under the spell of T.S. Eliot, whose essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” I read when I was 20 years old, shelving books at the Rutgers-Camden library. As far as nonfiction writing is concerned, I am trying to be more like others, or to connect and emulate with writers I love: Joan Didion, Meghan Daum, Sloane Crosley, Chuck Klosterman, Elif Batumen, Gregory Wolfe, James Baldwin, Katie Roiphe, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Sean H. Doyle, Emily Gould, Phillip Lopate, Wayne Koestenbaum, bell hooks, Joyce Maynard, Daphne Merkin, Nick Flynn, Stephen Elliott, Dave Hickey, If I could touch the hem of any of their writing garments, I would be ever so happy. But here’s the thing: I don’t write like any of them. I think I’m more in line–and keep in mind this is all delusional ambition–with writers like Nora Ephron, David Rakoff, David Sedaris, If I bring anything to the table, it has to do with the specifics of my experience and passions. Growing up as a blue collar Catholic in New Jersey informs everything I do and write.
3. How does my writing/creative process work?
I’m not really sure. It might begin on pieces of paper in notebooks or scraps of paper, a blog post or tweet, or grow out of some obsession I have or ideas I can’t get out of my head. One thing is for sure: it’s all about my ass in a chair and my hands on one of my old IBM Model M keyboards.
I don’t write for hours on end–we have two daughters who need attention, attention I want to give–and so it’s more of a structured, scheduled activity. I’m OK with that–without some schedule, I go a little nuts.
More about Amy Lemmon below. Check out her website, Saint Nobody, here.
Amy Lemmon is the author of two poetry collections—Fine Motor (Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Press, 2008) and Saint Nobody (Red Hen Press, 2009)—and co-author, with Denise Duhamel, of the chapbooks ABBA: The Poems (Coconut Books, 2010) and Enjoy Hot or Iced: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation (Slapering Hol Press, 2011). Her poems and essays have appeared in The Best American Poetry 2013, Rolling Stone, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Verse, Court Green, The Journal, Marginalia, and many other magazines and anthologies. Awards include a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship, the Elliston Poetry Prize, the Ruskin Art Club Poetry Prize, and scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, West Chester Poetry Conference, and Antioch Writers’ Workshop. She is Professor of English at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, adviser to FIT Words: The Club for Writers, and Poetry Editor of the online literary magazine Ducts.org. Amy lives in Astoria, Queens, with her two children.
I have a Freddie Mercury search on eBay, and up popped this August 1981 issue of Playgirl magazine. “PLAYGIRL Aug 1981 Ted Nugent DAVID BOWIE Freddie Mercury SPRINGSTEEN David Byrne” was the title of the listing.
From the description:
10 SEXIEST ROCKERS photo article includes BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, PAUL STANLEY, THE POLICE, DAVID BOWIE, DAVID LEE ROTH, DAVID BYRNE, FREDDIE MERCURY, TED NUGENT more.
Nude photo layout of hot MIDDLE AGE MEN.
All I could think of was Freddie Mercury made a sexiest rocker list? Whoah.
So I did it: I bought a back-issue of Playgirl magazine for ten bucks because it mentions Freddie Mercury.
Would it be as good as another eBay purchase, 16 magazine’s “Hunk of the Month”?
Not really. It’s just a little mention of Freddie, shirtless. The copy is blah.
For those of you who took my clickbait headline: I apologize.
At any rate, as a public service to fans of all those featured–Ted Nugent, David Byrne, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, I give you, my high-res scans of HOT ROCKERS!
Hello Capital Tech District Tri-City Valley Region Friends!
You have two–count ‘em two–chances to see me sweat in front of a microphone and read new writing words thoughts on paper in a live situation. If you go to both I will write a song about the subject of your choice.
Friday, June 6 8pm, free
Singer/writer Jasmine Dreame Wagner, guitarist Charlie Rauh, and Daniel Nester.
Upstate Artists Guild
247 Lark Street
Albany NY 12210
Facebook event page here.
Sunday, June 8, 3pm, free
Pine Hills Review Sunday Funday Reading Series presents: “First Times.” Featuring Pine Hills Review editors and friends reading about first sex, abortions, drugs, man-crying, boob jobs, and big booties. With Jacqueline Kirkpatrick, Jennifer Austin, Juliet Barney, Samson Dikeman, Daniel Nester, and others tba.
The Low Beat
335 Central Avenue
Albany NY 12206
Facebook event page here.