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Who would Greg Schiano vote for?

The upcoming state Governor's race in New Jersey is somewhat heating up (on the internet at least), and is one of the few strictly local stories generating any level of interest at the moment. The latest Quinnipiac poll from several weeks back showed Chris Christie's lead over Jon Corzine expanding to twelve points. The race has national implications, with moribund Republicans looking to score victories anywhere they can, in order stem Pres. Obama's momentum. The point of this post isn't really to weigh into politics, but rather, to try and look at the race from a Rutgers University perspective. I don't even claim that the state should adopt specific proposals when it comes to funding higher ed; my intent is just to make sure that readers who do care about that issue know what's going on.

Liberal New Jersey's political spectrum is very different from the corresponding equilibrium on a national level in various ways. It's not much of a battleground in the culture wars. At the end of the day, New Jersey politicians from both sides of the aisle are equally willing to put their remaining differences aside, and come together in a smoky, poorly-lit backroom and hammer out a few no-bid contracts. No civics lesson is necessary; that's one reason for the apathy so many state residents display towards politics.

Jon Corzine has managed to keep his nose clean in a state full of political corruption. That's no small accomplishment (especially compared to his predecessor Jim McGreevey, who appointed George Zoffinger to the Rutgers BoG over significant opposition), although you don't need much in the way of pull with a golden parachute from Goldman Sachs. It may not be enough to burst Christie's halo from stemming from his tenure as U.S. Attorney, however.

What is Gov. Corzine's record in regards to higher education, Rutgers University, and its athletic and football program in particular? He hasn't shown any particular animus, and has even tried at times to associate himself with several Scarlet Knight teams. It's clear that any Governor at this time would be facing a very difficult situation; and there's nothing to indicate that his performance has deviated in any way, whatsoever, than what a decisively conventional politician would have done in the same situation.

At the same time, while Jon Corzine has tried to be helpful when in the position to assist, he has not gone above and beyond the call of duty with regards to Rutgers. I don't necessarily think that it's fair to expect him to, or that anyone else would have; but he has not. Again, he's clearly between a rock and a hard place with the budget. The state was poised to further reduce the higher ed budget this year before federal stimulus money came to the rescue. These concerns are systemic, and largely out of his control. If there exists a more preferable option capable of actively improving on the value over a replacement politician (did 538 coin that one yet?), then by all means that individual would be better suited for the job.

Is that guy Chris Christie? It's one thing to spout platitudes in a primary debate, without offering any thing substantive behind those vague assertions. I'm careful to make any claims about either party being more or less hospitable to Rutgers; cutting the budget (and in general, making poor long-term decisions) has been a bipartisan effort for decades. Christie may very well be a public friend of the program as Governor, as Corzine has tried to be. Christie has made noises about making higher education more affordable, and attempting to keep more quality students in-state, but his proposals are dreadfully light on any sort of specifics. Which, politically, is a savvy move.

Recently, Christie incorrectly stated that a New Jersey resident would actually pay less tuition attending a SUNY school than Rutgers. That's not true, but it really is telling that Rutgers is only $2,000 cheaper counting the in-state discount. Christie's heart is in the right place on this issue, in recognizing that tuition is far too high, but he's not offering much in the way of solutions. Nobody can just snap their fingers and lower the cost by magic. Tuition is high because the school doesn't have other sources of funding (and don't forget, enrollment is drastically up, at unsustainable levels, for the same reason). As Governor, would Christie drastically increase state aid for higher ed? Work with the private sector and federal government to secure new research grants and public/private partnerships? Enhance the community college system, and steer more students into those for their first two years of college? Those are the kind of specifics that I'm looking for; they're desperately lacking, altogether absent, from Christie's proposals at the moment.

In all likelihood, regardless of who wins this fall (third party candidates may pledge more funding for higher ed, or privatization, but are unlikely to win), the state, and Rutgers University, can look towards more penny pinching in the years ahead. Barring further revelations and proposals, it does not seem to matter a lick of difference who wins this fall as far as this particular issue is concerned. For that reason, I would advise Rutgers-minded voters to vote their conscience. (That conclusion ought not to hamper any long term efforts to organize Rutgers students and the 200,000 alumni living in New Jersey as an effective lobbying constituency.) If you believe that the Governor's office will have a large impact, and think that one of these guys will be an economic savior; then a rising tide will lift all boats, and by all means that person would be great for RU.

Truly, Democrats ought to be ashamed on that point, as hypothetically they are supposed to be the party of public education. Instead, years of bipartisan cuts leave the Rutgers-minded voter with few friends in state government. By default, Christie and the Republicans win. Corzine is trailing in the polls despite a huge edge in party registration. One reason why is likely that several key constituencies that normally lean their way feel alienated, or at least left out to an extent. If Corzine and the Democrats continue to squander what should be their natural advantages, those voters will stay home, and it will be a very difficult November for state Democrats. That isn't working against their interests if Democrats haven't been very good friends as of late (the high water mark in state funding was under Tom Kean). Christie is trying to broaden his appeal and reach out, but he won't be the one losins sleep if students or alumni decide to skip the polls.

Given the fact that, despite their relative paucity in financial support, it remains important for Rutgers to curry good favor with all local politicians. That requires not getting on their bad side. In essence, you have to remain as noncontroversial as possible. Coach Schiano and the football program are within their rights to say, advocate voter registration and involvement in the political process, but the last thing that Schiano should do at the moment is to ruffle anyone's feathers. Backing the wrong horse could lead to repercussions down the line. Besides; wasn't the whole idea behind Rutgers as a state university, and it investing in a football program, that the Scarlet Knights could be a force in New Jersey for transcending and rising above all boundaries and distinctions, bringing together every person in this state?

By the way, to answer the initial question posed in the title of this post, I don't have a direct answer. What I do have is an educated guess based on electoral demographics. In politics, whites tend to lean towards the Republican Party. So do men. White males? The answer is transitive. Even in New Jersey, exit polls indicated that John McCain slightly carried the demographic last year. In particular, football coaches (who are still overwhelmingly white males), tend to lean towards the right. Schiano's mentor Joe Paterno is notorious for his support of the Republican party. There are exceptions to every inference, but I'm just throwing that out there.

No, I don't have the answers for the Rutgers administration and community. It's easy to criticize and second guess, and difficult to govern. That's a given, whether it comes to the decision makers in New Brunswick or in Trenton. I also know that there isn't much of an audience here for posts not directly related to RU football (like it or not, this subject is directly intertwined with the athletic department's future trajectory). However, if a post spurs even one person to learn more about these topics and make better informed decisions, I know that I have more than done my part as a concerned alumnus, if even for extremely selfish reasons. I want the athletic program to accomplish great things, and I want the school to aim even higher. The problem is that people largely aren't discussing these issues, and that might be the one area where anyone can have an impact.

This post is as much of a call to action as it is a primer. The entire school, including the football program, needs to do a better job of articulating its message. I think Pres. McCormick is off to a good start, writing op-eds arguing that investments in Rutgers pay off sixfold, and issuing press releases showing how the school drives local economic activity. The school set up the Friends of Rutgers website a few years back, which has a list showing how Rutgers University has a positive impact in each state legislative district. This information is out there in bits and pieces, and it's up to Rutgers to effectively package the facts and make sure that elected officials and their constituents hear the right message.