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University Finance and Administration

Sit Down with Jonathan Holloway: Recap

In celebration of Black History Month, University Finance and Administration's In My B.A.G. (Black Affinity Group) Network hosted a conversation with Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway on Thursday, February 10. Speaking to more than 140 guests, President Holloway discussed the magnitude and pressure of holding a leadership position in a time of the murder of George Floyd, a global pandemic, and the dying days of affirmative action.

Jonathan Holloway
Jonathan Holloway, Rutgers University President

Prior to serving as Rutgers 21st president, Dr. Holloway was provost of Northwestern University, Dean of Yale College, and professor at both. Yale was roughly 313 years old when he became the first Black Dean. Northwestern was about 166 years old when he became the first Black provost, and Rutgers was 254 years old when he became the first Black president.

“Institutions must be prepared to shatter ceilings,” said President Holloway. “The purpose is to get people from different perspectives together, because it leads to better ideas. For whatever reasons it took Yale, Northwestern, and Rutgers to be in a place where it seemed reasonable or desirable to have a Black person in a particular position, it’s really cool that I’m the one to break the barrier. But, it also comes with a bunch of expectations.”

He compared his Rutgers presidency to that of Barack Obama, in the sense that both men were held to much higher standards. “Obama had to be so desirable to a progressive white community. He had to be able to speak many different languages, figuratively speaking. There will be a moment when Black student activists will call me out for not being Black enough (whatever that means),” said President Holloway.

President Holloway highlighted some differences in being the first Black president, including his daily “cost benefit analysis” thought process. He uses this term to explain how, in June 2020 when his family moved in to the Rutgers presidential house, he had to contemplate what to bring with him when taking his dogs for a walk. “I wasn’t sure how the property was managed, or if people knew who I was, so I needed my ID card that said ‘Rutgers President.’ I had to think about which pocket it would go into and prepare to tell a police officer that I am the president,” said Holloway.

Although nothing happened and he only felt supported by everyone, he says the cost benefit analysis is, “just a fact of being Black in America, or being a woman, or being Asian, the list goes on. In an age of dying affirmative action, I worry that people are making decisions about this moment without understanding how even the most privileged African Americans (like me) have to do the cost benefit analysis when leaving the house in the morning.”

When Holloway was named Rutgers 21st President in January of 2020, he was shocked about the news headlines. The news stories were quick to state that he played football with Cory Booker at Stanford but failed to mention his other attributes until further into the articles. Just as President Biden stated in 2007 that Barack Obama was “articulate, bright, and clean,” Dr. Holloway describes this as “lazy language.”

"Institutions must be prepared to shatter ceilings."

Jonathan Holloway

Rutgers University President

“I believe I am a mild, modest guy, but I am proud of what I’ve done in my academic career. It’s been amazing to break a glass ceiling, but also difficult to navigate that space because the expectations are outsized, since it’s been waiting for centuries. The expectations are serious, they are magical, and they are mundane,” said President Holloway.

Someone once asked him if he thought Rutgers hired him just because he is Black. His response was, “No. I think they hired me for my talent, and they wanted the best in the field.” He believes the best way to respond is to be polite, yet blunt.

“It assumes that excellence can’t look like me. Rutgers needs to speak to the profound diversity it offers, which exudes excellence,” said President Holloway. He believes he is the right president for the right moment.

View President Holloway’s conversation.