EJB Talks Podcast

Thea Berkhout

“Building Bloustein” – A Special 75th Episode

October 20, 2022

It’s our 75th episode of EJBTalks! For this very special episode, Stuart welcomes the school’s former Associate Dean Dorothea Berkhout. The two talk about the school’s namesake, President Edward J. Bloustein and why the school bears his name.  Thea reflects on President Bloustein’s innovative leadership, commitment to public service, his reorganization of the University and the path he paved for Rutgers’ current place in the Big Ten. She also talks about how the organizational foundation at the Bloustein School has played an invaluable role in growing the school from a couple of small programs to one that fulfills Ed Bloustein’s legacy with five majors and five graduate degrees. 

Stuart Shapiro
Welcome to EJB Talks. I’m Stuart Shapiro, the interim dean of the Bloustein School. And the purpose of this podcast is to highlight the work of my colleagues and our alumni in the fields of policy, planning, and health.

This 30th anniversary year for Bloustein, we are featuring particularly our alums and the contributions they’re making around the world. But today, as they say on television, we have a very special episode of EJB Talks. In addition to celebrating our 30th anniversary, it is our 75th podcast episode. So we’re going to reflect on Bloustein history with my former, now retired, fellow Associate Dean Thea Berkhout. Welcome to the podcast the

Thea Berkhout
Thanks, Stuart!

Stuart Shapiro
So let’s start, even before the beginning here, we’ll start with Ed Bloustein, the man for whom the school is named. What can you tell us about him and his legacy at Rutgers?

Thea Berkhout
Well, I have to say I was fortunate enough to have known President Edward Bloustein when he was president of Rutgers, and then to have had a 25-year career of associate dean at the school after which he was named.

So I was initially hired at the New Brunswick Provost’s Office, the New Brunswick campus Provost Office in 1983. And I worked there during Ed’s last six years as president. He died in office in 1989. While he was still president, yes. The New Brunswick provost office worked hand-in-hand with him to achieve his goal of getting Rutgers into the Association of American Universities, which is the organization that includes 60+ prestigious research universities in the United States. And that happened in a few ways, all of which I either saw happen, or I was working with his office then, to do these things.

First of all, he oversaw the academic reorganization of the New Brunswick campus. This involved combining into campus-wide faculties and schools, the various academic programs that separately existed within the various colleges. For instance, they were four different history departments. He combined them into individual departments. And then the Faculty of Arts and Sciences brought together a lot of those liberal arts and science departments. Then he established a review of all the university’s graduate programs to determine where to best allocate resources to strengthen them. Daniel Gorenstein was a great mathematics faculty member who really helped initiate that whole process. Secondly, Ed had a really good relationship with Tom Kean, who was Governor of the state at the time. And that was when the state established the Commission on Science and Technology. And five different advanced technology research centers were developed at Rutgers including, for example, ceramics engineering, fiber optics, research, etc. They all had boards from industry who would advise them on new trends and needs in industry; what it would take to get patents; or how to increase financial support for the research. These programs raised the visibility of the university and resulted in increased research funding, which was a really, and still is, an important criterion for AAU membership. And funding for the centers came from several bond referenda that were passed in the state.

He also–Governor Kane–provided through the legislature funding for world scholarly leaders, who were recruited to be on the faculty. And that also increased funding available to attract top graduate students from the state. That was when the state was being more generous with their support of the university.

Stuart Shapiro
Those were the days!

Thea Berkhout
These actions really strengthened a lot of the graduate programs and increased grant funding for other units. And then, another thing he did–President Bloustein–he really initiated the first major capital campaign at the university that brought in many major donors for the first time to the university. So those were the ones that I knew most about. I was involved in a lot of the ground-level work that happened with those, like working with the review teams that came in for the graduate programs. And right before he passed away, we were accepted into the AAU.

Stuart Shapiro
And without the AAU, the Big Ten never happens, and all sorts of things that happened later don’t happen.

Thea Berkhout
That’s correct.

Stuart Shapiro
So that’s a really critical step. Now, the Bloustein School may be in part it was named after him because of his accomplishments as president, but I think there’s more than that. Can you talk a little bit about why the school was named after him and how his legacy fits with what we do with Bloustein?

Thea Berkhout
Sure. Well, I mentioned that academic reorganization that had taken place. The last component of that reorganization was the establishment of the School of Planning and Public Policy. One of the last acts of Ed Bloustein was his request to the state’s Department of Higher Education to approve the school’s establishment. And that would bring together programs and research centers to serve, as he said, “to serve the state and local policy concerns.” He apparently wanted something like Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, but at Rutgers. And to be more locally focused rather than just internationally-focused like Woodrow Wilson. So it was established in 1992 after Ed had passed away, and it was the New Brunswick Provost’s idea that this newly-formed school be named after Ed, because of his dedication to service and activism, and his vision to establish such a school. The Board of Governors’ resolution, to approve the naming of the school in honor of him, cited his “leadership and pursuit of excellence for the university, providing distinction for the school and his commitment to service” as well.

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah, I had the pleasure of having lunch with his daughter a couple of weeks ago, and his commitment to public service and the public good clearly was something that was a core issue for him.

Thea Berkhout
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
So it was nice to hear that and then think about all the things that we’re doing that are going on now at the school. So let’s move on to the school. When did you join the school? And what role did you play?

Thea Berkhout
I came to the school, actually, at the invitation of Mike Greenberg, who…

Stuart Shapiro
A previous podcast guest!

Thea Berkhout
Yes, right! The Provost’s Office had been eliminated by Ed Bloustein’s successor. And Mike thought I’d be a good administrator for this newly-established school. So thanks to him, and Jim Hughes, who was then dean, I was hired and I was able to work at the school and help develop its administrative structure from the beginning. The school was established in 92, but it hadn’t been brought together under the same roof until 1996. So they had all moved into the building. And then I came shortly thereafter.

So I had many contacts in the central administration, from my previous position, and was able to easily call on people to provide advice in establishing the administration for the new school, both in terms of structure and in terms of policies and procedures. The school was sort of like a loose federation of units, academic departments, and a few centers. And I arrived just as they were brought together, as I said. And when I joined the school, the central administration of the school consisted of a dean, a secretary, and a one-quarter-time development person. ((laughing))

Stuart Shapiro
((laughing))

Thea Berkhout
Budgets were prepared on green ledger paper, and some functions were handled within departments and not well managed or were supportive of the school as a whole. Over the next several years, I developed the entire, really the entire support infrastructure of the school which consisted of eventually, centralized Student Services, IT services, business and HR services, communications, events, and facilities management. And I actually recruited and hired and trained almost all of the staff in those areas over the years. I also helped administratively established several new centers in the school, including some that included establishing endowments and being named by the Board of Governors, and establish policies and procedures for the schools, programs, centers and employees. So that’s really, over that period of time, the school really grew.

Stuart Shapiro
And just like the Big Ten wouldn’t have been possible without the AAU, the way the school looks now, wouldn’t have been possible without that foundation. Without those steps on which it was built. And it is a very different place now than when you started. And you just retired a year, what is it a year ago? Two years ago?

Thea Berkhout
Yes. Last July, a year ago, a little over a year ago.

Stuart Shapiro
Okay. Right. Yeah, one loses all sense of time, frankly, in this job! But what are the biggest changes that you saw between when you started and when you left last July?

Thea Berkhout
Well, in addition to building the support services, the school went through this academic reorganization, similar to what Bloustein did, I guess you could say, for the campus.

Stuart Shapiro
Yep.

Thea Berkhout
We combined the individual academic departments administratively but kept them separately organized as programs. So the faculty were able to focus on curriculum, their research, teaching, everything else, and didn’t have to worry about putting through purchase orders or you know, any of the administrative kind of work that used to be done in departments. And not very well, because, you know, people had to be jacks of all trades to be able to handle all of that. So, I also oversaw the administrative establishment of centers. As I mentioned, we started with three centers in the school. And at one point, I think we had as many as 15. And the school’s annual budget grew from $3 million to now I think it’s over $50 million, during that time.

We also had to over the years adapt to multiple changes in budget systems, budget models, HR systems, and I had to understand these and figure out how to best manage and maneuver the school’s resources to get the best advantage for the school out of what was going on universitywide. Another major change and part of it was budgetary, but part of it, I think, was, you know, due to faculty understanding and interest, we began primarily focused on our graduate programs. We had undergraduate majors, but they were extremely small. I would say maybe we had 30 to 50 students in public health or something like that. And now the undergraduate programs are much larger. And we have multiple majors. So all of that happened during the time I was at the school.

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah. And much larger than the graduate programs.

Thea Berkhout
Yes.

Stuart Shapiro
We had an alumni on two episodes ago from our public health program, who’s now at the World Health Organization. We’ve had numerous health administration students, and yeah, I mean, the school even looks a lot different than when I started in 2003, in part because of all these new programs and majors and all of that stuff.

Thea Berkhout
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
Talk a little bit about the challenges. And this is something I very much live with every day in this job. And being a small school at a big university. It brings a lot of advantages, but it also brings challenges.

Thea Berkhout
Right, so I don’t… I mean… I think the climate of the Bloustein School has always been close, I think, because for one reason we’re pretty much contained in a building together, in downtown New Brunswick, and that really brought faculty and students together as a body pretty much. On the other hand, we are not just too small a fish in the big pond. The advantage of being in a big university is, students can also take advantage, and faculty, of collaboration, taking courses elsewhere, and doing research with others in a larger university. As far as administratively, it’s true, though, that smaller schools need to have Deans and Associate Deans who understand the needs of the school, and are willing to be persistent with central administration to get their fair share. Because there is one large, very large unit, that has more than half of the faculty at the university, and then there are the smaller professional schools. So, it’s important in all kinds of ways, whether it’s in faculty promotions, or budgets, or, you know, any areas that we deal with administratively that we get our fair share, and that we also, you know, have to educate maybe sometimes people outside of the school about what’s the difference between a professional school and a liberal arts curriculum. That the Faculty of Arts and Sciences comprises all of those areas.

Stuart Shapiro
Yep. Yeah, it is sometimes hard to have our concerns heard and not sound like you’re whining at the same time when you voice that.

Thea Berkhout
Persistence, though, is important.

Stuart Shapiro
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So let’s finish with a couple of questions that are kind of broader if you will. What are you most proud of as the school turns 30, and you look back on your time here?

Thea Berkhout
Well, as I said, the establishment of a strong administrative structure in the school, which became a model for other schools in New Brunswick. We often got calls and asked, you know, how do you do this and you seem to be successful at this. I’m proud of some of the excellent staff members at the school, many of whom have remained there, and grown with the school. And proud of the growth of the school’s reputation overall. I’m proud that more and more alumni are getting involved in the school. I did to help develop the staffing for Career Services, and for Development, Fundraising, and Alumni Relations. And having these positions, and the great staff in them is paying off and getting us more alums who, hopefully, will become donors to the school in the future.

Stuart Shapiro
Everyone listening out there? ((laughing))

Thea Berkhout
((laughing)) And taking pride in the staff that I hired and developed. I did decide to leave a gift to the school to establish a staff Professional Development Fund. I think it’s important that — let me just say this, Jim Hughes did tell me when I came to the school, I want this to be the best-administered school at Rutgers. So that also requires training and mentoring staff. And by establishing this fund, I hope that everybody gets… understands the need to keep training and mentoring, and promoting staff from within the school. That’s something I hope others understand as well. And the importance of really good staff. I know we have great faculty. And that’s the most important thing for students. But having great staff is also important

Stuart Shapiro
It is and it’s one of those things that nobody on the outside sees for the most part.

Thea Berkhout
Correct.

Stuart Shapiro
And so, you know, I mean, a student will see it when they need something when their financial aid doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to…

Thea Berkhout
Right.

Stuart Shapiro
… or something along those lines, but without the staff. And like Moses, when he looked out on the desert, I lean on the staff quite a bit. (((laughing)))

Thea Berkhout
((laughing)) Right.

Stuart Shapiro
And as we finish, we’ll finish on a humorous note. Tell us a funny story about Ed Bloustein.

Thea Berkhout
Okay, so one thing I just want to say is that people don’t always know that Ed was very personable He liked to talk to people. He would walk down College Avenue and just talk with students and you know, start up conversations. Including… he would include and invite people with opposite points of view to come and talk with him because he wanted better understanding of where people were coming from. And he really tried to humanize everything that he did. So some people don’t really know that about him, but he loved talking with people. And that was a valuable thing.

I think one of the most interesting things I ever heard him say was at a faculty meeting, where people were not happy with his spending money in certain ways, whether it was on some departments or athletics. I don’t recall at the time what it was. But he said, he explained that his father had told him, regarding buying clothing, he said, Eddie, if you buy cheap, you get cheap. He said this was really an important point that governed his willingness to spend money to achieve excellence. And that was his defense. But I thought hey, Eddie, you buy cheap you get cheap.

Stuart Shapiro
Those are good words to live by Thea, this has been delightful. Thank you so much for coming on.

Thea Berkhout
You’re welcome, glad to do it.

Stuart Shapiro
Also, as Thea mentioned, none of this happens without staff. So as always, a big thank you to our production team, Amy Cobb and Karyn Olsen. We will see you next week and we will resume our season-long theme of talking to alums with another expert from the Bloustein School. Until then, stay safe!

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