Rowan University has evolved from its humble beginning in 1923 as a normal school, with a mission to train teachers for South Jersey classrooms, to a comprehensive university with a strong regional reputation.
In the early 1900s, many New Jersey teachers lacked proper training because of a shortage of schools in the state that provided such an education. To address the problem in South Jersey, the state decided to build a two-year training school for teachers, known then as a normal school.
The town of Glassboro was an early favorite because of its excellent rail system, harmonious blend of industry and agriculture, natural beauty and location in the heart of South Jersey. Several towns in the region competed to be the site of the new normal school because of the economic benefit and prestige such an institution would bring.
In 1917, to sway the decision in their favor, 107 residents of Glassboro raised more than $7,000 to purchase 25 acres, which they offered to the state for free if the borough were selected as the site. The land tract included the Whitney mansion (now known as Hollybush) and carriage house. Before the purchase, the entire property belonged to the Whitney family, prominent owners of the Whitney Glass Works during the 1800s. This show of support, along with the site's natural beauty, convinced the selection committee that Glassboro was the perfect location.
A Strong Foundation
Rowan's second president, Dr. Edgar Bunce, created a junior college program in 1946 to serve World War II veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill.
In September 1923, Glassboro Normal School opened with 236 students arriving by train to convene in the school's first building, now called Bunce Hall. Dr. Jerohn Savitz, the institution's first president, expanded the curriculum as the training of teachers became more sophisticated.
Despite the rigors of the Depression, the program was expanded to four years in 1934, and in 1937 the school changed its name to New Jersey State Teachers College at Glassboro. The college gained a national reputation as a leader in the field of reading education and physical therapy when it opened a clinic for children with reading disabilities in 1935 and added physical therapy for the handicapped in 1944. The college was one of the first in the country to recognize these needs and was in the forefront of the special education movement.
In the 1950s, Dr. Thomas Robinson, the University's third president, expanded the curriculum, increased enrollment and added several buildings to the campus. In 1958, the school's name was changed to Glassboro State College to better reflect its mission.
A Historic Summit
The University received worldwide attention when it hosted a historic summit conference between President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin in Hollybush. The University was chosen because of its strategic location midway between Washington, D.C., and the United Nations building in New York City, where Kosygin was scheduled to speak. The meetings between the two leaders on June 23-25, 1967, led to a thaw in the Cold War and eased world tensions.
Rapid Growth to Serve Needs
The University's fourth president, Dr. Mark Chamberlain, guided the college through its next phase of growth as enrollment doubled and the college became a multi-purpose institution. As new majors and a Business Administration Division were added, the four divisions grew into schools and a board of trustees was formed. In 1969, the University opened a campus in Camden to expand its educational services. With a 1978 Division III National Championship in baseball, the first of 11 national championships for the college, the athletic program established itself as one of the premier athletic programs in the country.
The fifth president, Dr. Herman James, assumed the leadership of the college in 1984. Under his direction, Rowan expanded by establishing the first doctoral program among the state's public institutions and adding the Colleges of Engineering and Communication. Dr. James also was responsible for the construction of Campbell Library, the Student Recreation Center and Rowan Hall.
A Transformative Gift
In July 1992, industrialist Henry Rowan and his wife, Betty, donated $100 million to the institution, then the largest gift ever given to a public college or university in the history of higher education. Later that year, the school changed its name to Rowan College of New Jersey to recognize its benefactors’ generosity.
The college achieved University status in 1997 and changed its name to Rowan University.
A Broader Mission
Dr. Donald J. Farish was appointed as the sixth president in July 1998. Under his leadership, the University implemented an aggressive improvement plan that addressed academic and student support initiatives as well as campus construction and renovation projects.
Major construction projects included the University townhouses; Science Hall; Education Hall; and the Samuel H. Jones Innovation Center, the first building of the South Jersey Technology Park at Rowan University.
During his tenure, the University also entered into a public-private partnership that led to the construction of Rowan Boulevard, a $300 million, mixed-use redevelopment project that links the campus with Glassboro’s historic downtown. The corridor is home to more than 1,300 students and a Barnes & Noble collegiate superstore.
During this period, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University — the first new medical school in New Jersey in more than 30 years and the first-ever M.D.-granting four-year program in South Jersey — was developed in partnership with Cooper Health System.
The Board of Trustees named Dr. Ali Houshmand interim president in July 2011.
Dr. Houshmand joined Rowan University as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs in September 2006. Early on he established the College of Professional and Continuing Education (now the College of Graduate and Continuing Education), oversaw the restructuring of the summer school and graduate school and established the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning.
As interim president, he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the school as it continues major initiatives — including the summer 2012 opening of Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and the Rowan Boulevard project.
The medical school will welcome its first class in the summer of 2012 into a new $139 million, six-story building near Cooper University Hospital in Camden. Close to 3,000 students applied for 50 spots in the medical school's charter class, which will begin studies in August.
Several individuals and families have generously supported the medical school. In spring 2012, Lawrence J. and Rita Salva, of Princeton, pledged $1.055 million to the Rowan University Foundation to establish the Lawrence & Rita Salva Medical Scholars Fund at Rowan. The single largest gift to date for Cooper Medical School, the Salvas' pledge also is the largest one-time gift ever made to Rowan by an alumnus. Mr. Salva is senior vice president, chief accounting officer and controller of Comcast Corporation and vice chairman of the Rowan University Foundation Board. Other earlier gifts came from Rowan alumnus Dr. Marque Allen and his wife, Yvette, ($100,000 for student scholarships); from Haddonfield physician Dr. Michael Renzi and his family; and from Dr. Ludwig Schlitt and his children — Drs. Michael, Stephanie and Mark — of Advocare Pediatric Group in Haddon Heights ($300,000).
The Whitney Center on Rowan Boulevard opened in spring 2012. The facility includes retail space and housing for students in the Thomas N. Bantivoglio Honors Concentration. In the future, Rowan Boulevard will include a hotel, parking garage and classroom space.
The University also will open the School of Biomedical Sciences at Rowan University on July 1, 2012, operating in conjunction with the colleges of Science & Mathematics and Engineering. With the restructuring of several academic colleges, as of summer 2012, Rowan will include colleges of Business, Communication & Creative Arts, Education, Engineering, Humanities & Social Sciences, Performing Arts, and Science & Mathematics. Rowan also includes the College of Graduate & Continuing Education as well as the medical school.
Rowan has attracted the attention of national organizations that evaluate colleges and universities. U.S. News & World Report ranks Rowan University in the “Top Tier” of Northern Regional Universities. Kaplan included the University in “The Unofficial, Biased Insider’s Guide to the 320 Most Interesting Colleges.” Also, Kiplinger's named Rowan University one of the “100 Best Buys in Public Colleges and Universities” and the Princeton Review included Rowan in the latest edition of “The Best Northeastern Colleges.”
From the modest normal school begun almost 90 years ago, Rowan University has become an extraordinary comprehensive institution that has improved the quality of life for the citizens of New Jersey and the surrounding states.
Today, Rowan's approximate 12,000 students can select from among 80 undergraduate majors, 55 master's degree programs and a doctoral program in educational leadership. The University is one of only 56 institutions in the country with accredited programs in business, education, engineering and medicine.
(Updated May 2012)