R. Barbara Gitenstein, President of The College of New Jersey, announced today
that she will retire in June 2018 at the conclusion of the coming academic year. It will mark the
end of a near 20-year tenure, the third longest in the college’s 162-year history. She is the first
woman to serve as President.
“This was not a decision I arrived at easily, but the timing is right for the institution, for my
family and for me,” said Gitenstein, who assumed office on January 1, 1999. “It has been the
highlight of my professional career to have served as president of this extraordinary
“With deep respect and admiration, the Board of Trustees has accepted President Gitenstein’s
intention to retire,” said Jorge Caballero, chair of the board. “Under Dr. Gitenstein’s leadership,
the college has continued to pursue a path of excellence, and we have much to be proud of.”
An Emphasis on Quality
TCNJ has experienced much success throughout Gitenstein’s tenure, but the accomplishment
which she believes set the foundation for much that followed is the transformation of the
academic program that took place early in her presidency and positioned the college as an
exemplar in public higher education.
The changes aimed to deliver an education of the highest quality, the kind most commonly
associated with the top private colleges. Central to the experience was the opportunity for
students of all disciplines to conduct mentored research with faculty. It also exemplified the
kind of decision-making that marked her administration—collaborative and aspirational.
“We sought to reinforce the relationship between faculty and students,” said Gitenstein.
“Through the transformation, our faculty thought deeply about their research and how they
could engage students in it so that students could learn by serving as junior colleagues while
The success of this transformation has been well documented. The Association of Governing
Boards and the National Association of College and University Business Officers have both
published case studies detailing the achievement.
In January 2016, the Washington, DC-based Council on Undergraduate Research awarded its
inaugural “Campus-wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishment” for Master’s level
institutions to TCNJ. As its name suggests, the honor recognizes institutions that have
devised exemplary programs providing high-quality research experiences to undergraduates.
The success of the transformation, says Gitenstein, is reflected both in TCNJ’s being recognized
in 2007 as a Phi Beta Kappa campus and in new National Science Foundation data that rank
TCNJ highly among undergraduate institutions whose graduates have gone on to earn a PhD in
the last decade. On a percentage basis, TCNJ is second in New Jersey only to Princeton in terms
of the number of undergraduates who have received a doctorate.
Focus on Finishing in Four
The emphasis on quality has also had a dramatic impact on student success. The college has
seen a dramatic improvement in four-year graduation rates. The shift illustrates a central tenet
of Gitenstein’s presidency: continuous improvement.
“We had a six-year graduation rate of 85 percent and could have rested on our laurels,” said
Gitenstein. “Instead, we said that’s not good enough. Let’s stop talking about six years and
focus on four years. That’s how long families expect a baccalaureate degree to take. That’s
what we need to deliver.”
During Gitenstein’s tenure, TCNJ’s four-year graduation rate has climbed from 58 percent in
May 1999 (for the class entering in fall 1995) to 75 percent in May 2016 (for the class entering
fall 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.) TCNJ ranks fifth in the nation among
all public colleges and universities for having the highest four-year graduation rate.
Even with this improvement, Gitenstein noticed that the four-year rate for certain
underrepresented populations was lagging. Though it was relatively good compared to other
institutions, she was not satisfied. As a result, the college put new programming in place to
provide additional support for these students. The results have been striking: the four-year
graduation rate for students in the Educational Opportunity Fund program has jumped from 21
percent in 1999 to 69 percent in 2016.
Gitenstein notes that these figures represent a dollars-and-cents difference to everyone.
“Time to degree matters,” she says. “Students who finish in four years will pay less, borrow less,
and get started in their careers more quickly. State support per degree is less and graduates
begin contributing to the state sooner, both financially and socially.
Curricular innovations have been supported through improvements to the campus’ physical
plant. Over the last 18 years, Gitenstein has broken ground on six academic buildings (Art and
Interactive Multimedia, Biology, Education, Science Complex, Social Sciences, and STEM). The
college has built two new residence halls (Hausdoerffer and Phelps) and renovated nine (Allen,
Brewster, Centennial, Cromwell, Decker, Eickhoff, Ely, New Res, and Norsworthy), constructed a
new library, undertaken a transformation of its student center, and completed the mixed-use
Campus Town, among other projects. A total of more than 1.6 million square feet of new and
renovated space has been created.
“These facilities greatly enhance the living-learning environment we are able to offer our
students,” said Gitenstein. “But beyond the quality of the facilities, I’m proud of the fact that
we’ve been able to arrange partnerships to help make some of those investments.”
The $120 million Campus Town, a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, is a mixed-use
development that provides housing for 612 students as well as shops and restaurants that
benefit both the campus and community. The privately funded project, the second and final
phase of which was completed a year ago, was enabled by New Jersey’s Public Private
Partnership law. Gitenstein was an advocate for the law’s passage.
The start of the fall semester will see the opening of a new STEM Building and an addition to
the Chemistry Building, both of which have been funded in part through the state’s Building our
Future Bond. These facilities will greatly improve student and faculty research in fields critical to
the state’s economy.
Also nearing completion is a two-year transformation of Brower Student Center that was
funded in partnership with Sodexo, the campus’ food service provider. The reimagined building
will include new meeting and dining spaces and will meet the technological needs of students.
Recognizing the need for increased outside support for the college, Gitenstein led TCNJ through
its first comprehensive campaign. The five-year fundraising effort, which wrapped on June 30,
exceeded both its original $40 million goal and additional $5 million stretch goal. The majority
of the money raised will benefit student support ($24.8 million) and the student experience
($16.9 million). Academic enrichment and capital improvement rounded out the priorities.
The success of the campaign stands in contrast to early projections.
“When we were in the planning stages, our consultant told us that we might be able to raise
$25 million, but it would be a stretch,” remembers Gitenstein. “But I felt that if we were going
to make the effort, we had to do better, especially given how great the need is for student
support. When all the dollars are counted, I expect us to be well north of $46 million.”
More than 13,000 individual gifts were received during the campaign, ranging in size from $1 to
Challenges as Opportunities
Gitenstein has seen her share of challenges over the past two decades. One of the first came
just a year after her arrival when she learned that the Department of Education was
investigating the college for failure to disclose several cases of sexual assault. Characteristic of
her leadership style, Gitenstein saw in the challenge an opportunity to create something
“I was certainly concerned,” she said. “But at the same time, the investigation provided the
resolve to take a hard look at a very difficult issue and identify thoughtful, substantive means to
While noting that there is still more to be done, Gitenstein points to the college’s creation of
the Office of Anti-Violence Initiatives and the Title IX office, a bystander intervention initiative,
mandatory training for all students, completion of a campus climate survey, and other
programming as the positive legacy of the investigation. Fourteen years later, she was one of a
handful of college presidents invited to the White House for then Vice President Biden’s
unveiling of the recommendations of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from
Sexual Assault. TCNJ had already or was in the process of implementing those
Most recently, Gitenstein displayed the same determination and commitment to transparency
when confronted with a pair of challenging issues this spring: questions over the college’s
relationship with the city of Trenton and its decision to close the TCNJ Clinic.
“When an institution of higher education is confronted with a difficult situation of any type, it is
essential that the values of the institution remain the lodestar for communication,” Gitenstein
said. “And during that time, the voice of the president must be heard. In those difficult times, I
have always tried to reinforce our commitment to inclusion and diversity, collaboration and
transparency, compassion and humility, self-reflection and aspiration.”
The past 18 years have been a period of extraordinary accomplishment for the college and
Gitenstein is quick to point out that the successes belong to the community.
“I have been blessed to work with extraordinarily talented leadership teams, faculty, and staff,”
she said. “Everything that we accomplished, we accomplished together. I thank the volunteer
boards who support the College’s work, including the Alumni Association, the Foundation and
the Trenton State Corporation who have been instrumental in the College’s progress. But it has
been the members of the board of trustees whose confidence, enthusiasm, and vision who
made it all possible.”
In a message to the campus community, board chair Caballero announced the appointment of
Trustee Susanne Svizeny ’79 to chair the Presidential Search Committee, which will be
comprised of campus stakeholders.
“We will pursue this task with the goal of ensuring that the good work laid out by Dr. Gitenstein
be continued and further strengthened,” he promised. “We look forward to identifying the
16th President of The College of New Jersey to lead us through the institution’s next chapter.”
Gitenstein looks forward to being able to spend more time with her family, especially her
husband, Dr. Donald Hart and her granddaughter, but she will continue to be involved in
shaping higher education in this country. She will join AGB Consulting, a Washington, DC-based
firm specializing in assisting universities and their governing boards navigate challenges and
more effectively lead their institutions.
“I look forward to being able to think about higher education from a global perspective instead
of an individual institutional perspective,” she says. “This new role will allow me to continue to
contribute to an industry that I believe is the pride of our nation.”