Bryant: State senator 'pressured' U. for job, honor Officials disagree Bryant received positions in an attempt to curry favor

State senator 'pressured' U. for job, honor Officials disagree Bryant received positions in an attempt to curry favor
10/03/2006  Daily Targum

State Sen. Wayne Bryant, a powerful Camden Democrat now under fire for alleged ethics violations, occupies a place in Rutgers' Hall of Distinguished Alumni and, until last spring, was a paid lecturer at the University.

David J. Harris, a former member of the Board of Governors, said University officials gave Bryant the teaching position and honor in order to curry favor with the influential lawmaker.

Bryant stepped down temporarily from his chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee last Monday amid charges that he secured for himself a no-show job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. A federal monitor reported UMDNJ received millions of dollars more in state funding once Bryant's employment began.

Harris said University President Richard L. McCormick lobbied on Bryant's behalf when Bryant was nominated for a place in the HDA and Bryant secured a job as lecturer at Rutgers-Camden by pressuring the University.

McCormick said in a phone interview yesterday he played a limited role in Bryant's induction into the HDA, doing no more than offering his opinion when asked for it by members of the selection committee. A spokesman for Rutgers-Camden said Bryant was hired on his own merits for the lecturing position.

Calls placed to Bryant's legislative district office yesterday were not returned as of presstime.

The Hall of Distinguished Alumni was created in 1987 by the Rutgers University Alumni Federation, and has representatives from University alumni associations. Each year, nominees to the HDA are presented to a federation committee of 30 to 45 members who, during the selection process, offer their opinions regarding the candidates for induction. The honor is conferred solely by the federation, not by the University or the president.

Bryant was inducted along with nine other alumni in 2005.

Though a member of the selection committee that year, Harris said he did not attend the meeting at which the committee decided to induct Bryant.

"I discovered to my dismay that he was approved," Harris said, adding he did not think Bryant's service in the Legislature merited recognition.

On the other hand, McCormick felt Bryant should be inducted in the HDA, and he lobbied on behalf of Bryant to convince individual members of the selection committee to approve Bryant's induction, Harris said.

"What it says about Bryant," Harris said, "is that he has a brass set of testicles. What it says about the institution is that the people who are in charge of protecting it are willing to sell its prestige."

McCormick said Bryant never approached him about the prospect of induction into the HDA and said, "I don't know what Sen. Bryant wanted, although I can only assume he was pleased by the honor."

Regarding his commitment to the University's prestige, McCormick said, "I've been part of the Rutgers community for my whole life, there's no institution I cherish more," He added, "The idea of putting at risk its reputation is an anathema to me."

However, Harris said, "The president is being disingenuous when he states it was the committee's decision," adding, "I was with McCormick. We had lunch together. When he asked me for my support for Bryant, I was with him."

McCormick said he frequently has meals and meetings with members of the Board of Governors, which Harris was at the time. He and they discuss a wide range of issues, McCormick said, adding he would not meet with a member of the board to discuss just one issue, like the induction of a candidate into the HDA.

"[McCormick] exercised the muscle of the office of the president to deliver this result to a powerful member of the legislature," Harris said about McCormick. "In the end, Bryant doesn't respect us anyway."

McCormick said he did not play an inappropriate role in Bryant's induction. His only involvement, he said, came when a couple of people associated with the selection process asked him about the nominees, at which point he expressed his positive opinion of Bryant and of the senator's commitment higher education.

Harris maintained, though, an undue amount of administrative pressure swayed the committee.

McCormick denied he would play an inappropriate role in the process, saying, "I spent practically my whole life, to the point I have little time for my family, working on behalf of Rutgers," and said Harris's impugning of his credibility is groundless.

Kim Manning-Lewis, vice president for University relations, said many alumni are nominated in a given year, and that a great deal of discussion about each nominee takes place.

Harris said Bryant's power outside of Trenton was concentrated in south Jersey, where his district is located, and that he held influence over officials at Rutgers-Camden.

University spokesman Mike Sepanic said Bryant was hired for his practical knowledge of public affairs, and that he performed well as a lecturer.

Bryant's title at Rutgers-Camden was 'distinguished adjunct professor of law and public affairs,' Sepanic said.

"We hired [Bryant] because he brings a wealth of experience in policy in New Jersey, and knowledge of New Jersey law to the table and it was a unique opportunity for our students to learn from somebody who understands public policy, and how to implement it and make it happen," Sepanic said, "he was meant to be a utility player across several relevant disciplines."

Bryant also guest lectured at Rutgers-Camden's School of Law, its graduate program in public policy and in its undergraduate political science department, Sepanic said.

Bryant would lecture at other professors' classes when asked to, Sepanic said. He said he did not know whether anyone else was hired in a capacity similar to the one in which Bryant worked.

During the 2005-2006 academic year, his final year as a lecturer, Bryant was paid $35,000.

Sepanic said Bryant has received positive feedback from faculty members in whose classes he has lectured.

This year's cuts in state funding to the University resulted in a $3.5 million cut to Rutgers-Camden. Sepanic said this meant 20 full time staffers were laid off, 40 courses were cut and Bryant's position as a lecturer had to be eliminated.

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