While condemning his words, Rutgers University’s Board of Governors reaffirmed its support Friday for President Francis Lawrence, who came under fire for saying poor students lack the “genetic hereditary background” to perform well on standardized tests.
The board issued its statement after a private session and a sometimes raucous 3-hour public meeting during which it listened to about 50 speakers for and against Lawrence, who again apologized for his remarks.
Angry students demanding Lawrence’s resignation heckled speakers as others tried to force their way into the room.
“Take your bigotry back to the bayou, Fran, we don’t need it here,” Flavio Komuves, a recent graduate, said in the open meeting. Lawrence was a professor and administrator at Tulane University in New Orleans before he was named Rutgers president in 1990.
“I’m not going to allow the lynching of Fran Lawrence,” said Mary Davidson, dean of the School of Social work, who is black and said that her great-uncle was lynched in Oklahoma.
Campus maintenance mechanic John McCutchen, who is black, asked to approach Lawrence.
“As a child of God, I forgive you,” McCutchen said, and the two men embraced.
Some who spoke in favor of Lawrence were heckled loudly. Emmet Dennis, a black professor of biological sciences, was derided as a “house slave” when he spoke in Lawrence’s support.
The United Students Coalition, which organized demonstrations Wednesday and Friday at the main campus in New Brunswick, demanded a meeting with Lawrence. Otis Rolley, a coalition representative, told the board that if it did not get a response by Monday it would turn to “alternative methods” to force a “dialogue.”
About 250 students gathered in a lounge on another floor of the Paul Robeson Campus Center to listen to speeches calling for Lawrence’s ouster and to watch the board meeting on closedcircuit television.
Lawrence’s remark that “disadvantaged” students do not have “that genetic hereditary background to have a higher average” on standardized tests came during a lengthy meeting with faculty in November.
The remark drew no notice until The Star-Ledger of Newark published a story Jan. 31.