After over three decades of service at NJIT, serving as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Services, the first Dean of the Albert Dorman Honors College and the President of NJIT, Dr. Joel Bloom’s tenure will soon be coming to an end.
With the end of his presidential contract being June 30, 2022, Dr. Bloom has made the decision to conclude this chapter of his career. “One of the reasons I realized it’s time to do something else for me, is this is a job that is very, very intense,” Bloom said. “The ability to maintain that intensity over a 10-year period is—it’s time to do something else. There’s no such thing being University President as a nine-to-five job…. I’ve been traveling 100,000 miles a year for the past seven or eight years.”
With that, the Board of Trustees has begun the search process for the next president of NJIT.
The process is posted on the Presidential Search section of the NJIT website and includes the current phase, Engaging the NJIT Community, followed by a search for candidates, an interview phase and then a final selection from the finalists.
The current phase is the most important, according to Board of Trustees Chair Robert Cohen. “Everybody thinks the real important stuff is the final five candidates. You only got those five final candidates because of the job description that was written now. So if we think there’s something else important or not important, this is the time to have engagement. And this is probably the most important time to have an impact on the next president.”
Students had an opportunity to have their voices heard at the first listening session on April 16, and will have another opportunity at 3 p.m. on April 28. Students unable to attend the virtual session can also submit a response on the online survey (Link here). The results of the student feedback as well as feedback from faculty and staff will then be used to create a presidential profile.
The University hired Isaacson Miller, an executive search firm, to use the presidential profile as a template for recruiting top candidates for the position. As many of these candidates will currently already be working in a position, this list of candidates will remain private until the final few candidates are selected.
The Search Committee, tasked with interviewing candidates from this August through October, consists of a broad range of leadership throughout the University. The committee includes three members of the Board of Trustees (including Cohen), two members of the Board of Overseers, Senior Administrator Ken Alexo, Dean of the Newark College of Engineering Moshe Kam, a faculty member from each college, Faculty Senate President Denis Blackmore, Dean of Students and Campus Life Marybeth Boger as a representative of the University Senate, Student Senate Designee Michael Moussa, a representative from the Lecturers and Educator Congress, a designee of the Graduate Student Association, a designee of the NJIT Alumni Association and a member of one of the college’s Board of Visitors.
In November, the Board of Trustees will review and interview finalists before making the selection of the new president next winter. The president-to-be will then work alongside Dr. Bloom to be properly oriented to the position until assuming office in July 2022.
The next president will have big shoes to fill after the last decade under President Bloom. As Cohen noted in his letter to the NJIT community, “NJIT has flourished under his leadership, with enrollment more than doubling, completion of a $500+ million campus transformation, receipt of many prestigious national and international rankings, and achievement of an R1 rating from the Carnegie Classification as one of the top research universities in the nation, among many other accomplishments.”
The root of all of those accomplishments, according to Bloom, has been his persistent focus on students and their experience. “For those 20 years prior to becoming president—and when I leave here June 30, 2022—one of the things I am most proud of is students have and continue to be on the top of the list of this university…. The priority on this campus is students. It’s very simple logic of course: without students there is no reason for NJIT or any of us to be here.”
Cohen, praising the work of Bloom, said, “You have to have unbelievable respect for what Dr. Bloom has done for this. It is actually beyond what a lot of people would think of a president…. Our faculty hiring has never been more robust: our concentration on research, our concentration on getting a national brand, looking into what was done between the Honors College, looking at what was done with some of the labs, and other focus areas. And then if you take a look at how strong our endowment is, how many scholarships we’re putting together, you cannot ask for a state college to actually have a [more] remarkable jump in that period of time.”
One of the challenges Bloom has faced, and the next president will have to face, is that NJIT is a unique college. “One of the first things I did when I became president in 2011,” Bloom said, “I said let’s identify who we are. We’re a polytechnic university, we shouldn’t try to be like other universities. We are distinct, we differentiate ourselves. To this day in the state of New Jersey we are the most STEM university that exists, 90% STEM, which has its upside and downside. The downside is, we don’t have any inexpensive majors, faculty, staff, labs, lab techs, materials, supplies, equipment…. 10 years later, it’s still the first thing I say, when given the opportunity to speak anywhere; we are New Jersey’s public polytechnic university.”
Being so specialized, NJIT has the responsibility of staying on the cutting edge. “As a polytechnic institution,” Bloom said, “we’re responsible for bringing to you the latest and greatest in knowledge and experience and thinking about the future…. So, the greatest challenge is how do we continue to grow and evolve. And I think the growth is important, because the demand for what we do exceeds the supply, and students work for us—in research, and just contributing to economic development of our state, nation and globe.”
As for the future growth of the university, Cohen agrees that NJIT has the means to bring a supply for the demand, stating that “we’re going to remain strong, not just in the tristate area. So we’re going to get more national prominence and global prominence, not necessarily because students from everywhere in the world need to come here. But there’s no reason that we don’t become the source that industry wants to do research with, or other colleges around the world want to do research…. But also what’s important is to do relevant research, compelling research. We want our faculty that have publications, we want to keep feeding those publications and we want to keep going in a big kind of way.”
Of course the unavoidable topic these days, and one in which NJIT has taken a leadership role is the COVID-19 pandemic. “If you asked me a year ago,” Cohen said, “and you asked me to assess all the risks associated with where we would be, I would tell you we might have some financial concerns. We might have quality of education concerns, we might have quality of our research concerns, quality for recruiting faculty concerns, right…. A credit to the administration here, that the school right now I can tell you exceeded expectations from a financial, from a governance perspective, from a safety perspective. And our brand has probably never been stronger with the visibility we have.”
Bloom found the pandemic to be a learning experience that NJIT performed well under. “I think we’ve learned a lot from COVID. So it’s a challenge. We’re still responding, and we’ve learned a lot. What did we learn? We learned we can pivot quickly. March 23, 2020 we closed down, and you guys have had to go online, right? We were able to do that. And we did it fairly well, we did it better than most.”
Cohen attributed the success of NJIT in the past year to Bloom’s leadership and the solid administration that he has built around him. “Having a high performing administration, having a system in place, having a leader who was strong, who did not waver. There were other colleges in this area who decided they were going to do things financially to hunker down and whatever. You know, that’s a defense that’s not an offense. And a credit to Joel, there was an offense on how to get out of COVID. And a plan for worst case situation, plans for best case situation. And the interaction with the trustees was amazing.”
As Bloom finishes his contract with NJIT and we continue to bring the pandemic to a close, NJIT and the future president will still be feeling the effects of the pandemic. According to Cohen, the implications of the pandemic bring up many questions that the Board of Trustees and the next president will have to face. “What is the state of New Jersey going to do for reimbursement for universities?” Cohen asks. “What is the state of New Jersey going to do for financial aid? What are the demographics of the student population going to be coming out of the local high schools? How is it that we’re to reach and get the attention in the surrounding areas and states? How can we keep research going? Should this school have 20,000 students in 10 years or should we just stay at 12,000 students in New Jersey and enjoy it? The geographical constraints, the financial constraints as well as us making sure that NJIT never ever wavers in its commitment to a student education. That’s a big, big responsibility. The next president walking in here has a really big job and one of the most important jobs in probably arguably one of the most pivotal times in the history of NJIT.”
The hardest part of the presidential search process, according to Cohen, is that “this is not something that was bad and we’ve got to make good now. We’re taking something that’s really good, and trying to evolve it and keep the goodness growing.”
The process will continue through many more months, and students can look for updates on the Presidential Search website, but Cohen promises “an inclusive and transparent process that results in the selection of an outstanding leader to guide NJIT forward.”