On Tuesday, April 19, 2011, the following message was sent out to students via the Student ListServ:
Members of the Rutgers Community:
With regret for the loss of a longstanding Rutgers tradition, and with admiration for the students who worked hard to plan and run the concert this year, I have decided that the university can no longer continue to hold Rutgersfest.
As you may know, the concert this past Friday, April 15, drew tens of thousands of people to the Busch campus in Piscataway. These included not only Rutgers students but also many individuals and groups not affiliated with Rutgers, who learned about Rutgersfest through various social media channels beyond the university’s control. A large crowd descended on New Brunswick’s 5th and 6th wards after the concert for a night of partying. Anticipating this, the University had worked with the City of New Brunswick in advance to plan for the possibility of disruptive behavior. Among other steps, we provided for several dozen additional New Brunswick and Rutgers police officers.
However, even this additional police presence did not contain the disorder that occurred Friday night and early Saturday morning. Many streets were congested with people and there were multiple reports of disruptive conduct. Near the College Avenue campus there were many rowdy student house parties, incidents of public intoxication, littering, and vandalism, and several altercations among students and other individuals. Most disturbing to report, four non-Rutgers people were shot in three incidents during the course of the evening. The fact that none of these shootings resulted in life-threatening injuries does not diminish their violence, and I am gravely concerned about the danger to our students and our neighbors.
I understand that the decision to end Rutgersfest will disappoint many, and I want to thank the students and administrators who organized the concert, working hard to promote responsible behavior and to make it a safe and enjoyable experience. But the safety of our university community, and that of our neighbors, is paramount, and we cannot risk further danger or the possible loss of life. The problems that occur following Rutgersfest have grown beyond our capacity to manage them, and the only responsible course of action is to cancel the event.
Richard L. McCormick
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
After much thoughtful consideration of the situation that unfolded this past weekend, it became clear there are significant issues that need to be dealt with to ensure safety at University sponsored functions. At the same time, however, this response seems curiously like that of a first-year elementary school principal, not that of the president of one of the major research and teaching universities in the United States.
Indeed, the events that unfolded this past weekend in the City of New Brunswick after the Rutgersfest 2011 concert were startling, frightening, and truly shocking. However, it does not appear that senior administration at the University is in touch with the world around them. Knowing the backstory about how this concert series is managed and presented goes a long way toward understanding just how poor a decision this is by the University.
A Brief History
A little history helps to provide a basis for understanding. Rutgersfest is actually the second generation of a concert series that was started in the late 1980’s called DeinerFest. DeinerFest was held for many years at Frank Deiner Park which is a man-made facility above Route 18 along the Raritan River and located behind what are commonly referred to as the River Dorms or the Frelinghuysen, Hardenbergh and Campbell residence halls. You can read more about the history of the park here. In 1993, DeinerFest was moved over to the Busch Campus to accommodate more students and offer a larger venue for bigger name bands. Throughout the years, all of the shows were managed through various iterations of what is today called the Rutgers University Programming Association or RUPA. This student-run. student-sponsored entity has sole management responsibility without faculty or administrative oversight in terms of daily operations leading up to and including the successful implementation and completion of the event.
Fast forward to Friday, April 15, 2011. Three bands performed: Pitbull, Yelawolf, and 3OH!3. By all accounts, the event itself went off without any major hitches. Concert goers behaved themselves and were generally orderly. The RUPA provided clear rules regarding crowd behavior. As defined, the rules are:
Failure to comply security guidelines, rules, and regulations WILL result in RUPD escorting you off the premises.
- No Moshing
- No Crowd Surfing
- No Video
- No Photography
- No Weapons
- No Alcohol/Drugs
- No Smoking
Patrons are banned from bringing the following:
- Noise-making Devices
- Laser Pointers
- Video Recording Equipment
A Review of the Issues
But the issues that impacted this event occurred after the event and away from the venue. Between the quotes from the Police Director of New Brunswick, Pete Mangarella, and the general tenor of the articles in mycentraljersey.com and nj.com show an animosity held for the university. Sadly, there is no discussion as to whether any planning meetings or discussions were held to prepare for possible off-campus issues.
From a project management standpoint, post-event failures of this nature clearly show there are gaps in the overall communications between the RUPA and surrounding emergency management services including police and EMS. It also tells me there needs to be a review of how the event is managed. But to permanently cancel the event speaks more to the inability of the administration to determine what the problems are.
Clearly, the event is a victim of its own success. While the RUPA clearly can handle the actual event management, events of this type now require much more knowledge of concert management than students are generally aware of. As well as the event may run, any concert needs far more command and control because it is a “known” event in the region. Thus, the likelihood that non-Rutgers-affiliated people may show up is significantly greater. Merely stating that “only Rutgers students and their guests will be permitted into the location” does not cut it anymore. I’ve heard people suggest using the Stadium as the venue location. Until the Athletics Department manages their first concert there, I don’t see it happening.
Second, social media played a huge role in this event getting out of hand. The Rutgers hashtag on Twitter was filled with lots of retweets of the rutgersfest.rutgers.edu link when the lineup was announced. Also, bunches of secondary hashtags were included from a number of people who were clearly not affiliated with RU in any way. I have no idea whether the RUPA was even aware of this traffic. They have a Twitter account, but it is hardly as active.
Third, it is plainly obvious there was marginal, if any, interaction with any of the PDs, either locally or regionally. Again, this goes back to who is doing the actual planning and management for the events. On other websites, I’ve said regardless of how corrupt people may think the NBPD is, any time you are going to have an event that is announced publicly, you must alert involved and surrounding municipalities. And it is not the responsibility of RUPD to communicate anything on behalf of the organizing group. At a minimum, RUPA should have formally notified the community engagement office or liaison from the following PDs of the event at least three times: Rutgers, New Brunswick, Highland Park, Franklin, Edison, NJTransit, and Amtrak. And in the case of the RU and NBPD, they should have had formal sit downs to go over logistics and identify possible security issues, not the least of which would be how to deal with dispersal of the non-Rutgers crowd once the event ended.
I hope cooler heads prevail in the administration and Rutgersfest is brought back in 2013 as the kick-off event for Rutgers Weekend which could run the final weekend before exams begin. It could be a compilation of both Rutgersfest and Rutgers Day. But the events need to be more tightly managed in the same way that the football games and handled. Sadly, this administration is proving itself too long in the tooth to be capable of cogent decisions that are in the long-term best interests of the University.