Out for a walk at Rutgers University–Camden, chancellor Phoebe A. Haddon joined a group of nurses gathered for a picnic on the Quad. It was Haddon’s first day on the job, and also the first day of the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden’s merger with a nursing program from the legacy University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey location in Stratford. All around, it was a day of discovery and connections—the type of connections possible at a friendly, walkable campus like Rutgers University–Camden’s. And although the campus may be compact and intimate, it is a place of big ideas and considerable ambitions, and Haddon, formerly the dean of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, is eager to make her mark. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Haddon. She grew up in New Jersey, spent nearly 30 years as a law professor and constitutional scholar at Temple University, and has a summer house on Long Beach Island. She is passionate about issues of access in higher education, and she sees Rutgers University–Camden as a place where the practical and theoretical meet to enrich both students and the community.

RUTGERS MAGAZINE: What attracted you to the position of chancellor of Rutgers University–Camden?
PHOEBE HADDON: The opportunity to be part of an institution that shares my commitment to access and scholarship, that is actively engaged in resolving some of the issues facing higher education today, is a compelling reason why I was attracted to Rutgers University–Camden. I loved being the dean at Maryland, but I actually became a dean because I wanted additional administrative experience before I tried my hand at a higher leadership position. I spent 10 years on the board at Smith College, and I’m totally committed to liberal arts, but I also am very much concerned about access issues. We have a wonderful liberal arts focus at Rutgers University–Camden; we also have many other kinds of professional education and experiential learning opportunities for students. It’s just a really exciting place to be, and for all of those reasons, this was really attractive to me. Also, I lived for 30 years in Philadelphia before going to Maryland, and so this was a wonderful region for me to come back to.

RM: What do you see as some of the distinctive qualities of Rutgers University–Camden?
PH: What attracted me initially, and continues to be very important to me, is the commitment to civic engagement and the commitment to serious research, both practical and highly theoretical. This is really one of the few universities that I know of, of this size, that has the capacity to both connect with the community in real and substantial ways and also to continue to engage in serious research with more theoretical implications. The implications are great for both the community and the region, and also for the faculty, students, and administrators, who are deeply involved in the work of making this community a better place.

RM: As chancellor, how do you expect you’ll draw on your experience as dean at the University of Maryland’s law school?
PH: Maryland is a professional school campus (in Baltimore), with few undergraduates, and so we began to collaborate with College Park in a much more substantial way than was the case when I first got to Maryland. What was attractive to me was the team-based approach of the professional schools. Here at Rutgers University–Camden, we have both professional schools, the graduate schools, and the undergraduates, and so what we began to do at Maryland, we can do on this campus—and increase the value of collaboration, of a team-based approach to problem solving that is really critically important. In urban communities, the problems that we confront are so complex that there is no one particular discipline that can respond.

RM: What was your schooling like in Passaic, New Jersey?
PH: I went all the way through public school from kindergarten to high school. There was only one high school in Passaic. It was a school that had feeders—the two junior high schools. This was in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and one was predominantly black and one was predominantly white. In fact, when I first went to elementary school, I was one of maybe two or three black people in the entire school. In junior high school, it was the same thing. So the high school was a real melting pot. But it really made me committed to the idea that diversity is a good thing because I had experienced being the only, or close to only, person of color, and moved to the other side, being in a very diverse and eclectic, integrated class approach. My education experience was very strong, and I became committed to public education.

RM: Has your training as a lawyer shaped your worldview or your approach to problem solving?
PH: Lawyers are problem solvers and critical thinkers, and so many people say it is not surprising that there are lawyers who are university leaders. You do engage in the same type of critical thinking and figure out ways to get around issues that may be frustrating or paralyzing to other people. There is always a way. If it wasn’t the way you thought this morning, there will be a way that you can think of it tomorrow.

RM: How do you view diversity as a strength at Rutgers University–Camden and something that can be built upon during your tenure here?
PH: The diversity—racially, ethnically, class-wise—is striking. “Nontraditional” is the tradition, and it is constantly moving. It’s not just first-generation or a certain class; it’s not just ethnic; it’s a whole host of things, including veterans, people who are doing part-time work, community college graduates, people who are lifelong learners, and there is great enthusiasm in all the students. 

RM: You were a professor for many years. What did you enjoy most about teaching?
PH: For me, and this is really true, I never saw myself as a teacher as much as a student all the way through. It’s always fun to be part of that learning process. I am not that kind of professor who is thinking, “Well, I have all the answers.” That’s not my starting point. It’s a learning opportunity each time I go into the classroom. It’s the same for this job: it’s a learning opportunity every day. •