Merged Rutgers Law offers alumni new diplomas

Ronald K. Chen, a co-dean of the Rutgers Law School, holds his new diploma issued by Rutgers Law School, not Rutgers-Newark or Rutgers-Camden. His name is on it twice, as graduate and signer. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON/Staff Photographer)

Two law degrees for the price of one!

Well, kind of.

Now that the Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark law schools have become one Rutgers Law School, alumni have the option of receiving a new diploma, printed fresh from the university's press in New Brunswick, N.J.

Alumni can register to get a new diploma mailed to them free while keeping their old one.

"Our merger is still within Rutgers, and the Rutgers Law School in Camden has always been a part of the Rutgers family, and so it is only appropriate for us to make sure that, as members of the Rutgers family, we don't feel left out," said Lloyd Freeman, 33, a 2007 alumnus of the Camden law school and head of its alumni association.

"We should have one degree, because we are now one Rutgers Law School," he said.

Freeman received the first new diploma last week and immediately posted photos of it across social media sites.

If other alumni are similarly excited, Freeman said, the diplomas can help galvanize the network. Rutgers-Camden had about 9,000 alumni before the merger; the combined law school has 20,000.

"The only way for us to make sure that all of the alumni reap the benefits of this merger is for us to start acting like we're merged," Freeman said. "This is the first thing we can do to make the merger seem like reality."

The size of the combined alumni network was one of the major reasons for merging the law schools, said John Oberdiek, who was acting dean of the Camden law school and is now the Camden-based co-dean of Rutgers Law School.

A strong alumni network, with one name, can help the law school place students in internships and jobs, and the publicity campaign could help raise its name recognition, school officials said.

The merger and the diploma offer also provide an opportunity for the school to reconnect with alumni with whom it may have lost contact - to donate money, provide mentorship, participate in events.

To take advantage of the alumni population, Oberdiek said, the school first has to make sure graduates feel at home.

That's where the diplomas come in.

"I hope that it fosters identification with this new entity and helps get their buy-in and support," Oberdiek said.

This fall, six "launch events" will take place from New York City to Washington. More will follow next year, including on the West Coast.

Whether at those events or in emails, letters, and brochures, alumni will be reminded repeatedly of the new diploma offer.

This could also offer an opportunity for those graduates whose diplomas were lost, soiled, or damaged.

Newark-based co-dean Ronald K. Chen, a 1983 alumnus of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark, said that years ago, his diploma fell off the wall of his faculty office, breaking the glass; he always meant to replace it.

He recently received one of the new diplomas - with his name written on it twice, as both the recipient and one of the deans conferring it.

"It's so much larger than the old one; Rutgers was more economical back then," Chen said, laughing. "The university has gotten a little more fancy."

Asked what alumni would do with two diplomas, Chen suggested hanging one at home and one at the office.

He still hasn't figured out what he's going to do with his.

"I don't know. I suppose I might keep it in my faculty office, because I think it is still an honor, a memorial of the time I spent here," he said.

"You know, maybe I might do them side by side, just as a demonstration of how the institution evolved."

He just has to be sure to secure them to the wall.

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