Bryant: Ex-official: Bryant used weight to get Rutgers job

Ex-official: Bryant used weight to get Rutgers job
09/30/2006 Asbury Park Press

CAMDEN — State Sen. Wayne R. Bryant, who stepped down Monday from a key legislative post amid an ethics scandal, pressured Rutgers officials for a job and a berth in the university's Hall of Distinguished Alumni, a former university board member said.

The Camden County Democrat, an alumnus of the School of Law at Rutgers-Camden, was hired by the university in 2002 and inducted as a distinguished alumnus in 2005.

Bryant had pushed for both the job and the honorary recognition, said David J. Harris, a former member of Rutgers' Board of Governors.

"He asked for the job at Rutgers," Harris said. "Bryant should have ex-ercised better judgment, given how dependent we are on state funds and his role on the appropriations committee."

Bryant did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

On Monday, Bryant temporarily stepped down from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, pending a federal probe of allegations that he pressured officials at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to hire him for a no-work job.

Bryant was hired at a $35,000 annual salary in 2003 but did not perform any work other than "lobbying himself," according to a report released last week by a federal monitor who is overseeing UMDNJ.

Following Bryant's appointment at UMDNJ, the report said, the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford garnered millions of dollars in additional state aid. After calling the monitor's report "inaccurate," Bryant agreed to relinquish his seat on the committee of which he was chairman, pending a review by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Bryant served as a guest lecturer at Rutgers-Camden from 2002 until this spring, university spokesman Michael Sepanic said.

The senator's duties ranged from providing lectures in a variety of academic programs at Rutgers-Camden to assisting with minority recruitment in the law school and student mentoring, Sepanic said.

"If we asked him to do it, he pretty much did it," Sepanic said. "None of it included lobbying."

Bryant's post was eliminated as part of a $3.5 million budget cut that hit Rutgers-Camden this year, Sepanic said. When questions were raised about Bryant's appointment, Harris said, university President Richard L. McCormick said Bryant asked for the position.

McCormick pressed trustees and governors to support Bryant's induction as a distinguished alumnus, Harris said, noting the honor has also gone to luminaries such as entertainer and human-rights activist Paul Robeson and Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.

"That should be sacred territory," Harris said. "The president was committed; he was vigorous in his lobbying to curry favor with Wayne Bryant."

In a telephone interview, McCormick said Bryant's appointment in 2002 preceded his tenure at Rutgers.

Rutgers-Camden Provost Roger Dennis said Bryant expressed a desire to "be more involved" with the university before he was hired in 2002.

Dennis said, however, that he did not feel pressured to hire Bryant.

"I thought it was a neat idea," Dennis said. "I came up with the teaching idea."

McCormick said that he did not promise Bryant a spot in the Hall of Distinguished Alumni and that university alumni choose the honorees.

But McCormick acknowledged that some alumni solicited his opinion of Bryant during the selection process.

"I gave a positive account of his leadership in New Jersey. It's a good chance that I mentioned in particular his support for higher education and for Rutgers," McCormick said.

"I was glad to see him nominated, and I was glad to see him receive the award."

Not all Rutgers alumni agreed.

In an opinion piece published in The Daily Targum, the student newspaper at Rutgers-New Brunswick, former trustee Chairman Arthur Kamin criticized Bryant's induction.

"Is Rutgers trying to butter up the South Jersey legislative powerhouse as the university prepares its 2006 budget," Kamin asked in the April 2005 article. "It is demeaning for Rutgers to have to kowtow to Bryant or any legislator to get the state funding it needs."

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