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Francis Lawrence, 75; raised profile of Rutgers as president

Francis Lawrence

ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE/1995

Francis Lawrence

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — Former Rutgers University president Francis Lawrence, who worked to raise the national profile of the state’s flagship public university, died Tuesday at his home in Mount Laurel, the university said. He was 75.

Dr. Lawrence oversaw the university’s first formal strategic plan, its evolution into a more diverse institution, and the remaking of the school’s technology infrastructure as the Internet became a part of daily life on campus.

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Dr. Lawrence grew up in Woonsocket, R.I., before attending St. Louis University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree.

He became a scholar of French literature and came to Rutgers as president in 1990 after spending three decades at Tulane University, where he earned his doctorate before becoming a professor and administrator. At Tulane, he was provost and dean of the graduate school.

At Rutgers, Dr. Lawrence was behind a strategic plan to make Rutgers, one of the nation’s oldest universities, into one of its most highly regarded. He reorganized the school’s fund-raising operations, bringing in more money, and oversaw a building boom across its campuses in New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark and Camden. Over the last seven years of his leadership, Rutgers added 50 academic programs.

‘‘In many ways, President Lawrence was ahead of his time,’’ Joseph Seneca, an economics professor who served as a university vice president under Dr. Lawrence, said in a statement. ‘‘The academic quality of Rutgers grew significantly, the digitization of the university occurred, and the electronic library became a reality.’’

Seneca also said he recognized early the idea of building the university’s brand.

His tenure as president was not without contention. In 1995, some faculty members considered holding a no-confidence vote, saying that Dr. Lawrence lacked a leadership vision. But the professors backed off when they realized the vote was likely to fail.

Dr. Lawrence’s resignation in 2002 came as professors were circulating surveys on his performance. They ultimately gave him good marks for dealing with diversity and lower grades in other areas. Dr. Lawrence remained a faulty member until he retired last year.

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