New Director Leads RU-N Honors College

The Honors College at Rutgers University–Newark has a new director this fall.

Associate Professor Brian Phillips Murphy, a historian specializing in the early American republic and an award-winning teacher and scholar, has taken the reins from Interim Director Nukhet Varlik, who served the Honors College in spring and summer 2016.

Murphy arrived at RU-N in September after eight years at Baruch College, City University of New York, where he was an Associate Professor of History and faculty member at the Macaulay Honors College.

He is inheriting a program that underwent tremendous growth during the tenure of its former director, Dr. Kinna Perry, who led the Honors College from 2008 to 2015 and is now Associate Dean of the Graduate School at RU-N, and he is embracing the opportunities that lie ahead.

“I’m excited to be at Rutgers-Newark at this time, when the city and university are going through such positive change,” said Murphy. “I’m a firm believer of more public engagement, and Chancellor Cantor’s commitment to a public mission and to the city of Newark make this a dynamic time to step into this role.”

The Honors College offers students from across RU-N a personalized college experience, with enhanced opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. This includes small-group seminars and colloquia, expert academic advising, internships and research assistantships, alumni panels and mentoring, a full range of scholarships and study-abroad programs, a close-knit academic peer community, and opportunities to serve the larger Newark community.

More than 300 students from New Jersey and around the U.S., plus several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean, participate in the College.

Perry increased the Honors College’s civic-engagement component by starting a Volunteer Corps that encouraged students to perform 10 hours of service each semester to the campus and local community. She also started an Alumni Mentoring program and Undergraduate Research Day, an annual event where students highlight their research with faculty from NCAS and other schools.

Murphy wants to build on these initiatives by introducing problem-based-learning colloquia into the Honors College curricula, whereby students will work in small groups with faculty members doing research that addresses specific issues affecting the city of Newark.

“Tying students to different research projects through team-taught seminars will give them an opportunity to work with leading faculty and get out into the field to help solve specific problems,” says Murphy, adding that this approach differs from traditional undergraduate research, volunteer work or internships and gives students another avenue to explore their passions while impacting the local community.

Murphy also wants to enhance the Honors College faculty-advisory board and continue to update the curriculum to keep it in line with the current job environment. He aims to grow the alumni network and find new ways to tap it to benefit current students. And he wants to double-down on recruitment efforts at northern New Jersey high schools.

Murphy is also excited to lead the Honors College just as the Honors Living Learning Community (HLLC) is starting its second year. HLLC, which has a total enrollment of 87 students and will continue growing, is an alternative honors college model that looks beyond traditional admissions criteria such as SATs and GPAs to include problem-solving acumen, leadership ability and interpersonal skills, traits also heavily associated with student success but usually overlooked.

“I look forward to these two programs growing and working together to provide RU-N students with a world-class educational experience,” says Murphy.

In addition to helming the Honors College, Murphy will be tenured in RU-N’s History Department. He brings to RU-N a wealth of research expertise and honors college experience, as well as dedication to the field of public history and finely honed chops as an award-winning political journalist.

As a public historian, Murphy curated an exhibition on the history of banking in New York City titled “Capital of Capital,” which was mounted at the Museum of the City of New York. He is currently leading a public history project with the Organization of American Historians and the National Park Service to help develop the Great Falls National Historic Park in Paterson, N.J.

At Baruch College, Murphy received the college’s Whiting Foundation Teaching Award and a Eugene M. Lang Junior Faculty Research Fellowship. He also received the William and Mary Quarterly’s Richard L. Morton article prize. In addition, he was co-director of the Columbia Seminar in Early American History and Culture, and is a member of the board of editors of the Papers of Gouverneur Morris.

A native of Clifton, N.J., Murphy did his undergraduate work at Haverford College and his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. In between, he worked as a magazine reporter, winning investigative journalism awards from Time Inc. and The Nation Institute. He then returned to New Jersey to co-host News 12’s “Power and Politics” and serve as managing editor and vice president of He has been a contributor to MSNBC, appearing frequently on-camera, and currently serves as a contributing editor for the website Talking Points Memo.


Photo by Lawrence Lerner




Lawrence Lerner