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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced a decision to merge three south jersey schools, Rowan University, Rutgers University, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), earlier this year. Despite this, Rutgers University’s strong opposition to the merger has recently forced a change in the original bill.
Rowan officials, including President Ali Houshmand, had first proposed a plan to completely unite the Universities. Rowan would take financial control of Rutgers-Camden, while the Rutgers-Newark Campus would control the Robert Wood Johnston Medical School, part of the UMDNJ in Newark. New committee boards would have been established to govern the individual campuses under one committee that served the three campuses as a whole.
In theory, these changes would turn Rowan into a research school, receiving more state grants to fund projects. New programs would be created by combining the resources of each of the schools, including a biomedical engineering program, a medical school, and a law school.
The cost of the plan was barely discussed, but it is estimated that Rutgers-Camden would have payed $40 to $50 million dollars, with Rowan paying even more.
January polls showed that 59 percent of registered voters did not favor the takeover, and a mere 19 percent supported it. In February, these numbers only changed slightly, with 57 percent opposed and 22 percent in favor. On the other hand, Chris Christie was standing strong in his plan, saying “I’m supporting my plan, we’re going to move forward with my plan and my plan’s going to be implemented. The people of Rutgers-Camden need to get ready for that.”
Vibiana Cvetkovic, a librarian at Rutgers-Camden, summed up the majority of opposition: “If this bill becomes a law, we will be an eviscerated institution, a RINO – Rutgers in Name Only.”
The new proposition favors each of the Universities better, and promises Rutgers the independence they desire. Rowan will still be labeled a Research University and receive higher funding, but Rutgers will keep financial control of each of its three institutions. The two universities will still merge undergraduate and graduate programs to offer more options to south jersey students, but each school will keep their own name and funding.
State Senator Donald Norcross, a strong supporter of the new plan, believes the merger will help New Jersey. “The fact of the matter is New Jersey ranks 47th out of 50 in its support for higher ed,” he said. “Now we have restructured higher ed in New Jersey so that we will go from 47th to the top tier.”
Rutgers President Richard McCormick agrees. “Overall, the bill appears to advance the goals of enhancing medical education across the state, boosting Rutgers’ standing among its peer institutions.”
The new bill passed in the Assembly with a vote of 60-18. In the Senate, the bill passed 29-9. Chris Christie, though adamant that reform is needed within the higher education system in New Jersey, still supports the new bill.
Board meetings still must decide the fate of UMDNJ, and whether or not the medical school will still fall under Rutgers’ control. Under this new bill, the proposition is for all of UMDNJ to belong to Rutgers-Newark, besides the University Hospital.
Image Courtesy of Governor Chris Christie