"I can't imagine that either the Rutgers board of governors or the board of trustees would willingly relinquish the campus, nor would I recommend that course, if there were the possibility of choosing among the recommendations."
But it was unclear how much of a choice Rutgers might have in weighing the recommendations issued last month by Christie's higher-education committee.
The task force's plan calls for an overhaul of the state's university system, integrating facilities among Rutgers, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and Rowan. Christie immediately embraced it, saying it would create a robust public-university system with greater research capacity.
But so far, there is no road map or price tag.
Sol Barer, chairman of the task force, told the panel that an implementation team was working out the details.
If Christie submits the plan to the Legislature, the two chambers would have 60 days to reject the measure.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) supports the concept but will not weigh in formally until he sees the details, a Senate spokesman said.
Rutgers says it believes its board of trustees must approve "the moving of any parts of the university that existed before 1956," according to Peter McDonough, a spokesman. The Rutgers-Camden campus was founded in 1920, then called the South Jersey Law School and the College of South Jersey. It became part of Rutgers in 1950, according to the university's website.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rutgers-Camden students have been up in arms since Christie backed the plan, which would fold Rutgers-Camden into Glassboro-based Rowan. About 50 students marched in circles Monday in a courtyard just outside the committee room. Their signs, which read "Keep Rutgers in South Jersey" and "Save Camden," could be seen through the room's window.
Although McCormick criticized the task force's plan for Rutgers-Camden, he praised its proposal to integrate three North Jersey medical facilities with Rutgers, a transfer that he estimates will cost at least $40 million.
Rutgers already shares space and faculty with the three facilities: the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the School of Public Health, and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. And they all are in New Brunswick or Piscataway, so it "makes sense" to bring them together, McCormick said.
McCormick proposed a collaboration between Rutgers-Camden and Rowan that would allow both schools to keep their names but expand their offerings - a plan already in discussion behind the scenes, according to Democratic sources.
Sen. Paul Sarlo (D., Bergen) said he did not understand why the task force wanted to merge Rutgers-Camden, which has a business school and a well-regarded law school, with Rowan. While other merger plans were revealed in a September interim report of the task force, the proposed Rowan takeover of Rutgers-Camden surprised many.
"It almost seems to me it was . . . an afterthought. 'We'll throw that in just to sweeten the pot,' " Sarlo said. "This is the first we've all heard of this."
Barer said Rowan was already affiliated with the newly accredited Cooper Medical School, which is to begin classes this summer, and it has more students (12,000 vs. 6,500 at Rutgers-Camden). Camden is just a satellite campus for Rutgers, Barer said.
"If we put everything together . . . we are then forming a school that has a critical mass and has the potential to grow into a major university there," Barer said.
Rowan University's interim president, Ali Houshmand, told the Senate panel that the schools need to pool their resources to capture the 30,000 to 35,000 of the "best and brightest high school graduates" who leave the eight South Jersey counties to go to college out of state.
Houshmand said he was open to collaborating with Rutgers-Camden in whatever way state officials decided was best: "We are sitting in here waiting for the Legislature and the governor to speak exactly what they want us to do."
Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @joellefarrell on Twitter.