Rutgers trustees hear arguments on Rowan merger

Posted: February 24, 2012

The board of trustees of Rutgers University held a special meeting Thursday to consider options for reorganizing the school, including taking over three units from the University of Medicine and Dentistry and ceding the Camden campus to Rowan University.

It turns out there was only one all-or-nothing offer on the table. If Rutgers wants to annex the medical units, it must surrender Camden.

Rutgers-Camden psychology professor Ira Roseman called it a "devil's bargain" crafted by "a small committee with known ties to political figures." He urged the trustees to separate the proposals.

Many board members did little to hide their displeasure, peppering the committee chair who had made the recommendation with pointed questions. Several trustees wore "Save R Camden" buttons, and one said outright that she opposed the proposal.

Still, it is unclear how the trustees will vote on a plan when it is finally presented to them.

There is still no time frame for any action, said Rutgers president Richard McCormick. He expects a recommendation to come from Gov. Christie rather than from the Legislature. Christie has said he supports all pieces of the reorganization but has not indicated when or how he plans to act.

The only action the trustees took was to approve the same resolution passed by the board of governors last week, stating the intention that all students currently enrolled at Rutgers-Camden and those in the process of matriculating would receive a degree from Rutgers regardless of whether the merger went through.

McCormick reiterated the university's support of the part of the recommendation that would bring into the state university the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick and the School of Public Health and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, both in Piscataway.

While McCormick previously had said he was surprised by the recommendation to move Rutgers-Camden into Rowan, he said he and other officials had met with the advisory committee, as well as members of Christie's office, and "argued against severing Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark from the rest of the university." The committee agreed in the case of Newark, but not regarding Camden.

Sol Barer, who chaired the UMDNJ Advisory Committee and is a Rutgers trustee, said the committee continued to believe that all of its recommendations should be implemented together and that the package was best both for Rutgers and for the state as a whole.

"This will provide the structure that will serve the people of this state best," he said. "This is an extraordinary opportunity for the southern part of the state to build a great university with all the faculty and administrators of both schools."

One trustee said it had taken Rutgers until 1989 to achieve membership in the prestigious American Association of Universities, which has only 61 members, and thus it would likely take a long time for Rowan to become a significant research university - one of the stated goals of the reorganization plan.

"Many of the benefits that are going to arise from this are going to take a good deal of time to happen," Barer said.

"Did you guys consider that it would be more cost-effective to just make Rutgers-Camden bigger?" asked trustee Jeanne Fox, who noted a recent Rutgers Eagleton poll found three-quarters of New Jerseyans oppose giving Rutgers-Camden to Rowan. "It would take less time, cost less money, and make South Jersey happy. Clearly, it's what the people want. At New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden, all the academics are against us throwing Rutgers-Camden away."

Supporters, who half-filled the multipurpose room in the student center in New Brunswick, vigorously applauded Fox and softly booed Barer's response.

"It's very difficult for a major university to nourish three branches, especially in a state like New Jersey," he said. "That's why we need a new university in the south."

Fox countered that the plan would require New Jersey to "nourish two major research universities," meaning Rutgers would have to compete with Rowan for state aid.

Carol Herring, president of the Rutgers University Foundation, said that in the month since the proposal was announced, fund-raising efforts at Camden have been affected, with a loss of about $80,000 in gifts to the campus. Still, the $3 million raised directly by Camden is a small part of the total $137 million brought in university wide. UMDNJ, meanwhile, has been raising about $20 million a year, and $3 million has been raised for the Cancer Institute, which also would become part of Rutgers under the plan.

"We think that's minimal compared to what we can raise with the addition of the medical school," she said. "We are very eager to take that on."

Read more of Colleen O'Dea's education stories at

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