Rowan issues its blueprint for Rutgers-Camden merger

Posted: March 23, 2012

Rowan University on Thursday released a 17-page "road map" to merging with Rutgers-Camden, a union that Gov. Christie wants to make official by July 1.

But Rutgers took no part in making the report, and its officials said they have had only the scantiest of discussions with the governor's office about the proposed marriage of the two South Jersey schools.

Rutgers-Camden officials oppose the merger and have threatened to sue if the state forces them to join the Glassboro university and shed the Rutgers name.

Wendell Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers-Camden, said Thursday that Rutgers officials continued to work on an alternative plan for a consortium with Rowan that would keep the schools separate, a notion Christie has rejected many times.

"I am by nature an optimist," Pritchett said when asked why he was pursuing an idea that Christie opposes.

The internal document released by Rowan officials Thursday is not an official merger plan, but rather is the result of several months of brainstorming among Rowan faculty, staff and administration, said Rowan's interim president, Ali Houshmand. It was not meant to pressure Rutgers officials into the merger on Rowan's terms, he said.

"We have been willing and have made every effort to speak with our colleagues, but unfortunately to no avail," he said.

Houshmand said attempts to discuss the merger with Rutgers-Camden officials were rebuffed. Rowan drew up the document to show legislators and the governor how they were preparing in case of a merger.

The document is short on details - like cost - but broadly outlines how the schools could fully integrate by 2020. The first and possibly most controversial step would be the name change.

"Let Rutgers-Camden continue functioning as Rutgers-Camden is doing, the only change that's going to happen would be, for example, it would become Rowan-Camden," Houshmand said during a news conference. "The same structure, no change whatsoever."

The two schools already cooperate at some levels, and Pritchett and Houshmand have talked over the years of creating more partnerships.

But Houshmand said Pritchett froze him out last summer when he brought up the merger, an idea floated in a 2010 report from a state task force asked to find ways to improve New Jersey's higher education system. A second task force that examined the state's colleges recommended the Rutgers-Camden merger with Rowan in a report released in January.

Pritchett said he never spoke with Houshmand about a merger but never cut off communication. The two have continued to discuss possible partnerships, he said.

Rowan's road map would not immediately change faculty and courses at the universities. The curriculums of the two would slowly be integrated, a process that could take six to 10 years, Houshmand said.

Freshmen entering the Camden campus in fall 2013 would be the first class to receive a Rowan - rather than a Rutgers - degree under Rowan's proposal.

Rowan's board of trustees would grow to 25 members from 15 under Rowan's proposal. The governor would appoint a transition team to work out logistics, Rowan's report says.

Houshmand said the merger would benefit both universities because it would allow them to pool resources scattered among the schools and other partners. They could build a graduate program in biomedical engineering using faculty and resources from both schools rather than starting from scratch, having to hire new people and buy equipment.

Pritchett said that type of program can be developed through cooperation rather than having Rowan take over Rutgers-Camden.

"There's lots of universities that partner to create programs together," he said.

The Rowan report assumes that students would continue to be drawn to Camden even if they could not obtain a degree from Rutgers, a well-known university with its main campus in New Brunswick.

"I think that assumption is wrong," Pritchett said. "If this merger happens, we will see a decline in the number of students on the campus."

Some Rutgers-Camden faculty members told legislators at a hearing this week that they turned down better-paying opportunities in order to work at Rutgers. Asked if he thought faculty members would leave if Rowan took over, Pritchett said, "Emphatically, yes."

Christie has said unequivocally that the schools will unite, but there is no published protocol for the merger and no joint committee working out the details.

It's also unclear if the merger would be accomplished by an executive order from Christie, a Republican, or via legislation from the Democratically controlled chambers of the State House.

Apparently seeking to preempt possible criticism, Houshmand later issued an advisory by e-mail to Rowan employees saying that the report - "a very early" document - was likely to be "misinterpreted and misused," and directing them to the report on the web.


To read the report by Rowan University on how a possible merger with Rutgers-Camden could unfold, go to:

www.philly.com/merger


Contact Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237 or jfarrell@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joellefarrell.

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