Since Gov. Christie proposed his plan to overhaul higher education in January, Rowan faculty had expressed little public opinion to a concept under which their university stood to gain the Rutgers-Camden campus and considerably greater resources.
But last week, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) announced legislation he called a "compromise," in which Rutgers-Camden would remain separate from Rowan, but the two institutions would operate under a joint governing board.
Sweeney, who said he had met with Rowan faculty two weeks ago, said he was confident their concerns could be addressed as the legislation is refined in the weeks ahead.
"I pushed the bill out to have a conversation. Now people can voice their opinion, and we can begin to work this out," he said. "Up until the bill went out, there was only speculation. I'm kicking myself I didn't introduce it three weeks earlier."
Two days after Sweeney's legislation was announced, Rutgers boards of trustees and governors — who the university says have power to stop any legislative action — agreed in a rare joint session to issue a "statement of principles" refusing to give up autonomy over any of its campuses but opening the door to negotiations with political leaders.
Board members' opinions on their willingness to compromise with legislators have varied.
But Sweeney said Sunday he did not expect that the board of trustees would waver, and he was already preparing for litigation. He said he was still considering whether to meet with Rutgers board members.
"No matter what we do they're going to litigate," he said. "We have to get this done by July 1. Not because the governor said we have to, but because we're going into a gubernatorial election."
Rowan's faculty senate is scheduled to meet Friday to formally vote on a statement opposing the legislation. Among the concerns expressed in the document is that the joint board could shift money from one university to another without "normal fiduciary responsibility." The existing union structure would make joint the appointments called for in the legislation "very difficult if not impossible to enact."
Contact James Osborne at 856-779-3876, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @osborneja.