New Jersey lawmakers rush to assemble university-overhaul legislation to satisfy everybody

Posted: June 21, 2012

Less than two weeks before Gov. Christie's July 1 deadline for concluding a deal on a higher-education overhaul - which includes drawing Rutgers-Camden closer to Rowan University - lawmakers are rushing to piece together a measure that will satisfy the multitude of constituencies in play.

Those stakeholders include political figures, English professors, union bosses, and students wondering what their school might be called next year.

Already more than 100 pages long, the legislation has undergone multiple additions and deletions since it was introduced two weeks ago by a legislative coalition led by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester).

A second Senate committee approved it Monday, and legislators already have found some success, though concerns and confusion also abound.

Faculty at Rutgers-Camden have been among the most vocal critics of the plan, but on Tuesday they expressed support for an amendment that would ensure that both tenure for professors and academic standards at Rutgers-Camden would remain under the control of the larger university's board of governors.

Still, their support is bracketed by fears over a provision in the legislation that the Camden campus would be overseen by a joint board with Rowan.

"The tenure and promotion issues are important, but nobody I have talked to thinks now we have achieved our personal goals the rest doesn't matter," said Perry Dane, a law professor at Rutgers-Camden. "The issues we care about are not just our own careers. It's the ability of this campus to be excellent."

And uncertainties lingered Tuesday not only over the impact of some of the changes to the bill but also over the overhaul's costs. One member of the Rutgers board of governors has raised concerns about potential tuition increases.

A shift from Christie's original plan, the latest version of the legislation calls for Rutgers-Camden to remain tied academically to the larger university but under the control of an independent board. The legislation calls for the Rutgers-Camden name to remain untouched.

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey would be broken up, with most of its assets going to Rutgers and its osteopathic school in Stratford going to Rowan.

Candace Straight, an investment banking consultant and Republican fund-raiser who was appointed to Rutgers' board of governors by Christie, told lawmakers at the hearing Monday that their legislation could result in double-digit tuition increases due to costs involved in restructuring the universities' debt.

That contradicted analysis by the state Department of Treasury, which said the overhaul would require no bond reissue.

Analysis conducted by a financial firm hired by Rutgers has put a $155 million price tag on reissue of Rutgers' $950 million in debt.

A Rutgers spokesman did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the financial concerns expressed by Straight and others.

The union coalition representing faculty and staff at the state's universities endorsed the legislation Monday after getting legislators to agree to a one-year, no-layoff guarantee.

The bill is being rushed to the Senate floor for a vote Thursday. But Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) has not yet scheduled hearings on the bill nor declared her support.

Oliver and other politicians in Essex County, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker, have expressed concerns that University Hospital, which would be spun off from UMDNJ and remain independent, is funded sufficiently to serve the needy in Newark.


Contact staff writer James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com.

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