N.J. legislators seek merger deal with Rutgers’ boards

Posted: June 28, 2012

Rutgers board members and state political leaders are meeting this afternoon to try to work out a last minute deal before the Legislature's scheduled vote Thursday on restructuring New Jersey's state university system.

The university's Board of Governors has presented politicians a three-page list of demands before they give their consent to the plan, said Adam Scales, a law professor at Rutgers-Camden and leader of the campus' opposition movement.

He declined to detail the list but said it was consistent with "the boards' position to date." Rutgers trustees have threatened to litigate if the state moves ahead on a plan without their approval.

Members of the Rutgers boards of trustees and governors have been meeting with politicians, including Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), since Monday, with board members insisting that the university retain control over its Camden campus and that the state make greater financial concessions, according to sources close to negotiations.

Under to the legislation, Rutgers would be expanded by taking over most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The state's flagship university would give up financial control of Rutgers-Camden, which would become part of a megauniversity complex in South Jersey, along with Rowan University and UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford.

After an Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing Monday, board of trustees Vice Chairman Dudley Rivers said the boards were not willing to give up financial control of the Camden campus.

He also testified that Rutgers' taking over UMDNJ's debts posed "enormous risks" and that the university needed a "solid and far reaching hold harmless" clause to ensure the state paid for any unexpected financial costs of the merger.

The university maintains that any restructuring of Rutgers requires the consent of its two governing boards and recently retained attorney Neal Katyal, the former acting U.S. solicitor general who has represented clients including former U.S. Attorney General John Aschcroft and a Guantánamo Bay detainee.

"Simply put, Rutgers must control its own destiny and preserve its autonomy," Rivers testified Monday. "Failure to do so would unquestionably lead to costly and time consuming litigation."

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