Rutgers panel to review governance

Rutgers University President Robert Barchi addresses a gathering Monday, July 1, 2013, in Piscataway, N.J., as Rutgers officially adds two medical schools in a university reconfiguration that officials hope will turn the school into a medical research powerhouse. The state's flagship public university absorbed most of the schools and institutes in the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which was dissolved. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Rutgers University President Robert Barchi addresses a gathering Monday, July 1, 2013, in Piscataway, N.J., as Rutgers officially adds two medical schools in a university reconfiguration that officials hope will turn the school into a medical research powerhouse. The state's flagship public university absorbed most of the schools and institutes in the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which was dissolved. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) (AP)
Posted: August 02, 2013

The leadership of Rutgers University's board of governors and board of trustees has created a joint task force to find ways to improve the New Jersey state university's governance.

The initiative, announced Thursday, follows a move by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) to abolish the board of trustees and transfer its powers to the board of governors. The new task force's chairman called the timing "coincidental."

In an interview Thursday, the Rev. M. William Howard Jr. said the seven-member panel was formed in light of the recent merger of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into Rutgers, and the university's forthcoming move into the Big Ten athletic conference.

The medical school "comes with a whole set of oversight responsibilities," said Howard, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark and a member of the board of governors since 2004.

As for the Big Ten, "we've had some cultural challenges in the university's adaptation to big-revenue sports over the last few years . . . and some controversies surrounding how those programs are managed," Howard said. "The university has to give thoughtful consideration to how a board interfaces with all of this."

Earlier this year, Rutgers fired men's basketball coach Mike Rice after video surfaced of him hurling basketballs at and taunting players. The university's athletic director and lawyer also resigned, and the school commissioned an independent review. A report released last month found that school officials exercised "insufficient oversight" over the athletic department.

The task force, consisting of members from both boards, will meet weekly, starting as soon as next week, and will review best practices at other universities, Howard said. A report is due by December.

Sweeney's "concern about the board of trustees is what I would call coincidental," he said.

In June, Sweeney proposed a bill to abolish the 59-member board of trustees, a largely advisory panel, and transfer its powers to the 15-member board of governors, which has primary control over the university administration. The board of trustees, which governed Rutgers from its founding as a private college in 1766 until its reorganization under the governors in 1956, has retained authority over certain real estate assets.

Last year, the trustees protested a proposed merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University. Sweeney backed the merger. The trustees threatened to sue if the state moved forward, and Rutgers kept control of the Camden campus.

Sweeney has said his push to eliminate the board of trustees is not in retaliation for its opposition to the merger. Instead, he has cited an "inefficient and outdated" governing structure, arguing that a two-board system "makes no sense."

In a statement Thursday, Sweeney said the task force was "a small step in the right direction."

"As I've said repeatedly, the current structure is unwieldy and, without question, will hold Rutgers back from becoming a national powerhouse," he said. "That said, all legislative options will remain on the table until we fix this governance structure once and for all."

Howard, a past president of the board of governors, said he believed the current structure "serves us well."

"In the pure sense of what governance is, there is only one governing body at Rutgers," Howard said, noting that the university's president answers "to one group - the board of governors."

Still, "the purpose of this committee is not simply to reaffirm the current structure," he said."


Contact Maddie Hanna at 856-779-3232 or mhanna@phillynews.com .

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