University officials and board members said they wanted research opportunities for faculty and students to try to attract biomedical grants and expansion, similar to the collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University in West Philadelphia.
"Your legacy is going to last forever, and you should be very, very proud," Rowan president Ali Houshmand told the board, which met Monday morning before dozens of spectators at the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden.
Rowan has been pushing for a $79 million joint health sciences building that would cover more than 106,500 square feet, nearly the size of two football fields. If the building is approved, the board would oversee its development.
While officials from both universities remain highly protective of each school's programs, the board will oversee programs that emerge from the partnership. Rowan recently obtained research accreditation, which Rutgers already had.
"We have excellent faculty at both institutions. We believe we can complement each other," Houshmand said.
The New Jersey program will have academic and medical research goals similar to the Penn/Drexel model, said Rutgers-Camden chancellor Wendell Pritchett, who is stepping down in June and plans to return to Penn to teach. Rutgers and Rowan will create their own niche, which may include biomedical, bioethics, and bioengineering research.
"There's a lot of synergies," Pritchett said.
As the governing board got to work, two new members were announced: Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and Rutgers trustee Robert Mortensen. Jack Collins, former speaker of the General Assembly, was appointed board president, and Louis S. Bezich, Cooper's chief of staff to the president and executive director, was named vice president.
Other board members are Gloucester County administrator Chad Bruner, Barnabas Health executive vice president for corporate affairs Michellene Davis, and TD Bank Group executive Fred Graziano.
Collins addressed concerns raised by Mortensen that a resolution passed by the board gives Collins unilateral power to approve spending and projects without board permission and lacks "checks and balances."
In January, the New Jersey Legislature gave the board eminent domain power.
Though Collins agreed his position is "pretty powerful," he said his intent was to seek a board review for all major decisions, including hiring, leasing and purchasing.
Graziano recused himself as the rest of board unanimously agreed to use his employer, TD Bank, for financial matters.
The partnership between the universities is entering unchartered waters, Collins said.
"Exactly what's out there, we don't know, but it's going to be good," he said.
Bezich noted that the academic expansion arrives as the economy is inching toward recovery.
"Today truly is a milestone in both Camden's and South Jersey's history," Bezich said.