Rutgers reorganization bill finalized
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - June 4, 2012 (WPVI) -- Legislation that would carry out a major restructuring of Rutgers University in Camden, New Brunswick and Newark was introduced in the state Senate on Monday.
The proposal would have Rutgers University absorb the assets of the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark and New Brunswick, except University Hospital. In southern New Jersey, Rutgers-Camden would be split from the rest of the Rutgers system and funded separately. A joint Rutgers-Rowan University governing board would be established and Rowan, which was granted Camden's Cooper Medical School in 2009, would be designated a research university.
The proposal follows months of talks on how to realign the schools.
A draft of the bill was obtained by The Associated Press.
Gov. Chris Christie proposed a higher education realignment in January, but his plan to fold Rutgers-Camden into Rowan met with fierce opposition from factions in the South and North. More recently, Essex County lawmakers weighed in, voicing concerns about $662 million in debt being carried by UMDNJ and University Hospital and asking for assurances that Newark would not be shortchanged in the deal.
This bill is a hybrid of Christie's original proposal. The governor, through his spokesman, applauded its introduction.
"This is a critical and positive step," spokesman Michael Drewniak said.
The legislation comes as Rutgers' two governing boards are set to vote Wednesday on a statement opposing the restructuring. The statement would give more autonomy to the Camden and Newark campuses, but would cede control of neither. The 59-member Board of Trustees, which is largely an advisory board, adopted a stronger anti-merger resolution last month, but the outcome of a vote by the Board of Governors, the more powerful of the two boards, is less certain. Six of its 11 members are gubernatorial appointees.
Under the legislation, Rutgers would absorb UMDNJ's New Brunswick- and Newark-based components, including its cancer institute, School of Public Health and medical school. A Rutgers-Newark Board of Governors would be created with authority to propose a budget, capital and academic programs. The New Brunswick Board of Governors would grow to 15 members, from 11. University Hospital would continue to be the main teaching hospital, and would be funded directly by the state. Rutgers would not be responsible for the hospital's outstanding debt. Employee unions on the Newark campus and at UMDNJ would be preserved.
In southern New Jersey, the state would fund Rutgers-Camden directly. Tuition and fees paid by Rutgers-Camden students would be managed by local administrators. The governor would control a majority of the appointments on the Rutgers-Camden Board of Trustees.
"When we began this process, we set out with three goals: Keep Rutgers in Camden, ensure Rutgers' autonomy, and create collaboration with Rowan University," said Sen. Donald Norcross, a bill sponsor.
Another sponsor, Sen. Joe Vitale, said the legislation elevates Rutgers in Newark and New Brunswick and provides South Jersey academic and economic opportunities that have been concentrated north of Trenton.
Christie set a July 1 deadline for the framework of the reorganization to be put into place, but some have questioned the timeline, which coincides with the deadline for approving a state budget. Others, however, felt the deal would lose momentum and could unravel entirely if the deadline isn't met.
The deal could fall victim to prohibitive costs or political backlash. Cost estimates have been delayed because of the complexity of reshaping large academic institutions. It's not known whether the most recent proposal allays the concerns of northern New Jersey lawmakers. Opponents in South Jersey are unlikely to be placated by the prospect of a Rutgers-Rowan governing structure.
However, the state's most powerful Republican - Christie - and most influential Democrat - Camden County powerbroker George Norcross, Donald Norcross' brother - support the concept. Senate President Steve Sweeney is among the sponsors.
Assembly Democrats also appeared to be supportive.
"Introduction of legislation represents substantial progress toward a plan that gives all our students world-class higher educational opportunities regardless of region, county or ZIP code," Assembly leaders Lou Greenwald, Vincent Prieto and Celeste Riley said in a joint statement.
The outcome of the restructuring is likely to affect plans for the state's first higher education borrowing proposal for capital improvements in more than 20 years.
University administrations recently circulated a wish list of projects totaling about $6 billion. While the actual amount hasn't been decided, Christie has said a ballot question would be tied to a restructuring deal. Voters would have to approve the borrowing.
new jersey, rutgers university, rowan university, local/state
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