Posted by: philipfontana | April 12, 2012

Save Rutgers!

Rutgers in the Homestretch:

The Rutgers-Rowan-UMDNJ Debacle

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Governor Chris Christie

     Excuse us for living, Governor Christie, but “here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into!”

     It began, so we thought, Wednesday, January 25, as the seemingly innocent unveiling of  UMDNJ Advisory Committee’s recommendations to restructure New Jersey’s university system. What we know now is that it was in reality a political scheme. This task force of Governor Christie was well at work at least as early as the summer of 2011. And how under the guise of UMDNJ reorganization the Committee expanded its charge to reorganize UMDNJ, Rutgers University, and Rowan University in one fell swoop is beyond my understanding. Add to that Governor Christie throwing in his usual “line in the sand” deadline of this July1 and the stage was set for the mess in which New Jersey now finds itself.

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Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick

     The “hook” the UMDNJ Committee used was to throw Rutgers University the very attractive “bone” its President, Richard McCormick, wanted in the form of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, from UMDNJ. In the process, also as breakaways from UMDNJ, Rutgers would get the School of Public Health and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, both next door in Piscataway. In the proposed process, UMDNJ in Newark would be reduced to a smaller Health Sciences University and a separate State-owned nonprofit University Hospital.

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Activism on Rutgers-Camden campus

     –But ah, Rutgers, not without a price to pay! The deal was tied to Rutgers ceding its Rutgers-Camden campus with undergrad college, law school, and business school to Rowan University of Glassboro. Rowan just happens to be getting ready to open its new Cooper Medical School of Rowan University this fall 2012 in Camden next door to Cooper University Hospital. This recommendation of the UMDNJ Committee was presented as a vision to create a “research university” which would forge an economic renaissance for what is, some quarters claim, an ”historically neglected” South Jersey. (Latest Eagleton poll, 57% in NJ against loosing RU-Camden to Rowan & 22% in favor)

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George Norcross, Chairman, Cooper University Hospital & Cooper Medical School

     To complete the tale of woe, enter insurance broker George Norcross (of questionable past commissions from the Delaware River Port Authority in the vicinity of $400,000). George Norcross is a longtime Democratic political boss of South Jersey who just happens to be Chairman of the Boards of Trustees for both Cooper University Hospital and, guess what, the new Cooper Medical School of Rowan University as well. Norcross struck the deal to build the new medical school with then Democratic Governor Jon Corzine. What transpired was a grand alliance between the new Republican Governor Chris Christie and the Democratic boss, George Norcross, to bail out Rowan financially.

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Political cartoon, the Daily Record, by Margulies

     So that is the web our Governor Christie has spun for Rutgers and New Jersey. What follows are all the developments and nuances to fill in the picture as it has unfolded over these past weeks and months. And keep in mind that while due deliberation is in order re matters educational, financial, and legal, the Governor insists on a July 1 deadline and a “let the chips fall where they may” approach.

     The List of Events/Nuances: (or skip to #10, 11, 12 & the “Conclusion”!)

  1. Sol J. Barer, Chairman of the UMDNJ Advisory Committee, chosen by Christie, is a member of the Rutgers Board of Trustees. He also happens to be CEO of the multi-billion dollar  biopharmaceutical Celgene Corporation, Summit, NJ. Remember, his report came out January 25.
  2. Late summer-early fall, Rowan commissioned a 15 page report from the consulting firm, The Learning Alliance for Higher Education, based at the University of Pennsylvania, for $30,000. The report has been dubbed “secret” since it was received by Rowan way back on January 26, the day after the UMDNJ Advisory Committee issued its recommendations. Yet, the report was only made known to the public in April. The report concluded that Rowan would need a substantial increase in funds to takeover Rutgers-Camden and open a new medical school. Therefore, the report advised what it called the “New Rowan University” to turn a deaf ear to critics, move swiftly to meet the Governor’s July 1 deadline, forcing critics with no choice but to climb aboard.
  3. Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Princhett came out at a February Board of Trustees Meeting opposing the plan, naturally, to allow Rowan to “swallow” the Camden campus.
  4. More recently in March, Interim President of Rowan University, Dr. Ali Houshmand, released his 19 page report on how Rowan would go about taking over the Rutgers-Camden campus and what The New Rowan University would look like. –A very brassy step considering the takeover was far from a “done deal.” And, Rutgers-Camden administrators and faculty were not consulted in the process.
  5. Then countered Rutgers-Camden Professor of Economics Eugene Pilotte arguing against the merger solely on financial grounds. He elaborated that Rowan’s new medical school would require large subsidies from the hosting academic institution and the State. He noted that the new medical school had already “skyrocketed” Rowan’s debt and “downgraded” its bond rating. He called Rutgers-Camden a “financial windfall” and a “cash cow” for Rowan’s new medical school.
  6.  Bruce Fehn, Rutgers Chief Financial Officer, came forward with UMDNJ being almost a half billion dollars in debt, owing $450 million to bond holders, and only $50 million in assets debt free.
  7. As a result, Rutgers President Richard McCormick told the board of Trustees that there was “a lot of information” about UMDNJ’s finances that “we haven’t been able to obtain.” He cautioned that this could impede the Board of Trustees voting before Governor Christie’s imposed July 1 deadline for the plan.
  8. Then, did you hear the one about the “proposed” light rail line, just a mere 18 miles long, connecting the Rowan campus in Glassboro to Camden? — Hm.
  9. The latest brouhaha was outright political between Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Democrat from West Deptford, Gloucester County in South Jersey, supporting Christie’s plan for Rowan to takeover Rutgers-Camden, and U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, opposing the plan. Sweeney is lining up to challenge Lautenberg in a primary race should Lautenberg choose to run again in 2014, presently age 88. Lautenberg recently sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan questioning the wisdom of the plan & its impact on research grants and student loans, plus letters to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman regarding the legality of such a plan. Sweeney issued a public letter signed by all the Democratic State lawmakers of South Jersey in the Legislature, plus a few Republicans, criticizing Lautenberg’s letters.
  10. Complicating the picture further, Rutgers President McCormick is retiring at the end of the academic year. And while McCormick favors the acquisition of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, he does not approve of the Rutgers-Camden giveaway to Rowan. Never-the-less, McCormick as well as other political and educational leaders have been criticized for not raising their voices louder against the plan for Rutgers to gain a med school and lose Rutgers-Camden. As a result, in recent weeks top Democrats and Rutgers officials, including McCormick, have been meeting privately to come up with an alternative plan.
  11. So, all roads seem to lead to Governor Christie’s July 1 deadline. The Legislature would have to vote and the Rutgers Boards of Governors and Trustees would have to vote. The Governor appoints 6 of the 12 Governors but only 11 of the 60 Trustees. Here’s the rub. The governor is inclined to revamp the higher education system –this mess of recommendations–by executive order without the approval of the Legislature and without a vote by the Rutgers governing Boards. However, there is legal question as to whether he has authority to do so under a law that permits him to reorganize State government departments. This caused the Governor on March 27 to say that he would ask the State Attorney General and the Governor’s Counsel regarding his authority to do so. This comes after a report by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, Trenton, concluding that the Governor will need legislation for the reorganization plan. The OLS cites a recent decision by the Appeals Court that the Governor did not have the power in that case to dismantle the Council on Affordable Housing. –Sounds like a “Duh” moment to me!!!!
  12. To add intrigue to this imbroglio, on April 11 the Board of Governors announced its choice of Dr. Robert L. Barchi as the new President of Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey to replace President McCormick this September 1. Dr. Barchi is currently President of Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, a respected medical college and health sciences university. If that is not tipping their hat to the first part of Governor Christie’s plan for an RU medical school, I’ll eat mine! The answer lies in a compromise: a medical school for Rutgers and an intact Rutgers-Camden. That would leave the door open to a collaborative relationship between Rutgers-Camden and Rowan which would give South Jersey its research university.

Conclusion: At this date, the Governor may still try to act to implement his original plan of an RU med school and a Rowan takeover of Rutgers-Camden by executive order. In that case the Legislature has the power to stop the deal by mustering enough votes in both the State Senate and Assembly. If it comes to that, Christie’s Republicans will join with South Jersey Democrats to permit the plan to pass. And while George Norcross (remember him?) can tell politicians how to vote, he won’t be able to bully the majority of independent members of the Rutgers Board of Trustees, sworn to protect Rutgers property and assets. –That is, if Governor Christie even cares to honor the Rutgers Board’s vote!  In that case, “See you in Court!”

“Go Rutgers! Fight Team Fight!”

Comments: Please! Plus take action! Share this link! Contact NJ State Senators & Assemblymen, the Governor, Rutgers’ President, Boards of Governors & Trustees, NJ U.S Senators & Congressmen, Letters to the Editor, Guest Op-Ed Columns, etc.  

Sources: News articles, The Star-Ledger, January-April 2012

The columns of Bob Braun, The Star-Ledger, January-April 2012

News articles, the Daily Record, Morris County, January-April 2012

On-line website articles, January-April 2012


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